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February 28, 2008

Harry Dupree

Yesterday I was driving home from the park 'n ride and listening to one of those "oldies" stations that play music from the 1980s. As if anything from the 80s can be classified as oldies! Because people, that is not old! I mean really now.

Anyway, while I was listening to this so-called "oldies" station, they played that song by Billy Ocean which today I know is titled "Caribbean Queen."

But back in the day when I was living out on the bayou and me and my friends would listen to the radio all day long and sing along with all the songs and there was no internet where you could go look up song lyrics and so on, I was certain the song was called "Harry Dupree." Harry Dupree! Now we're sharing the same dreams! And our hearts they beat as one, no more love on the run!

It must have been before my friend Suzanne and her family got that bigass satellite dish and we could go to her house and watch MTV all day because I never had any reason to think I was off-base on my song lyrics. Also, in my defense I have to inform you that in Cajun country "Harry Dupree" is not a stretch as far as names go. We often listened to songs informing us not to mess with so-and-so's toot toot, or instructing us on zydeco lovin'.

However, I was singing this song one day with one of my equally well-dressed friends (I am certain we were wearing something neon, or adorned with three belts or we had our socks up over our pants legs) and it dawned on me something was wrong with the song.

And so I asked my friend, "Why do you think he's singing this song about Harry Dupree? Singing it to another guy?" and we sat there for a moment with our thinking caps on. They were probably thinking caps from Rave.

"Well, maybe we have the lyrics to the song all wrong," she said. "If you listen real close it sounds more like he's singing it to Carrie Dupree, which makes more sense because that's a girl's name."

Indeed! THAT MADE SO MUCH MORE SENSE. And so that is how I spent the entire length of the 1980s thinking Billy Ocean was in love with Carrie Dupree.

And just for fun, on the ride home yesterday I sang it like in the good old days:

Carrie Dupree! Now we're sharing the same dreams! And our hearts they beat as one, no more love on the run!

Posted by laurie at 10:08 AM

February 27, 2008

The Brick Wall Theory

The picture of the Liquor Bank prompted a slew (slew! a word so underused!) of emails from kind, caring readers who emphatically suggested/declared/empathized with what they see as my binge drinking/addiction to alcohol/insidious disease and they equally emphatically let me know I should immediately join a 12 step program/return to Christ/check into rehab.

I assure you I do have a problem, but the intervention was needed weeks ago and it was with those DAMN CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES from Whole Foods. Finally one day in what can only be described as a flash of illumination in the addict haze I realized I could simply stop buying the truffles thereby avoiding having them inside the house and, by proxy, inside my mouth.

It was a shaky few days and there were definite signs of withdrawal. But then I went on vacation and detoxed on pasta.

- - -

I get a tremendous amount of email like that and I almost always try to ignore it and don't mention it ("what you focus on expands" sayeth Oprah), though I am certain it's partially to blame for my glacially slow progress on fixing my many email problems. Email just seems so judgmental.

The only reason I'm even addressing it this time is because I have been thinking a lot lately about who we are, and how people see us, and how that changes the choices you make ... if you let it. Been thinking about how folks get a picture in their head of a person and when they discover anything that doesn't fit the predetermined picture it just shocks the pants right off them. Been wondering if I would have made the same choices when I was younger if I had cared a just a little less what people would think of me.

The older I get the less invested I am in what anyone else thinks of me, and not coincidentally I get more me everyday.

The Brick Wall Theory

In my college biology class I was bored and underwhelmed and had three hours twice a week to sit in a wooden chair and daydream. That was when I developed a theory about relationships. It became a pretty robust theory and I called it "The Brick Wall." (By the way, I am FULL of theories. My friends have to hear my theories on everything, it is really funny. They sometimes throw things at me.)

So, anyway, at age 19 it seemed to me that men came at a new relationship with a woman as if she were this cute, adorable, perfect little brick wall. But then the guy would discover some flaw and whoops, take out one brick. Or maybe he finds out she is grumpy in the morning. There goes a brick. She's jealous about his ex-girlfriend calling night and day? There goes another brick. Maybe two. And before long, this perfect woman he's met is just another partially exposed pile of bricks and not the delightful picture of completion he expected. She's a big messy pile of bricks and he goes looking for a new, perfect brick wall and the cycle starts all over again.

In the Theory, women come at it a different way -- not better or worse, just different. Women start with one brick: A man. They get a brick each time they find out something new about him (likes animals: add one brick, good kisser: brick, calls the day after the first date: six bricks...) and so on. Before long she is putting together a picture of this man, assembling her brick wall of him out of the things she's uncovering. And here is the key to my teenage mind's theory: when there are big open spaces in the brick wall, the woman will use her willpower and love to fill in the gaps. Sometimes this holds that brick wall together for a long while. But if the gaps are filled in with her personal mortar of love (instead of real bricks from him) the whole thing just collapses. And just like the guy, she finds herself staring at a big pile of bricks.

(Also, it is possible I was deep in my existential literature classes at the time, duly noted.)

I didn't draw a final conclusion from my old Brick Wall Theory. It was just a way of explaining how I thought men and women approached romantic love differently. Gave me something to think about while staring out the window in Biology class.

Now that I am much older and many bricks along, I think my theory was a pretty accurate one in some ways. Sometimes I feel like my life is just one big classroom full of what I fondly call AFGOs. (That stands for Another F***ing Growth Opportunity.) (I am also very classy.) Learning about perception was the class I took in 2007. I woke up, showed up for life, and got a big lesson in bricks. For one thing, nothing exposes you to "input" faster than putting a piece of your life out to the public. And then meeting said public. I wouldn't change it for the world, because it is how I developed my Bricks Don't Float theory.

Bricks Do Not Float

* Also, note to self: develop catchier name for theory

Bricks don't float. When you are flowing down the river of your life and you reach out for bricks, you will slow the flow and get to see a whole lot less of your river in your lifetime. If people are always throwing bricks in your river, and you see those bricks and start gathering them and holding on to them and keeping all those random, mismatched bricks other people throw at you, you will again slow down and maybe even stop and you'll be stuck in the same stagnant pool of water for a really long time.

But bricks happen. People will try to tell you who you are everyday and twice on Sunday. If you just ignore the bricks, let them sink to the bottom, you can keep going with the flow of your life. Keep moving on up, along, forward. Sometimes the bricks hurt and you may pause for a moment, but then you let go of it, drop that brick and just keep going.

Do you also see now why my friends JUST LOVE ALL MY THEORIES? They are all equally cheesified. Remind me to tell you my Bumper Guy theory one day. It is delightful.

Anyway, bricks are your pre-conceived notions of a thing. Bricks are what you bring to the wall. They aren't what the wall brings. Maybe the wall wants to be made of stones. Or clay. Or maybe the damn wall wants to be a boat.

- - -

I used to meet people and learn about them and then unconsciously fill in the places where I didn't know stuff about them. I would bring my own perceptions to their table. For example, after being married for a while I would just assume to know what my ex-husband wanted for dinner or what kind of movies he'd prefer or whatever -- such mundane things -- but I believe this kind of familiarity and assumption prevents people from really seeing each other with fresh eyes. Letting each other grow, change and evolve. It's like that one relative in your family who knew you at age 13 and to him you are still the gangly, messy chatterbox 13-year-old and he can't move past his perception of you even though you are now the CEO of your own corporation.

Grandma did this to me a few months back. I was washing dishes in her kitchen and she said, "I have never seen one person change so much in my life!" and I said, "Who, Grandma?" Because, you know, this could be some juicy gossip! I wanted to hear who had changed!

And she said, "You! You used to be so messy and now every time you are over here you're washing dishes or scrubbing something. I have never seen anyone change so much and become so particular."

I sighed.

"Grandma, I was thirteen! I had a messy room when I was thirteen years old!" But she was already off in another room.

The truth is, it's hard to look at someone who is close to you, familiar to you, with new eyes every day and let them be .. whoever they want to be on that day. We put expectations on people. We bring our own life experience and social conditioning to their picture. I have done it. Used to do it daily. Without ever examining my thoughts, I just made assumptions about folks. Assumed I could trust someone even though maybe they can't keep secrets. Assumed someone was a peaceful, centered person when inside they were falling apart at the seams. Assumed someone liked green beans, or whatever. It was me projecting my stuff on them.

I think it's normal and everyone does it.

Having said that, it's liberating to let go of it. It's been the strangest sensation for me. I had to start letting go of my expectations for others because I saw how many people had ideas of me that were not just inaccurate, they were downright polar opposite. You could read every word I have ever written and not know with any real clarity what my political leanings are or what my religious beliefs are or what's happening in my personal life. I could be engaged and planning a wedding. I could be in love with a 19-year-old bag boy from Ralph's. I could be eschewing relationships altogether. (Eschewing, another totally underused word!) I could be moving to France. Or North Hollywood. Or calling a pet psychic named Daria.

Can you ever truly know another person?

Because I don't think you can. I think it is impossible to really ever know someone else all the way through, and amen for that. It sure makes life more surprising. The upside is all selfish, of course. Letting go of my need to have people fit my expectations has given me the chance to stop living up to anyone else's picture for me.

I have been learning that even if the assumptions a total stranger makes about me are false, that's okay. It's not my job to always defend myself or set the record straight, or share every detail, or tell all my juicy gossip. I never expected to be someone who lived any part of her life publicly and now I am, a little bit. So I have had my good days and my challenging days, and the good days far outnumber them. If I hadn't been challenged in this way I'm not sure I would have arrived where I am in my own personal life so quickly. You figure out who you are real quicklike if a hundred people are telling you who they think you are. I had no idea I would end up being so grateful for anyone being so off the plot.

Since I want people to let me be whatever I pick on that day, I have to do that for them. That is kind of the way it goes. I am learning to just let go of my assumptions and allow my friends and my family to be who they are. Allow the surprise. Stop being so full of assumptions. Stop assuming I can size folks up based on their footwear (I had an ENTIRE THEORY built on that alone). And it seems the more I focus on myself and my own stuff, the less I even notice other people's issues. It's a relief, actually. It's a nice break from all the judging I used to do.

- - -

So, for the record: no, I am not an alcoholic, I am not joining a 12-step program and you do not need to email me me again to let me know I enjoy the tipple, for I have already received that memo. In triplicate. Also, I live in Los Angeles for chrissakes, joining a 12-step program would help my career! But unless I get back on the truffles, I think I'm doing okay. I'm happy, my life is good, I'm making jokes about all this but truly I am grateful for your concern. I know it comes from a good place.

And I thank you for finally inspiring me to take action on my email issue and change my address and develop a system and all that. Thank you. I'll be doing that all weekend long.

