the dirty banana

The first full day we were in Jamaica, we asked one of our waitresses ("String Bean" read her name tag) what she recommended for a drink that was strong and wasn't too sweet. She suggested a Dirty Banana (which wasn't on the menu) and we said okay without asking what was in it - and it was perfect, and I drank about a million of them before we left, and I don't even like bananas.

I made sure to spy on how they made it and wrote it down for when I came home - although since they just tended to throw ingredients together without measuring, it's taken me some time to perfect the proportions. Naturally the next step was to share them with you, dear reader.

Dirty Banana 

2 oz gold or dark rum (we've been using Appleton)
2 oz rum cream (the Caribbean version of Bailey's - we brought Sangster's back with us, but as it's not available in the States, you'll have to make do with whatever they have at Total Wine)
1/2 oz creme de cacao
1/2 oz simple syrup
1/2 ripe banana
Throw all ingredients in a blender. Add ice till the three cup mark; blend until smooth. Makes 2. 


on Jamaica

We'd long envisioned getting married on a beach, and the appeal of a beach in a foreign country was strong. We ended up picking Jamaica for a couple simple reasons: it was relatively cheap, and we had a friend who goes on an almost yearly basis, so we could (and did) harass her with whatever questions we thought up.

We stayed in Montego Bay, which is on the north end of the island and the second-largest city after Kingston. Jamaica is a huge tourist economy, but the season is November - April, so prices were much cheaper for us in June, and we didn't run into hardly any parties of frat boys (and no hurricanes, either).

On our friend's recommendation, we stayed at the Royal Decameron Montego Bay, and after seeing several of the other resorts, were glad we did.  For about $175 a night, we got a beach front room and all of the food and drinks we wanted (all the resorts we looked at were all-inclusive). The food was overall very good (local dishes and their take on other culture's cuisines - lots of fresh fish, lamb, chicken, steak), and the drinks were decent - and given what we drank while we were there, our liquor bill alone would have been at least that much anywhere else. My favorite drink was a dirty banana - blended rum, creme de cacao and fresh banana - but we had everything from straight rum to coffee with amaretto to old fashioneds (we had to explain how to make it, but they were game). You're also not expected to tip, and most people don't, but we found that leaving a dollar here and there got us significantly better service. While some of the other resorts were nicer, they were much further from town, and what we could have afforded would not have gotten us anything close to a beach view.

The trade off was that our room wasn't as nice - the bed was slightly hard, there was a water stain on the bathroom ceiling, and the water pressure in the shower was iffy - but we were fine with that given how great everything else was.

The food was served buffet-style, with many different options available. Colin hates buffets and he was fine with this because the food was so good. We ate with a beach view at every meal, a luxury that should not be underestimated. There is also a sit down restaurant you can make reservations for.

We found about a hundred different ways of doing pretty much nothing at all, which is exactly what we wanted. We'd wake up leisurely, meander down to breakfast, bring coffee back to our room, go down to the beach and read or swim for awhile, eat lunch, take a nap, spend more time on the beach, shower for dinner, eat more delicious food, get happily tipsy, fall asleep at the unheard of time of 10 pm, and do it again the next day. I finished three and a half books while were there and swam for at least an hour every day. Having nowhere to be and nothing we had to do was glorious. We would have had to pay for WiFi at the hotel, and there's no 3G access, so we had a nice break from electronic distractions as well.

We did about one thing differently every day, starting with a couple's massage in a cabana on the water, which was lovely.

We wandered into town a few times, which was easy to do on foot. The half-mile or so of the main road by the hotel is called the "hip strip," and its filled with tourist shops and bars, including a Margaritaville. The locals are very aggressive sales people - they call out to you from across the street to come into their stores and will keep pressing if you waver at all. Our friend had warned us beforehand, and a firm "no, thank you" worked just fine. We were disappointed in the cheesy made-in-China wares that most of the shops were selling, although we did find a good price on Appleton rum and Sangster's rum cream (like Bailey's, but even more delicious) in one of the little grocery stores. Also, if you're white, it's pretty obvious that you're a tourist, and you are therefore an easy target for less-than-legal substances. The second time we went into town Colin and I bet how many times we would be offered pot -  he bet 5, I bet 10 - and it was 7 times total. Again, "no, thanks" worked just fine. Margaritaville was fun for the kitsch factor, but we didn't stay for more than a drink, as the appeal of  free drinks back at the resort was too strong. They also offered yacht rides with loud 90s dance music, if that's your thing.

