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June 30, 2008

Bumper knitter

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Me too!

And don't forget to enter to win the sweepstakes if you haven't already put your name in for the drawing. Sweepstakes ends on Friday at 9 p.m. Pacific. Good luck!

Posted by laurie at 9:38 AM

June 27, 2008

It is Friday. You have no idea how happy that makes me. In celebration, enter to win some good, free crafty stuff!

Now if that is not a headline I do not know what is. One of these days I will max out the amount of characters you can have in these headlines and I will be secretly thrilled.

So my friend Allison and I both love giving things away and we tried to think up a good little summertime sweepstakes. I have to tell you, once I saw the cat-and-sushi embroidery pattern I was HOOKED. I know what I want for Christmas by the way ... just look at the cuteness:

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Seriously. I mean really now. How awesome would that be embroidered on a pillow? Or on a little purse?

Ya'll can enter to win this design, it's included in both prize packs from SuperCrafty.com featuring:

* 5 of our favorite Sublime Stitching patterns: Sushi, Cat-A-Rama, Dress-Up, Gnomes & Fairies and I Luv Veggies.
* A copy of Jenny Hart’s "Craft Pad," a cool collection of over 75 pattern transfers in neat, tear-off sheets. Published by Chronicle Books.

Each prize is valued at over $30 (there will be two winners) and Allison is doing the shipping so ya'll know it will get there faster than when I mail stuff. I use Pony Express and she uses something called "the postal office." Thank you so much to Allison for offering this up as a sweepstakes! This sweepstakes closes at 9 p.m. Pacific time on Friday, July 4th.

Go enter to win the sweepstakes >>

I used to embroider everything in sight when I was a kid, I went through a phase where I thought everything had to be encrusted in French knots or it just wasn't pretty. My poor parents. You can imagine how shocked they were when that phase ended and my challenging "Crackerass McCracker punk girl" phase began, where I only wore black clothes and T-shirts I cut holes in and trashy red legwarmers. In Louisiana. In summer.

I was delightful I am sure.

Anyway, if you are looking for a summer project, embroidery is light and easy and portable! These Sublime Stitching embroidery patterns are cool designs (no geese in bonnets, amen). Each pack includes simple instructions how to use the reusable iron-on transfer sheets to stitch on t-shirts, aprons, hand towels, pillowcases and more.

You can also buy these at SuperCrafty.com in over 35 designs, for just $3.49 each. Here's the link to her embroidery page. I also want to mention Allison is having a huge 30% off sale on all kinds of stuff in her online store and do you know how hard it was for me to resist all that Misti Alpaca at 30% off the regular price? I'm still standing strong over here in no-shop land but it is a lonely, lonely island folks. I am living vicariously through ya'll. Come Sale away! Come Sale away! Come Sale away with me!

And finally what better way to end a Friday -- a much-needed Friday after a LONG LONG LONG week, than with a picture of my roly-poly baby brother:

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He just looks like he is up to some Puppy tomfoolery in that picture!

Have a great weekend!!

Posted by laurie at 9:40 AM

June 26, 2008

All I wanna do is have some fun....

My second mitten is coming along. Knitting on the bus and juggling stitch markers and five double-pointed needles on the lurching ride home is a challenge, but if it isn't ill-advised, I usually don't want any part of it!

I did however begin to notice a slight difference in my two mittens. The first mitten is big and toasty. This second mitten while equally toasty seemed ... a little smaller. I got them out with my morning coffee to measure:

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Yes, indeed.

It appears that when I am home on a lazy Saturday afternoon knitting away with a cat on my lap and one stretched on the back of the sofa and I'm watching episodes of The Pretender and drinking tea out of my favorite cup I am ... relaxed. And my stitches are nice and even and normal. But when I am knitting on the grimy and crowded commuter bus after a long, anxiety-riddled workday in which I tried vigilantly to refrain from stapling people on the forehead, it appears my gauge is a little more on the "freakishly cramped" side. Apparently someone is working out some issues on the poor yarn.

Gives whole new meaning to the word tension!

- - -

Reader Kris asked about my camera, wanting to know what I use to stalk the wildlife at Chez Hairball.

Well, I use a Kodak Easy Share V1233 camera, but I can't recommend it. I bought it after mourning the loss of my old 3.1-megapixel Kodax camera. This new one has a fancypants 12 megapixels and all of them are blurry. I don't like to give bad product reviews so I just don't mention my camera much at all these days. But to be honest, it takes terrible pictures -- the flash is awful and the only way to get a non-blurry shot of anything is to use a tripod and even then it's so sensitive that if the earth is rotating on its axis the picture won't come out crisp. And the earth, you know how it can be ... so rotatey!

I manage to get a good shot every once in a while but almost every image I post here has been cleaned up considerably in photoshop. I don't want a fancy camera with lenses and special settings and gears and so on. I like a plain old simple point-and-shoot camera. All I want is something easy to use and with a macro setting. That's it! Come January when my no-shop moratorium ends I will probably start looking for a new camera, this one was a real lemon.

Don't want to end on a sour note (sour - lemons - HA!) so below is a picture of the Sobakowa staring at the ceiling. This is why it is so good to have a haunted house! It explains away all sorts of mysterious things, like why does the lid to the garlic salt keep coming undone in the spice cabinet and also ... why is my cat staring at the light fixture for over an hour without moving?

I suspect she and the ghost are conspiring and it probably has something to do with the bag of greenies I had to hide from her last week after she managed to open the cabinet and chew a hole in the bag. Or maybe she's trying to get the ghost to drive her somewhere fun. Maybe she wants to go to Vegas and double her money. I have no idea. I guess I'll have to wait and read her manifesto like a plain ol' mere mortal.

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Soba, The Great Communicator With Light Fixtures.

Posted by laurie at 8:13 AM

June 25, 2008

Humpday

1) Chitchat
On the bus this morning I had to ask a fellow passenger if today was Tuesday or Wednesday. It's Wednesday. How did I lose track of my days of the week? Again?

2) But hey, it's Wednesday!

3) So exciting to be me

I got an actual parking space at the park 'n ride this morning. I would like to say I am thrilled with the influx of new mass transit users but I'm not ... yesterday I had to park in another zipcode and walk twenty minutes in uncomfortable shoes to catch the bus. There's a huge, empty lot next to the park 'n ride but if you park there to take the bus, the city will have you towed. I think the city needs to get some medical mary jo and stop harassing the nice people who want to take the bus. But what do I know.

4) I am this far along on mitten numero dos:

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Still life with coffee and mitten.

I learned the hard way I can only knit this project on the busrides home at night and not in the morning on the way to work. This yarn is very soft and very pretty but it sheds like crazy! After five minutes with it you look like you've been mauled by a persian cat. It's too much lint-rolling so early in the morning.

5) Mitten pattern question

Reader Martine asked:

In case you didn't know I only knit stuff whose patterns you write up, I initially found you because of the roll brim hat. So I was wondering...I know you're really busy and I'm not in a rush...but would you mind writing up the mitten pattern you used? I'm sorry if I'm repeating something someone else asked already, I decided to just go ahead and ask you. Feel free to tell me to figure out my own mitten pattern.

P.S. I made the roll brim hat, the little nightclub bag and the mistake rib scarf. I'm not adventurous enough for some of the other stuff but am almost ready to try to beret. Thanks for publishing all those patterns.

Martine I am so happy my dorky patterns are getting used, thank you!! After following this mitten pattern I started thinking how real pattern writers must scoff at my wordy Gone-With-The-Abbreviation patterns, but then I got so mad at the thumb portion of the pattern I decided that real words are a good thing. Too much crazy abbreviating makes my head hurt.

I can't post the mitten pattern, though. Since it's from a book I'm not sure it would be legal or ethical for me to reprint it and I look terrible in prison-issue orange. Also wouldn't it be sad if I were in copyright jail trying to make knitting needles out of my toothbrush. However! I am really enjoying making mittens! And once I get the concept down in my head enough, I might try to make up my own pattern. My friend Lucia has a free mitten pattern on her website, too, but I will be honest with you ... I am not even close to being able to read from a chart. People, I can barely read a pattern written with all abbreviations! If you think my chihuahua brain is ready for squares on graph paper think again. I am not ruling it out for the future, but I am also not ruling out that I will one day be the future Mrs. Al Gore so make of that what you will.

What number am I on? Is it Thursday yet?

6) Being the wildlife photographer is hard work.

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This is what most of my pictures look like.

I was actually trying to get a picture of this adorableness:

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7) Finally, we have no bananas today!

The catnip banana toy is a big hit around these parts. I have found it in my shoes, in the bed and once hidden in the cat food bowl (???). Frankie enjoys making the toy feel the humiliation ....

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Have a good WEDNESDAY! It only comes around once a week these days....

- - - - - -

Edited to add:
I just noticed that two of my rockin' advertisers are having big sales -- go click on the SuperCrafty ad for 30% off all kinds of crafty goodies and Knitpicks is having a huge 40% off sale on all their craft books!!!

I want to be up front here -- I don't get money when you click on ads but if the urge strikes you it always makes me happy if you do click because it shows the advertisers that people are seeing their ads here (and clicks are counted) and tells them that this site is a good ad buy. The money I make on the ads helps offset my server costs and I am so grateful to the blogads company for making that happen!!

Also I am having a hard time not perusing KnitPicks and SuperCrafty for deals! I am going to shop vicariously through ya'll. Let me know if you scored a deal!

Posted by laurie at 8:43 AM

June 24, 2008

If only the font were a little bit BIGGER....

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Indeed.

Saw that truck on Sunday in the Sepulveda Pass on the 405 when Faith was driving my mitten-challenged self to A Mano Yarn Shop. That font was big enough to be visible from space! It was not satisfying enough for me to only snap a picture, though. I needed to see the face of the man who was driving a big ol' pickup truck with "HONK FOR BADONKADONK" emblazoned across the window.

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Closer...
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Closer... and HONK!!!!!! We honked and he flashed us the peace sign. Apparently "badonkadonk" means "peace out" in his lingo.

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But alas, the open road calls ... he's off to spread his message of peace, love and badonkadonkdom to the world!

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Posted by laurie at 8:35 AM

June 23, 2008

When it is 113 degrees outside you need... a hand-knit mitten!

On Saturday it was too hot to leave the safety of the air-conditioned house. It was just disgusting outside. I love the Valley but this is the time of year I wonder why I don't live in Iceland. Anyway, I got up freakishly early to do laundry and clean house before it got up in the hundreds and by 10 a.m. I was done working on my list of house chores. I could have moved on to another pile of work (I have lists of to-dos that would make your toes curl) and I knew I should turn on the computer and try to get caught up (seeing as I am always about two weeks behind in life) but it was Saturday and the cats were so cute and I was so tired of working and ... it was REALLY hot. So I did something I never do -- I pulled the blinds down and cranked up the air conditioning and decided to have a completely lazy day.

I never have lazy days. I LOVE lazy days!!

For Christmas this past year I bought myself the biggest dorkiest gift ever -- the full season DVD set of The Pretender. I never watched that show when it was on TV but last year I found it through iTunes and got hooked. But iTunes only has the first season so come holiday time I went full-hog and bought the whole set.