And one last thing: whatever you do, STAY AWAY FROM THE TRUFFLES. They are lethal. I tell you what.

Posted by laurie at 9:10 AM

February 26, 2008

I do believe I have an account here. And a savings account. And a certificate of deposit.

liquor-bank.jpg

Maybe later I will make a withdrawal.

Posted by laurie at 8:23 AM

February 25, 2008

Looking beret good...

That title sounded much funnier in my head.

Anyway, as you may have noticed I completed another hand-knit beret, this time using the Lion Brand Wool Ease chunky yarn in heathered grey. It's perfect, the weight of this yarn worked great on my hat, and I love a grey hat (conceals cat hair a wee bit better than solid black!)

Several weeks ago I made a black beret out of Thick 'n Quick but the gauge of the yarn is way huger (yep, that is a technical term) and it ended up making a rather large hat. The chunky wool-ease is perfect for this pattern, and I only used about three-quarters of the skein, so this hat ended up costing me a whopping three bucks.

I love that.

rome-woolease-beret.jpg

A few weeks ago I saw a girl wearing a knitted hat in a style I hadn't seen before, kind of like a toboggan-style hat but it was long almost like a stocking cap. So if I ever manage to break free of the beret, I may try to mimic what I saw. It looked like her hat was made of a much skinner yarn (again with the technical terms!) and so it might take me longer to make, which would be a good thing, actually. I could use a commuter project that is all knit-in-the-round goodness that lasts and lasts...

Is it wrong that my knitting is largely based on what I can do while on the bus? Wait -- don't answer that.

Question: Have any of ya'll made the beret and is it going okay? I have been more worried about that one project! My way of knitting is so tight and I have been concerned that the pattern won't fit anyone who knits just normal. Let me know! I'd love to hear if anyone has had beret good beret success.

Posted by laurie at 8:48 AM

February 22, 2008

Sharing, sinking, and The Brick Wall Theory

Reader Kat wrote:


Please believe that I am way enthused about how much you enjoyed your trip, and pleased that you have clearly inspired so many people.

But I HATE to travel. Hate it. Don't like it at all. I've seen a lot of terrific places in Europe and America, most of them due to someone else's insistence, and I have enjoyed maybe one or two trips out of the many many I have taken. I even lived in London for several months and I hated that. I like HOME, and that's sort of the only place I like to be.

I used to beat myself up about this, in part because people seem to think you're some sort of freak if you admit this fact to them, in part because I am surrounded by people who like to travel and always drag me with them, in part because there's no good way to explain to yourself why you hate to travel without admitting you're completely agoraphobic. Maybe I am agoraphobic, but either way I have finally come to terms with this aspect of me.

I love hearing about other people's trips, and I loved hearing about yours, but I get pretty upset when, in the midst of someone saying what a terrific time they had, they insist that I should go with them the next time. I'm not entirely sure why I'm posting this, other than adding a different perspective, but maybe it's something about all you adventurous types who read and comment on this blog being kind to your non-travel-inclined friends (if you have any - I've found us to be rare). Or maybe not. Maybe I just needed to explain.

Viva Rome, and viva home, equally. :)


I am certain that five years ago I would have been assuring Kat she just hadn't been on the right trip yet. But things have changed around here. I'm glad.

Kat, do you know I refuse to go on a cruise? I will never ever go on a cruise. I don't like big boats and I am notoriously hermitlike and the idea of being trapped on a floating germtrap with 5000 strangers literally makes me want to eat my arm.

Now, you imagine telling this to friends who are both INSISTING you join them on a cruise. First you back off nicely and then you get defensive and before long you're all, "Listen there is nothing wrong with me! I just do. not. want. to. go. OK???" and then everyone gets real silent.

Yup. That's me, Ye Olde Partykiller.

But I just am not getting on a cruise. Ain't happening. Part of what I am figuring out right now in my life is that no one else's experiences, choices and predilections fit me to a "T" and mine don't fit anyone else. That's why I say you have to find what suits you. I'm so glad you posted this.

Also, for the record, I equally do not like SUSHI. There, I said it.

I have been thinking a lot lately about who we are, and how people see us, and how that changes the choices you make ... if you let it. Been thinking about how people have a picture in their head of a person and the littlest things shock them. Been thinking if I would have made the same choices way back when if I had just cared a little less what people would think of me.

Listen, no one is ever getting me on a cruise ship. It will. not. ever. happen. Call me any old thing you like, but don't call me when you're sinking. I'll just say, "I told you so." (Yes, perhaps I still have some growthy to work on. I'm getting there ... on dry land.)

(This next part ties in. Or at least I think it does, I am having some wine over here.)

(cabernet, thanks for asking)

- - -

I used to have a theory about relationships. I called it "The Brick Wall." (By the way, I am FULL of theories. My friends have to hear my theories on everything, it is really funny. They sometimes throw things at me.)

So, I developed the Brick Wall Theory of Relationships back in college. At that time, it seemed to me that men came at a new relationship with a woman as if she were this cute, adorable, perfect little brick wall. But then the guy would discover some flaw and whoops, take out one brick. Or maybe he finds out she is grumpy in the morning. There goes a brick. She's jealous about his ex-girlfriend calling night and day? There goes another brick. Maybe two. And before long, this perfect woman he's met is just another partially exposed pile of bricks and not the delightful picture of completion he expected. It's a big messy lump and he goes looking for a new, perfect brick wall and the cycle starts all over again.

In my theory, women come at it a different way -- not better or worse, just different. Women start with one brick: A man. They get a brick each time they find out something new about him (likes animals: brick, good kisser: brick, calls the day after the first date: six bricks...) and so on. Before long she is putting together a picture of this man, assembling her brick wall of him out of the things she's uncovering. And when there are big open spaces she will use her willpower and love to fill in the gaps. Sometimes this holds that brick wall together for a long while. But if the gaps are filled in with her personal mortar of luuurve (instead of real bricks from him) the whole thing just collapses.

I didn't draw a final conclusion from my then-19-year-old self's Brick Wall Theory. It was just a way of explaining how I thought men and women approached romantic love differently. Gave me something to think about while staring out the window in Biology class, I suppose.

Now that I am much older and many bricks along, I think my theory was a pretty accurate one in some ways.

Sometimes I feel like my life is just one big classroom full of what I fondly call AFGOs. (That stands for Another F***ing Growth Opportunity.) (I am also very classy.) Learning about perception was the class I took in 2007. I woke up, showed up for life, and got a big lesson in bricks. For one thing, nothing exposes you to "input" faster than putting a piece of your life out to the public. And then meeting said public. I wouldn't change it for the world, because it is how I developed my Bricks Don't Float theory.

Bricks don't float, so they impede the flow. Bricks are roadblocks. Bricks stand in the way of you and you seeing somebody for who they really are. Bricks are your pre-conceived notions of a thing. Bricks are what you bring to the wall. They aren't what the wall brings. Maybe the wall wants to be made of stones. Or clay. Or maybe the damn wall wants to be a boat.

I used to meet people and learn about them and then unconsciously fill in the places where I didn't know stuff about them. I would bring my own perceptions to their table. For example, after being married for a while I would just assume to know what my ex-husband wanted for dinner or what kind of movies he'd prefer or whatever -- such mundane things -- but I believe this kind of familiarity and assumption prevents people from really seeing each other with fresh eyes. Letting each other grow, change and evolve. It's like that one uncle in your family who knew you at age 13 and to him you are still the gangly, messy chatterbox 13-year-old and he can't move past his perception of you even though you are now the CEO of your own corporation.

[Grandma did this to me a few months back. I was washing dishes in her kitchen and she said, "I have never seen one person change so much in my life!" and I said, "Who, Grandma?" Because, you know, this could be some juicy gossip! I wanted to hear who had changed!

And she said, "You! You used to be so messy and now every time you are over here you're washing dishes or scrubbing something. I have never seen anyone change so much and become so particular." I sighed. "Grandma, I was thirteen! I had a messy room when I was thirteen years old!" But she was already off in another room. Anyway.]

The truth is, it's hard to look at someone who is close to you, familiar to you, with new eyes every day and let them be .. whoever they want to be on that day. We put expectations on people. We bring our own life experience and social conditioning to their picture. I have done it. Used to do it daily. Without ever examining my thoughts, I just made assumptions about folks. Assumed I could trust someone even though maybe they can't keep secrets. Assumed someone was a peaceful, centered person when inside they were falling apart at the seams. Assumed someone liked green beans, or whatever. It was me projecting my stuff on them.

I think it's normal and everyone does it.

Having said that, it's odd to start letting go of it. It's been the strangest sensation for me. I had to start letting go of my expectations for others because I saw how many people had ideas of me that were not just inaccurate, they were downright polar opposite. Last year I was being interviewed by a reporter who reads this website. "I feel like I know everything about you," she said. "So I have nothing to really ask you!" and we laughed. I thought that was the funniest thing. I said, "That is just so odd to me! Because I don't talk about 99% of what goes on in my life."

Now this peaked her interest.

"Like what?" she asked. Microphone at the ready. Hey, this might be some juicy gossip!

"Well, you say you've read every paragraph here and the book. But can you tell me who I favor in the election? Or what sort of church I attend? Or do I attend church? Do I think as a Christian, a Hindu or a Pantheist? None of the above? All the above? What the hell is a Pantheist? Do I have a boyfriend? Am I engaged? Am I planning a wedding? Do I take any classes at night? Am I planning to move to another city? What is the title of my next book?" Then I paused. "No really, if you do have any book title ideas... I am wide open..."

I am thrilled to my toes that I can tell a story well enough that it makes a total stranger feel personally connected to me. That is the one thing I always wanted to do and even if no one read another word I'd still be spinning my wacko theories and boring my friends with stories. And I have been learning that even if the assumptions a total stranger makes about me are false, that's okay. It's not my job to always defend myself or set the record straight, or share every detail, or tell all my juicy gossip. I never expected to be someone who lived any part of her life publicly and now I am, a little bit. So I have had my good days and my challenging days, and the good days far outnumber them. But if I hadn't been challenged in this way I'm not sure I would have arrived where I am in my own personal life so quickly. You figure out who you are real quicklike if a hundred people are trying to tell you who they think you are! I had no idea I would end up being grateful for anyone being so off the plot.

