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July 31, 2008

Are we there yet? Are we? When do we get there? Why aren't we there yet????

So I am not even going to lie when I tell you I woke up today relieved that The July Of My Discontent was over because ya'll, I need a break from the evil and also the mundane, the expensive, the nasty, the anxiety and "the zit that came to visit but never went home and might be moving in and building a subdivision."

That is what July has been.

But because of math and barometric pressure and the periodic table and also The Administration, July now has thirty-one days! Thirty-one! Like flavors, only they are all brown and taste like poop!

And even though I know tomorrow is August first, finally and also again August first which I mistakenly thought was today, oh the foolishness of the wee-minded, I am still cowering slightly in fear of what else this muckracking slaberdashery month will bring. So far this week alone we have had an earthquake, a tense very bad meeting, important emails met with TOTAL COMPLETE SILENCE, a fashion faux pas so ignorant I won't even go into details except trust me when I advise you that SCOTCH TAPE WILL NOT HOLD YOUR PANTS UP.

Anyway. That is all I have to say. I am ready for August now.

Again.


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Posted by laurie at 7:03 AM

July 30, 2008

Say what...?

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Posted by laurie at 9:13 AM

July 29, 2008

Everyone loves the smell of freshly laundered sheets!

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Posted by laurie at 1:49 PM

Shaken, stirred and undeterred

We're fine. The phones and elevators aren't working and we told the new guy from New Jersey it was part of his hazing. So it was about 11:45ish, and then it hit, one VERY LARGE THUD. They say it's a 4.8 or close to it. Then came the rolling.

Skyscrapers in downtown are meant to roll, it's part of the charm and excitement of working high up in a glass office in downtown. OH YEAH. Glass office!

Ya'll have never seen a chubby girl run so fast. I was on my feet and out the door of my office in under a second. I stood there in the doorway while my co-workers and I just stared. Then I said, "Um, how ya'll doing?" And we all laughed that shaky laugh you get when the building is still rolling.

And we kept laughing the nervous "How long with this last?" laugh as everyone entered the corridor, everyone was coming out of their hallyways. "Hi Tom!" "Hi Carrie!" "Hello! I knew it was earthquake weather!"

The building stopped rolling just as the intercom buzzed to life. The completely anxiety-stricken and panicked voice of the security guard came over the airwaves to reassure us:

"This is building security.
We have just experienced an earthquake!!!!
Please be prepared for aftershocks!!!!
Move away from windows!
Do not use elevators!!
Should aftershocks occur (he pronounced this word "OOOOH-coor")
Crouch down beneath something secure and cover your arms with your head."

We broke out into nervous, giddy laughter. It was TOO MUCH.

Then, he concluded with panic, "Please do not panic!!!!"

Oh Los Angeles. Just another reason to crouch beneath something sturdy and cover your arms with your head.

Posted by laurie at 12:40 PM

A lot of words for a tiny house!

Reader Lynn wanted to see my shoe closet:

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It's not very impressive. Have I mentioned my house is tee-tiny? It's smaller than most one-bedroom apartments, even though this is a two-bedroom house. I use the smallest of the two rooms as my bedroom, the larger room is my home office. My most-used shoes are there on the floor and my fancypants shoes (heels, ankle boots, etc.) reside in a set of plastic drawers. It keeps them free of dust and cat hair!

My bedroom is roughly 8 feet by 10 feet, just big enough for the bed, two very tiny bedside tables and a dresser. I don't believe in having electronics (TV, DVD, computer) in the bedroom. My long history with insomnia has taught me to keep the bedroom as spare and peaceful as possible, so my room is very quiet and cozy and small. The closet has those awful sliding closet doors -- you can only see half of your closet at one time, how annoying. But these doors are heavy mirrored monstrosities and the last time I tried to remove them I almost broke the doors, my toes and the mirrored panes. So they're staying put and I just keep the closet very tidy, my main wardrobe fits all on one side anyway.

The clothes hanging above my shoes make up the bulk of my wardrobe. I've pared down my clothes to just a fraction of what I used to have, but I probably still have a few things I could get rid of. (Rome - not built in a day!) My basic wardrobe is very simple -- I don't want to waste time each day worrying about what to wear for work, what's appropriate for the dress code, what matches, what is business professional enough, etc., so all my work clothes are based on one color scheme (black) and I have a limited but good quality selection of work clothes. Instead of buying 37 cheap tops and 19 pairs of inexpensive bottoms, I invested in eight really quality pairs of trousers and ten or so high-quality tops. I have two skirts (I don't wear skirts often at all) and a few jackets and that's it. Also hanging in the closet are some tops for nights out and jeans and so on. My work wardrobe is probably boring but I don't lose sleep over it. I realize this automated method of dressing for work makes the more fashion-minded folks in my circle break out in hives, but it really works awesome for me and I never have to wonder what to wear to my job. I get to expend that energy thinking about other stuff, like vacation and Al Gore and ice cream.

Accessories like hats, gloves, scarves and little things live in these bins on top of the closet:

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On the other side of the closet three big pink plastic drawers hold out-of-season clothes, swimwear, hosiery and sweaters. One drawer holds the clothes I don't quite fit into but don't want to give up on just yet. I know that also makes some people break out in hives (some people are so sensitive!) but this works for me. I am nostalgic and hopeful and that can be a deadly clutter combination. Therefore, getting my entire wardrobe clutter scaled down to a single pink plastic drawer is a considerable accomplishment in my life, and I am very happy with my progress.

I don't have anything on top of the pink bins since this is Bob's Super Top Secret Hiding Place. He loves this little nook of the closet, so I keep the doors pushed to the side closing in his hiding spot to make it cozy but keeping the other side open so he can come and go as he sees fit, plus he can peer out into the bedroom to keep posted on the day's events. I learned the hard way that any clothes hanging on the rod above Bob's Hiding Spot get covered in fluffy orange cat fur!

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I do have a coat closet in the hallway for scarves and coats. It is very small, a little less than two feet wide and is crammed with my winter outerwear. I have more coats than anyone in Southern California needs but coats are a weakness of mine!

Someone else asked where I keep the catbox in a small house. Here is my solution:

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It's in the closet in the office. I managed to get the doors off the closet and installed a little curtain there in its place. One half of the closet holds yet even more plastic drawers, these are full of yarn and crafty stuff and paint and glue and so on. I also keep the extra cat litter in this closet. Since I am renting and I'm sensitive to the germaphobic among us, I carefully lined the walls and floor of the closet with three layers of contact paper before putting the catboxes in there. My cats are very good with the box and they don't have accidents but I still felt this was the most sanitary way to handle having the litter pan in a closet. When I move out, I can remove the barrier of contact paper, give it a thorough once-over with disinfectant and feel good about it.

The biggest problem in this room is dust! I really wish this house had a half-bathroom or a separate utility room or laundry room or mudroom where I could put the litter pans. I don't love having the cat pans so close to my office nook but hey, everyone has to poop somewhere.

I knew before I bought my desk that the room was imperfect -- cat trays, clutter, storage, books, yarn, alleged guest room. For a long time my picture of the perfect office was so at odds with the reality of my house that it kept me in a stalemate, always hoping that "one day" I would wake up and find myself in a new life. But because I didn't feel like I had the perfect home office I just kept using that room as a dumping ground and it stayed a constant source of anxiety.