Since December of 2007 I have only made it through Season One and the first episode of Season Two (I don't have a lot of free time, see: "crazy person.") On Saturday I pulled out the DVDs and put on Season Two and then I decided I would accompany it with a big glass of iced tea and some knitting. Yes, knitting! I do have three big scarves that are thisclose to finished and I could've finish them up. OR! Or I could start a whole new project, which seemed way more fun on a lazy day.

A few years back I wanted to make the Super Mittens pattern from the book Weekend Knitting. I never made them, though, just reading through the pattern was so intimidating I didn't want to start it! I think that I was afraid of making a mistake or getting stuck. And I find some patterns are so hard to read, I know now that pattern shorthand is always part of the knitting business but sometimes I think patterns use shorthand to an extreme when a few actual words thrown in could save a lot of confusion.

Anyway, I pulled that mitten pattern out on Saturday morning, dug up the recommended needle sizes and my notions kit and then I decided on some yarn from my stash. I like Paton's Rumor yarn, especially that pink color ("Duberry Heather") and I'd been making a scarf with it so I guestimated it would fit the gauge of the mitten pattern. I made no gauge swatch because I am a lazy and bad knitter, the kind your mother warned you about. I just cast on and started working away. At first I cast on and divided the stitches on three needles:

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But it got awkward real quicklike so I switched to four needles:

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Much better! Plus I got so much help while knitting:

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I just sat there happy as a cat myself, knitting and watching TV and trying to keep the Bob from eating my needles. The regular cuff part was a breeze, just knit in the round for a while. Then you get to the gusset for the thumb:

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It wasn't nearly as hard as I thought. You just place some markers and do little increases here and there to make it wider in one spot. I made the decision early on in the morning that this piece of knitting would be fun, not work, and if I screwed it up so what. It's just yarn. The world would keep spinning on its axis.

I managed to make the whole mitten to the top except the thumb and I was so pleased with myself. Then I got to the thumb instructions and it was like reading Greek! I couldn't understand a damn word of it. I got kind of mad, I admit it, because I just could not figure it out. I said some curse words. I declared that the lazy day of happiness had ended and thumb doom had descended. Then I got over it and called it a day.

On Sunday, Faith came by and I made her read the pattern for starting the thumb and she agreed it made no sense whatsoever. So we got in her air-conditioned car and went to A Mano Yarn Shop. I had a gift certificate for that shop and heck, it was my birthday after all and I needed 1) thumb help and 2) some double-pointed needles to replace the ones that an unnamed cat ("Bob") dug out of my bag and chewed up. That counts as necessary in my book.

And I am so happy we went to A Mano! It's one of those great yarn shops that has friendly, laid-back people that love helping you out with projects (they also have gorgeous yarn there!) And how can you not love a shop where co-owner Annette brings her puppy:

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And co-owner Shannita was there, too, here she and Faith are visiting and check out the yarn wall:

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But I am 100% crazy happy grateful for lovely Kim, who is a master knitter and just as nice and calm as can be and patiently showed me how to de-code the thumb portion of the pattern. She showed me how to pick up stitches and where to join and she was awesome, thank you Kim!!

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Kim rocks.

I did it, I finished my very first mitten ever:
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I swear I was happier with that damn mitten than if I'd made cold fusion. Nothing says "summer in Los Angeles" like a hand-knit mitten. If you come to Los Angeles this summer and want to do some yarn shopping I cannot recommend A Mano Yarn Center highly enough! They know good yarn. And thumbs.

This was the first time I'd really wanted to knit (and enjoyed it) in a while. I am not very good at being competitive with yarn. I know that many people take knitting very seriously and have goals and expectations and want to be The. Best. Knitter. Ever.

But me? Not so much. Honestly I took up knitting to keep my hands busy so I would not drunk dial a certain ex-husband. To me, knitting is a craft. It's a hobby. An activity. It is not fun for me when people get weird and competitive and try to put it on a schedule and judge you -- that is when it turns into a job and frankly I have enough jobs to keep me busy. I am just ornery, too, so if something starts to feel like work or pressure I will refuse to do it (since I already have work and pressure.)

When I started knitting a few years back, I had no goals. I could have cared less if I ever made anything functional or fancy or good. And sometimes I USE INEXPENSIVE YARN. Sure, I like big fancypants expensive yarn, too, but I'm an equal-opportunity yarn hoarder. But after a while all the enjoyment slowly got sucked out of knitting for me. It started to feel like an expectation and a job. Then a few days ago I found reader Sarah's Knitting Resolutions, which had me laughing out loud. And you know what? I remembered I used to really enjoy knitting, back before I felt all pressured to be competitive or right or good at it. And I do like knitting -- MY way.

I'm not fast at it, I'm not good at it and I make things that often don't work at all and that is completely 100% OK with me. I just knit for enjoyment and truth is I'm not ever going to be competitive. I hate reading patterns and I often get stressed out with knitting (I cussed over that thumb like you would not believe.) I can't count half the time and can't even remember to use the stitch counter. But I DON'T CARE! I just like doing it. I am not trying to be like any other great, famous, rockin' knitters. I have friends who astonish me with their precision and speed and ingenuity and I love them for it and at the same time I'm just happy to make a garter scarf. I am not trying to be anything knitty. I just want to hold some pretty yarn.

That is my story and I am sticking to it.

THE END.

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Posted by laurie at 10:17 AM

June 22, 2008

My Birthday Resolution

So, every year around the time of my birthday I make a list of Birthday Resolutions. Sometimes my lists have been really long! I can't help it, I love a good list.

About two months ago I was on the treadmill and watching some show I'd Tivo'd -- that's my multitasking, trying to cram it all in at the same time as usual. Anyway, on the program there was a woman talking about things you should be doing in life to live healthy and happy. And one of her ideas was that you should have a little fun every single day.

I paused it and bleep-blooped it (that means I hit the little Tivo rewind button, sure wish I had one of those for everything in my life!!) BLEEPBLOOP. I had to listen to her say it again. And for the life of me I couldn't remember when the last time I'd had real FUN was. And the more I got to thinking on it, I could not even really decide what "fun" MEANS. What is FUN? Is it something you have to go do, like at a club? That just didn't sound fun to me. Is watching a movie on TV fun? Sometimes. But sometimes it's just something you're doing to relax or because you can't sleep. It's an activity but is it FUN?

For weeks now -- ever since I watched that TV program -- I have been thinking that the real crazytalk is how long it took me to figure out when I'd last had fun in my life. And even crazier is that I'd lost my frame of reference for one of life's most basic words: FUN!

This year my birthday resolutions list only has one item on it: Every day for the rest of my life spend at least three minutes having fun.

I picked three minutes because it seemed like a do-able amount of time to spend each day on fun. It's not so much time that you have to squeeze it into a busy schedule or worry you won't get around to it. And fun isn't supposed to be just another obligation! Obviously there will be days I can do more than three minutes but each day that's the bare minimum of FUN I want to add in. I think singing along to a favorite song or dancing in the living room is a good start. Other things I thought of: playing the laser pointer with the cats, making a house out of cards, eating watermelon. I'm not sure if the last one is fun but it is good. I believe it says a lot about the current status of my life that I had a tough time thinking of anything fun to do! That is why I know this is the only resolution I need.

Today I started by dancing in my living room to one of my favorite songs. It's just an uplifting, happy song and I danced and sang out loud to the cats. It felt great and it didn't cost anything and it really was fun!

I'm not sure what other stuff I will add to my list of fun activities ... if you have any ideas I would love to hear them! I will make a list of fun stuff to do, and that is the best list I can think of for a birthday resolution.

Posted by laurie at 9:37 AM

June 20, 2008

Enough talking, more cat pictures!

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And just for good measure here is a picture of my little brother who is so cute and not spoiled rotten at all:

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I'm going to visit him this summer. I have already started stockpiling toys. Cat and dog toys are "essential" items and are not excluded from shopping!

And in Valley news, I think cutiecute Dallas Raines says it all with his facial expression here:

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108 in Encino! That is just a little on the warm side. And you know it's really summer when ...

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And later last night it was going, going, GONE:

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Have a great weekend. Stay cool!


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Posted by laurie at 8:20 AM

June 19, 2008

Looking for ....

If anyone out there has the Autumn 2007 Toast catalogue can you send it to me? I will happily pay you. It has the sloppy joe house socks pattern in it...

Posted by laurie at 12:28 PM

So few questions, so many answers!

How can a simple oil change turn into $786.49 in repairs? I will tell you -- it's magic. You need an oil change, maybe ask the guy to check out the fan belt which is making a weird noise and before the day is out you leave with a new radiator, some spark plugs and apparently the grave of Al Capone.

It's very mysterious, car repair.

I love my Jeep. This is the first major repair Big Red has needed in almost two years so I'm happy he likes his new radiator, the third one we've purchased together. It seems this car is my second-longest relationship next to my twisted affair with this crazyass city. A while back I dated a guy who didn't understand my affection for the Jeep. I know it doesn't have air conditioning (believe me, I KNOW) but it was the car I could afford at the time, and now it's paid off and I keep it in good condition. It works for me, I feel it is a very happy relationship most of the time.

But on our third date this guy told me I needed to go out and lease a new car and get rid of my Jeep. Told me how I needed to get a BMW, maybe, or a Lexus SUV.

"Don't you think it's time you got a real car?" he said, as if I had asked him. As if he knew me better than I knew myself. As if we had known each other for years not mere days.

So I got rid of the guy and it was a lot cheaper. Problem solved!

I like my old beat-up Jeep. It suits me. It gets me to and from the mass transit parking lot, and gets me to the grocery store and my few little errands, and I can load a whole Meyer lemon tree in the back and if it all tumps over and spills dirt everywhere it's no big deal. You can hose out the inside real easy. Plus that vehicle just loves a new radiator the way I love a new handbag. We're kindred souls!

I guess I could have argued with the guy, or tried to give my side of the story or tried to show him how he was wrong and I was right, but lately I have noticed I just have a poor appetite for arguing. It's a change for the best -- I used to argue a lot, especially when I was married. I'm one of those people who stores up completely random facts (and what I don't know I can make up quite convincingly) so that I tend to really be good at arguing. Plus I'm very expressive, what with the colorful vocabulary of my own and the hand gesturing and dramatics. It took me a long time to realize that arguing wasn't a skill I wanted to continue developing in my life and that sharpening my debate teeth wasn't adding to my happiness. That perhaps it was best to be good at other stuff like eating Fritos and speaking Spanish and making hand-knit flowers.

And maybe, just maybe, it's ridiculous to feel you ever have to argue FOR your feelings or choices with anyone.

I reckon I spent about 2/3 of my life arguing, feeling defensive about something or going around answering questions no one had even asked. That's the one that kills your relationships -- answering up all sorts of questions no one is asking you to solve. Like when that guy answered a question I had not asked about my Jeep. I never asked his opinion about my car. I never asked for his help in the auto realm. I never asked him if I should get a new vehicle. I never even brought up the subject! It was a question I never asked but boy did he think he had the answer.

It's not a limited example -- people are always giving unsolicited advice on how you ought to live your life. But it wasn't until recently I saw how much advice-giving I did in my own relationships! Even on the phone a few weeks ago I was giving totally unsolicited advice to my folks about the new puppy. They hadn't asked but I sure was answering. Luckily they love me and I did catch myself before I carried on too long. What on earth makes me an expert on their lives? What makes me the authority on all things dog-related? Nothing! My sole job is to enjoy the puppy and buy him many goofy toys and enjoy my parents' stories about said puppy. End of my role. But it's a hard habit to break, all that answering.