Since I want people to let me be whatever I pick on that day, I have to do that for them. That is kind of the way it goes. I can't be all bound up on my high, high horse atop my big large horse-holding soapbox expecting people to let me be. (Also, I loved that soapbox and that horse. I truly did. It is hard to say goodbye.) So I am learning to just let go of my assumptions and allow my friends and my family to be who they are. Allow the surprise. Stop being so full of assumptions. Stop assuming I can size folks up. Stop assuming people believe the same things they did last week, or that if they have changed their opinions that makes them weak. Who cares! It's their opinion to change!

You know how I know this? The hard way. I was terrified to tell anyone I was getting a divorce and I kept it hidden for months from some people. Three guesses why. I didn't want anyone telling me, "I told you so." I was terrified of it. Terrified to give people the smug satisfaction of sitting in judgment of me at my time of failure. WELL GUESS WHO IS DIVORCED NOW. ME. WANT TO READ THE BOOK?

It allows me to be my own free self, and I get to practice it everyday (and hopefully I'll get better at it, because you know I still often see someone wearing something and have a word or two of judgy about it. You know I do). (Rome, not built in one day.)

- - -

(see, it kind of tied in.) (wine.)

Can you ever truly know another person?

Because I don't think you can. I think it is impossible to really ever know someone else all the way through, and amen for that. It sure makes life more surprising. The upside is all selfish, of course. Letting go of my need to have people fit my expectations has given me the chance to stop living up to anyone else's picture for me. So Kat gets to stay home and love it, I get to avoid sushi and find cheap airfares to wherever, and my friends who want to take cruises can go off to their watery graves. Bon voyage!

We all get to be different and unique and surprise the pants off each other.

If I even am wearing pants. I am just saying is all. You never really know!

- - - -

p.s. If this isn't the selfhelpiest pile of column I have ever written, then I am not a wine drinker. Lord have mercy on my everlovin' advice giving soul.

Posted by laurie at 11:19 AM

February 21, 2008

Last one, promise

Enough blah blah blah Rome/food/wine/popes! We will return to the urgent matters of cats, cat poop, knitting and traffic post haste. However, at the risk of completely evoking yawns, I did get several folks asking the same things so here are the answers. Also, I believe I wish I were still on vacation which is why I am still thinking of airplanes.

- - -
Where do you find such cheap airfares?

I knew I wanted to go somewhere anywhere just not on the freeway on my way to work again, please Lord. Instead of planning a destination ahead of time I just left myself open to going wherever the cheap fares took me.

However, this seat-of-your-pants destination bingo may not work for you. You may want to go to England in June, for example, or have your heart set on Australia for spring break. You may only feel comfortable traveling in a cruise setting or to an all-inclusive beach resort -- and that is perfectly 100% A-OKAY. You have to find a travel style that suits your personality. What works for other people will not always work for you. What works for me might make someone else break out in hives.

To find amazing fares all you need is an internet connection. Most people already know about the biggest internet travel websites like Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz. All of these sites are great, and I use them all to check fares from time to time. But the sites I use most often are:

Kayak.com - The "Buzz" feature of this site is a good way to find lower-cost fares. You can select your departure airport, then use a drop down menu to select a general destination (divided up into chunks of the world, like Europe or North America or Oceania/Australia) and then look for all the cheapest fares to that area of the world by month or by certain dates. Keep in mind that you need to click through on the fares to find the "real" price, Kayak doesn't add in the taxes and fees.

CheapTickets.com - Hands-down my favorite way to travel surf. This is where I got my $600 ticket to Rome, and this is where I have found 90% of all my best travel fares. Use their Flexible Search tool to find the best deals on tickets. In the search area on the left-hand side of the homepage, look for the small link that says "Flexible Dates."

cheaptickets-flex1.jpg

The expanded search page has tons of great options (for example, you can search for weekend trips in June to wherever...) but I like to use the 30-day search matrix, which is option 3. It works for international fares, too:

cheaptickets-flex2.jpg

You type in your departing city, an arrival city, and then look for flights for a trip of 4-6 days (or however long) in any 30-day period and you get a huge search matrix with all the prices for all travel dates in that time frame. IT WILL CHANGE THE WAY YOU BUY TICKETS! (Orbitz.com also has the exact same flexible search tool, but I noticed they add an extra $3-5 bucks on top of each ticket price. Same search, five dollars more.)

- - - -

How can people afford this?

To me, affording travel is usually a matter of priorities. I drive a thirteen-year-old car with no air conditioning. IN THE VALLEY. Most of my friends and family assumed that once I climbed (slowly, so slowly) (the word "glacial" comes to mind) out of debt I'd be immediately running out and buying a new car. But I saw travel on my horizon and my Jeep works fine for now. I would rather travel a lot (and oh yes, this is only the beginning) than have a car payment and that's where my priorities are.

If you really want something in life, you usually find a way to afford it. And don't let anyone tell you that you're being selfish, or "Ooooh, looky there! World traveler! blah blah blah fancypants!" People don't live your life, YOU live your life. Travel is one of the greatest life experiences ever. When you are sick and dying, I doubt you'll say, "I wish I spent more time in traffic or standing in line at Rite-Aid..." so let people say what they're going to say and you just go on with your bad-ass, world travelin' self.

I'm just tired of living to please other people or making choices so others won't feel bad, or judgy, or whatever. Life is short. My life is short. I want it to be really good and full of pasta.

- - - -


What On Earth Do I Pack?

I know there are folks out there who could care less about how they look on vacation, and I am not one of them. There's a thrill in being able to mix in, blend into the crowd of some foreign place. I think it's because you can sit back, observe someone else's city and wonder what life is like, wonder if you could live there ... it's part of a fantasy. Not everyone travels this way but for me part of the thrill of blending in is being able to soak in the new culture. Rather than trying to establish your identity and all that, you're just morphing for a few days, letting the you-ness melt out and letting the new city melt in. It's a great feeling, especially when you love a city. You become a temporary resident!

Enough of that, though. What everyone wants to know about are THE SHOES!!!

The issues that divide us as people are not religion or politics or money. The dividing issue is FOOTWEAR, pure and simple. hee. Everyone wants to know if they'll get laughed at for their tennis shoes.

Once a few years ago I was sitting in an airport waiting to get on a plane to Zurich. I listened as two women who were from Somewhere USA bickered about their shoes. I think they were sisters. Anyway, one woman was irritated that her sister had chosen to wear her Nikes because that made them stand out as tourists. The other lady was pissed off, because she said, and I quote, "These are my damn shoes and I'm wearing them. I don't know why I have to go changing my shoes for a bunch of strangers."

They both had a point, I guess.

Anyway, bring comfortable shoes that you like. Everyone that I saw was wearing high-end jeans with boots or Euro-tennies (I saw more silver D&G tennis shoes on this trip than I have seen in the entirety of the Beverly Center.) And yes, you can bring your jeans. Euro-jeans are different, and might I add the guys wear them tighter? Butt-huggingly tighter? I am not objecting is all I am saying here.

No one wears sweats anywhere but America as far as I have been able to discern. In my desire to be helpy and also stalkery, I took pictures of random representative Rome fashion. The look everywhere was something like this:

rome-fashion.jpg
Yes, I take pictures of people's clothes. Is that weird?

And this look was everywhere, little miniskirts or short tunics over opaque tights and knee boots... oh yeah, and lots of fur coats:

rome-fur-boots-mom.jpg
That is one chic mommy.

So aside from the fur, of course it's basically the same stuff you see in L.A. during the winter (except thank God no pajamas, what is this trend in Los Angeles with people wearing their pajamas to Starbucks? Really now.) (Carson Kressley would JUST DIE.)

I do recommend you bring two pairs of shoes. You walk more than you ever dreamed possible while on vacation and you will want to switch it up in the shoe department. I brought some black suede boots that are so comfy & cute (no link anywhere, they were discontinued, I think) and I also brought my Naot boots which I love. I have weird shoe tastes.

More Roman fashion:

roman-couple.jpg

rome-gold-tennies.jpg
My Grandma used to have some like this, only they were not Dolce & Gabbana like these and they did not cost a car payment.

rome-guys.jpg
I couldn't hear their conversation, but I think it was, "I like sitting here enjoying the sun on my gorgeous self. And you?" Other guy: "Yes, I love being an Italian guy. I can wear my jeans tight and wear this fur hoodie and it only makes me MORE masculine." Other guy: "Amen, brother."

- - -

Other stuff ...

• I like to travel in the off-season when it's cheaper and less crowded. This also means it can be COLD! A basic black or dark-colored wool pea coat will take you everywhere. Puffy coats were also in this year (especially ones trimmed in fur) and real fur was EVERYWHERE. I wish I would have taken another coat with me because all my pictures have me in one outfit but my suitcase wouldn't have closed. Ah well.

• I tried to do the carry-on only thing but after about five minutes of packing I sighed, got out the suitcase and it was fine. I am not a light packer. I'll deal with it. I am certain I will one day be reincarnated as a sherpa.

• Oh, and I was wary but it worked -- the dual currency hairdryer from Brookstone (along with one of those cheapy two-prong outlet converters from Target) worked awesome! (Sadly, bangs are way high maintenance.) (Also, the hotel had a hairdryer but ... it had issues. It looked like I could see actual flames inside it. NO WAY JOSE.)

• My over-size spy sunglasses were $14.99 at Target. While Drew was out here in January we were in the car and the sun came out and we were sans shades so they were an impulse buy that I love. I have to have my dark big sunglasses on vacation! They hide my eyes and let me people watch in peace.

• Moolah
Call your credit card provider and your bank (for your ATM card) to alert them that you will be traveling and where you'll be. If not, they could block your transactions for suspicious activity. I changed a little money into Euros before going, and used plastic for everything else because my exchange rate was better that way. If you are on the dollar, be prepared that the exchange rate is just dismal. I just made the decision to go with it and not cry too much, but dear economy: please improve. Love, laurie.

- - - - -

Finally: Yes, you can.

I suspect I am not the only gal out there who wants to go off and see the world. I can't be the only human on the planet who has found herself without a current travel partner. Or perhaps there are plenty of folks to travel with -- I have several friends I could have easily sweet-talked into this trip -- but your schedules don't sync up or you have different travel styles or maybe you just want to try something new all by yourself. You're itching to go somewhere, anywhere, and you're wondering like I did... can I really do this alone?

Yes! Yes yes yes you can!

Listen, I'm a big baby. I get lonely, I get scared, I am prone to being maudlin, I'm not superhuman. I have an overactive imagination and a tendency to be um, a little thin-skinned. I get upset when some stranger leaves a mean comment for chrissakes. So if I can do this, anyone can do it. Seriously, anyone. You may not start in some foreign country, but maybe you always wanted to see Denver in the snow or Miami in the heat of summer. Or Banff... I really want to see Banff one day.