I didn't have a real at-home work area for almost three years and it wasn't what I wanted but I just assumed I would keep making do until... until I had a perfect house, until conditions were just right, until I had time, until I could work from home, until I had enough in my savings account, until I was a size whatever, until I was certain, until, until, until.

You can read all the self-help on the shelves and you can ponder your navel and listen to all the inspirational and motivational stuff you have the stamina for, but until you actually know what you want and start moving in that direction you don't really change. I guess one day it finally sunk in with me that even though conditions are not yet perfect, there is only one way to get to the picture I have in my mind of the future: start walking toward it. My ideal future did not contain a room full of boxes and me hauling a laptop and file box from room to room looking for a decent scrap of workspace. So I cleaned that room and bought that desk and it isn't perfect but it's definitely one big step in the right direction. I really do love it, catboxes and all.

Sometimes I am amazed at how much my life has changed simply from getting un-hitched. I'm pretty sure everyone has formative times in their life, maybe it's a before-and-after event from which they emerge so changed they wonder who they were before it all began. My life is radically different now but strangely I'm more myself than I ever was before. If that makes any sense. It feels like I got really lost in the middle there somewhere, accumulating so much crap and trying to be somebody I wasn't, and slowly (sometimes painfully) I've had to de-clutter, de-stuff, de-box, and de-construct my house and my habits. And my life.

Secretly I hated being a slave to my stuff. I hated that I still felt empty after I bought something I thought would make me feel whole. This past three years have been about not buying, not accumulating, not spending money just to buy something intangible and finally understanding the difference between want and need. I thought all that "not" and "don't" would be a downer, that I'd feel somehow poorer and less happy. But oddly enough, getting rid of stuff -- not an easy task at first -- slowly began to lighten my life up in both the predictable (less stuff to clean) and the unexpected (less anxiety at home). And when I do buy something now I make sure it's exactly what I want, not just whatever will make do.

My best guess is that we make things real by starting to picture them in our minds. We dream them up, we fantasize over one day, one day when I have the life I really want... Then we start building the picture in our real lives. The house isn't perfect, the location is not my ideal, I still go downtown five days a week. But I have a crucial part of the vision in place, and it's a start.

And of course, there's a cat! The cat is perfect. The catbox, well. One day.....

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Posted by laurie at 8:27 AM

July 28, 2008

Time time time see what's become of me

A few astute folks noticed from my lazy laundry picture yesterday that I am reading INTO THE WILD by John Krakauer.

I am really enjoying this book. I had always wanted to read it but hadn't gotten to it somehow, then my friend Corey gave me the movie a few weeks ago to borrow. I watched it last weekend and bought the book the very next day (along with "gifts for others" I have added "books" to my very short list of things it's OK to buy during my 6 months of no-spend. As I am now intimately acquainted with the mysterious underworld of publishing royalties, I decided I wanted to buy books to support the authors I read whenever possible!) (By the way, I don't expect this of other people. My flexible morality allows for all sorts of loopholes and I just really don't expect anyone else to live their life with my little quirks.) (Not that I am quirky, of course.)

ANYWAY, I love this book because I love this author. He has a big vocabulary and isn't afraid to use it ("sere geography") but doesn't litter big words around just to show off his big brain. He's a perfect mix of reporter and writer, this is my kind of book (I am also a big Sebastian Junger fan, so that may explain it.)

Whatever you may think of the young man at the center of the book, the story itself is well-told and keeps you sucked in. I especially love reading all the other stories he's woven in about young men and adventurers lured out to the wilds of nature never to return, one way or the other.

It's fascinating how we're all looking for something. I go to this big church in Los Angeles sometimes and I watch all the people who come, like me I guess, to hear an uplifted word or something that might change them or help them hold on or move past. Everyone is looking for something one way or the other. I think maybe sometimes people give up or push it way down but we all had it in us to look for ... something. This is a good book, I'm enjoying reading it. I just wish I could have found the original version, not the one with the movie picture on the cover. I am nerdy like that. Oh, in also-nerdy news, I got out my road atlas of North America and looked up Alaska and the places where the story takes place. I do that when I read books -- fiction or non-fiction -- that take place in real places. I also do this when my parents are traveling, I look up their campgrounds on the roadmap and see which freeways they've taken. Nerd alert!!

Time is compressed, limited, everyone trying to find the magical "downtime" or "free time." Every time I write about books here I get hundreds of amazing suggestions and the list of titles I want to read grows and grows and my free time doesn't seem to grow in proportion!

August starts on Friday. I know I can't squeeze more time out of my day because believe me if I could I would be lying on a beach right now instead of half-awake with yet another day of to-do lists stretching ahead. But I have decided to dial down the TV for the month of August. I went on to my Tivo and cleared off all my season passes except my very faves (Oprah, which I think is in reruns all month anyway and The Closer, The Daily Show and something else, I forget what it was) and I'm going to read instead of watching TV. Watching TV is my one big zone-out-relax thing, but reading has the same effect and at least then I feel like my brain isn't petrifying.

I'm not sure how I feel about TV, except that I don't want to waste all my life in front of it. We didn't watch TV as children and later when I was a teenager I could watch TV but it was supervised ... the whole family watched the same thing. No TVs in bedrooms, no TVs in separate rooms of the house. I never watched much TV until I got married, and the person I married LOVED to watch television so it was on all the time. And there are some good things to watch out there! When I moved in my place by myself, the TV provided a little sound and light when sometimes I was dismally alone. So I think TV can be kind of soothing that way. Plus if you watch the right stuff you can learn ALL kinds of things, I mean really now.

But I don't like doing things habitually as brain retardants (you know... when you want to turn down all the chatter and worry and to-do lists in your head? That's needing a brain retardant.) Wine turns down the chatter and so does TV, but then again so does a good book. The main problem seems to be that watching TV feels somehow less virtuous than reading, you know? I always seem to run into smug people who insist they haven't watched TV since the Carter administration. I don't find it more character-enhancing either way, but since my time is so limited right now I have to make a choice... watch another re-run of True Life or The Deadliest Catch or read a book from my ever-growing mountain of books I want to read. I like changing it up anyway, trying new things so that I don't get stale in a routine that fits more out of habit and laziness than real choice.

The cats like the new twist of events ... I generally flop on the bed to read and they love going to bed, it is their very favorite thing in the entire world, I am certain of it. So everyone gets on the bed and I read and they bat around a hair elastic or my post-it-note highlighter pen and occasionally irritate each other and we are all one happy little family. It's a nice way to relax after a long day.

Posted by laurie at 3:05 PM

Laundry Day cats

As soon as the towels come out of the dryer, they must be properly flattened and re-furred.
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One feline takes charge of the laundry while the others watch in awe.
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Not sure what went on in this room while I was away. Appears the battle of Waterloo commenced.
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Laundry day is very exhausting.
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Posted by laurie at 8:17 AM

July 25, 2008

Just another day on the bus

There are a lot of new people taking the bus and they're very needy, holding open the doors while asking the bus driver convoluted questions, "Do I get off here and transfer to get to X or do I go to there and ride another bus to get to X or will I get lost?" As if the bus driver can answer them and let them know if they'll get lost. I personally can get lost on the way to the breakroom at work, so "lost" is a relative state of being, doubtful a random bus driver can analyze it for every strange passenger. I'm impressed with the drivers, though, they're far more patient than the seasoned riders who are pushing these needy newbies out of the way in a huff and rolling their eyes and making comments.