How many times have I been talking to a friend and my friend makes a statement and all the sudden I'm answering questions she didn't even ask? Or I'm in a meeting -- answering a question no one ever asked. I used to do that all the time in meetings, sometimes I was showing off how much I knew about the subject matter, or sometimes I was just talking to show I was "on top of my game" and sometimes I did it out of habit!

A few weeks ago Faith and I were at the Home Depot together and she started looking through the display of seed packets in the garden center.

"I'm going to grow some zucchini again this year, too," she said.

She picked up a big seed packet of organic zucchini seeds.

"Oh wow," I said. "You're going to have a whole army of squash!"

"I know!" she said, "I can't wait!"

And right at that moment I realized I was on the verge of answering a question she never asked me. She did not ask me my opinion about what she should purchase, or when, or how many or where to plant them or anything at all. Faith is a grown woman with her own home and husband and yard and life and does not need my unsolicited opinion. And people are going to do what they want to do anyway. It is truly liberating to realize such a thing. I can just shut up and enjoy someone's conversation without telling them how to do it "right." As if there is a right way. As if people want to be told the "right" way to do anything.

Amazing, isn't it?

Arguing is a hard habit to break, too! Sometimes I take the bait and then later I see what I did and feel dumb. Because all that energy wasted on ... what? But sometimes I don't engage and let other people just argue and talk and carryon and they get to win and I get to breathe.

If I don't take the bait or offer up my own answers to questions no one is asking me, it turns out that I don't wither up and die. Is that something or what! The world keeps spinning on its axis. I don't suddenly become less of a person or lose IQ points or walk slumped over or find myself covered in warts because I didn't say something. In fact, the stress level decreases. Life is smoother. Things don't seem so hard and contentious. You get to just see people for who they are and not have to be sizing them up, judging them, deciding if you agree or disagree, offering your input on how they should live their lives. It is revolutionary.

So, anyway, my Jeep has a big-time tune up and a new oil filter and air filter and some wires and a fan belt and some spark plugs and of course a brand new radiator. It is really a good thing I decided to stop shopping for nonessentials so my car could pick out a pretty radiator just in time for summer. The mechanic did throw in a free car wash for me (even put the shiny stuff on the tires!)

I walked down to the repair shop at lunchtime to pay the bill and pick up my keys.

"You should get new seatcovers," said my mechanic as he handed me the receipt. "The camouflage doesn't seem like you. Maybe get something with flowers!"

Funny I do not recall asking his opinion. But I kept my mouth shut all the same. No need to break up with a perfectly good mechanic, especially one who throws in a free car wash.


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My beautiful new radiator!

Posted by laurie at 8:41 AM

June 18, 2008

Sew what!

Now that I am getting the office/spare room clutter down to a more manageable level, I'm going to pull my poor neglected sewing machine out of the garage and give it a tune-up and put it in the office. I love to sew!

My office closet used to hide a big stash of fabric but not anymore. However, when I was cleaning out the linen cupboard a few weeks ago I found a lot of things in there I wasn't using and with some creative cutting and a dye job they might turn into something fun. I haven't decided what I'm going to make or when, but I think it's a good sign that I am bringing the sewing machine out of retirement. Sewing is the first and finest form I ever discovered of active meditation -- I didn't even know what "active meditation" was back then, I only knew that if I started a sewing project, I became so focused on it that all my other worries and inside-chatter went away. That is a really good feeling, especially if you have the brain of a yappy chihuahua like I do. Yap yap yap ... that's all my brain ever does.

As part of my big self-helpy Buffet Of Learnin' I read a lot of helpy books, and it appears that all these enlightened people who probably don't cuss in traffic and don't secretly flip off their computer when they get an icky email are all folks who meditate daily. So I tried to meditate. I really did. I tried diligently for weeks to sit all still and to quiet my mind. My mind would say, "Are we there yet? Huh? Are we? Are we at inner peace yet? How much longer? Do I have to sit still like this the whole way? I have to go potty. Why are we doing this? If I can't meditate does it mean I will never have inner peace? Why are we still talking? Are we there yet? Is there any cheese in the fridge? FOCUS. Ok, I am focused! My leg itches. Do you think we got a bug bite? What is wrong with me that I hate doing this so much? Where is the next exit?"

And so on.

One time when Drew came to visit we were eating lunch and watching TV and they had a promo for the Oprah show. The little commercial was promoting an upcoming show about people who were married and discovered they were gay. The soundbite used in the commercial was something like, "One day I just knew something was different..." and they showed a close-up of this guy's face. Right then Drew turned to me and asked, "You think he woke up one day and just said ...'Uh-oh! I think I might be FAB-YOO-LESS!!!'"

Oh Lord I had not laughed so hard in a long time. It makes me laugh even now just thinking about it.

Then the next day when I tried to meditate all I could hear inside my stupid brain was, "Uh-oh! I think.. I think I might be FABULOUS!!!" and I started giggling and it was all she wrote. Finally I just gave up on the traditional sit-still-and-ponder-your-navel thing. I don't care how many people tell me it's the only way to find peace. Good for them. But they aren't me and don't have a chihuahua in their heads.

All that frustration with meditating is how I remembered I'd once read a term called "active meditation" and it clicked with me. I immediately thought of sewing -- it's something I could spend all day doing and I love doing it and so why is my machine out in the garage in a box? When I'm cutting out pieces for a pattern (or making my own pattern) and pinning them together and moving the foot pedal on the machine, I think of nothing else at all. Active meditation is awesome for me and my yappy brain. You just focus on something you like or an activity and your whole body gets less tense. You breathe more regularly. You stop clenching up all your muscles and making mental to-do lists. I figure if I found something that works for me, why beat myself over the head for not being like everyone else?

Other things that keep me focused and help me relax and breathe:

• Writing
• Painting (anything, not just a picture, but painting old furniture or picture frames or making watercolor postcards). Painting old terra-cotta pots is relaxing, too.
• Wrapping presents, like at Christmastime when you sit down to wrap everything, that's so relaxing.
• Petting the cats or brushing them. Frankie will sit still for hours to be brushed with the soft brush, she starts meowing like crazy when she sees me go near it! So I guess that's her meditation, too.
• Cleaning the house when I don't "have" to clean it (it's very stressful when company is coming and I have to clean, but if it's a Sunday afternoon and I'm just puttering around it can be very relaxing to shine up the kitchen.)
• Gardening
• Brushing my teeth
• Showering, I swear I could stay in the shower all day (but I don't)
• Cleaning out a kitchen drawer
• Making crafty stuff
• Walking
• Sitting at the beach or walking and looking for shells (that is my favorite)

I have a book on my bedside table called The Meditation Bible that has tons of great ideas like the candle meditation (where you focus on a pretty candle) and active listening and all sorts of things. It has given me some good ideas and made me realize there's more ways to find a slice of calmness than just sitting in one spot and closing your eyes.

My favorite meditation device -- my sewing machine -- will be off to the Sew & Vac repair shop this weekend for a good tune-up. Older machines love having a thorough cleaning and getting all greased up on the insides every now and then. Mine is an old Singer model from the 1970s and it only has two stitches, straight and zigzag! It doesn't even have a buttonhole maker. I like it though, it's sturdy and friendly and I've had it a long time. I wonder what weird and wacky thing I'll make with my sewing machine this summer? All I know for sure is that I'm looking forward to some zen time winding bobbins and threading needles!

Besides, maybe I'll make something and realize ... Uh-oh! It's FABULOUS!

Posted by laurie at 8:29 AM

June 17, 2008

Cheap and Cheerful

Things I like:

• Being at the grocery store and letting the guy behind me go ahead in line. He was only buying a bouquet of flowers (sweet.)

• When people let me go in line in front of them when I only have one item.

Gold Bond lotion. Last time I was visiting my parents I tried this stuff and was hooked. It's heavy and thick and it absorbs into my skin pretty fast. Living in a place with low humidity most of the year takes a toll on the ol' scales and lizardlike loveliness of the skin.

• Finding a new radio station that plays good music (if you're in Los Angeles it's 100.3 FM)

• Out here on the freeways the motorcyclists always drive in the space between two lanes of cars (they drive where the dotted line is.) It took me a long time to get used to that! Anyway, I like it when you see a motorcycle coming and you move over a little in your lane to give them more space and then they give you the "thank you" hand wave of acknowledgment. It feels like collusion for the greater good.

• I love Flickr! It's free to just browse people's pictures and I get all the best inspiration and good lunchtime desk-surfing entertainment from it. Some of my favorite flickr picture sets:

• I think so much of what is cool about the innernets is how you get to peek into some other person's life, maybe a total stranger halfway around the world! I love looking at the photos of Chez Larsson, a family living in Sweden who have the best taste in home design (I just love her clean, happy looking home.) She also has a blog and I enjoy reading what she says about organizing and her home. And she likes maps (I collect maps, love them.) Since I'm a total Cancer with Cancer rising I am basically a hermit wrapped inside a homebody -- home is pretty important to me! And I'm still trying to figure out what my personal decorating preferences are, and how to scale back the piles of crap and how to live my best, happiest and simplest. Seeing this complete stranger's pictures inspires me and makes me feel like you don't have to have a bazillion dollars and a personal decorator to have a cheerful and well-appointed home. I love that. Props to Al Gore for inventing this thing.

• Another website that is free and inspiring to me is called "Apartment Therapy." There are so many creative people out there!

• Free recipes at Epicurious.com. My favorite recipes are Coriander Lime Shrimp (it's really cilantro-lime shrimp, and it's SO GOOD.) I use only about half the marmalade in the recipe because I like spicy food (less sweet) but I have made it both ways and it's very tasty. My other favorite recipe is a sun-dried tomato sauce for pizza that is amazing. Basically it's just roasted garlic pureed with sundried tomatoes and it is so good. I make mini-pizzas using whole grain pita bread, which is just the right size for an individual pizza. Spread on the sauce, add goat cheese and peppers and caramelized onions and it is heavenly!

• Iced tea. I love iced tea, especially in summer.

• Mascara. What a good invention.

• Van Morrison songs. Before I went all no-shop, I bought the latest Van Morrison CD called Keep It Simple. If you are a Van Morrison fan you'll love this CD, it sounds like a classic on the first play.

• Scottish accents.

• A pretty scarf tied on a handbag.

• Thank you so much to reader Sandy for alerting me to the Cascadian Farms website which has a store search and product locator for all their good stuff, but specifically the Organic Green Beans with Almonds I am addicted to. The Whole Foods stopped carrying them and I love -- LOVE -- these green beans. I can eat them every day and sometimes I do. Thanks to their cool search feature I found several stores near me that have my favorite green beans. Now, if only finding ALL products were that easy!

• Musical cards!! I have developed a serious addiction to musical greeting cards. I love to buy them for people for their birthdays and for the holidays. My parents know it's not a card from me unless the thing is singing!

• Avocados.

• Cats who snuggle in the morning and don't want you to leave for work.