The very best things about traveling alone are that you get to move fully at your own pace and it's easy to meet people if you get lonely. You're on no one's timetable but your own, maybe for the first time ever! I spent one entire day in Rome just people-watching, walking around and having good meals. I did not take a tour, learn anything useful or apply myself to history and context on that day. It was probably one of my favorite days in my entire life.

And don't worry, I won't be blabbering on about it forever. Surely next week it will be the normal cat hair, poop and knitting. But it was nice to walk outside my life for a while. It was really really nice.

I hope your trip is lovely, too. Wherever you may decide to go!

Posted by laurie at 2:54 PM

Can you, single female, travel alone? YES. YES, yes yes.

Alright, enough blah blah blah Rome/food/wine/popes. While my little travelogue of Rome was fun and contained many pictures of food, there was more to it than pasta. There was the real part of this trip for me: the traveling-alone part. The logistics. The cheap airfare!

Traveling alone sounded exciting and also SO SCARY. Part of the reason I never expressed my own private reservations about traveling alone was that I didn't want to hear people either telling me:

A) what a ninny I was for having any worries ("I travel everywhere by myself! I just got back from Afghanistan! It was great! You're a weirdo for worrying! Pansy!")

Or telling me:

B) What a foolhardy fool I was for wanting to travel alone ("But bad things happen, you might die, you might get accosted, bad things happen, are you sure you want to go alone? You sure?")

Ya'll know.

So this column is just my personal take on the subject of one female americanus averagenus traveling solo for the first time (but definitely not the last). I suspect I am not the only gal out there who wants to go off and see the world. I can't be the only human on the planet who has found herself without a current travel partner. Or perhaps there are plenty of folks to travel with -- I have several friends I could have easily sweet-talked into this trip -- but your schedules don't sync up or you have different travel styles or maybe you just want to try something new all by yourself. You're itching to go somewhere, anywhere, and you're wondering like I did... can I really do this alone?

Yes! Yes yes yes you can! Listen, I'm a big baby. I get lonely, I get scared, I am prone to being maudlin, I'm not superhuman. I get upset when some stranger leaves a mean website comment for chrissakes. If I can do this, anyone can do it. Seriously, anyone. You may not start in some foreign country, but maybe you always wanted to see Denver in the snow or Miami in the heat of summer. Or Banff... I really want to see Banff one day.

The first question on anyone's mind is ... how can I afford this?

To me, affording travel is usually a matter of priorities. I drive a thirteen-year-old car with no air conditioning. IN THE VALLEY. Most of my friends and family assumed that once I climbed painfully out of debt I'd be immediately running out and buying a new car. But I saw travel on my horizon and my Jeep works fine for now. I would rather travel a lot (and oh yes, this is only the beginning) than have a car payment and that's where my priorities are.

If you really want something in life, you usually find a way to afford it. And don't let anyone tell you that you're being selfish, or "Ooooh, looky there! World traveler! blah blah blah fancypants!" People don't live your life, YOU live your life. Travel is one of the greatest life experiences ever. When you are sick and dying, I doubt you'll say, "I wish I spent more time in traffic or standing in line at Rite-Aid..." so let people say what they're going to say and you just go on with your bad-ass, world travelin' self.

Step One: Deciding to go it alone.

I was terrified to go on a vacation by myself. I didn't tell anyone this detail, of course. My family, my friends, my coworkers... every time one of them remarked about my traveling alone or my upcoming solo trip all they heard back from me was that I was really excited! Can't wait! So ready for an adventure! Send wine!

All of that was true or I wouldn't have booked the trip to begin with. But as my trip got closer and reality sunk in and I realized I was going to get on an airplane BY MYSELF and fly off to a country I'd never before visited ALL BY MY LONESOME with just a passing grasp of the language ALONE ... yeah, I got a little nervous. Had I made a terrible mistake? Would I walk off the plane and immediately be relieved of all my possessions, cursed to spend my vacation wandering the halls of the embassy begging for a free meal and a ride home?

One night about four days before my trip, I was lying in bed wondering if I had made a grave error in judgment. I might have a bad time! I might be lonely! I might not fit in! I might get pickpocketed! I might cry! I might not find a place to eat!

Then I remembered who I am. I love to see stuff in new places. I have worked for all my pennies and dimes for just this very thing. There are three things I love to do best in this world: write, travel and eat. (Drinking wine falls under the "eat" category.) Life is short. Fear passes. Even if all the bad stuff I was worrying about really happened on vacation, at least I would have a funny story to tell.


- - - -

Step Two: Booking your trip

Normally, Step One "Deciding to travel alone" is a well-thought out plan that comes before Step Two: Purchasing a ticket and booking a hotel in a foreign country. Yeah, anyway. Moving on.

I knew I wanted to go somewhere anywhere just not on the freeway on my way to work again, please Lord. Instead of planning a destination ahead of time I just left myself open to going wherever the cheap fares took me. I have always traveled this way, which is how I've seen so many different places on vacations. I'm comfortable being flexible in my destinations and travel times to get a great deal because for me, it's the ultimate shopping thrill.

However, this seat-of-your-pants destination bingo may not work for you. You may want to go to England in June, for example, or have your heart set on Australia for spring break. You may only feel comfortable traveling in a cruise setting or to an all-inclusive beach resort -- and that is perfectly 100% A-OKAY. You have to find a travel style that suits your personality. What works for other people will not always work for you. What works for me might make someone else break out in hives.

To find amazing fares all you need is an internet connection. Most people already know about the biggest internet travel websites like Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz. All of these sites are great, and I use them all to check fares from time to time. But the sites I use most often are:

Kayak.com - The "Buzz" feature of this site is a good way to find lower-cost fares. You can select your departure airport, then use a drop down menu to select a general destination (divided up into chunks of the world, like Europe or North America or Oceania/Australia) and then look for all the cheapest fares to that area of the world by month or by certain dates. Keep in mind that you need to click through on the fares to find the "real" price, Kayak doesn't add in the taxes and fees.

CheapTickets.com - Hands-down my favorite way to travel surf. This is where I got my $600 ticket to Rome, and this is where I have found 90% of all my best travel fares. Use their Flexible Search tool to find the best deals on tickets. In the search area on the left-hand side of the homepage, look for the small link that says "Flexible Dates."

cheaptickets-flex1.jpg

The expanded search page has tons of great options (for example, you can search for weekend trips in June to wherever...) but I like to use the 30-day search matrix, which is option 3. It works for international fares, too:

cheaptickets-flex2.jpg

You type in your departing city, an arrival city, and then look for flights for a trip of 4-6 days (or however long) in any 30-day period and you get a huge search matrix with all the prices for all travel dates in that time frame. IT WILL CHANGE THE WAY YOU BUY TICKETS! (Orbitz.com also has the exact same flexible search tool, but I noticed they add an extra $3-5 bucks on top of each ticket price. Same search, five dollars more.)

And listen, if you're planning to travel definitely sign up for a frequent flier program and use it. For example, my flight to Rome would have cost me $12 less on a different carrier, but they weren't part of the frequent flier network I use the most. For that $12 extra, I got 13,000 flier miles on the airline of my choice. Plus, you can use your accrued miles to upgrade to first class, baby!

- - - -

Step Three: Where will you stay and will it be funky? The bad funky. Not the good funky.

While I am very flexible and adventurous with flights, picking where to sleep is a whole 'nother ballgame. I fully admit that when it comes to hotels I AM PRISSY. I am not a camper, roughing-it, pee-down-the-hallway-in-a-shared-closet kind of gal. I will not be staying in a hut or in a tent. Personally, I do not want to feel the rustic appeal of bedbugs or scabies or the creeping crotch funk.

There will be people who try to tell me I'm wrong and explain emphatically that I cannot experience a place like the locals do if I insist at staying at a clean, lovely hotel. To these people I say: enjoy your scabies! Live long and prosper, ye of crotch funk! I will be sleeping on clean sheets and watching BBC news before bed, thankyouverymuch.

Picking a hotel requires a little research. Be sure your hotel is centrally located to the stuff you want to see and do, and be sure it's in your price range. Check out the most recent guidebooks at the public library or buy a few at your bookstore and start looking for hotels. (I love the entire Rough Guide series of books the best.) Plot your hotel on a map so you don't get a surprise when you arrive -- discovering you're staying on the runway at the airport, for example, or tucked away 25 minutes outside of town.

Once you have it narrowed down, cross check the hotel with TripAdvisor.com. Real travelers just like you and me can comment on their experiences at a hotel. Sometimes travelers also upload their own candid pictures of where they stayed so you get to actually see the rooms, and not just from pictures on the hotel's official website. I LOVE TripAdvisor.com! It's the very best place I have found for real, honest reviews of hotels.

- - - -

Step Four: Getting to and Fro and To again or "My personal safety and peace of mind is not negotiable."

Once I had my flight picked out and my hotel booked, I needed to figure out how to get from the airport in Rome to the hotel. In the past when I had a travel partner we always grabbed a cab at the airport and made it to the hotel safe and sound. Or we were renting a car. But what made financial (and safety) sense in a pair didn't seem to work for me as a single. Last year when I was on the book tour I had an icky cab experience that scared me half to death and I wasn't real keen to get in a cab with a stranger in Rome after having traveled for a bazillion hours straight.

Now, some folks like to take the mass transit options when they arrive, and I know there are plenty of transportation solutions. But for me, the idea of schlepping all over the airport and then the train station and then finding a cab or bus at the main train station to get to my hotel sounded exhausting after such a long flight and the potential for getting ripped off and crying and puddling away in a corner of frustration seemed quite high. Hey, I know my limits.

So, for a flat fee of 45 Euros, I made arrangements with a car service in Rome for someone to meet me at the airport and take me in a nice car to my hotel. (I used http://www.romecabs.com. THEY ARE AWESOME. AWESOME.) It was the best money I spent the whole time I was in Rome! The peace of mind of having someone (with detailed contact information) meet me at the airport made a big difference to me and it was the exact same price as hailing a random taxi.

The reason I'm going into all this detail about ground transportation is that this was my personal little scary zone. Your first trip alone will contain its own unique scary places, too. It was worth it to me to spend some money in this area, because it gave me much-needed peace of mind and got the vacation started on the right foot. Safety first! I knew some people would think I was frivolous and dumb to spend money on a car service when there is a perfectly serviceable train somewhere else. But you know what? This was MY vacation, not someone else's vacation. I feel happier about spending the money on my safety and comfort than trying to be someone else's idea of a traveler.

- - - -

Step Five: Ok, I'm here. I've checked in to the hotel and looked for bedbugs (all is well). I've washed my face and peed and unpacked. NOW WHAT THE HELL DO I DO?