We asked one of the taxi drivers what we should see if we only saw one thing, and he recommended Dunn's River Falls, which is a long waterfall over 600 ft or so of rocks that you can climb. It was beautiful, but had been so mined for tourist purposes that we were somewhat disappointed. They had us climb the falls in long chains of 20 or so people, which was a pretty dumb idea, all things considered (and was frustrating for us, as we could have scaled it without help in about a third the time). They'd scraped the rocks of moss and carved footholds into some of them, and it was so swamped with people that it was hard  to enjoy how pretty it was. I don't have any pictures of it - we didn't have a waterproof camera, and opted out of paying for their photos.

As the falls are near Ocho Rios, we did get to see a significant portion of the coastline and more rural areas as we went there and back, which was nice. We also stopped at a place near Discovery Bay that had absolutely fantastic jerk chicken (possibly the best of the trip, although to be honest they were all so good that it would be hard to rank), and would have been worth the drive alone. It looked like they were smoking it on wood poles underneath a sheet of aluminum. (I had my camera on the nighttime setting or something, so apologies for the poor quality.)

After using the snorkels provided by the hotel and being amazed at just the little reefs in the water by the hotel beaches, we decided to take a glass-bottomed boat out to one of the larger reefs off shore.

I had trouble with my mask and didn't enjoy it as much as I could have, but Colin loved it. The reefs weren't as colorful as the pictures of the ones you see in Australia, but we saw a lot of cool coral and a bunch of different fish, and the water was incredibly clear. We were also surprised that it went so far out and was only about 10-15 feet deep, and when there aren't reefs (or the wake of the boat), you can see straight to the white sand at the bottom.

The water itself was incredibly beautiful. We spent most of our time on the furthest south beach, as it was the quietest. I didn't get over that perfect turquoise blue the entire time we were there. The sunsets were incredible, and the resort faces west, so we had a perfect view. The weather report told us it would be thunderstorms that week, and although it did tend to get cloudy toward the evening, we got sprinkled on for about five minutes once, and most of the daytime was clear.

Cultural notes: our experiences with the local culture were admittedly quite few - restricted to those working in the tourist trade, and whoever happened to be walking down the hip strip when we were (still mostly part of the tourist trade). Almost 20% of the island is living below the poverty line, which was fairly apparent when we drove through the more rural areas. I wish I had read up more on the country before we went - I didn't know until after we came home than Rastafarian is a religion (and not actually a big one - the island is very religious, but mostly of the Protestant variety - only somewhere between 1-5% of the population identifies as Rastafarian). The locals speak patois as well as English. There is definitely a cultural difference between what Americans would consider polite and what the locals do, but it's easy enough to get used to - and once it's clear you're not just another asshole tourist, they're more friendly.

Our total cost for the vacation portion (read: non-wedding) was about $3300 (flights, hotel, taxis, non-hotel food, massage, excursion, souvenirs, etc). At least in the touristy areas, you can use Jamaican and American money interchangeably. They say the rate is  10 to 1, but it's actually 100 to 1 - 1000 Jamaican is 10 USD. We changed over about a third of our spending money into Jamaican. We also waited longer than we should have to buy our flights, which ended up costing us more than we planned - buy them early. Southwest also started flying in to Jamaica the day we left (we're pretty sure we saw the first plane come in), so there are probably cheaper options now than what we had. We decided to play it safe and get the CDC recommended shots beforehand, which was an additional $370 we didn't originally plan for.

To sum up: Jamaica is awesome and beautiful, and we are so glad we went.

p.s. I am working on a post on the wedding stuff for A Practical Wedding, and if they publish it I'll link to it here.


on buying glasses online

I've been looking to buy new glasses for several months, now. The ones I had were so old they were missing about 70% of the anti-reflective coating on the lenses, and small enough that I couldn't wear them outside because they didn't block enough light (and I didn't wear them often enough to bother getting prescription sunglasses). I wanted plastic frames this time, skewing more bookish-librarian or nerdy-girl-prior-to-prom-queen-transformation than hipster irony.

So I begin poking around. My optometrist had fuck all; Costco had some that were tolerable, but none that I'd actually enjoy wearing. (The enjoyability factor is important: I spent half my childhood hating how I looked in glasses, and therefore have sacrificed my eye health for looks ever since I got contacts.) Enter Warby Parker - via facebook ad, I believe - with sexy models and reasonable, all-inclusive prices, and a try five at home for free program.