• Vines on my pumpkin plants! I have never grown a pumpkin plant before and I go out back and look at them as often as I can. Sometimes I don't get home until it's dark, so a few days will go by and then I'll get to look at them and they will have grown a foot in just three days! They have a good enough head start on the zucchini that they may even take over the whole raised bed:

june15-pumpkin-viney.jpg

It is hard to get a sense of the scale from that image, but the raised bed is a little larger than a four-foot square. It's pretty big. I may have to relocate one of the zucchini since the pumpkin wants to take over!

The pumpkin plant I bought was in a small 4-inch container (there were two seedlings stuck in there together) and it cost me $1.99 -- certainly the BEST $1.99 I have ever spent! It is now a bazillion inches big and has little tee-tiny pumpkins on it. I kept the plastic marker that came with the plant when I bought it because that is how I roll. Just this weekend I looked at the information on the marker more closely -- I wanted to know how big the pumpkins get before you pick them:

june15-pumpkin-100lbs.jpg

Then I called my dad because... ONE HUNDRED POUNDS? That cannot be true. Can it?

"Dad, do you think this is a typo? Can a pumpkin be 100 pounds? Maybe they meant ten pounds?" I asked.

"No," he said. Laughing. "It's not a typo, some people grow 900 pound pumpkins."

And of course this made me very excited, because I did manage to grow a 23 pound zucchini last year, so why not grow a seven-hundred-pound-pumpkin? Gardening is so fun. Mysterious, but fun.

My beautiful pumpkin blossom:

june15-pumpkin-blossom.jpg

And my first baby pumpkin!!!!!
june15-pumpkinbaby.jpg

Posted by laurie at 8:22 AM

June 16, 2008

What's for dinner?

What's for dinner tonight? Stir fry!

A stir-fry dinner is one of the best ways I know to get a fairly inexpensive but fast and healthy dinner. With one chicken breast and a bag of frozen pre-cut stir-fry veggies you can make enough food to feed one for dinner plus lots of leftovers, or enough for a good-sized dinner for two people.

I use different brands of the pre-cut veggies and haven't found one I dislike yet. I know some people think it is just a travesty to the world of culinary arts to buy frozen vegetables but we don't really have culinary arts at my house. We have a lot of microwaved popcorn. Frozen veggies last longer (obviously) and they work best for me -- in my opinion, the pre-cut veggie is the best invention for people who work and commute! I was hoping for a jet pack as my favorite invention but since that is not available at the grocery store, I will take the pre-cut/pre-washed veggie ... for now.

I like that you can get get all kinds of organic mixes, too.

Some pre-packaged stir-fry veggies come with the seasonings, but I like to spice up my stir-fry myself. You can add shrimp or beef or turkey or just about anything to a stir-fry, but chicken is my normal stir-fry staple. I buy boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs when they're on special and freeze them in individual portions so if the urge to cook strikes me I can pull out one serving and not have to defrost 8 pounds of chicken on a Wednesday night. (Folks who live alone understand what I mean! Because if faced with the daunting task of cooking a whole pile of chicken at 8 p.m. after work or just making popcorn and having a glass of wine, you guess which option is the winner.)

I defrost the chicken by putting it in a shallow sink of cold water for a few minutes. I think chicken is easier to cut up if it's a little frozenish anyway. Then slice it into small strips or bite-sized pieces and sautée it -- I love to use a stove-top wok pan for cooking just about anything, so I heat up a little sesame oil and get busy.

For seasonings add a little splash of white wine or some rice vinegar or soy sauce or all of the above. Sometimes I add fish sauce in place of the soy sauce (you can buy it in the Asian foods section of your grocery store.) It doesn't add a fish taste, it adds a salty taste and it has a lot of sodium so just a few drops will do it. I love spicy food so I always add a good dallop of chili-garlic paste -- I can't cook without my chili garlic paste. If I have fresh ginger I add that, or garlic, but my number one favorite is a good sprinkle of Chinese Five Spice. I like spicy and pungent food, so my stir fry is definitely full of flavor. Cook the chicken for 8-12 minutes until it's cooked through and then add the veggies and let them cook (they don't take long, just a few minutes.) I like to serve this on top of those crunchy rice noodles you get at the store although I'm sure that isn't the healthiest option. You can have it with steamed rice or later this summer you have it on a whole army of zucchini I am sure.

I like stir-fry. It's pretty easy, only requires that one pan get dirty and takes about fifteen minutes. Not bad!

Posted by laurie at 11:12 AM

The cats were not impressed, however.

Over the weekend my little brother Eric was in town and he and Rebecca met me over at Grandma's house and Aunt Pam brought the rest of the family both old and new ...

newpuppy1.jpg
Aunt Pam got a new puppy!

The new puppy spent a lot of time doing this:
newpuppy2.jpg

He has a hard time knowing where the chew toy ends and the human hand begins....

It is really impossible to be sad or in a bad mood around a puppy. Animals in general should be a requirement for training all humans to be happy. We mostly just chitchatted and played with the puppy all day with a little break for In-n-Out Burgers. That sounds like a perfect day to me. Grandma also got lots of kisses and love from the puppy:

newpuppy-grandma.jpg

newpuppy-grandma2.jpg

That's Rebecca in the pictures too, who I kept cutting off with my awesome photography. Everyone had a good time and at the end of the weekend everyone was worn out. Some more than others....

newpuppy3.jpg
He sleeps like a log. Belly up!

Posted by laurie at 9:12 AM

June 13, 2008

All Fridays, even Friday the 13th, are welcome around here

So far the only horrific thing that has happened this Friday the 13th is someone farted a toxic, deadly fart on the bus this morning and I thought I might have to ralph. Someone opened a window and we survived ... just barely.

- - -

I got this email recently from reader Suzanne:

In your post today, you mentioned putting some peat moss around your pumpkin plants. Just recently my boyfriend and I were planting an azalea bush and the instructions said to plant it with peat moss but we had a hard time figuring out what that meant. What is it and where do you get it and why is it better than good ol' dirt? Thanks!

Peat Moss is a spongier material than dirt so it holds water and stays moist longer than my poor old dry garden soil.

I bought two small bags of sphagnum peat moss at Home Depot. They were the MiracleGro brand, that's all I could find and they worked out just great. Each bag cost me less than three dollars. They probably had some funky stuff in there for making the zukes grow even larger and scarier.

I have noticed a big difference since I added the peat moss to the dirt around my plants -- I have to water them less! My pumpkin vines are vinier and happier than ever. The peat moss seems to soak up the water and hold it in better than just plain dirt. Our soil out here is real dry and it never rains in the summer so anything that helps retain moisture is a good thing! Another reader suggested I use newspaper mulch but I live in a place where it is regularly so windy that trees fall over. My peat moss kind of mixed in with the dirt and should stay put even during the Santa Ana winds.

To use it, I just haphazardly dumped a little peat moss around the base of each plant and kind of smoothed it out with my trowel. Or whatever you call that little hand-held tiny shovelly thing. Wow I am such a knowledgeable gardener with my misnamed tools. Hah!

- - -


A few days ago, reader Laume commented:

Is this a Hundredth Monkey sort of thing? It seems like everyone, including myself, has suddenly decided to drop out of the consumer lifestyle. And not out of a sense of need or discipline but instead with a sense of freedom and abundance. I'm not trying to do a 100% drop out, but I'm finding it much easier than I thought to not buy 90% of what I would have bought before my "less is more" epiphany. I'm not stopping myself from buying things, instead I don't WANT to buy them. It makes the things I do buy mean more. And the rest of the time I have more money, more time, and less things to dust or wash. Win/win/win.

I loved how you said that! "With a sense of freedom and abundance..." That is exactly how I feel. I know a lot of people thought I lost my damn mind when I made my declaration to stop buying nonessentials for the rest of the year but it is really working for me. That day at our four-friends-yard-sale I just had a moment of clarity in which I saw that I was truly acting like an insane person. This is my life? I work long hours and commute long hours and work harder and more and better so I can afford to go out and buy stuff because deep down I'm searching for happiness but it's too hard to make all these changes I need to get to real happiness all at one time, so I shop for things and buy stuff and consume and eventually these things I work hard for and spend money on end up ... where? In yet another yard sale? Is that the craziest thing or what?

It was just so all-the-sudden clear that I needed to check myself befo' I wreck myself. Also, hello bad eighties slang, I missed you! Yo!

All this thinking about my consumerist habits has really started noodling with me, too. Last night I was in my kitchen making dinner and I got out a plate. The same plate I have been using since I moved in ... it's the one on top of the big stack of plates in my cupboard. I accidentally chipped it in the sink once but I use it all the time anyway and after I eat dinner I wash the plate and dry it and put it back on top of the stack.

Last night it dawned on me in a new way: I use the same plate every day. Wash, rinse, repeat. I used the one chipped plate, too -- not one of the 11 other unchipped plates. And the kicker is that I don't even like these plates! After my ex-husband moved out I got rid of our plates because they had some bad mojo. I needed dishes so I found these plates at Ikea and they were cheap enough for me to afford 12 settings which for some completely unknown reason I thought was the amount of plates normal ladies had to own. God forbid we only have four plates. Four plates never even occurred to me. If plates were being purchased ... they came in stacks of 12 or not at all.

I am thirty-six-almost-thirty-seven years of age and until last night it had never dawned on me that I don't NEED to own 12 plates. I never use all 12 plates at one time. In fact, if I have that many people over and plates are called for, we use paper plates (don't judge -- I have no dishwasher. I know I am horrible. Move past it.) The point is, there is no law saying you go to Bad Homemaker Jail if you have less than 12 plates. Or bowls or serving spoons or whatever. I could VERY easily live a long and happy and productive and healthy life with say, four plates. Four plates I really like looking at.

Then I had an even noodlier thought: I bet you I could have bought four really pretty plates that I love looking at for a fraction of the cost of that big stack of 12 ugly plates. It's not all about scrounging and making potholders out of blue jeans, it's about re-thinking my autopilot consumer habits.

At my next big Goodwill purge or yard sale I'm going to release that stack of dishes I don't even like and let someone who needs and wants them go home happy. I want my home and my life to have just what I need and love. It's Goldilocks over here in Growthyville -- not too much, not too little ... just the right amount of the right stuff.

I understand that my little flashes of enlightenment are mundane -- plates, gardening, reading instead of window shopping. I guess you just start where you are, and anyway a lot of my life is pretty ordinary. Sometimes the most exciting thing that happens to me all day is finding a parking spot at the commuter park 'n ride lot.


- - -

OK, that turned into perhaps more rambly doodads than I intended!

- - -

Finally, Bob started his day by perching atop Mount Pajama Leg and chirping so I would scratch his head and under his chin. He doesn't meow, he chirps. One of my friends was telling me the other day she wasn't sure if her dog loved her or just acted like he loved her because she fed him. That's one of the best things about Bob ... I know he loves me because even though the housesitter feeds him if I'm out of town, he just hides under the covers until she leaves. She said she was pretty sure he hid under the covers a whole week last time.

Bob loves me. I am officially the only human he sits on ... and not very often. I was almost late for work this morning because I waited for him to get up instead of making him leave. I love him back.

bob-pajamas.jpg

Posted by laurie at 8:42 AM

June 12, 2008

Sad

We got some sad news, that our friend Raydine had passed on.

When I heard I just felt so sad. Also I felt bad I hadn't visited her in months. Isn't it true that we only regret in our lives all the things we didn't do? It's a good reminder for me.

