June 29, 2006

Cakeface Discovers the Perfect Cupcake

Like the knights searching for the Holy Grail I am on the life long quest to find the perfect slice of cake.

Grand Central Station
, once the hub of hustle and bustle, is now the home of a pretty fantastic food concourse that is accessible and friendly. In it I discovered the Little Pie Company. Take a trip to NY on the train and don’t leave Grand Central Station – it is worth the trip just to explore these eateries and have a piece of cake.

The perfect cupcake is vanilla and you have a choice of chocolate, vanilla or strawberry icing. Let’s be clear, my favorite cake is white cake with white icing – like the kind you used to be able to count on at weddings before they started getting all fancy with carrot cakes and other nonsense. I chose strawberry icing just for a summer treat. My mouth waters now with the memory of it.

As I walked down the tracks to my train I bit into this beauty and it was extraordinary. The icing was creamy like real cream, not buttercream filler. It tasted like real strawberry and melted in my mouth. It was warm, not refrigerated and six days old. The cake was so moist and it tasted almost like it had corn meal in it – a very unexpected and yet delicious surprise. But the real surprise, which I got to in about ten seconds, as I wolfed down the cupcake, was the white creamy center. Oh my, pure heaven and an instant attraction repulsion of guilt and pleasure explosion.

Some trigger goes off in my mind when I eat cupcakes, taking me back to when I was for or five. It explains why I have to always eat cake as fast and furiously as possible. Here’s the story - on the bus home from school one day I found a piece of cake in my lunch box that I had not eaten (yes, hard to believe it had been overlooked, prepubescent is all I can say). I furiously stuffed the cake into my mouth before exiting the bus. Everyone was impressed and the nickname Cakeface was born and she lives on today.

Unfortunately I can't find a photo of the cupcake online or on their menu. You'll just have to try it yourself!

Where in the World - Update

Because Tika cat is not doing well I will be staying in Connecticut for an extra week before heading down to DC.

June 30-July 8 Connecticut
July 8-22 - DC

The cat has a good attitude even though the cancer is growing. She is so brave. I have her on pain killers so she seems to be feeling no pain.

June 27, 2006

Where in the World is The Kweskin Report?

Are you confused about my whereabouts? Me too. Here's my Summer Schedule...

June 21 - Moved away from Houston - Arrived in Connecticut, stay with folks
June 30 - Depart Connecticut - Arrive in DC
July 1-9 - Party with the siblings in DC
July 10-21 - Fellowship Residency at Americans for the Arts in DC
July 22 - Return to Connecticut
August 13-18 - Photograph Maccabi Games in Connecticut (SeeMeGrow Photography)
August 20 - Arrive LONDON!
August 21 - ????

The only unknown, besides the actual details of life in London, is what the heck to do with my cat. She is on the final days, weeks, months of her life because of Kitty Cancer. Meow.

June 24, 2006

I’m Going to Rock and Roll All Night and Party Every Day, Until Retirement

The sixties were a good time for the proliferation of popular arts and culture. Nonprofits arts organizations were launched with the establishment of the Ford Foundation’s grants, liberal arts educations were encouraged, college students graduated into a world of free love, low rent, and asked not what their country could do for them but what they could do for their country. (Read more in John Kreidler’s article Leverage Lost).

Now these free loving folks, better known as Baby Boomers, are in their 50s and 60s. For arts nonprofits this means that those that launched this industry are heading towards a critical transition in their careers – retirement, consulting, teaching…renewing? The question is who follows in their footsteps? Who will be the next generation of arts leaders and how are they being developed?

This is note an issue unique to nonprofit arts. The New York Times article Iron Man Slows, And So Does The Industry, by Jeff Leeds, Sunday, June 25, 2006 explores the same question for big buck classic rock and heavy metal artists. As rockers like Ozzy Osbourne, 57, Tom Petty, 55, Pete Townshend, 61, and Eric Clapton, 61 slow down there are limited acts that follow which are able to demand the same ticket price. The prediction is that an entire tour industry will wither in the next ten years.

Why is there a dearth in creative leadership in the arts between the Baby Boomers and GenX? Madonna, now 47, is one of the few artists who bridges the gap. Capitalizing on her chameleon-like persona she is able to timelessly exist on the cutting edge. But her hope for the future, GenYer Britney Spears, is living the definition of her demographic and has returned to the family values of pre-Baby Boomer twenty-somethings: marriage, kids, what next…

Now mid-career, GenXers are stuck in the middle. Originally blessed with the slacker misnomer we are the technology innovators who are in limbo between the extroverted Baby Boomers and the masses of GenY, Tweens, and Wannabes who are, for some reason, sexier prospects to mentor.