I understand why new folks are so confused, after all the Los Angeles mass transit system is mysterious and convoluted doesn't run on any meaningful sort of timetable (a bus that is meant to arrive at 5:40 will show up some time between 5:25 and 6:15) and none of the different systems work together, so a Metro Bus and a Commuter Bus and a Santa Monica Bus may all take you parts of your route but it's a piece of film noir detective work to figure out how those routes work together. Add in rail lines and the subway (both of which are separate systems that don't work together) and you have quite a thriller getting to work each day.

And riding the mass transit offered in this city has never been more grim or challenging. More people on the buses and trains doesn't mean there's more seats to sit in or parking spaces at the stations. The parking situation at my usual park 'n ride lot has deteriorated so that people are now getting in fights and yelling and threatening to call the city/the police/somebody they know in the Mayor's office, etc. It's kind of funny in a sad, pathetic way. I've reached the Zen acceptance place where there's no use complaining about it ... it is what it is. I drive more and more these days since there's nowhere to park at the transit lot. Fridays are good though, there's usually some parking on Fridays.

Friday before last I was on the bus next to my friend Karen -- well, we're not really friends exactly but we've been riding the same route together forever and she is the only person I ever talk to on the bus. She's HEELARIOUS too, which helps. I was telling her I think I need to get an unemployed boyfriend -- sure I would have to pay for dinners and movies and stuff but he could drive me to the bus stop and pick me up every day and that would probably work out better for me fiscally in the long run. And we were laughing and then we heard the girls in the seat across from us complaining about how the bus didn't have good air conditioning and why were we sitting here just waiting and they didn't understand why the bus couldn't be properly air conditioned if we were going to just be sitting here waiting (all those things long-term commuters have come to accept as part of the "charm" of mass transit in Los Angeles) and so Karen turns to me and says, "Yeah, they're complaining about the air conditioning ... just wait until the bus catches fire!"

"I know!" I said, "or when it breaks down in the middle of the 5 and there's no replacement bus for two hours and it's seven hundred degrees!"

"Yeah," said Karen, "or remember that time we broke down going up the hill on the 101 and the bus actually started rolling backwards down the hill!!"

And we were amusing ourselves this way for a good five minutes when we realized the two new girls had stopped talking and had looks of sheer horror on their faces.

"Did you say the bus caught on fire...?" asked one of the girls.

"Oh yeah," said Karen. "It happens a couple of times a year. But it makes the air conditioning problem seem a lot less urgent."

And we laughed. Then we got back to talking about the cost ratio benefit of me getting an unemployed boyfriend. I still need to work on the ROI on the scenario but it's worth contemplating.

- - -

Have a great weekend!

Posted by laurie at 8:42 AM

July 23, 2008

I'll take ridiculous irony for $400, Alex.

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Posted by laurie at 9:46 AM

July 22, 2008

Friday five (or six)

Apparently this week turned into clutter week for me, writing about stuff ... cleaning stuff, getting rid of stuff, buying the right stuff, letting go of old stuff.

I thought I'd end the week with my weekend stuff to-do list. This is what I do every weekend so I can start the week out feeling like I am not losing the battle. I am not sure which battle it is, exactly, but I always know when I feel like I'm losing it!

1) Clean off the coffee table. (time: 10 minutes)
I have to make a point to clean off the coffee table once a week because open surfaces in my house are magnetically charged to attract stuff. Papers, mail, coupons, stuff from my purse, pens, notebooks, post-it-notes, cups, wine glasses, cat toys, hair elastics, you name it ... it all somehow magically accumulates on the coffee table. Every Sunday I make a point to clear everything away and put everything where it belongs and clean the glass top of the table with a spritz of vinegar and water so it sparkles. It stays clean for at least a few hours!

2) Clean the table, too. (time: 7-10 minutes)
The dining table is small but also shares in the magic, it is able to attract to its surface all sorts of doodads and stuff and whathaveyou. Each weekend I clear it off, dust it and start the week with clean tabletops. I don't know why, exactly, but this makes a huge difference to me!

3) Laundry (time: two hours, more or less)
I hate two household chores more than anything in the world -- laundry and dishes. I've managed to get the dish washing down to a minimum since I don't cook very often. Sadly, you can't decide to go light on laundry by having clothing-optional days at work. (Imagine the bus ride, ewwww.) Now that I have pared down my wardrobe to the essentials, I'm not able to let laundry pile up for weeks at a time because I'd run out of clothes! So I do laundry every weekend and it feels good to start Monday knowing all your clothes are clean and ready. I also can't stand the idea of stretching out a single loathsome chore like laundry through the whole week, I'd rather do it in one time chunk and be done. I usually do laundry super early on Saturday mornings and it's done in just a few hours. I also wash all the linens and towels in the house -- another reason to declutter is to have less to launder!

4) Empty the trashcans (time: 5 minutes)
Something about going around the house and emptying all the little trashcans makes the house feel cleaner. It's such a small thing but it works.

5) Cleaning (time: depends on how thorough I am!)
Even if I don't have a lot of time for a deep-cleaning of the house, I always try to get the basics done by Sunday night: vacuum, clean the bathroom, clean the kitchen, put stuff away. Now that I have less stuff to clean around, I can do a quick-clean of the whole house in under an hour. I don't have a schedule for cleaning, I'm finally at a stage where I'm maintaining the house daily and I just get my deep-clean crazy on when it feels right. My goal is to minimize the amount of housework I have to do during the week so I try to get it all done on the weekends.

Five plus one....

6) Bag it all up! (time: 5-10 minutes)
On Sunday night I put my purse, keys and commuter toy by the door. My "commuter toy" is either a book or my knitting bag or whatever I'm taking on the bus that day. If I don't have a project or book I find one and put it with my stuff so I'm not walking aimlessly around the house Monday morning looking for something to read on the bus. I also include magazines in this pile, stuff I need to take to work for whatever reason and any supplies i may need, like if I ran out of Kleenex or tea at work and I'm taking in some supplies. I hate wasting time in the morning looking for stuff, so I try to get it all together the night before so I don't start the day mad and late.

These are the few little things I do each weekend to manage my stuff and my time. Lord have mercy but I am boring!

Posted by laurie at 1:33 PM

I bet AmEx is wondering if I croaked.

So, about that mid-year resolution to stop buying stuff ... I have had some blips, as I mentioned yesterday, but I think for the most part I'm doing well on the no-spend. It has been almost two full months now since my mid-year resolution to stop buying nonessentials and ya'll, I haven't died. I haven't gotten uglier! The house has not gotten bare and lonely! My feet have not gone unshod! The cats still have their catnip and I still have my wine and all is well over here in Chez Lintrolls-a-lot.

There's a big difference between stopping my consumer crazy and becoming a minimalist. I don't even know what the word "minimalist" would mean in a life like mine, where toilet paper only comes in packs of 24 and I never run out of things like soap and cat food. I do tend to run out of clean underwear but that is an issue with the maid -- she sucks.

(Also: I don't have a maid.)

I'm not sure I could sleep at night knowing I could run out of the necessities of life. "Decluttering" to some people means that you live in a spartan zen freedom from things. Picture a fine clean room with nothing but a white sofa. That works for many people and to them I say amen. But to me, decluttering means I can finally reach the yarn in my stash without having to move a pile of boxes and two shopping bags and a basket of stuff first. Tomato, tomahto.