My Aunt Pam called me and was telling me funny stories about Raydine, it was so good to hear them and laugh. Then Grandma and I chatted and she had her own funny stories about Raydine to tell! Isn't it awesome when you pass to have so many folks telling stories about you and laughing even though they're so sad you're gone. I just think that is a good way to live a life, leaving so many funny stories behind.

raydine.jpg

Posted by laurie at 11:37 AM

June 11, 2008

Gardening is a dirty business

Look, it's my first pumpkin blossom:

june9-08-pumpkinflower.jpg
Such a pretty sight!

The wall between my backyard and my next-door-neighbor Mrs. Lee's backyard is often just a technicality. Mrs. Lee likes to come over and knock on my garden gate whenever she hears me puttering around out back, so she can visit and we chitchat and then she scolds me for not watering enough. Mrs. Lee reminds me she waters twice a day and that's why her vegetables don't die like mine do. I think it is to my credit that I manage to smile and nod instead of reminding her that I don't stay home all day like she does and in fact I am not home during daylight hours Monday through Friday. I like Mrs. Lee, she just wants my garden to be a happy place instead of a dustbowl. I just smile and nod, she means well.

My desire to attempt some form of gardening each year is so finely ingrained in me I don't bother resisting, even though I tend toward more of a Darwin-esque "I planted ya'll now fend for yourselves" philosophy, also known to some as "sheer laziness" and "I work long hours." But I need to think I have a garden -- it is a Southern thing, I suspect -- and have learned that if I have to water a particular plant twice a day it probably is best left in the garden center or in the capable hands of someone who doesn't commute three hours a day. Hence why I made the bold decision to plant nary a tomato this year and I feel VERY GOOD ABOUT IT. As it stands, we're now in early June and I haven't killed a single tomato seedling all year. The fact that I didn't kill something I never planted is all the greater achievement.

So Mrs. Lee came back to visit with me one Sunday as I was admiring my pumpkin plants and about to remove the very large, healthy not-quite-zucchini plants growing beside them in the raised-bed garden box. The renegade zucchini that just appeared from air and managed to grow hefty little mutants had reached the end of its tenancy in my garden.

"What is that?" asked Mrs. Lee. She pointed at the thing growing in my garden that was allegedly a zucchini. "I thought you grow the zucchini this year? Like last year very happy?"

june9-08-mutant.jpg

"Well, it's a recessive gene of the zucchini plant, I guess." I tried to explain it to Mrs. Lee as best I could. "When the seeds from my old squash plants germinated they turned into some mutant version of their non-hybridized forefathers or something sciency like that and now I must remove them for the sake of the pumpkins!"

As we talked, I reached down with my gloved hands and yanked the whole green plant out of the soil. We both looked closely at the weirdly shaped fruit. I wondered silently to myself why I can't grow watermelon but I can grow squash that resemble watermelon.

Nature is cruel.

Mrs. Lee asked me what went wrong again, and again I tried to explain my 10th grade understanding of genetics. I was pretty sure Mrs. Lee, whose English is about as good as my Korean, at least got my general meaning. After all, that thing growing in the garden was not any zucchini I have ever seen. For her benefit, I made the universal sad face as I put the big green plant of mutantcy in my green garden bin along with the grass clippings. Inside I was thinking, "Au revoir, suckers! I win the zucchini game!"

Then she scolded me, "But you did good last year zucchini! Too bad!"

Maybe it's just because she's very brusque that I think she's always scolding me. Except about watering -- she is definitely scolding about that.

So Mrs. Lee and I visited a little longer and then she had to go, needed to be off to the grocery store and the garden center and run all her errands. As far as I can tell, Mrs. Lee spends her weekends buying new plants and gadgets and finding bargains and treasures all over the valley. Their house is a mysterious cavern of unusual plants and appliances with Korean labels and foot massagers. I love their house, it's like being in a game show.

After she left I swept the back patio and added some sphagnum peat moss around my pumpkin plants and watered to try to keep them alive at least until the next big heat wave. I admired my one cucumber, growing happily in its pot:

june9-08-cucumber.jpg

Moving the plants nearer the sprinklers has worked out really well. My thyme plant is a bush and my basil from last year is huge (and apparently basil is a perennial, who knew) and now I have a cucumber! It's almost like Nature is giving me a break, having already killed the watermelon and now with the mutant zucchini. Maybe Nature and I have finally reached a truce, a kind of understanding. Maybe Nature won't try to kill me anymore.

Later that evening as I was making dinner and getting ready for the workweek ahead, I heard a knock on my front door. It was Mrs. Lee.

"Hi Mrs. Lee, you need some help with anything?" I asked.

"Oh no, I feel bad about your no squash. So you grow good this year!" and with that she handed me a plastic bag from the garden center. Inside rested a big, happy six-pack of zucchini plants that she'd picked up on her travels that day. I believe it is an understatement to say I was shocked.

"Oh, wow, thank you Mrs. Lee!"

"Yeah, Ok, you plant now and water. Water good!" and with that she was off and I was left to plant my new army of zucchini.

Six plants.

Six healthy, vigorous squash plants.

Nature is maybe laughing. Nature said, "You want abundance? You want gardening? I'll give you a garden! Hope you sleep with one eye open!" Nature knows that secretly I do not even really like zucchini.

It's going to be a long and green summer.

june9-08-zukesagain.jpg
There are five more where that came from.

Posted by laurie at 8:24 AM

June 10, 2008

And now a little good news! Winners!

Weiners!

Congratulations to the winners of the Big Pile O' Books Sweepstakes!

Pile #1 Winner: Lynn G. from Fresno
Pile #2 Winner: Hannah M. from "I don't know where"
Pile #3 Winner: Danielle M. from Seattle

I love to do give-aways so check back soon to see what new and strange pile of stuff I am mailing to some lucky winner.

- - -

An Update On Not Doing Anything

My little pledge to myself to stop buying all nonessentials for the rest of 2008 is going great. It's working in four ways:

1) No stuff except food, supplies and perishables coming into the house, so there's no clutter!
2) No shopping = less money spent = sigh of relief
3) It's the best way to feel "in control" of my personal economy
4) I have more free time since there's nothing to window shop, want, or purchase!

Usually on Saturday or Sunday mornings I go to Target at 8 a.m. and walk up and down every aisle. This has been my version of entertainment, I guess, a way to get out of the house and feel like you're part of humanity (not just a hermit or a commuter) and you don't have to dress fancy to do it.

But last weekend I just went for the few essentials and didn't buy one single thing off the list, which is kind of an accomplishment like OH WOW I MADE COLD FUSION. No need to walk all the aisles, and my trip cost me less and took less time. I went home feeling pretty happy. I used that extra time to lay on my bed with all three cats and finish up a book I've been reading. It was decadent and totally free. The cats are enjoying this new twist ... more time to sit on me!

I know I need to focus more on tiny things like that, little happy accomplishments that remind me I'm the one driving the car of my life. The needling worry I sometimes fall prey to is like a parasite just chomping away at my contentment. I think these past few days (weeks?) I was feeling more worry because I started listening to the news again in the mornings. Old habits die hard, I guess. This morning while getting ready for work I didn't listen to any news, just puttered around in the quiet and it was nice. I'm much less stressed out from the gitgo when mornings start without all the troubles of the world.

Little changes. C'est good.

- - -

Another yard sale?

I can't believe I've pared down as much as I have and still have anything left but of course I do. Usually I keep an empty box or shopping bag in the corner of my closet and anytime I see something in the house I can do without I put it in the box (yesterday it was a silver drink mixer thingy, you know like the old James Bond shakers? I bought it back years ago when I was married and have never once used it. Apparently I don't need any silly measuring device to make a good gin and tonic!) Anyway, I decided to keep the yard-sale pricing stickers and tags and a sharpie nearby so that every time I see something I can do without, I will immediately price it and put it away. When the box or bag gets full, it goes in the garage for later.

Come to my next yard sale and you can get a never-used cocktail shaker for a buck and change!

- - -

Chitchat

There's a woman at work who I've become friends with, she's awesome. Her name is Corey and she's about my age and she's really smart and funny and it makes work so nice having someone you can laugh with nearby.

Yesterday we were talking about our upcoming birthdays, within a month of each other, and we were both saying how nice it is to be this age (meaning: not 22 and scared to death you're running out of time to make something of yourself). Things aren't so crazy on the inside, always trying to please people.

"I honest-to-God cannot believe I've gotten tired of trying to make everyone happy but it appears I am moving in that direction," I told her. "Maybe it's the metaphorical part of me drooping south with the physical parts? Keeping my boobs company I guess."

She laughed. Then she said, "It feels like out of nowhere you find options, things you wouldn't have considered in the past."

I love that.

- - -

Speaking of Options

One of the things I'm doing right now is sifting through my pantry to use what I already have. On Saturday I found a bottle of Asian Ginger Sesame salad dressing in the cupboard so I decided to open 'er up. It smelled amazing... but I didn't want to make salad for dinner. So I took some chicken out of the freezer and thawed it, then put the (mostly) thawed chicken in a pyrex pan with the salad dressing to marinate for a while and later I put the pan in the oven and baked the chicken in the dressing. I think I baked it on 350 for about 40 minutes. IT WAS AWESOME. The chicken was tangy and sweet and tender and yummy and I had it with rice (also found while exploring my pantry) and green beans. I'm not much of a cook, so a pan of baked chicken in salad dressing probably doesn't sound revolutionary, but for me it was a nice change.


- - -

And finally.

Do you remember Victor, my oniony friend? It seems I have a knack for finding growing things in my cupboards:

potato-farm.jpg


After I took the picture I stuck them in the dirt out in the garden, maybe I'll be able to grow a potato crop where the watermelon crop of 2008 failed to flourish.

Hope, and spuds, spring eternal!


Posted by laurie at 9:28 AM

June 9, 2008

Monday

Yesterday I decided to aggressively de-clutter, clean and re-arrange my home office and in the process managed to break my internet connection. I rock! Winners for the big pile o' books sweepstakes will be alerted today and announced tomorrow. Thank you to everyone who entered!

- - -

gaspricesjune8-08-2.jpg


Gas prices in Los Angeles -- and all across the country, I assume -- are insane. I read a story yesterday in the paper about the alleged demand for oil, which many analysts say has not increased at all and doesn't merit the price increases.

I don't know about the whole shady underworld of buying oil futures and all that, I just have a deep-seated feeling that someone is sticking it to us.

Other people in Los Angeles that I've overheard talking about gas prices (it's a big topic on conversation, at work, on the bus, standing in line at the store) seem to be using the best method they have of coping, the "well it could be worse" theory. I am not a fan of this theory -- it only makes you feel rottener for feeling bad in the first place. The best example of the "it could be worse theory" is when you're going through a bad breakup, or a divorce, or maybe your beloved pet just died and you are mourning this loss and your heart is broken and some well-meaning individual tells you something like, "Well, just think! It could be worse. Did you see that story on the news about the poor girls whose family did so-and-so and it was So! Awful!" or "Well, it could be worse, did you see those poor people in the earthquake/tsunami/housefire who all died/were trampled/had their identities stolen? At least you have your health!"

Unless of course you do not have your health, then they find a story of someone who has less health than you do.