At the Americans for the Arts Convention in Milwaukee, WI earlier this month, select emerging leaders (folks 35 or younger and less than 5 years into arts management) had the opportunity to shadow seasoned leaders (aka Baby Boomers). The matches were inspirational for both parties. But the theory was that pairing mid-career arts leaders (GenXers), with Baby Boomers just wouldn’t work. Too intense, threatening, disconnected, competitive? The origination of the reasoning was not clear.

Why does this gap exist? Is it purely a population equation with fewer GenXers to actually follow the Baby Boomers so we are skipped entirely? Is it that we are a generation quite comfortable behind our faceless computers and technology?
Is it that the radical cultural clashes of the 60s broke new ground for those of us who came of age in the 80s and there just wasn’t anything to make us stand out as radicals, survivors, rock stars?

June 22, 2006

Vince and Jennifer vs. Angelina and Brad

Broken Over the Break Up

You can’t help but analyze the “relationship” between Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston when you see The Breakup. Frankly, that was the only reason I agreed to see the film. I don’t think they were or are in love. It is all a publicity stunt. The film was flat and so is their supposed relationship.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith with Brad and Angelina sizzled with chemistry. You believed that they were a couple that had a history together and could rebuild their lives despite their attempts to kill each other.

Jennifer came off as a manipulative, angry bitch and Vince was towed around by her behavior. Angelina was in it for herself and so was brad – but they found strength in each other and brought that to the heart of their relationship.

Am I over-analyzing these folks and their movie personas? Heck, I’m not alone. It is like junk food for the brain. So much more interesting than real life.

Home from College?

Now that I’m staying with my folks for the summer I feel like I’m home from college on break. Must say that being job-less and car-less is really a nice way to live. Yes, I realize that this is not realistic but it is so easy to slip back into those early 20s.

Tika the cat is having her second kittenhood. She’s running, jumping and hunting chipmunks through the window. For a cat with kitty cancer you would think her life would be winding down, not up. Maybe the drugs make her happy.

The weather is lovely. Doesn’t compare to the wet steamy hot of Houston, and I’m okay with that. Ah yes, New England. Seeing the boats along the Long Island Sound, smelling the fresh air, enjoying the rolling hills, it feels like good prep for moving to Old England.

June 20, 2006

Out of the Land of Wet

Tika cat and I flew out of Houston yesterday during a break in the rain storms. My cousin Julie emailed, “Houston is crying because you are leaving.” It was beyond crying, as Stephen would say, “it was pelting”.

We built our arc in the front yard out of three storage containers into which we placed all of our belongings. For five days we watched as the rain started and stopped in fits and the puddle at the end of our drive grew.

The final night, with all our worldly possessions (the ones that didn’t make the cut to go to London) exposed to the elements, we had visions of soggy books and warped furniture. As the day began to dawn we looked out at the puddle and, despite the endless rain, the water had not risen above the palettes on which they storage units were placed. A miracle!

On the way to the airport we did see some impressive flooding. At one point we got out of the highway traffic to try the frontage road but had to reenter the parade as the flood waters gobbled up cars in front of us. “I finally understand the usefulness of high suspension” Stephen declared as we watched a giant pickup truck, loaded with five guys in garage uniforms, cowboy-it through the water.

Roads were closed, Hobby airport was closed, offices were closed, even schools. This must be Houston's snow days. The airport was chaos. My luggage was lost and is still in-transit from Houston. Texas, let me go!

Photo: From www.accuweather.com. The guys we saw were in the truck, wind blowing in their hair, smiles from ear to ear.

June 16, 2006

Wheel-less and Loving It

Today I sold my Scion, George, back to Toyota. Then thirty minutes later I sold my bike back to Montrose Bikes. I fully expected to sell the Scion but not the bike. Turns out the cost of assembly/disassembly of the bike would cost more than what I paid for it new. I had had visions of riding it this summer in Connecticut, which only added to the cost of more assembly/disassembly.

So, I’m wheel-less. Dropping off George was a relief. No more payments, no more insurance, no more gas and no more damage to a leased vehicle. I’m not cut out for leasing. You need to be neat and pristine like Stephen – in other words, British.
Spent about 10 seconds contemplating taking my roller blades to London. But, I haven’t used them in at least a year, which indicates to me that I probably won’t be blading in London. Maybe I can get a polo pony.

For those of you who have been reading The Kweskin Report since it started you will remember the ode to my red Nissan. George and I didn't have a long enough relationship for me to feel too sentimental. I did give him a loving pat before saying farewell. Did the same for the bike and the guys in the shop thought I was totally nutters. Kind of a guy place - that was way too girly for them.

What’s Up with Kabbalah?