When I got to the hotel I kind of walked around my room and stalled. It was a little weird, being all alone on my new vacation. What the heck do I do now?

It became very clear that I needed to immediately leave the room and conquer the fear of the strange city. RIGHT NOW. All freshened up, I went to the hotel desk and asked for a map of the city (I already have a map, but I wanted one of the free paper maps hotels give out, because I like to highlight all the walking I do on vacation. Dorky habit.) Usually the front desk clerk will offer some help if you need directions or at least circle the hotel's location on the map for you. With my map in my pocket, I decided to go out and do the one thing universal in all cities: eat and drink! The front desk clerk gave me some great recommendations and I found a restaurant nearby. It was good to just sit and soak in the city, get acclimated, and get fueled up.

On your first day, try to find something small and comforting to do ... walk around, window shop, eat a good meal, get your bearings. I wanted to stay awake as long as possible so I would be on the local time zone (as much as possible). I just walked. I walked and walked and walked. I saw the Trevi fountain and the Pantheon and shops and people and found a bench and just people-watched for hours. With my sunglasses on (so I could hide behind my shades), I pulled out my knitting and sat on a stone bench and let it sink in that I was finally, totally on vacation. And vacation was GOOD. Sitting there and knitting -- a comfort activity if ever there were one -- and watching the people walk by was AWESOME.

- - - -

Step Six: What On Earth Do I Wear?

When I first started traveling I was obsessed with what to wear. I know there are folks out there who could care less about how they look, and I was not one of them. So this next part is only for those people who, like me, wanted very much to not be pegged right away as a fresh-off-the-farm yokel abroad. After all, I may be a yokel but I do enjoy my accessorizing!

There's a thrill in being able to mix in, blend into the crowd of some foreign place. I think it's because you can sit back, observe someone else's city and wonder what life is like, wonder if you could live there ... it's part of a fantasy. Not everyone travels this way but this is how I have always been, because for me part of the thrill of blending in is being able to soak in the new culture. Rather than trying to establish your identity and all that, you're just morphing for a few days, letting the you-ness melt out and letting the new city melt in.

It's a great feeling, especially when you love a city. You become a temporary resident. So this list is for the other gals who like the fantasy of blending in, even a little. Skip this part if you could care less...

1) Ditch the backpack. For one thing, all your stuff is open to anyone standing behind you and for another thing, do you walk around your hometown mall carrying a backpack? (If you do, I'm sorry. Don't send hate mail.)

2) Shoes. Shoes. Shoes.
The issues that divide us as people are not religion or politics or money. The dividing issue is FOOTWEAR, pure and simple.

Once a few years ago I was sitting in an airport waiting to get on a plane to Zurich. I listened as two women who were from Somewhere USA bickered about their shoes. I think they were sisters. Anyway, one woman was irritated that her sister had chosen to wear her Nikes because that made them stand out as tourists. The other lady was pissed off, because she said, and I quote, "These are my damn shoes and I'm wearing them. I don't know why I have to go changing my shoes for a bunch of strangers."

They both had a point.

Anyway, bring comfortable shoes that you like. And yes, you can bring your jeans. Everyone that I saw was wearing high-end denim and boots or Euro-tennies (I saw more silver D&G tennis shoes on this trip than I have seen in the entirety of the Beverly Center.) No one wears sweats anywhere but America as far as I have been able to discern. In my desire to be helpy and also stalkery, I took pictures of random representative Rome fashion. The look everywhere was something like this:

rome-fashion.jpg
Yes, I take pictures of people's clothes. Is that weird?

And this look was everywhere, little miniskirts or short tunics over opaque tights and knee boots... oh yeah, and lots of fur coats:

rome-fur-boots-mom.jpg
That is one chic mommy.

So aside from the fur, of course it's basically the same stuff you see in L.A. during the winter (and no pajamas, what is this trend in Los Angeles with people wearing their pajamas to Starbucks? Really now.) (Carson Kresley would JUST DIE.)

I do recommend you bring two pairs of shoes. You walk more than you ever dreamed possible while on vacation and you will want to switch it up in the show department.

3) Other stuff ...

• I like to travel in the off-season when it's cheaper and less crowded. This also means it can be COLD! A basic black or dark-colored wool pea coat will take you everywhere. Puffy coats were also in this year (especially ones trimmed in fur) and real fur was EVERYWHERE. I wish I would have taken another coat because all my pictures have me in one outfit but my suitcase wouldn't have closed. Ah well.

• I tried to do the carry-on only thing but after about five minutes of packing I sighed, got out the suitcase and it was fine. I am not a light packer. I can deal with it.

• Oh, and I was wary but it worked -- the dual currency hairdryer from Brookstone (along with one of those cheapy two-prong outlet converters from Target) worked awesome! (Sadly, bangs are way high maintenance.)

• My over-size spy sunglasses were $14.99 at Target. Yup. While Drew was out here in January we were in the car and the sun came out and we were sans shades so they were an impulse buy that I love. I have to have my dark big sunglasses on vacation! They hide my eyes and let me people watch in peace. It was easy "hiding" behind my big shades. I also usually bring two pairs of earrings, one set of hoops and something else, but both are inexpensive pieces in case I lose them. And I brought my handknit beret, it was perfect for the cold weather.

- - - - -

Once you're there...
One of the first things I do anywhere I go is to hit up the first grocery store or market I find. It's the best way to stock up on water (do you get really dehydrated when you travel? I do, I'm just thirsty all the time) so I have my own stock back in the room. I also pick up a few snacks and some wine if they have something cheap that looks good.

• Oh and speaking of money!
Call your credit card provider and your bank (for your ATM card) to alert them that you will be traveling and where you'll be. If not, they could block your transactions for suspicious activity. I changed a little money before going, and used plastic for everything else because my exchange rate was better that way. If you are on the dollar, be prepared that the exchange rate is just dismal. I just made the decision to go with it and not cry too much, but dear economy: please improve. Love, laurie.


- - - -
Check in with someone back home to let them know you're okay.

Internet cafes are everywhere, but to me "vacation" means "no computers, hooray!" so on my first day in Rome, I bought an international phone card for 10 Euros and I think I still have a million minutes on it. It was easy -- I found a magazine stand and asked the guy if he sold phone cards for international calls. It went like this:

Me: Scusi? Um, per favore...? Posso avere un...um? Carte de telefono? Per favore?

Guy at magazine stand: Would you like to purchase an international calling card for Europe or for North America?

hee.

Then he told me how to use it (you just dial the 1-800 number from any phone, I used my hotel phone the first night and also a payphone one day, ask your hotel if they add charges for 1-800 calls) and then enter in your pin code from the card. Voila! Be sure to write down your local country code and the numbers you want to call back home. (In other words, to dial the US from Italy, you dial 011 - then the area code - then the number.) It was awesome calling my folks from Italy, and something about hearing their voices made me feel happy. So take a minute or so to let people know you're okay one way or the other.

- - - -

Finally: Have fun!

I picked a few key things I really wanted to see: the papal blessing on one day, a walking tour of the ruins (led by a pHD!) on another day. The rest of the time I just walked, sat in cafes, looked at people and art and churches and shoes and ate good food. It was relaxing and just my speed. I even slept a fair amount, which is very unusual for me and made my trip seem like such a luxury.

The very best things about traveling alone are that you get to move fully at your own pace and it's easy to meet people if you get lonely. You're on no one's timetable but your own, maybe for the first time ever! I spent one entire day in Rome just people-watching, walking around and having good meals. I did not take a tour, learn anything useful or apply myself to history and context on that day. It was probably one of my favorite days in my entire life.

- - - - -

And don't worry, I won't be blabbering on about it forever. Surely tomorrow it will be the normal cat hair, poop and knitting. But it sure was nice to walk outside my life for a while. It was really really nice.

I hope your trip is lovely, too. Wherever you may decide to go!

Posted by laurie at 6:32 AM

February 20, 2008

Yes, I went to Rome and now they are all out of wine.

rome-parking.jpg
Parking is an art form.

So yes, I went to the place where people do as the Romans do... because they are Romans. To be honest I wasn't planning on going there but I didn't really pick Rome as my destination, it kind of picked me. I was looking for really cheap airfare to somewhere, anywhere Not Business Professional and there it was, a really shamefully inexpensive roundtrip ticket to Rome ... $600 (!!!). After I bought the ticket and made my hotel reservation, which took something like a grand total of thirty-four seconds, I thought about what I had just done and gasped a little.

Then I started researching my trip, you know ... after I bought it. And it seems like every guidebook and travel forum tells you that you arrive in Rome and get immediately pickpocketed and ripped off and scammed and oh yeah, there's graffiti everywhere and people are rude. In fact, if you do enough lunchtime or late-night web surfing to get information about Rome you may even begin to think you have made a mistake and you are flying off alone to a traffic-congested pickpocket paradise with nothing more than expensive tourist trap rip-offs and crime and congestion.

And gelato. Thank God for that.

But all those naysayers were wrong! I LOVED Rome. And I am throwing away my Rick Steves guidebook because he scared the beejesuz out of me (here is a direct quote from his book, "beware of thieving gangs of children..." and "Rome is rife with con artists, thieves and rip-offs, conceal all your valuables") but dude... there were women walking the streets in full-length mink coats carrying handbags that far exceed my monthly rent payment:

rome-mink.jpg
Adorable in-love couple sitting on the Spanish Steps, and that is a full-length fur. And she was rocking at least four carats on her left hand....

The scariest part was all my pre-worrying ahead of time, especially since I couldn't tell anyone I was scared since I was being Brave And All. Saving face you know. But once I was there I felt completely fine, it's way safer than anywhere in Los Angeles. Just like anywhere, don't sit your big purse out on the table and walk away, but I saw nary a thieving gang of children. And yes it was loud and busy and it was also vibrant and exciting and unbelievably beautiful. I guess I have lived in Los Angeles for so long (and worked in downtown, alas) that traffic and grime and graffiti and panhandlers just round out the scenery. There's this crazy juxtaposition of ancient things (built in 27 AD!) (built 100 years after Christ died!) with brand new Ducati motorbikes parked out front, or plazas with amazing Bernini-sculpted fountains surrounded by girls in leather jackets and spike-heel knee boots. There's the Pantheon ... and the McDonald's directly outside it. I couldn't believe that you could just walk around and right next to a busy city street ... OH MY GOD IT's THE FORUM.

rome-forum.jpg

It was delicious. I mean I LOVED Rome.