I should preface this with the fact that I seem to have a hard-to-fit face for glasses. I'm of medium width measurement-wise, but I have a wide jaw and round cheeks, so what fits physically on my face often ends up looking too small visually. I also have a huge pet peeve about frames touching my cheeks, even if it's just when I smile. It takes trying on about a hundred pairs of sunglasses before I find ones I can stand; prescription glasses seem to be more on the order of two or three hundred. I should also mention that the last pair I had fitted (a decade ago, now) involved me having a melt-down in Costco about how unsymmetrical my face is. The poor woman who helped me clearly still remembers and is especially nice whenever I come through her check out line.

But I use the "virtual try on" feature on Warby Parker, order five for my try on, and get them sent to me. I am excited. When they arrive, I tear them open, am impressed by the quality, and completely unimpressed with how any of them look on me. Glasses, it turns out, look very different in a photograph online - or superimposed over your photograph online - than they do in person. I play around with them awhile anyway, and drop them back in the mail five days later.

Warby Parker also sends a barrage of friendly emails when you do a try on, encouraging you to post pictures on social media to get feedback, or to email them directly for advice. Nonplussed with my own selections, I send in photos of myself in the try on pairs by email (it's hard to take photos of yourself in glasses, I find), and get fairly helpful feedback that informs my next try on batch. When they come, they are better, but still nothing golden; mostly, still a touch too narrow for my face visually.

I give up awhile, and then start poking around on Rivet and Sway instead. Their styles are slightly more expensive and geared entirely for women, and they have a handy little survey to direct you toward frames you might like. I pay more attention to the measurement numbers this time, and end up with a batch of glasses that all almost-work, with one pair being the standout. I order, overjoyed.

And when they arrive, they come in a very nice case with a beautiful, watercolor print cleaning cloth, but they fit absolutely nothing like the try on pair - they lean heavily on my cheeks and seem oddly angled downward. I email customer service, and they respond quickly and sympathetically, and promise to send a replacement pair. The second pair arrives, and it is (I swear) exactly the same pair as the original, except that they'd bent the arms up at the hinges violently, so that they are loose from the frames (like glasses get if someone sits on them) and incredibly crooked on my face. When I write a complaining email, requesting the no-questions-asked refund and pointing out that they said they'd *replace* the frames, the woman insists that they were replaced, but that all the frames had that inward tilt so their technician bent up the handles of the *new* pair of frames. Sigh. (Note for customer service people: better to tell the truth than lies that make no sense.)

Here's a shot of the "replacement" pair:

Back to the drawing board.

Meanwhile, I've taken so long with this process that Warby Parker has come out with a new season of frames, and armed with my newfound expertise, I pick out another five styles. I find another clear winner when the try ons arrive: the Dale, in Whiskey Tortoise. I order them, slightly apprehensive, and hold on to the trial pairs until the prescription one comes, just in case they suffered the same problem (a three day weekend makes this possible, although I was still impressed by how quickly they shipped). They arrived, and fit exactly the same as the trial pair. Success! The hard case isn't as nice as Rivet and Sway's, and they only have a plain fabric case instead of a cleaning cloth, but the glasses themselves are much better quality (and were $50 cheaper).

I also discovered that my optometrist's office was willing to fit them on me for free (which was good, as I didn't want to trust myself to bend them).

I would absolutely recommend Warby Parker, though I would say ignore the virtual try on feature and start by emailing them for help, with pictures of you in your current frames for reference. I also had a friend that suffered from Bell's Palsy and had to buy glasses last minute, and she raved about how helpful and swift they were as well. They also donate a pair to someone needy for every pair purchased, so you get feel-good bonus points for buying from them.

Also: if you don't know what measurement numbers your current frames are, try some on in person somewhere. When you order your try ons, select frames that are a similar size. Glasses come with three measurement numbers (in order): the width of the lenses, the width of the bridge, and the length of the arms. Arms are less important (since they can be bent), but make sure the total of the lens + the bridge measurement is within a digit or two of your current pair. Don't bother with anything that isn't the right measurement, no matter how cute they are - you'll just end up sad that they don't fit.

And here's a selfie of a (finally) satisfied customer:


things i like, vol. 45

Babies, animals, lots of magic.

. . .

Carved out of wood.
. . .

How to make things koselig
According to my experience in Norway, a koselig evening involves candles, good music and as least awkward silences as possible (Norwegians are very sensitive to awkward silences, more than any people I’ve lived with). Warm colors around you, a fire in the chimney, good food on the table, wine and people you like and feel comfortable with. Chatting away the evening and the night with a little drunkness and inner warmth.
. . . 

Nude dancers.

. . .

St. Barth's.