These folks mean well, bless their hearts. Sometimes people don't know what to say so they default to the "well, it could be worse..." chitchat. But it is so not helpful. There is always someone who has it worse -- it doesn't make you feel better to be reminded of that when you feel crummy. It just makes you feel worse for feeling bad in the first place. And now you have to worry about the poor so-and-so girl!

And most insidious of all, the "well it could be worse" theory tries to invalidate your own pain or fear or concern.

And mine is just concern, concern about something that seems suspicious and feels like one day we'll be reading an expose in the Times about the people who threw lavish chocolate-covered-stripper parties with their record-breaking oil profits. And with the energy prices rising everything is increasing in cost -- milk, bread, bananas, toilet paper, everything has taken a price jump, and I try not to even talk about it because A) there's nothing I can do and B) it often elicits this response:

"Yeah, I know. But I guess in Europe they've been paying for gas like this for a long time."

There's nothing you can say to this version of "well, it could be worse..." because YES, it is certainly true that in Europe gas costs more. But it's like comparing apples and giraffes! And it still doesn't solve anything.

[Edited to add: I had a whole paragraph here on why I thought that comparing Europe to the Unites States was an unproductive way of talking about our own issues. However, I clearly didn't express my feelings very well since I got about a bazillion nasty emails from people in the UK, Germany and Australia assuring me I was a total asshole. Awesome!

What I was trying to express is that the place I live is experiencing some challenges and while I know other places have challenges, too, it's not working for me to say "Oh well, we should never worry or wonder if there is a way to make things better, or change our habits, or change anything at all, because people elsewhere have it worse off." This is just my personal online diary. Sometimes I have these crazyass things called "emotions." They mix in with the thoughts and come out jumbled.

Also, those "oh it could be worse" conversations that have never made sense to me. [End of edited portion.]

Because how are we supposed to fix and enrich our own nation when we think like that? Are we supposed to move to Europe? Is that the answer? Are we just supposed to be totally okay with something and never strive to fix anything broken because someone somewhere else pays more for gas?

And why does everyone want to assume it's OK as long as someone has it worse? Do we want all humans to be equally miserable? I know water seeks its own level and everything, but really now, that is just crazytalk. Instead of saying, "Well, it could be worse, people someplace else that I don't know and don't interact with in my normal day-to-day life have it worse in this one area, so... OH WELL! Guess that's just life!" what about saying, "This is nuts! We need to fix it!"

What about wanting to make change so that life gets better and water seeks a higher level?

I have no solutions, no answers here ... just the feeling that things have to change and change soon. Do you feel the anxiety and stress that seems to have permeated our whole nation? Americans are good people at heart, hard-working, generous, capable. I don't like the feeling that someone is sticking it to us. I hope that in the end this drives us to change the world in a good way and develop all kinds of amazing technology that doesn't require a stop at the gas station. Maybe in the end it will be a positive thing, a revolution, and instead of always saying, "Well, it could be worse!" the first thing people will think of is, "Well, let's make it better!"

Posted by laurie at 9:39 AM

June 6, 2008

To daydream or not to daydream, that is the question.

A few days ago I was chattering on about my daydreaming and how I'm trying real hard to be less "far away on the desert island of my mind" and more plugged into my real day-to-day life. It's not easy. I am a lifelong daydreamer and it's my default operating system -- get stressed? Go immediately to daydream, do not pass go, do not collect $200!

Like when I did something(s) stupid on the first day at the book convention and I came home that night and it started playing in an endless loop, all the dorky stuff I'd said or awkward things I'd done, so I automatically defaulted to daydreaming -- imagining how next year at the book expo in my fantasy I could somehow morph into a human with social graces who is coincidentally skinnier and wearing great clothes. In my fantasy I am all about the shoes and the jeans which miraculously fit better than any jeans I have ever worn in life.

Also, in my fantasy I don't tell another author at a party how great the bartender is and how he'll actually pour you two glasses of wine at the same time and then later find out the author you were sharing this wisdom with is Dr. Scott Davis, the Addiction Medicine Physician at the BETTY FORD CLINIC. An author who is at the convention promoting his book on recovery and the story of losing his twin brother to addiction ... and you don't know any of this until later, after you have chattered on about the rockin' bartender.

What I am saying here is that I elevate social awkwardness to an art form. Also that sometimes I am a dumbass.

I used to obsess about my missteps all night but as I've gotten older it's less interesting to beat myself up over stuff I can't go backwards and fix. So after a long and embarrassing day, I tend to escape from my anxiety by slipping into Autopilot Fantasy Mode. It's way more fun than the Loop Of Self-Loathing. But because I've been trying to be more "live in the now!" etc. etc., I caught myself just a few minutes into my fantasy. I was doing it again -- I was escaping my uncomfortable Present Moment by slipping away into a time that doesn't exist (the fantasy future) where I am evolved, and not awkward, and skinnier, and perfect-er, and happier. In the future -- yeah, that's where I'm happy. Always just a day away.

It's perplexing, all this new stuff. I understand implicitly the logic behind mindfulness, living in the present moment, connecting, plugging in. But I wasn't sure what to do with my anxiety if I didn't daydream it away. What do you do with stress and worry if you don't drop out and start spinning a mental movie about a day off in the future when life is better? I worried that if I didn't go away to My Fantasy, I'd just sit around being stressed about my social anxiety. And I had to get up in about 4.5 hours and start a whole 'nother day of social awkwardness.

So what do people do when they want to plug into the moment, but the moment stresses them out and makes them want to eat a whole pie?

- - -

When I first wrote about my little struggle to stay focused on the present moment, I got a great comment from reader Mergle, who wrote:

The one fatal flaw with always attempting to live in the moment, be mindful, etc. is that so many moments in day to day life are just plain boring and/or tedious. I see no point in feeling every moment of a grinding commute or folding that 5th load of laundry or shoveling cat litter. This is where a little bit of going somewhere else in your mind is a good thing. Daydreams can lead you to thoughts of what you want in life - now and later.

It's like you were reading my mind!!

This is exactly what I've been thinking about a lot lately. Traffic is the perfect example. I mean, I HAVE to be in traffic, right? I need this job, I live where I can afford to live and they have a big slice of city in between. End of story, right? So all this time I thought I was just doing the best I could with what I had to deal with. Same with dentist appointment, waiting in line, all of it.

And in a lot of ways it works, plus it's what I've always done. Dream it away. When I was a kid and stuff wasn't great or I was alone or sad or scared or whatever, I'd just go inside my head and invent a whole story that wrapped me up in it -- a fantasy life. As I got older I got better at daydreaming, fantasizing, visualizing, whatever you want to call it.

It was an awesome coping mechanism as a kid, but as an adult do I really need to daydream away my life?

We spend so much time when we're growing up feeling like we don't have any control over our lives -- there's a whole list of things you are required to do, things that are expected of you, and you never really feel like you can just go your own way and be your own, independent person. Or at least I never did. So I would tell myself, "One day when I'm grown/graduated/married/living on my own I can do anything I want..." and I'd fantasize my days away, knowing it would be better "one day."

I got so good at it I never stopped thinking about "one day," even when I was a grown adult with my own life.

The last couple of years have been crazyass growthy for me and I was not always a willing participant. Sometimes I did not want Another Effing Growth Opportunity. But until these past couple of years, I didn't see that I was totally in the driver's seat of my own life. I was still hanging on to some rulebook I'd had since I was a kid. Grow up, do this, do that, act this way, be nice so people like you, meet a nice boy, be responsible, etc. And some things -- like traffic and my commute and debt and weight and my entire lifestyle -- still seemed like they were outside my control. So I daydreamed away all the parts that sucked.

But it has become very clear that if I don't control the circumstances of my life, WHO DOES? And if I don't plug in and see what's happening and work to make undesirable things more harmonious (so I don't have to avoid huge areas of my life by going away to fantasyland) who WILL? Who will come and fix it all for me?

One word: Nobody. It's the flip side of being grown.

So these days I am actively trying to plug into each moment of my day, which is much harder than I expected. And what I'm realizing is that I've been living in a dreamworld, still waiting for the magical One Day When.

One Day When I have enough money to work from home. One Day When I am thin. One Day When I have accomplished the projects I want to do, or learned to cook, or figured out who I am, or don't have to be in traffic. One Day When I don't say stupid stuff at parties.

And because it seems overwhelming to actively work on changing my real day-to-day circumstances, just like when I was a kid I defaulted to the "I have no control over this" operating system in my brain and click -- cue daydream!

Maybe plugging in, being present, choosing NOT to drift off is the only way to really SEE my real life, the only one I have. What's real -- the traffic or the dream? Even if I am daydreaming... MY BUTT IS STILL IN TRAFFIC. The daydream doesn't make the reality go away, it just makes reality more bearable by pretending it isn't happening.

So then, this is the real question:

Are we put here to make reality more bearable by dreaming it away, or are we meant to live better by being plugged into reality and not defaulting to "one day...." to make us happy?

If I just daydream away my stress, it never changes the root of the stress. My solution to all the endless chatter of self-criticism (socially awkward!) or dissatisfaction (traffic!) is to escape. But what if I don't escape? What if I sit with it?

And is there some other way to let go of the crappy stuff without drifting away into a movie of the future? The future is always "one day." One day never comes.

- - -

Oh -- and about that night, when I came home after the Book Expo, sweaty and slightly tipsy and starting the long list of things I'd done wrong, said wrong and people I'd hugged inappropriately. My mind was chattering away as I changed clothes and washed my face and sat on the sofa and when my list of Awkward Stuff I'd Done became too stressful, I started daydreaming how next year I'd do everything better, down to the shoes I was wearing.

Good daydreamers always picture their outfits down to the very shoes they're wearing.

Then I caught myself doing it, drifting off. I didn't want to return to the litany of stuff I'd done wrong, since that was just too stressful and anyway, I had to get up in a few hours and start it all over again.

So I looked down at my hands, which were petting my cat, Bob. He was just laying there, half on me and half on the sofa. I remembered how when I first met Bob he was feral and scared of everyone and hissed at people. And how he grew up to be Roy's cat, and when Roy died he started to be my cat and here he was now, laying on my sofa right next to me with his back legs on the sofa cushion and his front paws on my pajama-covered leg. He likes being scratched right between the ears. One of my friends once told me she wasn't sure if her dog really loved her or just loved her because she fed him all his meals. But Bob loves me. He hides from the cat sitter, hides from everyone but me. Bob sometimes makes little chirping noises of appreciation when I pet him.

What a great animal. He used to never purr, but this last year he's started purring when I pet him.

I just sat there and petted my little orange gingersnap of a cat until we were both sleepy and calm and ready for bed. It wasn't dramatic, it didn't involve more wine or bellydancing or therapy. It was just breathing in and out, trying to get my rhythm to match the cat's breathing, watching his little cat-smile, sitting still and quiet for seventeen minutes.

The chatter stopped. I didn't have to drift off and pretend to be happy one day in the future. I didn't have to pretend that one day, one day far away, I might be calm and perfect and content. I just sat on my same old sofa, in my same old pajamas, in my same old house and watched my cat smile.

It's not enlightenment but it's a start.

Posted by laurie at 10:32 AM

Katie & Armando, Part III

Don't forget to enter the sweepstakes to win a pile o' books. Winners will be announced on Monday!

Have a great weekend!!