Me and "minimal" aren't a rockin' couple, I'm in a long-term relationship with "prepared for anything." I always have a good supply of cat litter on hand and you will never come to my house and run out of something like mustard ... but is it necessary for me to have THREE containers of Gulden's spicy brown mustard in the pantry? I mean really now. There is preparation and then there is "the cupboard was too stuffed for me to see what I already had so I assumed I was out of mustard and bought yet another one because God knows the earth can't turn on its axis if I have a shortage of mustard."

Hopefully that better explains what's happening in my house.

The biggest step forward I've made in these first two months of nonconsuming is to re-evaluate my most hardwired shopping instincts. Three times this month I caught myself buying magazines on impulse! Autopilot much? And there was my epiphany about my ugly plates. My latest lightening bolt happened last week as I was contemplating the little sofa in the office. I bought it because it folds out into a single bed and I thought it was a good solution for a guest room. But after I got it, I realized I wouldn't actually make a guest stay in the guest room since that room has the catbox which doesn't seem very welcoming. Plus, they wouldn't be able to shut their door at night (catboxes and all) and so I always end up sleeping in there when I have a guest and frankly an airbed would work just fine for me. The guest always ends up in my room and I sleep in the office. And the pull-out bed is lumpy.

But the even uglier truth is that the longer I stared at my little sofa (it's cozy and fine and the cats like it, but did I really need it?) I realized I bought it based only on my long-held belief that I HAD to have a guest room. Just like I assumed you had to buy plates in sets of 12 or had to get married or had to do all kinds of stuff that as it turns out you can live long and fine and happy without doing. But it never once occurred to me that I was not required by law to have a guest room.

The even uglier truth is that I don't particularly enjoy having houseguests. My house is too small, I have to move out of my room temporarily to suit a guest, I have one bathroom the size of a very small cupboard and it's very stressful for me and the cats to have house guests. I always feel like I need therapy afterwards. Admitting this out loud has not been easy -- what kind of Southerner am I, anyway, that I don't LOVE having houseguests? Is there something wrong with me? Defective? Horribly selfish and unfit? I really don't know. I guess they'll revoke my belle card for saying it out loud, but I don't think I want to have a guest room anymore. There are some lovely hotels nearby, and they don't have catboxes in them, and then we call retire to our respective rooms at night and enjoy the visit without counting down the hours until departure.

I guess for me the lightbulb was just realizing for the very first time that you don't HAVE to make part of your house a guest room. You don't have to carve into your very limited space to accomodate people four days a year. What a realization, and what a waste of limited space. I think in my next house I'll use the space the way it best suits my life and then get an air mattress for those few times when people have to stay over. And it's good to challenge all my long-held assumptions about living right. I think there are lots of "right" ways to live your life, you just have to find the one that works for you. If other people don't like it, I have three bottles of Gulden's spicy brown mustard they can put where the sun isn't shining.

Making this decision to take a break from consumerism for six months has been good for me. This new way of thinking is a little different from the times when I was not-shopping out of fear of sheer financial ruin. I still acquired stuff back then, I just bought less expensive stuff. This is different ... challenging all those assumptions about what we "need" and what we buy without thinking (even how we live without thinking!). I'm getting creative with what I already own. Clearing the noise so that treasured things are more available -- after all, it's hard to enjoy my vintage pattern books when they're buried under a pile of magazines and crap I don't want.

It's not minimal by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a start toward clean and un-stressful. That's all I want. So the maid can take a day off ... especially since she's not getting paid anyway!

Posted by laurie at 10:18 AM

July 21, 2008

Cats are not Clutter

My new favorite place in the house is my desk. The home office has long been the lone repository of clutter left in my entire house and it's just taken forever and a day to get it sorted out. But oh man it is so worth it! Here is a better view of the desk area:

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Again, I can't recommend the company where I got this furniture - dreadful awful customer service so bad that I will never ever shop there again, ever, As God Is My Witness, etc. etc. The end.

A few weeks ago I watched a TV program called "The Messiest Home In America." I felt so bad for those folks, their house was not just a messy and cluttered house but it was REALLY dirty. Filthy dirty. Clutter drags you down in so many ways, and I guess some people give up altogether. I'm not someone who can live in a dirty house, so even after I moved into this house my piles of clutter had to be dusted and vacuumed around and placed in tidy piles. It was exhausting to constantly clean around all my clutter! All that clutter turned even a basic cleaning job into a time-consuming and difficult task and no matter how hard I tried to keep it all clean it never felt as clean as I like my house to be.

My clutter consumption problem probably would have gone unnoticed for a good long while if I had continued on the path we were on when I was married: systematically moving "up" every few years, moving into larger and larger spaces so the stuff got spread out over a wider square footage. And then shopping to fill up the new larger space!

But in 2004 I got dumped and all the sudden had to move 2,500 square feet of belongings into 800 square feet of space. In a matter of hours my life went from organized and "decorated" and spacious to tiny and scary and cluttered. Seeing all my stuff piled up into my new little house was simply overwhelming.

My problem has never been that I needed the right system to bring harmony to my home -- I did not need a Flylady or an acronym or a personal organizer or yet another plastic bin from Target. Of course, I thought I needed those things, especially when it was all so overwhelming and I was an emotional mess and life in general was chaotic. When I moved and saw all my mountains of crap I fell into immediate paralysis -- I just felt anxiety and fear and had no idea where to begin. It was all just too much.

So I can fully understand why some people get into such a mess that theirs becomes The Messiest House In America. I'm not judging, I know we all have messes. Some of us more than others. And maybe you do need a system or some outside help or maybe you just need time, every person is different, but you really can get it under control -- my home office is living proof of that. You just decide you cannot live this way and you start where you are. You declutter one little pile of stuff at a time. It has taken me YEARS to do it but it's one of my happiest accomplishments.

For a long time I thought the answer to my problem was space. I believed I needed to pay down my debt so I could move to a bigger place to better house all my things. That is how skewed my perspective had become -- I didn't immediately think of how to live smaller and smaller, I just hoped one day I could live bigger and bigger! But as I worked hard to stop spending and squirreled away every dime to pay off my massive debt, I began to see how much unhappiness I had tried to shop away. As time passed I started seeing the connection between my insecurities and my need to buy something to fill up a void. And it was pretty clear my shopping-therapy strategy had not worked.

So finally it dawned on me that I didn't need to buy more stuff to hold my clutter or spend more money to live in a larger house. I didn't need systems and schedules and a complex zone strategy to cleaning and arranging crap. The solution wasn't nearly as complicated as I tried to make it. The solution was I needed to get rid of some stuff! And furthermore, I needed to stop purchasing more stuff. The end. That was and still is the solution for me and it's working.

It's not as easy as it sounds, of course. It takes time to let go of things, time to understand your buying habits, time to realize that you used shopping like a drug, used it as a way to feel better. It takes time to figure out what is essential. How much do you really need to live? How much do you want? It takes time to make yourself feel happy and secure and comfortable without signing a receipt. It's taken me three-almost-four years and I'm still not all the way there.

Making the decision to stop buying crap for a few months has been really good for me. I've had a few blips -- I bought two magazines last month on autopilot (!!) and on my birthday I picked up three things at a yarn shop -- but it's been a great way to re-evaluate my shopping habits. All I want is a tidy, clean and well-appointed little house. I don't want to be some Zen Buddhist monk living in a white room and sleeping on a straw mat. But I do want to be able to reach and enjoy (and clean) the few things I need and love.