. . .


. . . 

In case you need to know what time it is in other parts of the world, as I often do and am hopeless at.

 . . . 

Perfectly placed.

. . .

A secret. I feel it, too.

. . .


what the living do

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss — we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

- Marie Howe


i am a visitor here, i am not permanent

My good friend Sean passed away two weeks ago.

I got the news - via facebook message - while I was helping two of my friends practice for their first dance at their wedding the following day. I cried after they left and tried hard not to think about it. And except for it creeping up on me when I least expected it a few times in the last week, I've done a pretty good job not thinking about it. Which meant that I had not prepared myself for his memorial service today as well as I might have liked.

What was so nice about the service was how much emphasis was placed on Seany's music, and how much he loved it and loved sharing it. The gigs and gigs of music I have saved on my hard drive are due, almost entirely, to him. We didn't have exactly the same taste, but had much in common; he was responsible for a huge amount of my development as a music listener, and he grew to know my taste better than anyone. He would nearly pounce on me as soon as he'd found a new album he thought I'd love, and he was always right.

Sean was always, always a good friend. He was always ready to listen whenever anyone needed it. He was a genuinely open and caring guy.

We'd drifted apart the last few years - both busy with our jobs, I think, and not spending as much time chatting online (as we did all through college). I'd been meaning to text him for at least two weeks before he died, and was just too distracted to follow through. We'd planned to hang out when I was on spring break, and he was dead before that happened.

At least he went while he was with friends. At least it was just as simple as falling asleep listening to Coldplay, one of his very favorite bands.

I went back through emails we'd exchanged, and found a paper he'd written for a music course and sent me back in 2006: a list of his favorite albums of the moment - some of which are still my favorite albums, and ones I most associate with him, because he shared them with me - and an accompanying short analysis and his favorite bits. I thought, in the spirit of his musical generosity, that I'd share his list with you; especially if there are ones you are unfamiliar with, I'd strongly recommend you listen and lose yourself in some music for awhile.

I love you lots, Seany. I miss you terribly, and I'm so sad we didn't hang out more the last few years.


on weddings

We're getting married, and I'm super excited.

We've already arranged how it's going to happen - we're running off to Jamaica this summer, just the two of us, and getting married on a beach as close to sunset as we're legally allowed, and combining that with the honeymoon itself. And we'll have some sort of party when we come back to celebrate. I have my dress - from here - and pretty much the only thing we have left to do is buy the plane tickets.

What weirds me out about the whole process is all the strange social constructs people have built up around weddings. We've inadvertently broken the mold - we're getting married entirely, proudly by ourselves, but we're telling everyone about it first. Apparently no one does this. Even on the "alternative wedding" websites, the most subversive thing you can do is elope. (What we're doing doesn't count as an elopement, since it's not at all secret.)

But there's very little about a "traditional" wedding that appeals to me. For one, we've never been ones to stick to tradition - we've been living and raising a child together for years, now - but most wedding traditions seem particularly ludicrous to me, especially as so many of them are fed by centuries-old religion or misogyny (or, often, religious misogyny). No one really requires seeing bloody sheets any more - at least not in mainstream America - but how far off is the garter removal, really?

And then there's the entire economy built around wedding planning - huge, overpriced, overblown, insane trappings that are different only in the minutiae that harried brides spend months obsessing about. Why do we get favors like we're attending a kid's birthday party? Why are there only round tables and two kinds of chairs used at receptions? Why do people pay $75 a plate when you can buy better entrees at Chili's for $15? Why in the world is every wedding dress for the past ten years strapless with a big skirt (and often thousands of dollars despite being made of polyester)? Just to be clear, I'm not judging people who have or enjoy these things - I'm judging our society for demanding that they are necessary.

I'm fully convinced that most people have a very, very hard time enjoying their weddings, and definitely don't enjoy the months leading up to them. I've watched enough of my friends go through the process to know how exhausting and unrewarding it can be.

Instead, I spent a week and a half figuring out my dress, what hotel we'd stay at, and what wedding planner we'd pay to take care of the entire thing (photography included), and now I'm done. When we get back, I get to throw together a party without any pressure at all (since it's not tied to the wedding itself, there's no need for everything to be any more perfect or stressful than our usual fĂȘtes).

And no, we're not having a sit-down reception. The details are sketchy as of yet, but it'll probably be in the vineyard, and there will be good wine and twinkle lights and hopefully a bonfire, and my biggest goal is to get everyone to have a good time, not just a good time for a wedding.

Until then, I get to dream of beaches and happiness.