Cities and towns and even whole countries have a vibe to them, and whenever I land somewhere new I always try to tune into it, feel it out. I can definitely see why some folks prefer one destination over another -- there are people who really only feel centered near the water, or near mountains, or those who prefer New York to anywhere else, or Key West -- and isn't that the point of traveling anyway? You see new things and develop new preferences and learn about the world and yourself. Don't you travel to see, learn, smell, taste, taste again, taste some more, and expand your life?

rome-pasta-demar.jpg
I let the waiter order for me. He scored points with this pasta, molto deliciosa!

Rome was definitely an expansion for me. I can barely fit in any of my pants. The city was pulsing like a heart, loud like Los Angeles, older than anything I have ever seen or imagined, holy, tacky, beautiful, tasty.

AND EVERYONE THERE IS GORGEOUS. The men are gorgeous, the women are gorgeous, the people sweeping the streets are gorgeous, the guys taking out the trash at the hotel are gorgeous.

rome-spanish-steps.jpg
I imagine the guy on the phone is saying, "Where are you? I am on the Spanish Steps. I'm wearing... oh nevermind, you will see me... I am fabulous as usual..."

A few weeks before my trip to Rome, I told a girlfriend about it and she immediately asked if I had read Elizabeth Gilbert's book, "Eat, Pray, Love." And indeed I have read it -- in fact, I read it last year on the bus before I became addicted to audiobooks. I'd somehow forgotten a third of her memoir happened in Rome. (I do remember once telling a reporter that sure, I would have loved to pull an Elizabeth Gilbert during my divorce and travel the world and find food and God and sex but I was broke and living in a rental in the valley and the closest thing I had to a religious experience was finding a liquor store that delivered.)

It had nothing to do with me traveling there, I just couldn't resist a $600 airfare. I never had a burning desire to visit Italy (I don't know why, I was clearly crazy. Italy is delicious. But I had wanted to go to Croatia at the time ... where the cheapest flight I found had me shelling out a cool two grand. Bleh.) But if you mention Rome to fellow Oprah fans, it's the first thing they ask. "Are you going there on the beginning of your own Eat, Pray, Love experience?" my friend asked.

"Um, well... that wasn't my plan," I told her. "But leave it to me to only fulfill the EAT portion of the itinerary."

And eat I did:

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Spaghetti with bacon and romano cheese.

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Penne with vodka cream sauce.

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Amazing fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with creamy ricotta cheese and herbs.

Believe it or not, in between meals I even had time to see Vatican City and attend a blessing by the Pope which was for me a highlight that ... well, I guess can only be described as a religious experience! Even better than a liquor store that delivers.

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Also: hello, easy hand-knit beret in Lion Brand Wool Ease chunky heathered grey! El papa le piace.


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At first I was painfully shy about asking people to take my picture but after the first few times it ended up being great because I'd try to pick people that were also tourists, usually couples, and I'd ask the woman half of the couple to take my picture and then afterward I'd offer to use their camera to get a picture of them both together for their own memories (that was something I learned all those years vacationing with Le Ex-Hubby, you get very few pics of you together on vacation) and it ended up everyone was happy and I liked it a lot. In some incredibly dorky way, I felt like I was part of someone else's good vacation memories, too. And it was easier especially if I heard a tourist couple speaking Spanish or French or English, so I knew I could communicate. My Italian turns out to be limited to "Wine, please" which surprisingly worked very well for me in restaurants but is not so descriptive in picture-taking. (Almost everyone in Rome that I met spoke perfect fluent English, it is incredibly tourist-friendly. More so than just about any foreign city I have visited. I did know how to order things in Italian and how to say please and thank you, but for the most part they speak to everyone who does not appear to be instantly Italian in English.)

Traveling alone was scary, awesome, exhilarating, exhausting, relaxing, and most of all made me feel like I could conquer the world. I didn't think I could really do this, travel all by myself to a strange place and navigate it all by myself ... but I did. It had its lonely moments and it's surprising moments and most of all it was just my little tiny adventure that I always secretly wanted to do.

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There's always the self-portrait, too!

I still cannot believe I did that!

Posted by laurie at 6:32 AM

February 19, 2008

Ramble on (and now's the time, the time is now)

One summer, my dad and mom took me and my brother Guy on a trip to California to visit my grandparents. I was seven years old, and we flew from Texas to Los Angeles on the biggest plane I'd ever seen, and when we arrived I saw palm trees and brown air and blue sky. I saw more cars and people and buildings on that trip than I had seen in the collective seven years I had spent on earth.

We went to a Dodgers game and we went to the now-nonexistent Marineland and swam with the sharks, and my brother and I fussed because we hated each other and often tried to kill one another under cover of darkness. We behaved ourselves long enough for a trip to Universal Studios and more time at the beach and I fell in love with all of it, the whole city. My favorite part of that whole summer was when we went to Chinatown and ate dinner at a restaurant called Hop Louie's. I remember sitting around a table seated snugly between my dad and my grandpa, my two favorite human beings on the earth. They ordered things I had never even heard of: paper-wrapped chicken and something sweet and spicy with cashews in it. Crunchy noodles and a mustard that wasn't like French's yellow, it made your whole nose clear out and your eyes burn.

I remember drinking tea from those small rounded cups and warming my hands around the little tealights. During dinner I watched everyone in the restaurant and tried to commit to memory what the waitress looked like, how the food smelled and tasted, it was all so foreign and I loved it. During that dinner I turned to my dad and I said, "Daddy, I'm going to live here one day. I'm going to move to Los Angeles and be like these people and eat here all the time."

And my dad looked me right in the eye and said, "Ok, then. You can be anything you want to be."

That was the whole conversation. I opened the fortune cookie and read it for knowledge, but I didn't eat it ... instead I ate the almond cookies and they were amazing, I'd never had almond cookies before. I thought Los Angeles was the most exciting, glamorous, dangerous, interesting place EVER and I wanted to live there more than anything else in the world.

When I was twenty-two years old I moved west. The first year was complete culture shock and I threatened to pack up and go home every twelve minutes. Eventually, the city grew on me and I grew into it and I loved it. I love it here. I still can't think of a single place I'd rather be most of the time, except Paris. Or maybe Santa Barbara. This city makes me crazy and makes me happy and I love its weird quirks and bad traffic and amazing diversity. I even love the brown air.

Later I got married, of course. The person I married had traveled a lot before he met me and even lived abroad for a while. I had never been off the continent unless you count driving out to Galveston Island as "being off the continent" which I kind of think doesn't count. I had desperately wanted to travel my whole life but never had the money or the know-how or the confidence to just go somewhere on my own. Hooking up with a man who was a travel veteran was such a bonus, and shortly after we were married we started planning our first ever trip together to Europe. That vacation took us to Belgium and France and we got there on a budget airline called "CityBird" (which I think went out of business shortly thereafter) and our rockstar low-cost trip to Europe involved sitting on the tarmac for six hours and layovers in various places such as Armpit, and Other Armpit, and by the time we arrived I was so exhausted and hungry and grumpy that I just wanted alcohol poured down my mouth followed by some french fries. We rented a car and couldn't find anyplace to park and drove around Brussels that first night in circles until we gave up, parked on a sidewalk like the other cars, and hauled luggage across a vast dark city to our creaky, ancient hotel. I was not loving the traveling much at that point.

But after being there for a few hours (and drinking and eating and sleeping) I woke up before dawn and went into the tiny bathroom of our tiny hotel room and I opened the window to see what was out there. The window looked out across the red-tiled rooftops of Belgium and I thought it was the most magical, perfect thing I had ever seen in my life. And I was hooked. We drove to France and stayed in Paris and I was more in love with travel than anything before or since. And we were good travel partners. We traveled a lot together over the years that followed and saw a lot of amazing things and a lot of the world.

In this way I have been really blessed. I've been to places I never even knew existed (Karlovy Vary ... I'm looking at you) and travel has been at the top of the list of best things in my life.

During my divorce, I remember one night hanging out with Jennifer and crying, because it was all soon to be over and finalized and so I said it out loud, this one awful thing that kept popping up in my mind, disturbing any uneasy peace I'd come to with the dissolution -- I had lost my travel partner. I'd lost the one person I saw the world with. And I was so in debt at the time and facing huge legal bills and I saw no way possible to ever go anywhere more glamorous than Van Nuys. Or maybe Burbank.

That was when we decided, possibly after wine, that we were going somewhere, anywhere, but dammit we were going to travel! And we did. Two years ago we went to Paris on a girls' trip. Paris is easily one of my favorite places and I've been there enough times to feel like I know it fairly well, and she had never been and the flight was crazy cheap and it seemed like a good idea. Then some other friends joined us and before we knew it, we were in the City Of Love & Riots. Enough time has finally passed since we got on a big plane and headed off to Paris to be able to speak of that vacation fondly. I can assure you there were good times and laughs on that vacation, but all parties involved will agree that it was hands-down the Most EVERYTHING GO WRONG VACATION any of us girls have ever had. OH MY GOD.

(Ah, yes. You're saying to yourself, "But I thought you had a great time! What...?" Well, we did have a great time ... in retrospect. I do think sometimes the most memorable vacations are the ones that go really off-kilter. And knowing that one day we'd look back on it all and laugh, I only focused on the highlights of that trip which included me bludgeoning a guy in a street with my umbrella. If you think about it, that is not really the sort of Best Happiest Moments you hope for on vacation.)

So when we got back from Paris we promised to never speak of it again. Much. Then time passed and we four girls started laughing about Our Crazyass Trip To France. When I was writing my book I realized that trip was pivotal for me, because travel is good for the soul and makes you get outside your life and see the world new again and consider the unusual. Even if it is Crazyass Psycho Croissant Riot Travel.

And after my book tour, traveling by myself (which once seemed scary and crazy and impossible) no longer felt so terrifying. In Seattle I finally did something I had been scared of my whole life: eating dinner in a very nice restaurant by myself. I did it, I brought a book, and it was in fact quite nice. No one pointed, a few folks looked twice at me, but I had a great meal and excellent wine and left feeling quite satisfied with myself. Not so scary after all.

That's when the idea of traveling by myself -- not just for work but for a real vacation -- started to take root in my head and I would think about it every time I sat waiting for a plane or checking in to a hotel, and later when I got home and got back to the daily grind I would think of it (dream of it) daily. I needed a vacation, a real vacation. Two years is a long time to go without relaxing, and it's been a nose-to-the-grindstone two years. At night I would sit on the bus and look out the window and hope for 2008 to arrive so I would have vacation days again, time to spend on myself. I'd think to myself, "Why work so hard and not take time off to enjoy the world?"