I used to be so overwhelmed with clutter that my way of dealing with the anxiety was to go out and buy more organizational crap at Target and Ikea. Buying even more stuff to hold my stuff -- now if that is not insanity, what is? It took a long time for me to see the solution to having too much crap wasn't to go out and buy more crap!

The biggest step forward I've made in this period of nonconsuming is to re-evaluate my most hardwired shopping instincts. I've also noticed I hang onto things that I wish would have worked out -- but that didn't work out -- just because I spent money on them. So I've said good-bye this month to organizational items I bought back in the day, trying to deal with my clutter by adding more clutter. I bought a white cube organizer shelf unit over two years ago and all it has done is clutter up my house. The squares are too small for my books and too open to hold my bits and bobs (especially no Bobs!) The shelf was the wrong height to fit beneath my windows so it took up a whole swath of wall space and I couldn't really use it effectively no matter what I tried. So of course to solve this problem I spent even MORE money and bought little bins to fit in the cubbies. But then I didn't really have any stuff that fit well in the bins.

However, since I had spent all this money on it (throwing good money after bad with new bins and baskets and buying doors for the cubes, etc.) I just assumed it was staying. It did not occur to me to STOP BUYING STUFF to make a bad purchase more palatable. That is crazytalk. Last month I looked at my useless shelf unit with new eyes. I finally decided it was ridiculous to hold on to something just because I wished it would have worked out and because I already paid for it. I dragged the whole unit out to the garage to be donated or sold another day, and later made a wild sweep through the clutter of the home office and got rid of all the organizational purchases that had become clutter. The stuff I didn't want went in the recycle bin so the stuff I do want is now easier to reach. Novel concept, huh?

This is the last remaining pile of unsorted clutter I have in the entire house:

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That's monumental. The tip of my clutter iceberg used to look like this:

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So a few bins of clutter is a massive improvement. Not perfect, but it's progress. I still have some organizational shelves and bins I bought back in the day that don't work all that great but I'm going to keep purging stuff slowly over the next few months and then really figure out what my bookcase and storage needs are come January. If I keep going at this pace I'll have my possessions pared down to the right level for me by winter. And then, instead of buying cheapy "just for now" stuff, I'm going to really figure out what I need and want and measure my walls and think it through and buy the right shelving, not the available or cheap one.

You can see in this picture what I mean about having a bunch of particleboard shelving crammed in a corner:

office-bad-storage.jpg

It's working for now because my office stuff is finally organized and I know what's in every shelf and I can get to it without moving boxes. But it's not a part of the room I just love -- I see it and know I bought a lot of that white particleboard shelving when I had no idea what to do with all my clutter. And eventually my goal is to have less stuff requiring a shelf anyway.

So, there's progress in some places and still more work to do. The rest of the house is working well and the office is finally a real, functional room instead of a storage locker. It's taken me almost four years to liberate my life of sentimental doodads, boxes of old papers, cassette tapes that have no way to be played, computer equipment that is obsolete, stuff holding more stuff. But I am living proof that it can be done, box by box, little bit by little bit.

The biggest changes happen so slowly, I'm almost surprised to see how far I've come from where I was. It's makes me excited to think of what changes are to come, where I might be going from here.

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This cat is not clutter.

Posted by laurie at 9:54 AM

July 18, 2008

Friday in pictures

This explains why I haven't unpacked from last weekend's trip yet:
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Frankie enjoys the new "toy."

I can't get enough Bob:
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Bob has had enough of me, though:

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Finally, the Friday bumper:
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Have a great weekend!

Posted by laurie at 9:00 AM

July 17, 2008

Hello is it weekend yet?

Congratulations to Natasha who won a signed copy of Chip St. Clair's memoir, THE BUTTERFLY GARDEN I was so happy that so many people wanted to read Chip's book so I emailed publicist extraordinaire Kim Weiss to ask if she'd send out a few more books and she said yes! So five more readers will receive a copy of The Butterfly Garden (unsigned) -- I have emailed all the winners and congratulations to all five extra winners: commentors Dagny, Mary in NorCal, savanvleck, K8, and Liz J of Illinois.

And thanks to everyone for sharing their current reads and favorite books! I made quite a list of to-reads. I was surprised to see so many folks reading and loving Ken Follet's big ol' book, PILLARS OF THE EARTH. I haven't read it yet, but I like him a lot as an author -- in an interview he once told a reporter that he spent a long period of his career writing really bad books. Something about that made me laugh and also gave me more hope than is perhaps normal. Because hey, maybe I will write seven bad attempts at fiction and then the eighth will be miraculously good.

Also thanks to Elizabeth Sinnreich for posting about the upcoming Irène Némirovsky exhibition at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. You can read more about the museum and the upcoming exhibition at the museum's website.

Now I have a nice long list of books to read. That's the upside of commuting during the scorching hot summers here in Los Angeles. You can't bear to knit on the bus if it has no air conditioning and nowadays the buses are so crowded it's hard to knit anyway. Of course it never hurts to have your knitting needles in your bag just in case you do luck out with the A/C or in case your seatmate requires sudden stealth stabbing in the ribs. (Hey, it's Los Angeles. It happens.) But usually in the summer I read while I commute, books are portable and later in the summer if I'm carrying around Pillars Of The Earth maybe I can count that as my daily weightlifting, too.

When I am stressed and exhausted I get home and I tend to watch more TV instead of reading and then I feel like a big fat slug. Even though I think I'd rather lie on the sofa with Soba in the crook of my body while I wield the remote (I call her the Sofakowa, she likes to lie down next to me on the sofa and stretch out longways with her furry little back against my front, like we're spooning) I know I'd feel more productive and less sluggified if I read something or even did a little more writing, not on the computer but longhand (my favorite). I've calculated it -- in an average day during the work week I have one hour and forty minutes of free time, time not dedicated to working, commuting, writing, obligations, sleep and upkeep of the house and body. Sometimes in my one-hour-forty I give in to the sloth and I watch whatever is on the Tivo and have a glass of wine while the cat makes her little snoring sounds. It's kind of nice, actually.

My cactus bloomed again this year:

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Had to take a picture in the dark, with flash, because apparently I am a vampire and can only appear under the cruel fluorescent lights of the office during daylight hours.

Have a good day and congrats again to all the winners and thank you to everyone who participated!

Posted by laurie at 8:52 AM

July 16, 2008

July books in my bag (plus one you can win)

I love books.

On the plane from Burbank to Dallas I plowed through Chip St. Clair's memoir THE BUTTERFLY GARDEN. I met Chip and his wife Lisa at the Book Expo back in May and they were the nicest folks, sweet and down-to-earth and I got a copy of his book but hadn't had a chance to read it. I had high hopes for it, though. Faith got a copy at BEA, too, and read it cover-to-cover the first night of the expo! She came to pick me up the next morning and told me she'd stayed up half the night reading his book, and told me his story was amazing.

Well, I opened that book up as we were taking off the runway in Burbank and by the time we touched down in Dallas I was closing the final chapter and letting it all sink in. Chip's story is dark and sometimes scary and it makes you wonder how such a good man could come from such a childhood. His father was one of America's Most Wanted and Chip's story -- unraveling the lies, deprogramming the abuse -- is a complete page-turner. It made it all seem more real since I'd met him, met his wife, the whole story fit together and it made me want to call him up and tell him how happy I was he'd lived to write it all down.

Chip sent me a signed copy of THE BUTTERFLY GARDEN to offer to my readers so post a comment if you'd like to be in the drawing and I will announce a winner tomorrow!