- - -
Before: Katie & Armando I | Katie & Armando II

They drove in silence toward the border separating Mexico from the Unites States, separating real life from vacation life. Separating her old self from her new self. The traffic had begun to slow some five miles back and now the cars inched slower and slower, until they were in view of the distant white border patrol booths. Traffic slowed to a crawl, stopped for minutes at a time. Armando looked over at her during one of these periodic stops, idling the car and said, “Let’s switch.”

“Switch what?” Katie asked.

“You drive.” said Manny. He saw the question before she spoke, and answered. “It’s easier for a nice little white lady to take a drive across the border with a Mexican friend than the other way around.”

So she slid over him while the truck was in neutral, and in her mind the scene would have been sexier than it really was, but for some reason she wasn’t on edge with excitement and daring. She wondered where the exhilaration was, the goosebumps and insane happiness she had expected. She thought maybe it was because they were still in the car on this side of the invisible line separating her old life and her new one. And it wasn’t even one o’clock yet, not time yet to really be missing or to be missed. She could just be on a late summer drive. So she slid on top of Armando and he moved to the passenger’s seat. Automatically, she checked her lipstick in the rearview mirror, and adjusted the view to suit her.

She fastened her safety belt. The gap between their car and the one in front of them had widened, she eased into first gear and let out the clutch until they were again bumper to bumper with a Volvo family whose kids would turn around and wave every few minutes.

One of the things Manny had first noticed about her, in her own car, was that she drove a stick shift. He had looked at her then with a face of surprise and admiration.

“You drive manual?” he asked.

“I like to feel in control,” Katie had told him.

“I don't know many women who drive a stick,” he said. “Most women don’t even know how.”

She had smiled then. A little of the old show-off Katie had never died, the Katie who would turn on the radio and pile her high school friends into her secondhand Volkswagon and jackrabbit all the stoplights in their five-stoplight town.

And now it was late September, the hottest month in Southern California, three thousand miles from her Texas hometown. She propped her left arm on the door, out the window, and shifted into neutral. Idling.

Ernie was probably getting his lunch in his office, eating at his desk or maybe in the office lunchroom with a copy of the Times spread out in front of him. Maybe the secretary who thought Ernie's Senior VP title was sexy would join him with her Lean Cuisine in the breakroom and he would ask her about her kids.

Soon the grimy border checkpoints were so near she could see the uniformed men inside the little booths, just like on a toll road. Except some carried automatic rifles. Where she had expected butterflies and trembling hands there was only calm. What kind of woman was she? Who's calm at a time like this? She pulled the International level with the stall and smiled evenly at a man her same age, who asked her, “License, please.” And she reached over to her pocketbook, showed him her California driver’s license, and said, “Hot out today.”

“September, you know, think it would cool off by now,” said the man. He looked briefly at her passenger, but Armando was busy blowing his nose. The border guard handed Katie her license back. “Have fun.” He handed Katie her license and she smiled at him, and just like that she was across the border. The border from real life to this life.

She reached across to fiddle with the radio. Being in the driver’s seat did afford some rights, and one of those was picking the radio station.


The guv'ment totally ruined my Katie & Armando, it's not nearly so easy to cross the border anymore. Giant, gaping plot holes! But if they could get across the border without being in a database, wouldn't they have an interesting few weeks together? Until she figures out who he really is, anyway...

Posted by laurie at 10:21 AM

June 5, 2008

And I didn't even tell him what happens when it rains....

We have a new guy in our division who's from back east. He's been in Los Angeles for a few months but only recently joined our team.

Last week a group of us were in a conference room and we were making chitchat before the meeting started, just visiting.

"So how do you like Los Angeles?" I asked

"Oh, it's great," said New Guy. "Except oh man, the traffic is insane."

And we all LAUGHED AT HIM. No one in the room commiserated or felt sorry for him or showed compassion or anything other than sheer unbridled vindication.

"I'm from the east coast," he said. "Jersey, New York, I thought I knew what bad traffic was and everyone tried to tell me ahead of time but I figured it couldn't be any worse than back east."

We nodded in unison. Everyone everywhere else thinks they have bad traffic. Your Boston, your Chicago, your Washington D.C., they all think they have traffic. I understand because it's impossible to envision how simultaneously spread out and congested this city is. Also they have never tried to get from Santa Monica to the valley on a Friday.

Then these folks who think they are desensitized to car-related insanity come to Los Angeles and try to get anywhere at anytime and realize, Oh! I did not know from traffic! Sometimes they flee. Sometimes they cry.

I don't often like giving advice, but I decided to share my one never-fail piece of wisdom to New Guy.

"If you ever go to a party in L.A., and you don't know anyone and don't know what to say, just ask people about their drive and you'll be the best conversationalist of the whole night," I told him.

"It's true," said Other Co-worker. "People will start telling you about their commute, what route they took, which route is best when and any shortcuts..."

And then of course we all started talking about our commutes.

I love this crazy city.

- - -


Don't forget to enter the big pile o' books giveaway!

Posted by laurie at 8:22 AM

June 4, 2008

I hope you like free books!

First of all congratulations to winner Sandy from Indiana who won the book giveaway from yesterday. Thank you to all who entered, I am well and truly sorry I made it one of those post-a-comment-to-win things but it takes me a while to make the online entry form work just right and I had to do laundry when I got home from work instead of fiddle with innernet gadgets because of "not wanting to be fired for nakedness at Corporate Job."

Also don't you think there is something wrong with the world when you get home from a long day of working and commuting and so on and realize you have about two hours before you need to be in bed to start the whole thing all over again?

Yet that is not what I wanted to say. What I wanted to say was HOLY CRAP I CAN'T BELIEVE I CARRIED SO MANY BOOKS. If I ever go to the book convention again I am bringing a sherpa .... and I hope my sherpa wears nothing but a loincloth and looks just like that guy from the Transporter movies.

mmmmmmm. Loincloth.

So I am giving away not just one or two but three (!!!) Big Ol' Piles of books and you enter to win using a normal private entry form, since as a hermit myself I am sensitive to the lurk factor.

This sweepstakes is open until Sunday night at midnight Eastern time (that's 9 p.m. Pacific time and -- hey I just did math!) One entry per email address, and everyone on planet earth is eligible. Also, one of my cats was found sleeping on the flat-rate box this morning so I am also throwing in some free cat hair to one lucky winner.

I divided the books up so each pile fits in a single shipping box and if there's something in there you don't want I assume you can just give it to a friend. Many of these books are signed by the authors but some are not. I am also throwing in a signed copy of my book to each winner because it has pictures of my cats in it except Frankie who went out and got herself an agent and I couldn't afford her modeling fee. That Frankie!

Pile of Books #1:
freebooks-01.jpg

• Purr More, Hiss Less: Heavenly Lessons I Learned From My Cat by Allia Zobel Nolan
• Supernatural Rubber Chicken: Fowl Language by D.L. Garfinkle
• The Ultimate Guide to Well Being by Jason Pegler
• The Book of Animal Ignorance by John Lloyd & John Mitchinson
• Gifts from the Mountain by Eileen McDargh
• Work's a Bitch and then You Make It Work by Andrea Kay
• The Baglady's Guide to Elegant Living by Dina Dove
• The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry
• Charm School For Guys: How to Lose the Fugly and get some Snugly by M. Marshall
• Potluck Survival Guide by Cherie Kimmons
• Garmann's Summer by Stian Hole


Pile of Books #2:
freebooks-02.jpg
• Maybe Baby by Matthew M. F. Miller
• The Dysfunctional Workplace by Peter Morris
• How To Break Bad News by Tim Molloy
• Jon & Jayne's Guide to Throwing, Going to and "Surviving" Parties by Jon & Jayne Doe
• Jon & Jayne's Guide to Making Friends & Getting The Guy (or Girl) by Jon & Jayne Doe
• Blackout Girl by Jennifer Storm
• Staging Your Comeback: A Complete Beauty Revival for women over 45 by Christopher Hopkins
• You Lost Him At Hello by Jess McCann
• Secrets of the Hollywood Girls Club by Maggie Marr
• Work It, Girl! Guide to professional success by Lorraine Morris Cole and Pamela M. McBride
• Divine Destiny by Gwyneth Bolton


Pile of Books #3:
freebooks-03.jpg
• The Encyclopedia Shatnerica by Robert Schnakenberg
• Paraworld Zero by Matthew Peterson
• Fish Stew by Jack Revalle
• Kayak Reef by Bradley J. Stewart
• Einstein: His Life & Universe (large print edition) by Walter Isaacson
• Buff Dad: The 4-Week Fitness Game Plan For Real Guys by Mike Levinson
• Huck Finn & Tom Sawyer Collaboration by Mark Twain & Stephen Stewart
• The Day of The Panzer: A Story of American Heroism and Sacrifice in Southern France by Jeff Danby


Also, can I share with you the amount of everloving cat-related HELP I have at home when it comes to picture-taking?

soba-filmstrip.jpg

I am just saying is all.

Enter to win and good luck!

- - -

In other news ... when did it become June already and also why do I say that every single month as if I am unaware of the modern marvel called the "calendar"? But June seems a bit extreme, I am still wondering where March went.

I know a lot of people have been reading that Eckhart Tolle book A New Earth from Oprah's book club and just like his first book, The Power Of Now, he really talks a lot about staying present, staying in the moment.

It doesn't matter what people think about self-help or navel-gazing or Oprah, this idea of living life in the present is a pretty good one. It's also not my default operating system so it's something I'm trying to work on. My whole life seems like it's lived out in words inside my head, and even as a little kid I spent most of my time alone dreaming up far-away adventures and stories and making it up as I went along. There were times when the present moment kind of sucked, so daydreaming (or whatever you want to call it) was the best part of the day.

When I went through my divorce I also went through a pretty long phase I fondly refer to as My Year Of Revenge Fantasies. I would sit outside alone on my patio at night when I couldn't sleep, and I would smoke cigarettes and instead of thinking about my looming divorce or his new girlfriend or my weight gain or my total and complete fear of the future, I would just sit there and smoke and come up with all these movies in my head that basically involved me running into Mr. X and in these fantasies I was mysteriously taller and skinnier and cuter and I was with someone awesome and/or I had won a $45 million lotto or something. ANYWAY, the thread of my fantasy revolved around me running into Mr. X and the revenge was that my life was so good I no longer cared about him at all. But also you know, he could tell. Because that is how revenge fantasies work.

Also I think I was a redhead.

If I think carefully about that period of my life and then see where I am now, plug into the very present moment, it's obvious that a lot of my fantasy has come true. No, I am not tall and skinny and rich and dating some version of George Clooney, but I am genuinely happy with my life's weird path and I only think of my ex-husband in detached, random ways... like when someone asked me if I've ever been to Iceland and I said, "Yeah, I went there for a few weeks once back when I was married." I don't need revenge anymore, but at the time those fantasies helped keep me out of despair. Don't let anyone ever talk you out of being in the mad phase or the revenge phase, I think they're a logical progression toward the "sane and feeling pretty good" phase.

Smoking all that time alone on the patio was my only form of meditation until I found knitting. Knitting is many things to many people -- for me it's the activity that calms down my chatterbox brain. Like zen with a crafty flair. I also feel this way about sewing but my sewing machine is a bit bulky to take on the bus. Knitting my bazillionth scarf or hat definitely puts me in the moment, focused on the present, because if I don't concentrate I'll be ripping out rows and rows of messed up stitches! Active meditation, like knitting or sewing or crafting or writing, these keep me in the moment. The rest of the time I'm lost in my thoughts.