Imagine being able to stay wherever I want, eat whatever I want, linger in a museum as long as I want with no one else to consider but me, no one else's tastes and itinerary to accomodate.... was that selfish to even consider? Maybe. But oh, it sounded decadent and pleasurable to me. Maybe selfish is a woefully misunderstood concept.

Late last year I was staring at a calendar and realized I was coming up on a whole year of not smoking. I calculated how much money I had saved in one year from not buying cigarettes. I re-calculated because COULD THAT BE TRUE? And I felt very much like I SHOULD BUY MYSELF SOMETHING PRETTY WITH THAT BONUS MONEY. Because not smoking isn't really fun, ya'll, though it has saved me some money. And what is the point of doing hard things such as no smoking, no fun if you aren't patting yourself on the back? Buying yourself a little treat? REALLY NOW.

And I clicked and surfed and looked and found it, one single perfect ticket and I bought it without any forethought, without any planning, without any consultation or pro/con lists or anything at all but impulse and that same old desire, to see something new, smell something new, taste something new. Someplace I had never gone before with no memories of my past to follow me, someplace with ridiculously cheap airfare, someplace with wine. And I left last week and I just got back and it was everything I imagined and more.

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The wine was great. The men were gorgeous. The pasta was amazing. Maybe that's why they say all roads lead there.

Posted by laurie at 12:23 PM

February 17, 2008

They say all roads lead here ...

Uh, hi! From one billion thousand miles away and there is wine! And very old things, and people doing as the Romans do... because they ARE Romans!

Can you guess where I am and how much pasta I have had to eat? Maybe not yet enough to offset the amount of wine I have had to drink? Mi Piace il vino! Mi piace mangare la pasta! I listened to language tapes for two months and all I can say is "Give me wine and pasta" and you know what ya'll, IT IS TOTALLY WORKING. You should come eat here, it is good and vacation calories do not count.

I would love to chat more about this but I have some serious gelato to conjugate. See you back in Los Angeles! If I come back!

Posted by laurie at 6:35 AM

February 12, 2008

Congrats to the lucky winner of a stack of crazy helpy books!

Clearly, we ought to do more of these free-book-giving-away things around here, that was fun! Maybe we'll have an all-chicken-soup day giveaway soon or something (it is the cold and flu season you know!) or maybe there is a whole line of astrology and mojo-juju books in the catalog that I don't know about. I love HCI for many reasons, but one of the top three is because the books are both helpful and funny. PDI, indeed! Thanks to HCI for the books and thanks to everyone who posted (and I'm not kidding about doing this again, certainly there are even more profoundly funny book titles I have yet to meet.)

So, using high-tech mathematical randomization ("Pick a number between one and 280...") and drawn completely at random, the winner is lucky Jan who posted in the morning and in a SHOCKING twist of circumstances, not only have I already alerted her BUT I have already taken the box to the post office. (!!!) It even includes chocolate, because you know ... VD and all. I am kind of scaring myself with the amount of on-top-of-things going on around here today. Usually I am seventeen weeks behind on everything. Congratulations, Jan!

But I am not really that on top of things. The only one around here really on top of anything is The Great Sobakowa:

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She is not letting anyone on the toy. Do you think they have a book about PDI cats?

Posted by laurie at 8:09 AM

February 11, 2008

Comments

The comments are closed and will remain so for... I don't know. A while. I wasn't even going to mention it because it seems like such a weird thing to talk about and anyone who has read this site for any amount of time knows I only talk about high-level stuff like cat poop and traffic. It's just a good thing for me right now and while I have a whole list of reasons, none of them will make sense to anyone but the four people who know me personally and know what's going on with my life.

One thing I will say is that I am not super-human or even particularly well-developed in many ways. I'm just a normal woman who lives her life. I don't handle constant criticism well. I'm sensitive and not very hardened when it comes to taking personal assessments of my character from complete strangers. Unfortunately, when people leave critical remarks or tell me "I used to like reading you and now I feel distant from you" I have no idea what to do with that sort of thing. It makes me sad, or upset, or defensive and yet I don't even know that person. They don't know me. And a bad comment (even after I delete it, which I often do) can linger with me for days, I carry it with me like a personal failure. It feels as if I just didn't do a good enough job but in some unknown way that I can't quite fix, always and forever not being enough for someone.

Sometimes I found myself becoming sad and defensive about things people would say, and those are not qualities I really want to develop in my personality. You know?

I thought I could fix myself but I realized somewhere along the way it's not my job to "fix" me to be pleasing to all others. I don't want to grow thick skin and bite at people and be defensive. I don't want to stop using words I like because some crazy person feels I have ruined feminism. I like being me, dorky and soft and emotional. I have to do the best I can with what I have ... and your best is really good enough. The most important thing I think I've figured out is that I don't have to do it all by committee.

If I write a story about a guy at the public library looking at porn and refer to him as a dirty old man, I really just want to tell the story. I don't want somebody finger-wagging me that I'm being horrible and ageist and a terrible person who called him "old" and I should reconsider what words can do. Or when someone feels the need to inform me they believe I have no self-esteem because of some off-handed remark I made to a stranger at a booksigning (and here I was feeling good for finding something, anything, to say to 800 strangers) or when people comment they don't like me or how I look or the horoscopes or they think I have somehow changed or just all of it. It's disconcerting, because of course I change and of course you don't know me, and you change too, and I just like to tell stories. I love to write and I will keep doing it even if no one reads a word. But I'm not sure the comments are helping me do that. Instead, I see that I'm getting more and more private and closed off because I know that whatever I say there will be people who will tell me a different way to say it, do it, live it, be it.

Maybe it's really kind of simple: It feels bad when strangers say upsetting things to me. And it's making me really guarded. Which is making me only want to post cat pictures with song names as titles.

It's not that I have come down with a case of Upptyness or that I don't like you or that you smell. It is more likely that I smell. This whole wild ride has been positive for me in just as many ways and I am grateful to every person who shared with me, and I have read every single comment ever posted here on this website. I clicked on your links and read about you, too, and I know that sometimes I will definitely want to give away some weird-ass self-help books and we'll have comment free-for-alls.

It's just the right decision for me at this time, better than quitting writing a website altogether ... which I think would be impossible, I'd just secretly open up some new writing place and not tell anyone who I am.

Of course, I'd have to spell "ya'll" differently, or surely I would be outed for my spelling. Ya'll know.

Posted by laurie at 11:42 AM

The early warning signs of VD

It starts with red, puffy heart-shaped protrusions in supermarkets and drugstores. It spreads and covers everything in pustules of pink, even the Sunday newspaper is filled with signs of its oncoming pink chocalateyness.

Yes, Valentine's Day is coming.

Now I do not so much mind this holiday, if it can be called a "holiday." While I personally prefer my holidays to come with government-mandated vacation days (love you, O Day of Presidents!) I don't really mind a day devoted to chocolate, especially if that chocolate will all be half-price at Rite-Aid come Friday morning. But I do know that for the drunk, or feline-encrusted, or recently dumped, it can be treacherous. I in fact wrote the book on such treachery. heh. My publicist would like to remind you it makes an excellent Valentine's Day gift. (Hi Kim! Happy Early VD!)

However, there is more than one kind of helpyness for VD. You can try the pink champagne for your sorrows, you can medicate with Reese's peanut butter cups individually wrapped in pink and silver, or you can reach for a nice, warming cup of self-help book such as "I love you ... but I'm not in love with you." Or how about good old fashioned "Men are $$#%\$." Hmmm, maybe that particular author needed to meet up with Dr. Stan and discuss how to "Say Goodbye to your Personality Disordered Individual." (By the way, I totally gave that book to one of my relatives this Christmas. We had quite a laugh over that one, I tell you what!)

Of course, there's Life After Divorce. Some people will even wish you Congratulations On Your Divorce. (No one said that to me, maybe because of the part where I went crazy and tried to tell the pizza guy my life story.) I'm sure the pizza guy was understanding though. I may be able to learn more about the mysterious pizza guy, if I can just finally understand It's A Guy Thing. (Oh poor pizza man of years past, I hope you recovered from being accosted by sadness.)

But as for me, I think I'll face the pinkness and loveyness with my favorite star lady, Astrologer Phyllis and her newest book "Astrology's Secrets to Hot Romance." Mmmm. Hot Romance. Sounds much better than some personality disordered guy thing.

Self-help is a weird, wacky world. I love it. Do you think the rest of the world reads as much self-help as we Americans do? I hope so. In fact, I am thinking my next book should be "Who moved my cheese sandwich that accompanies my Chicken Soup which gives me The Secret to seven laws of highly successful worldwide drankin'?"

Ok, maybe I need to work on the title a little. But I think I am on to something.

ALSO! You could be the proud owner of this full set of strangely compelling books! Yes, it's true, VD isn't just coming, I myself am spreading it via the internet! Everyone who comments today while comments remain open (it's all vaguely mysterious, note to self, find The Secret To Internet) will be entered into a completely random drawing to win all these books, and the winner will be announced tomorrow. So be careful, if you do not want this much self-help, so not hit the send key! And I will sign a copy of my cat-hair book and add it in to the pile. Heck, if I have enough chocolate, I may sign all these books .... I'll sign anything. Hand me the phone book, I'll sign it.

Good luck! May the most in need of self-help win!

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Posted by laurie at 7:38 AM

February 8, 2008

Since I have already embarrassed myself by showing my nostalgic side...

You know how sometimes out of the blue you just have this burning desire to see an old movie that you aren't sure why you need to see it, or what made you think of it, and you aren't going to share this need with anyone which is why we have Blockbuster in the first place, right? For weird spur-of-the-moment movie urges?

So one day this week I had a hankering to see an old movie from ... you know... 1992. Anyway, I walked into Blockbuster and looked all around and around and around and around (desperation began to set in) and it was nowhere to be found. I knew it had to be there, surely I was just overlooking it. (This is when a strange little spur-of-the-moment hankering for an old favorite becomes a burning desire and a quest of its own and I MUST SEE THIS MOVIE RIGHTNOW.)

Finally I realized I had to just do it, I had to walk up and ask the gal at the counter if they carry the DVD of my delightful movie choice.

Me: Um, hi. I kind of was wondering if you could look up a movie for me? But it's ... um. Kind of embarrassing?

Girl: [Looking at me sideways as you can imagine] What title are you looking for?

Me: (whispers title)

Girl: Huh? I didn't hear you.

Me: (sigh) (I give up) It's called "The Bodyguard."

Girl: heh. he. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

(pause)

Girl: Actually, I really loved that movie.

Me: Me too! I think! I can't remember but I think I loved it, and anyway I can't seem to find it on the shelf...