[Edited to add: Thank you everyone who commented, I closed comments now and will announce a winner tomorrow! I love my fellow bookworms.]

- - -

On the way from Dallas to Tampa I started reading first-time author Tana French's dark Irish murder mystery, IN THE WOODS. (Don't you love reading on airplanes? It's like built-in free time!) I stayed up all night Saturday finishing it and boy was I disappointed. This book is so well written -- it's complex and the characters are really well done, this author obviously has amazing talent so I was really excited to see how she ended the book and how the primary mystery was unraveled. I won't spoil the plot but I will say in general I don't expect perfect, tidy endings to mysteries but I do expect something, some kind of resolution! The reason why we have FICTION is that in fictional life we can discover truths and unravel mysteries even if it's not exactly what we wanted, we are at least left with something to go on. That's what the author gives us in fiction. Real life is where we go unsatisfied -- so if I wanted a real-life dud of an ending, I would just watch TV news.

I am dying to see if any of ya'll have read this book and what you thought about it. I don't like to be critical of books or authors because I know how hard it is to write one. This author has obvious talent, beautiful prose, characters that get under your skin, a really intriguing premise. (Obviously I loved reading this book and had higher expectations from such a good writer or I wouldn't be so mad about the ending!)

For the most part this novel was a really good read but the ending was totally unsatisfying. When you write a book, you make a contract with the reader. You say to the reader, Follow me on this and I won't leave you hanging totally empty-handed. This author broke the contract and left her readers 400+ pages holding an empty bag. What a disappointment on an otherwise awesome book.

[Edited to add: I'm not trying to turn anyone off this book, in fact I want you to read it so we can talk about it! I am making my friend Corey read it right now and I called everyone I know to see who read it and no one had so now I need the innernets to be my book club ;) ]

- - -

Now I'm reading SUITE FRANCAISE by Irene Nemirovsky. I am a big WWII history geek (with an emphasis on the European front, I know more about Poland in the forties than is probably healthy) and I try to read everything I can about the entire era -- Holocaust memoirs, historical data, fiction from those who lived through it. If you're into that, too, this book is a must-read.

Here is what Wikipedia says about the author:

Némirovsky is now best known as the author of the unfinished Suite Française, two novellas portraying life in France between June 4, 1940 and July 1, 1941, the period during which the Nazis occupied Paris. These works are considered remarkable because they were written during the actual period itself, and yet are the product of considered reflection, rather than just a journal of events, as might be expected considering the personal turmoil experienced by the author at the time.

Némirovsky's oldest daughter, Denise, kept the notebook containing the manuscript for Suite Française for fifty years without reading it, thinking it was a journal or diary of her mother's, which would be too painful to read. In the late 1990s, however, she made arrangements to donate her mother's papers to a French archive and decided to examine the notebook first. Upon discovering what it contained, she instead had it published in France, where it became a bestseller in 2004.

I picked this up based on the background I knew about the author. I know some folks who couldn't get into this book and I totally understand, pieces from this era about this subject matter tend to have a certain voice that can be off-putting to readers. It's a more dispassionate and observational voice than we're used to in contemporary fiction. And I think readers often expect stories about this era to be very clear cut, good vs. evil. But many of the vignettes here describe people who are weak, or self-centered, or mousy (in other words, they were pretty normal people!) The tone (much like The Last Eyewitnesses or even The Pianist to a certain degree) makes sense to me based on the amount of horror you'd have to insulate yourself from to live during that period, not to mention writing about it. But it can be a tough read if you aren't drawn to the subject matter.

I'm about half-way through it and couldn't wait to get on the bus last night so I could settle in and read more (it's one of the few times I don't mind glacially slow traffic!) I am in love with this book, I can't imagine what it would have been like had the author lived to really finish it and polish it.

The author died in Auschwitz in 1942. She was only 39 years old. I don't even have words to describe how I feel about that.

- - -

Books take you places. There is nothing like the delicious feeling of being so wrapped up in a story that you can't wait for your real life to subside so you can curl up again with the plot, the characters, and let it all spill out in words on the page.

What kind of books do you reach for first? Do you read mysteries? Romance? Non-fiction? Humor? Do you want a twisty-turning plot? Characters who feel real, who live on in your head after you finish the last page? Do you look for pure escapism, fun, tension, history, laughs?

I love hearing about what people are reading. Whenever I'm in a bookstore I watch what people are buying, at Target I always browse too long in the book section to see what folks are taking home from the shelves. I've always been a bookworm, I think it's a trait most hermits share. Sometimes the characters in books are more real to me than the people on the bus beside me! Do you ever feel that way? I guess that's why I was so let down by IN THE WOODS, I took it personally that the author left me with a totally discarded storyline, flicked away by the main character in the last drag of a cigarette.

- - -

Thank you again to Chip St. Clair for offering an autographed copy of his book THE BUTTERFLY GARDEN, I'll draw randomly from the comments and announce a winner tomorrow. You can read about his foundation online, The St. Clair Butterfly Foundation, and follow Chip at his blog.

Posted by laurie at 8:57 AM

July 15, 2008

Airport Fun & Games

Airport stories are funny. There's something about the whole airport experience that brings out the "enhanced" personalities in some folks. Being in the airport this past weekend reminded me of the five thousand funny things I saw while touring the airports of the United States last fall. It was allegedly a book tour, but I saw more airports than book stores. I spent more time waiting in airports in the fall of 2007 than I did on any other activity -- hey, you try getting from Peoria to Minneapolis via Phoenix!

I learned many things from that period of high-stress travel, and one of the most valuable lessons was discovering how to amuse myself while waiting around in the airport. It was surprisingly easy once I understood that people who use their cell phones in the airport magically forget that they have an "indoor voice." I was able to develop a Theory on it, too. I have a theory for just about everything.

Why People Talk So Loud on Cellphones in The Airport Theory

The transient nature of the airport and the impersonal feeling of air travel combined with the sensory overload of the experience + the airport announcements overhead + the general spaceyness of people on cellphones = LOUD TALKING ON CELLPHONES IN AIRPORTS.

Interesting side finding: Often, conversations in airports tend to be emotionally charged (possibly from stress of travel?) and contain volatile private information conveyed in the aforementioned LOUD TALKING.

Uh, yeah. That's pretty much the whole theory.

I discovered my airport amusement sometime in mid-October. I was sitting in O'Hare International Airport in Chicago on my way to Who Knows Where. I'd heard my flight mentioned, so I walked to the gate to see if we'd been delayed again (yes) and to see if there were any opportunities to upgrade (no.) It was while looking for an empty chair to rest my tired self that I noticed the five billionth Loud Cellphone Talker. She was at the gate and she was sitting near the only remaining open seats.

It was pretty clear why no one had chosen to sit in the four empty seats right behind her -- the Loud Talker wasn't just Loud, she was also gesturing wildly and making faces. I, however, chose to sit there and I will tell you why.

At this point in my traveling, I had reached the Zen Place, that space you eventually come to after being in Spanx and three-inch heels for 19 hours for seven days in a row, a space where you have ceased resisting all the many things that snafu and get delayed and go wrong and make you sweaty during frenzied travel. You just no longer get upset about things like Loud Talkers, and Missed Connections, and Mystery Itchy Bites on your Left Ankle.