Is Kabbalah a religion, fashion statement, philosophy, energy drink or what? Its biggest advocate, or should I say fanatic, is Madonna. She’s out there in the celebrity world recruiting new converts like Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan. Is it a multi-level marketing scam?

There’s something fundamentally not-Jewish about the whole thing. Let’s be frank, Jews aren’t known for drafting people into the religion. I thought Kabbalah was based on Judaism. Aren’t there mystical, mythical secrets that take a lifetime to learn?

While in Milwaukee last week city buses were wrapped with giant Kabbalah drink advertisements. A beverage? Now you can drink Kabbalah? The big question I have is who is making the big bucks off of Kabbalah?

Should it Stay or Should it Go?

Moving is a time of cleansing – and I don’t mean your house. That becomes a total mess. It is cleansing in that you get rid of tons of crap. But we’re in an even more interesting position because all our stuff has to be divided into three piles:

1. Get rid of it
2. Put it in storage for two years
3. Bring it to London

Pile two is of course the largest. Most of our things are going into storage. It feels like we’re also placing a good amount in pile one – giving it away. I have a feeling that when we reclaim our possessions from pile two in storage we’ll wonder why we ever kept them.

Pile three is the most important. What limited things do you take with you to a foreign country for two years? In a previous move I got rid of all things that reminded me of my prior life. When I unpacked I felt very empty. Only the soulless stuff was left.

Having learned from that lesson, as well as not wanting to have to pack so much stuff back up when we leave London, I am taking two small boxes of “touchstone” things that remind me of good times.

Key selections include:
-A handmade mug that reminds me of Ithaca
-The Frida Kahlo keepsakes and handcrafts that remind me of Mexico
-Select pieces of my glass heart collection that remind me of California

Writing this I realize that I don’t have anything that will remind me of Houston...

June 11, 2006

Downsizing Our Lives

Living in Houston is living LARGE and moving to London is the next phase in our lives… living small. At first we were concerned that we wouldn’t be able to adjust to a small flat after living in the soaring rooms of our Houston townhouse. Could we tolerate a living space in which our California King bed wouldn’t fit, our giant library of books couldn’t be displayed and our clothes not conveniently stored?

Our “Adopt Our Stuff” party today was the perfect send off for our London reduction. Friends and associates came over to peruse our castoff belongings. In the first thirty minutes we had successfully downsized. One friend asked, “are you’ll sad about giving away all your stuff? We feel weird taking it.” Not at all! I was ear-to-ear smiles as our Houston circle adopted our things. It was difficult not to run upstairs and grab more stuff to give away.

For the next two years our possessions will be in storage in Houston. We are taking only a few bits and pieces of our most sacred things with us to London. What makes the cut? Not much. Clothes, a few books, my Frida Kahlo keepsakes and of course our electronic data. Everything else goes into storage. It is a wonderful, freeing experience.

This afternoon we went to see Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth http://www.climatecrisis.net/ and were even more inspired about our move. As we prepare to cast off our cars I feel an instant relief about getting rid of gas guzzling vehicles, monthly payments and insurance – as well as the stress of driving. I am committed to walking, using public transit and biking as much as possible. Stephen and I agreed that our new UK household appliances would be fuel-efficient. The thought of living without air conditioning is the icing on the cake.

As Gore’s movie concluded I was inspired to clap, but I was alone. Houstonians got up and walked out as the “how-to” advice moved across the big screen. His words hit too close to home. If the ice caps melt, Houston will flood. If we cut down on gas usage, Houston’s big business will tank. If we demand zero emissions, Houstonians will melt in the heat.

Exiting the theater Stephen and I agreed that we’ve had enough of living in cities on fault lines and ones in which you have artificially freeze the air nine months a year. Certainly London will have its vices but we believe that we will live more consciously, starting with downsizing our lives.

Commencements Launch New Beginnings

I always thought it was strange that graduations were called commencements. Wasn’t this the end, not the beginning? But in reading this excerpt from Jodie Foster’s commencement speech to UPenn graduates I was inspired to see that endings are really new beginnings.

As I get ready to move to London and begin the latest chapter in the Adventures of Amy and Stephen, her statement brings clarity to my wanderings.

Jodie FosterActor, director and producerUniversity of Pennsylvania

"You pick up bits and pieces of treasure and trash, pain and pleasure, passions and disappointments, and you start throwing them in your bag, your big bag of experience. You do some dumb things that don't work out at all. You stumble excitedly on little gems that you never saw coming. And you stuff them all in your bag. You pursue the things you love and believe in. You cast off the images of yourself that don't fit. And suddenly you look behind you and a pattern emerges.

You look in front of you and the path makes sense. There is nothing more beautiful than finding your course as you believe you bob aimlessly in the current. Wouldn't you know that your path was there all along, waiting for you to knock, waiting for you to become. This path does not belong to your parents, your teachers, your leaders, your lovers. Your path is your character defining itself more and more every day, like a photograph coming into focus."