So she looked and we were both scandalized and outraged when we discovered that particular Blockbuster store no longer carried the classic Whitney Houston/ Kevin Costner masterpiece.

The next day I looked for it on iTunes (no luck) and I tried to get it using the Unbox downloads on Amazon.com (no siree) and yet still I could not bring myself to actually cross the Fourth Dimension Of Dorkiness and purchase the DVD of the movie so I began doing the unthinkable and calling random Blockbuster Video stores across the Valley to find one who had a copy of the movie. The movie "The Bodyguard."

And even though I was laughed at twice and shamed once because the tragically hip teenager on the phone had no idea that movie ever existed, I finally found both humiliation and success at the store in Tarzana. Ah, there is nothing finer than a quest that ends victorious in both cheesy movie fun and popcorn.

More YouTube for those of you too young, wise or highbrow to have succumbed to the fantasy ....

Have a great weekend. I will always love you. You and my bodyguard.

Posted by laurie at 7:44 AM

February 7, 2008

They keep looking at you even when you try to move away....

Yesterday the building of my employment was without water. The whole building had no water, no running toilets or sinks in the offices of what appear to be something like 500,000 women all needing to pee at the same time.

Good times, I tell you what.

So on my lunch break I walked to Macy's to avail myself of their services, and that is when I discovered this:

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What, people, is this a coordinated cruel joke or something?

Anyway, since I was not about to miss another opportunity to pee, I decided to wait it out while the restrooms got cleaned and that is how I found myself in the dressing room of said Macy's trying on what can only be described as another in a long line of really ill-fated blouse designs:

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It's right up there with the "Nips On Fire" shirt of October 2007. I have finally decided that mass-market fashion is either drunk or crazy, or maybe both, but either way I was not it's tragic victim for one day, at least ... I walked out empty-handed. After I made use of the ladies room, of course.

But the shirt still haunts me...

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The question for today is, "Will the water be back on when I arrive at work, and if not will I find myself in yet another dressing room trying on yet another shirt that is hilariously drunk and/or crazy and/or staring at me from the breastage area?"

Ah, my life. So very exciting.

- - -
Comments are closed, have a great day!

Posted by laurie at 7:07 AM

February 6, 2008

That ain't workin' ... that's the way you do it.

I am so happy that Al Gore, my future boyfriend, invented the internets so that other people could invent the YouTube so that I can waste time drowning in nostalgia and watching long-lost music video favorites from the eighties.

When I was a teenager, MTV was The Greatest Invention Ever. For one thing, when you live way off on the bayou or wherever you do not so much know what the fashion trends or music trends are on the very cutting edge and when I was a teenager these things were really, urgently important. So we would all pile over to Suzanne Robichaux's house after school because they had one of those ginormous SETI-like satellite dishes and we would watch MTV and carefully memorize the hairstyles, clothes and dance moves of the videos we adored.

One of my favorite music videos was by John Waite, and I would swoon every time it came on. I didn't swoon because he was a My Guy (My Guy was that delicious Nick Rhodes who was certain to marry me one day! especially if I wore my eyeliner just like he did!) (you can see why my father was not so much a fan of me watching The MTV every afternoon at Suzanne's house), but anyway, the main reason I adored that John Waite video was because it spoke to everything I wanted ... yet I'd had no idea it even existed. The blonde girl in the music video had the exact hair clothes and makeup and most importantly the house I dreamed about. In the video they have this big open loft with no walls, and everything was bubble-gum colored and there was a cat and a piano and there was something about it that spoke to me, something that made me think one day I wanted to live that exact kind of life. It was more of a feeling, I guess, of big-cities and amazing apartments and I really loved that video.

I thought that loft they lived in really existed, and that was how artistic people lived and also ... I wanted it. It gave me so much excitement about what the future might hold for me, where I might end up one day when I was grown and could drive and just be myself (ah, teenage angst!). So when I think about that video I just have this nostalgia for it. The eighties were such a hopeful time in so many ways (God I am really sitting here waxing maudlin about the eighties? Have I forgotten my hair?) but it was kind of dreamy and goofy and people were trying all kinds of crazy new things and it was a really great time to be a teenager.

Anyway, thanks Al Gore. Thanks for the enabling:


Posted by laurie at 6:58 AM

February 5, 2008

Good reason not to leave the house

Yesterday was kind of weird. Something happened that upset me, and I tried to blow it off but the bad feeling hung around for a while.

I wish people in general could see how their actions affect others. Like, if you want information just ask for it. Don't be deceitful and underhanded to try to pressure someone into something as simple as a task update. Just ask for what you need.

My first reaction when people do things that suck is to say, "WHY did they do that? Why? I wish they would have just acted in a better way."

And it's so unproductive, this whole line of thinking is just wasted energy. I can't control someone else, and Lord knows I have tried. But it will never happen. I will never make all people act and behave in ways that are pleasing to me.

All I can do is control my response. For example, my initial response involved getting a shovel ... and then I remembered how poorly suited I am to prison-issue orange. I'm much better in jewel tones and dark colors. I wanted to give this person a piece of my mind and say, "How dare you blah blah blah!" I wanted to take the behind-my-back chatter and wave it before the offender's nose, say, "Ha! You thought I wouldn't know you lied about me!"

Then I realized that someone who has no remorse or compunction about lying to get what they want in the first place won't really give a seasoned rat's butt what you think of their actions. It just doesn't matter.

- - -

A few weeks ago someone left the comment that they just wished I had more self-confidence. Apparently the commenter had seen me at a book signing and something he or she overheard me say to another person in line made them think I lacked self-confidence.

Later I told a friend of mine about it, that comment, and we laughed. It's funny how people find it perfectly okay to make assessments of you as a human being and share the assessment with you, someone they do not know. I'm not pointing this out to excoriate the commenter. I'm mentioning it because we never know, we never really know another person. From my perspective, I happened to be quite pleased that I found a way to have on-topic book-related chitchat with 180 complete strangers in a row and my comment to the person in line was just that, a comment, meant for that one reader. My self-confidence wasn't in the crosshairs, not that I was aware of. Maybe I was tired or maybe I had been up since 4 a.m. giving interviews or maybe I just really wanted that reader to know that while the first four chapters are really painful -- hang in there, it lightens up. I know that sometimes a person is in some pain, and having to sit through four chapters of pain might be hard on them. I'm having chitchat. It's not my soul we're baring here.

The point is, we never know what someone's reason for saying something is.

- - -

So I managed to keep my mouth shut and not accuse the accuser of anything, let someone else handle the

Posted by laurie at 2:04 PM

More super, so soon?

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If you live in Los Angeles county and are trying to find your polling place, click here. Also ... keep an eye out for Le Soba who was last seen campaigning for herself, on a platform of "Legalize Catnip" and "Medicinal Catnip Cures All."


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Platform, indeed!

Posted by laurie at 10:44 AM

February 4, 2008

Super-bowl of lunch, breakfast and cats. A normal Monday.

1) It is a super bowl of cooking.
My crockpot made me a meal again, this time a big warm bowl of pot roast. Before putting the roast into the crockpot, I made a paste of crushed garlic and black pepper and rubbed it all on the whole roast, then browned that hunk of meat in a deep pot. When the roast was well browned on all sides, I put it in the crock pot. But I wasn't done on the stove just yet -- I used one bottle of beer to de-glaze the pan (pick any beer but a stout, I once did this with Guinness and it got bitter over the long cooking time) and also, notice I just used the fancypants word "deglaze."

That just means you heat the beer (or beef broth or water or onion soup or whatever you want) in the pan you used to brown the meat, and you scrape all the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Then dump the liquid into the crockpot and let it cook all night. This is a very low-sodium recipe as I make it, so you may want to use beef broth instead of beer (or bouillon, both of which have salt in them) or some folks use Lipton's onion soup as the liquid. I like the beer, it tenderizes the meat and adds a deep, rich yummy texture to the gravy.

I made some mashed potatoes and now I have lunch and dinner ready for me:

roastbeeflucnch.jpg

Love the crock pot.

2) Friends and toast, no better combination.
Yesterday I had breakfast with Faith and Allison at Dinah's in Culver City. If you get a chance to go there for breakfast, you should take that chance ... I ate everything but the plate. It was so much fun just to chitchat and hang out, I haven't done that in a while and I needed it! And Allison brought along her first pair of hand-knit socks, she's done with one sock and nearly done with the other. They look great! She showed me how to do the magic loop, too. I'm not saying socks are next on my to-do list, but her hand-knit socks just look amazing (and not nearly as hard to make as I thought!)

3) They loved their old toy to death. Literally.
bob-new-toy.jpg

You can find this cat toy on wal-mart.com. I bought mine at Target but don't see it on their website. It's a very big hit here at Chez Cat Scratcher.


Posted by laurie at 11:13 AM

February 1, 2008

Beret update

1) I measured and I am getting three stitches to the inch on the regular stockinette portion using the Lion Brand Landscapes yarn version of this beret.

beret-stitchesperinch.jpg

2) It is actually cold enough in the fine city of angels to wear all my hats at one time! If it is cold enough for condensation to make ice, it is cold enough for a hand-knit item or four:

feb1-frostmonkey.jpg
Poor traffic monkey is cold.


3) Also, a kind commenter pointed out that I used the wrong words to describe the type of stitch increase I used, which I am sure is 100% true as I am not a professional, cannot seem to follow a pattern and often knit under the influence. However, in my defense I included links to a video that showed how to do it, explained in text how I made this terribly misunderstood and misnamed stitch, and really now that I think about it I am not sure how else you say "make one extra stitch by knitting into the front and back of a stitch" when you want to you know... make one extra stitch by knitting through the front of it and the back of it. Maybe you call it "make magic with whoopee stitch love." I do not know! I think I am going to stop knitting altogether and take up badminton and really mess with people.

Actually, on a side note, I once knew a guy who told me he had been completely scarred by the game of badminton. He was a super-smart engineering geek guy, very cute, and he told me how he took badminton as his health requirement in college because of all the sports it seemed the easiest. You see why we were friends (also, I took roller skating for my requirement, this girl knows how to keep her GPA in Type A territory.) Anyway, come to find out the guy who was teaching my friend's badminton class actually wrote the book on badminton. No, really -- he wrote the official rule book and was apparently a complete badminton purist and enforcer. My poor friend almost ruined his GPA over... badminton. He was angry about it even ten years later.

Maybe I won't take up badminton after all. Maybe I'll take up making magic with stitch whoopee love.

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Comments are closed, have a great weekend.

Posted by laurie at 8:30 AM