You have perhaps had two glasses of wine at the airport Chili's and a plate of fried cheese that you decided you had earned from the 20-minute contortionist act you just performed in the airport ladies room whereby you managed to surreptitiously remove your spanx and not touch a single germy surface of the cramped stall. You are tired, and now smell like fried cheese. You feel mildly happy to be breathing without lycra again, mildly happy that airports sell wine, and mildly happy that you have earphones. Everything is at a Zen mild state.

EXCEPT.

Except, when you sit down at one of the lone, empty seats directly behind the Loud Talker and begin looking for your earphones in your carry-on bag, you hear the Loud Talker say, loudly:

"Well I should have KNOWN he was cheating on me just from that time I told you about when he came home smelling like a ***damn whorehouse!"

And suddenly this conversation is MUCH more exciting than chapter 4 of your current audiobook "The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success" by Deepak Chopra. In fact, isn't one of the laws of spiritual success something like "Go with the flow-ism" in which we're supposed to accept life as it comes? Like, for example, when life hands you a real-live soap opera podcast, only it's not on an ipod, it's in person...?

Really? There's no chapter on that? Moving on.

"Oh yes he did, didn't I tell you about that time? When I went to Karen's birthday party? Yeah and so then he came home and I told him I was having NO MORE OF IT. NO MORE you hear me? But did that (expletive) (expletive) listen? Hell no! And then I said ...."

... and Loud Talker continued on in this manner for at least fifteen more minutes. Before long, a woman who was watching my expressions came and sat near me, and she started listening to Loud Talker's story, too. The guy across from us put down his newspaper so he could better concentrate. Loud Talker could be heard clearly across three rows of chairs at the airport gate and in the next twenty minutes, there must have been seven or eight or fifteen of us all connected by one Loud Talker.

For a moment I felt kind of bad. Were we intruding on a private moment? Were we eavesdropping? Should we all get up and walk away and try to avoid hearing Loud Talker?

We'd have to walk pretty far away, though. I'm just pointing that out is all.

"You KNOW he called her as soon as I left the house. I cannot believe I let him sign his name to be godfather of Justin. You KNOW he doesn't have the sense God gave a jackass! And do you remember that time I bought that black dress with the belt you said you liked? And it had the matching pocketbook? Well I wore it that night and you will not believe what he did ..."

And at that we all leaned in closer, what had he done? What happened to the pocketbook that matched the black dress with the belt?

"He had too much to drink that night and I swear to you, and I wasn't going to tell this to anyone because we were in my brother's car and you know how he is about that car and he was wasted and he leaned over and he threw up in my pocketbook! In my pocketbook, the one that matched that belt!"

And all of us listening at the gate made a collective "eeew!" noise. I gasped. That is pocketbook abuse if ever I heard it! And in gasping and eeew-ing, we were kind of loud. And Loud Talker turned and paused in her conversation and looked behind her ...

... and then she continued:

"Huh? Oh sorry, no I just thought I heard them calling the plane. Anyway that jackass never even offered to buy me a new pocketbook! Can you believe that (expletive)er?"

And on and on until the plane was finally called. It was possibly the most entertaining wait I'd had in an airport (well aside from being frisked during the Mascara of Mass Destruction event), and from that day onward I made a beeline for the Loud Talker in every airport gate waiting area and every airport restaurant. It's not hard to find them, because they are everywhere. It's much harder to find a space without them. Just look for the person talking loudly and with great animation on their cellphone (the ones with the Borg-like earpieces are masters of this!) and you will find a whole new source of entertainment while you eat your soggy, overpriced cheese sticks and drink your tepid chardonnay.

That's my theory, anyway, and I am sticking to it. Go-with-the-flowism!

Posted by laurie at 8:33 AM

July 14, 2008

Sir Barkasalot and the Roller Crew

I spent the weekend in Florida, finally meeting the newest member of my family in person:

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Oh yeah. We bonded.

Poor little thing, I was just sure he had NO TOYS so I brought a few in my suitcase:

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I also got to visit with my brother and my nephews Brett and Andrew and see my older brother do the dad thing ... ON WHEELS!

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Cutie Andrew is ready for Roller Derby now!

The puppy didn't come roller skating with us, he needed a nap. This is his favorite position for laying low and it CRACKS ME UP:

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My dad says he looks like a deboned chicken with those little legs out flat. The cuteness here was basically overwhelming. I kept trying to fit him in my carry-on bag but my folks are pretty attached to him. He even helps my mom play cards:

florida08-chevis-cards.jpg
(Taken on my cellphone)

He's a card shark, that puppy! And it was a good, long, dog-snuggling weekend. Now I need a nap. Wonder if anyone will miss me if I duck underneath my desk for some shut-eye?

Posted by laurie at 10:28 AM

July 10, 2008

Open-toed shoes

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Frankie lounges in the sunlight with her favorite sandals.... sure, they're ugly shoes and from this angle they appear to fit a gigantor size twenty-eleventeen foot, but at Frankie's place of employment it is OK to wear sandals to work. Her boss is very lenient with the dress code.

That explains why she isn't wearing any pants!

Posted by laurie at 5:04 AM

July 9, 2008

Possibly addicted to batik...

On Saturday I spent a portion of my "Deadliest Catch" marathon working on my June analytics report for my boss. Fun! Pie Charts! Finally I got to the wine-drinking portion of the day which is when I set aside my exciting pie-chart work and did some sewing work. Or, more appropriately, some "cutting fabric while avoiding the cat paws" work.

I did not even touch the pattern for my hippy dippy HollyHobby-esque dress mentioned last week. I love all those purples but I miscalculated my to-do list and current obligations and summer "no wedding left behind" schedule and it seems I have a wedding to attend next Friday, mere days away! That hippydippy little dress is awesome but not nearly appropriate for a morning of work and an afternoon of I Do's, so I am instead forging ahead with Wedding Attendee Dress #1, A Lovely Study In Brown And Pink:

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I wanted a little dress I could wear with my pink DKNY summer shrug and I found this perfect batik cotton print at Michael Levine on my lunch break one day last week (there are benefits to working downtown!) I brought my pink sweater with me to the store so I could get a perfect match. And I love the fabric I found, it's so pretty!

This is McCall's pattern M8107, a very simple dress with princess seams and a back zipper. I'm making something between View G and View F -- so far the only alteration I've made is to cut the dress at tea-length which puts the finished garment midway between the two pattern options. Tea length is a good look for my body shape and more appropriate for the event.

I had so much help when cutting out my dress pieces. In fact, I don't know how I get any work done at all when I am away from the felines, they're such attentive helpers:

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By the way, I'm pleased as pie (pie chart?) with my squeaky clean wood floors -- you can see a little of them in the pictures, since I'm using my living room floor as a cutting area. Just recently I started using a little Dr. Bronner's eucalyptus soap in a bucket of lukewarm water to clean the floors and it's my new favorite, non-toxic and awesome! (I buy this soap at Whole Foods, and I think Trader Joe's carries it, too.) I LOVE the smell of eucalyptus and it makes the floors shine, too. The whole house smells yummy for days.