So I'm trying to be present -- right here right now -- more often. Daydreaming is such a habit and I think I do it because on some level I am dissatisfied with parts of my day-to-day reality. Like traffic. It makes sense that traffic isn't the highlight of my life and so I mentally start spinning a story, detaching from the slow crawl in bumper-to-bumper traffic by daydreaming of some fantasy time in some fantasy future when I don't have to commute. But habits are very clever, they sneak in and take up residence all over the place and I suspect I've been daydreaming my life away.

Dr. Wayne Dyer says that goals are sometimes a way to postpone happiness. You set a goal and say, "When I reach this goal I will be Happy. Period." So you work to achieve this goal in the future. But when it arrives, you're already on to the Next Goal and so you just keep on postponing happiness. Just like saying, "One day when I'm thin I will go on vacation." Wouldn't life be better if you didn't wait to go on vacation just because of some dumb size label on your pants?

And by "you" as always I mean "me."

Yesterday in a meeting I wanted to drift off in my head, sit on a mental beach in a cute outfit and be mentally 65 pounds lighter and watch the waves come in. But I stayed there in the conference room and focused on each person as they spoke and the meeting actually seemed less arduous somehow. Instead of drifting off or even doing that thing where you stop listening because you know what you want to say in the meeting and you are simply waiting for the right time to say your piece, I focused on each person's cadence, their words, tried to listen without saying anything in my head. Noticed each person's tie, their cufflinks, the way they held a pen or what prompted them to take notes. It wasn't a religious experience or anything -- I mean, unless you think technology infrastructure meetings are spiritual -- but it was harder to stay right there than I thought!

I've just been thinking all this stuff because I know that if I don't plug into the present moment, I'll never reach contentment. Life happens in the present moment -- not the past and not the future. If I don't plug in I'll always be stuck in an endless cycle of daydreaming about a better future, no matter how good the present is! And that seems kind of ungrateful. My life is really blessed in so many ways and if I just focus on those things and stop dreaming away the icky parts, I hope I can eliminate my habit of telling myself, "One day, when [whatever condition] occurs, I'll have more time, or be less anxious, or have more freedom. Or be happy. One day ..."

I want to plug into June so I'm not looking up from my desk soon and saying, "What the hell happened to summer? Why is it Halloween already? Why is life moving so fast? I need a minute here!"

That had nothing to do with the sweepstakes. Just blah blah blah.

Posted by laurie at 9:41 AM

June 3, 2008

Mixed bag: Win something, lose something, and more pics

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Before I get started with my laundry list, I wanted to show you a picture of my city as seen from the bus window this morning. I love June Gloom. Here in Los Angeles we don't get real "weather" in any meaningful way, so we have our own weather, like fire season and mudslide season and earthquake weather (total fiction, by the way) and my favorite -- June Gloom. In May we also get the occasional May Grey, it's all the same. The onshore flow of low-lying clouds gives us weather which other folks in real parts of the world would call "overcast." But we call it June Gloom, and it gives a maudlin cast to the skyline and it keeps the city cool in the mornings. And Lord knows I like cool weather!

- - -

1) Update: Today's giveway has ended

Edited to add: Hi everyone and thank you so much for all the hellos and comment-entries but I started being scared we were about to break the server again at any minute. So the sweepstakes is closed BUT a new VERY BIG book giveaway is coming tomorrow and is also way more organized. Thanks!! Today's winner announced tomorrow!

- - -

2) Plus win even more books
Later on in the week, which may or may not be "tomorrow" depending on if I can get my ducks in a row, laundry finished, etc., I'll fix the enter-to-win form so ya'll can be eligible to win a big huge stack of awesome books I picked out at the book expo. I will probably have to mail them by pony express though because of this:

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Really?

Actually I saw it for $4.45/regular at the Thrifty station near my house and I yelled out the window to no one in particular, "That is so NOT the definition of Thrifty!" But anyway, you won't have to drive anywhere to get free books, I will send them right to your doorstep. So that is coming soon.

- - -

3) I love sweepstakes
One day if I do this often enough every person who has ever read this here site will win something .... my friend Allison is also giving away BEA books, so go run over there and win a few! Allison also runs the Super! SuperCrafty.com online craft store and has come up with a just-in-time-for-summer craft give-away that is so awesome, we're going to do that mid-month but I just wanted you to know we have gone give-crazy over here in Chez Cat Hair & Pals. I also amended my seven-months-of-no-shopping in the gift arena, I love giving gifts and because they don't clutter up my house (ha!) I can still buy gifts for others. A lot of folks emailed me similar things, like how they plan to cut back on clothes, but still buy books (you know I support that 100% because, hello, someone has to buy my book, right, and one day buy Sobakowa's Manifesto!) and some people said, "Good for you but if I can't buy yarn is there a purpose to life?" which I also understand. Ya'll crack me up.

- - -

4) Speaking of books
Thanks to one of my eagle-eyed commenters who let me know that my book is currently the NUMBER ONE BESTSELLER in the category of... um... Men's Hair Loss:

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It seems my knitting, drinking, cat-loving ways have made men lose their damn hair! Luckily, there are several patterns for hand-knit hats in the book so I guess there's a connection after all...?

- - -

5) Mas fotos, por favor...

This is Jose:
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Jose is cute (and married, before you start with the questions) and he smells good and he was a good sport and actually danced with my no-rhythm self at the party on Friday. He also sent me the only picture taken all weekend of me and Kim, who is not just my publicist but my friend and lets me talk her ear off on a regular basis about my Cancer angst:

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Hello, we be drankin'!

By the way, notice the pink? Not just in my wine-cheeks this time! I took a risk this year and I wore color on both days instead of my usual head-to-toe black, which worked out OK but still there was some nervous sweating in the pittage area. Actually when I get nervous and anxious I sweat everywhere, it's just delightful. Someone was telling me I should get Botox for sweating but how would that work since nervous sweating is like a hot flash, it comes on all at once and takes over my whole body. It would be more Botox than I think is probably healthy. It's much better to stay home and be with my cats and just be a hermit most of the time and thereby avoid the stressful sweaty times, don't you agree?

But in the end I feel secretly very happy that I left my house and did all this stuff, not just this past weekend but everytime I manage it. I dread it beforehand and I panic a little, but then when I'm on the spot and have to work, I think I do ok. I say some dumb stuff and I'm awkward but at least I didn't chicken out, at least I showed up and did my best.

Things have changed a lot in the past year in a good way. Some of that is because going to events and meeting strangers is no longer all so new and unknown, and of course there's the beta blockers for the flight-or-fight anxiety, but I think in many ways I'm just less critical of myself than in the past. I used to re-hash every conversation for hours, beating myself up for the dumb stuff I said, or for misspelling someone's name, or not remembering a name, or for tripping over my own shoes (which I did once again this year IN THE BOOTH in front of 200 people. Awesome!) (But whatevs. They were cute shoes, so there.)

When I had that meltdown in the Nashville airport it kind of started something in me where I just let go. Let go of my fear and anxiety of never measuring up, let go of my dire people-pleasing expectations, and finally let go of trying to be anything to anyone. It's a process, I still have my people-pleasing pile of crap I lug around, but it's not the sole purpose of my life anymore. You can't please people all the time. It's a totally empty goal because you always fail. All I can do is my best and you know what? Doing your best really is good enough.

Even if your best is a little sweaty around the edges.


- - -


6) And finally, a bumper sticker I can get behind

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Oh yeah, I am SO with you on that one!!!!

(Comments are now closed, thank you everyone!)

Posted by laurie at 9:03 AM

June 2, 2008

Welcome to the Jungle, we've got fun and books....

The best part of the book expo? The free books! Free wine! Meeting my new boyfriend! (More on that later.)

The worst part of the Book Expo? Me talking to strangers!

Also to Melissa, who had the unfortunate experience of meeting me after two looooong days and I was exhausted, hungry, overwhelmed, and trying to hide in the back warehouse, I am really sorry about calling your boss your MOM. People think I kid about my social ineptitude and anxiety until they have to spend more than four minutes with me.

Ah, good times.

So, this year's Book Expo America started out on the note of awesomeness with a visit from The Yarn Harlot:

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If you wondered, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee is just pretty freaking awesome. She's down to earth and gracious, and I was so happy to see her again this year. Knitters have to stick together, ya'll! Plus you know how I feel about Canadians.

Also, tomorrow I will be giving away a free! signed! copy! of her book plus a preview of her next book to some lucky dog, so if I lose you with the drunkenness below at least come back for the knitting tomorrow.

Then after we visited and chitchatted, I sat at my little table and signed some books. Halfway through my signing, Faith grabbed the sharpie out of my hand and said, "I HAVE TO GO NOW." Which is usually the sort of ridiculous thing I would do, so I was surprised because Faith is much more stable in the brain area than I am. So I just sat there for a moment trying to smile at the lady whose book I was not signing, as I was now sans pen, and that is when I noticed Faith was having her neck autographed. Which is when I noticed that the dude autographing her body was OH MY GOD THAT IS SLASH FROM GUNS N ROSES OH MY GOD.

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Whereupon I immediately abandoned my table and forgot all about booksigning because SLASH!!!!!!

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So, as you can see from this picture, he is so my boyfriend. Also, he is so virile I am certain that from our proximity and our happiness I am now carrying his child. Faith is probably pregnant, too. That Slash -- he sure gets around. In fact, he also got around with Kelly from HCI:

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She may be skinnier than me but I am with child, obviously.

There were other famous people floating around, but you will be happy to know none of them impregnated me:

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That's Nellie Olsen from Little House on the Prairie!!!!

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And Jack Canfield, who I am certain was impressed that I didn't spill anything on him this year.

Sadly, most of the rest of my pictures look like this:

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There is an explanation, it is called "Open Bar Syndrome." It is really hard on the focus mechanism.

Also, these two people are either the result of a wine-drenched photographer or they are in the Witness Protection Program:

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I did manage a picture of me and Matt Miller, one of the awesomest other HCI authors I got to meet over the weekend and he is also a blog-turned-book first-time author. He chronicled the struggle he and his wife have had with infertility in an upcoming book called Maybe Baby and he's down-to-earth and funny:

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You can pre-order his book Maybe Baby on Amazon. He's a great guy, I hope his book sells a bazillion copies. I like it when good things happen to good people.

Another awesome writer I met was first-time author Chip St. Clair, who I have no pictures of because I am losing my stalker touch apparently, but he wrote an excellent book called The Butterfly Garden: Surviving Childhood on the Run with One of Americas Most Wanted. Faith said she stayed up Friday night reading it cover to cover and said it's amazing. (I went home Friday night and took three aspirin and went to bed. Tomato, tomahto.) But I also hope you'll read his book, and later in the week I'll get my act together and do a give-away of these plus all the other books I collected and schlepped across the convention center just for the innernets.

Oh. I would also like to apologize to Tom:
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Um, that thing about me foisting myself on you and trying to get you to salsa dance with me to some rap song? TOTALLY SEAN GEARY'S IDEA.

So, in conclusion, it was a good, exhausting, fun weekend and I manged not to get fired from the publishing world. I think.

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Me and Faith. Guess who was the designated driver?

Posted by laurie at 8:29 AM