Webcast of Jodie's Commencement address.
Photo from msnbc.

June 6, 2006

Tipping in Hotels - Who Writes the Rules?

Tipping is just plain confusing when you stay in a hotel. Of course I know that if you eat in the restaurant you tip. When you ask the concierge to hold your bags you leave a tip – not sure how much but I’ve been doing $1 per bag. Should I tip the guy who opens the doors, the reception desk folks, and the people who clean the ashtrays even though I don’t smoke?

Tipping the maid never occurred to me. Last week when I stayed in San Francisco the maids were all so very nice when you passed them in the hotel lobby, hallways and elevators. At first I thought, “what a nice hotel – must have great management.” But then the cynical part of me said, “wait, I bet this is how they indicate to you that you should leave a tip. They butter you up.” But I didn’t do it. I’ve never left a housekeeping tip. Am I cheap, spiteful, selfish, clean or just socially inept?

In Milwaukee I have a Hilton Honors “membership” which gives me access to their Honors Lounge. Heck, this is living. You get free food for breakfast – perfect for the frugal shopper that I am. But do you leave a tip? On the first day I was the only one in the lounge and the waitress came over and chatted with me. She was so nice and we had lots in common. Having just returned from a walk I only had 75 cents so I left it on the table. I didn’t pay for the breakfast so I didn’t know how much to leave – if anything at all.

Well, the next day she was there again and this time she acted a bit strange and looked at me sideways. Had I not left enough? Too cheap? So I splurged and left her a dollar this time. Don’t worry, I know that that is still chincy but again, I didn’t pay for breakfast.

Today for my final breakfast I neglected to bring any money. There was a fellow diner and I asked him if I should leave a tip. He was horrified and told me, in no uncertain terms, “No, you don’t leave a tip.” Oh my, the last two days I had insulted the waitress by leaving her not just a tip but a cheap tip. Maybe in tipping etiquette I had said she was cheap? Then again, maybe he was cheap and at least I had left some money?

Who writes these rules? How do you know when to tip and when not to? It seems like a mysterious world that you have to navigate carefully. If you make a mistake you may end up with bad service or worse – shortchanging someone who is depending on your money to provide them with a living wage. Maybe I’ll just keep a roll of quarters up my sleeve and dispense them to everyone. Equal Opportunity Employer.

Milwaukee Art Museum Takes Flight

For the concluding reception of the Americans for the Arts Convention we were hosted at the Milwaukee Art Museum. This spectacular building, designed by Spanish-born architect Santiago Calatrava, opened in 2001 and it is an architectural marvel. Its beauty has inspired a re-branding of Milwaukee with the city using a profile of the distinctive building’s design for its logo.

Like an awakening bird the building opens each day with its wings unfolding from its axis point that gracefully points out over Lake Michigan. At lunch time the wings open and close “for viewers’ amusement” and then as the museum closes at night the wings fold again as the bird sleeps.

The interior is futuristic, spiritual and romantic. Gazing down the white hallways with their ribs of portholes you feel as though you are in Kubrik’s 2010 spaceship looking out onto a distant planet.

The interior is the body of the bird, arching up from the main hall, like a cathedral of unstained glass. Are we inside a whale gazing up through its transparent ribs as it comes up for air? Or is it the hull of the ship plowing forward onto the lake.

I was already blown away by this accessible city before visiting the museum. Having watched its metaphorical wings open it has become a touchstone for serenity and inspiration.

June 4, 2006

Milwaukee a Gem

I'm at the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention in Milwaukee for five days and am finding this to be a remarkable city. Having never been to Milwaukee before I had no notions except beer and Laverne and Shirley - Happy Days too?

This is a beautiful city on Lake Michigan which feels as large as an ocean but as still as a pond. The downtown area, in which we are staying, is filled with sports arenas, hotels and cool old brick buildings – the kind you just don’t see in San Francisco, or even in Houston.

Yesterday we attended a reception at the Youth Arts Center which is a spectacular facility. Filled with rehearsal and performance rooms and plenty of presentation areas, the YAC, as it is called, is a treasure for kids. Walking down off the buses that transported all 900 0f us we were greeted by kids with cameras who pretended that we were celebrities – screaming and waving as we walked down a red carpet into the building. But they were the real stars. They entertained us with jazz and choral performances that were superb.

Today we Bucketworks which is a place to work out your creativity. This morning is the Bike for Arts event which is fundraiser. There is a River Walk along the Michigan River which brings together arts, dining, shopping and sports. Really, this is a gem of a city.

Photos: Downtown Milwaukee from Convention and Visitors Bureau website
Youth Arts Center photo from their website