But back to the dress! The fabric I'm using here is 100% cotton so I washed it on hot and dried it on high to be sure the final product will be 100% preshrunk. I love preshrinking fabric, it's my subtle revenge on all those dry-clean-only clothes I'm stuck with for Corporate Job, Inc. I'm glad I picked an easy pattern to get back into sewing, it will probably need a little off-pattern alteration in the bustline to fit me properly but aside from that it's very straightforward garment, just simple shaping and a zipper. When I finish this dress it will have cost me right around $41.00 including pattern, fabric and notions -- that's a fraction of whatever I may have found at Bloomies and it matches my little shrug perfectly! And it matches Soba:

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So that is officially as far as I've gotten on my progress for Wedding Attendee Dress #1 in Brown & Pink. I have a huge pile of work this week and with my current schedule I won't be able to get anything done on my little batik project for days. Knowing me I'll be finishing seams next Thursday night, the evening before I have to wear it! I'm happy with it, though, I think the final product will be cute with the sweater and my favorite pink handbag and my rockin' bronze summer heels:

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Didn't that picture look all fashiony and well-composed? Here is the REAL behind-the-scenes work going on at my house:

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Indeed.

And finally, I hope I manage to develop some X-ray vision for pattern-reading between now and next Friday....

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It is so challenging to read a pattern when it is covered in nine pounds of Sobakowa! How on earth does one manage to get anything done without a cat helping? I mean really now.

Posted by laurie at 8:35 AM

July 8, 2008

So curious

This little window into my life is like voyeurism and the reverse is true too: I am infinitely curious about your lives. I love reading the comments because it tells me a little story sometimes about people, how they perceive a thing or read into something and I can't help but wonder what lives you're living, how your day is, your commute, what you have for dinner.

My days are compact, tightly compressed little blocks on the calendar. During the workweek, I have about one hour and forty minutes per day that isn't dedicated to working, writing, working some more, commuting or getting ready and prepared for work and commuting, plus the daily stuff like cleaning the catbox and sleeping and laundry and general to-do list stuff.

One hour and forty minutes a day of "free" time just isn't much. But then one day I'll post a picture of a zucchini and thirty-six people will say, "Go pick the flowers RIGHT NOW! And wash them, stuff them with a ricotta cheese/goat cheese/some kinda cheese! Then carefully batter them in a light coating and deep fry them!!" And I read this stuff with so much curiosity -- it is totally fascinating to me -- do people really have lives that allow them such a luxury of free time to go outside in daylight and pick a flower and do all that prep and make a whole batter and deep fry something (other than okra! love my okra!) just for dinner? Sometimes the finest dinner I have the energy to prepare is a bowl of cheerios. I like microwaved popcorn, too, goes well with a nice pinot grigio. Anything more expansive means more prep time and cook time and dishes to wash -- no dishwasher -- and dishes to dry and put away and poof! Just like that my one hour and forty minutes of leisure time for that day is whittled down to fifteen minutes. If I'm lucky.

I've (mostly) accepted that my lifestyle is this way at this time, mostly, but I want to know about those other lives, this fantasy way of living where someone makes such an elaborate dinner on a Tuesday night. It seems like such a luxury of time! An abundance of living! Does it exist? Do you all really do that?

One day last week I had to drive into work and traffic was just crawling, inching along. I was listening to the radio and trying to put it all into perspective. I'm a nerd, so my perspective comes from statistics: The San Fernando Valley alone has a population of 1,996,347, which is greater than that of Boston (590,763) or San Francisco (764,976). That would mean driving from my home to my job in downtown (population 82,654) is like driving through three Bostons or maybe two Bostons and one Washington D.C. (588,292). The combined statistical population of the Los Angeles metro region is 17,775,984 ... so that means my boss who lives in the Inland Empire takes a metro train through possibly two Bostons and a Philadelphia plus a little bit of Chicago. This is what I tell myself as I watch the world crawl by. We tell ourselves a lot of things to make it all seem relative, or necessary or calm. Or useful ... or sane.

And I want to know about your workplaces which are obviously way different than my own. I want to know all about the nice gal who gave me the advice one time to "bring my knitting to a meeting at work." I am DYING to know where she works, what the boss is like, what staff meetings and annual reports and pie charts are like there. Do they have a dress code? Do they take work home? I spent last Saturday morning watching "The Deadliest Catch" while compiling the monthly analytics on my laptop on the coffee table and trying to keep the cats off my data printouts. Our dress code prohibits things as risque as open-toed heels for women. So bringing knitting to a meeting would be the career equivalent of stripping naked in the Executive Committee! Even at the less rigorously corporate places I've worked I could never bring knitting into a meeting, meetings are for meeting and working. So I have such a curiosity about where folks work and what their days are like.

And I want to know where you live, making those meals and living so easy that you knit all day! I want to know where you live so I can come to your house for dinner because the cook at my house is serving Cheerios again for dinner. Cheerios and a banana. She is really quite the gourmet.

Posted by laurie at 3:33 PM

Guerrilla Literacy

On Sunday I was out with Allison and Faith and we stumbled on what was for me the very zenith of my bumper-sticker-photographing life experience:

bumpercar1.jpg

This car was covered on all sides with stickers -- it was a rolling work of art! I think I squealed. In fact, I squealed then groaned -- I'd left the house without my camera or cellphone, so much thanks to Faith for letting me use her phone to take pictures of this car from every angle. We even met the owner of the car while I was busy snapping pictures (and trying to figure out Faith's bizarrely complicated phone) and he was so nice, he told us his car is what he calls "guerrilla literacy" because it gets people reading and talking and laughing. His name is Michael and he's a professional storyteller (how's that for a profession!!) and he has a website called HaveMouthWillRunIt.com. I thought I took a picture of him standing by the car but apparently I was accidentally calling Faith's voicemail instead.

This was my favorite sticker:

bumpercar-afgo.jpg

I personally call them AFGOs and I really don't need another one anytime soon! (AFGO stands for "Another F****** Growth Opportunity") Anyway, I loved that car. For me it was the equivalent of stumbling on a big ol' Christmas present in July!

bumpercar2.jpg

bumpercar-sulu.jpg


Posted by laurie at 10:40 AM

July 7, 2008

Monday and winners!

Thank you to everyone who entered to win the cool summertime SuperCrafty.com embroidery sweepstakes. Congratulations to the two winners:

Liz from "The Capital of the Confederacy (a.k.a. Virginia)" (I just thought that was funny, quite a location, Liz!!) and

Trixie from Anchorage, Alaska

Congratulations, you two!

Seeing that one of my winners was from Alaska I thought I would admit out loud I spent a fair amount of time this weekend watching the "Deadliest Catch" marathon on the Discovery Channel. I decided that of all the folks on those ships I like that crusty old Johnathan Hillstrand as my favorite. For one thing, he sports the mullet loud and proud. He also seems kind of goofy -- a quality I enjoy in manly men -- and he seems funny, at least on TV. I loved how emotional he got saving that other fisherman's life a few seasons back. He seems like he can probably fix things when they break and tell good jokes and hold his liquor. So he is my favorite.

I am also 100% certain it is impossible to meet a guy like that anywhere in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan region. This place is just ridiculous ... even your accountant is writing a screenplay and mullets have been replaced with male manicures and dudes wearing six layers of hair product. People don't fix things themselves, they hire out to hang a picture.

This morning I sat on the bus next to guy in a suit and tie who was reading a script. He had a better manicure than me.

Anyway.

Thanks again for entering the sweepstakes, congrats to the weiners and have a good Monday!

- - -

Edited to add: While I appreciate the concern in advance, I just wanted to clarify that I wasn't asking for dating advice and you can go ahead and hold back on that email about your friend so-and-so who is so nice and not married at this time and is awesome except for a slight problem with the law/commitment/substances/PTSD. Though I definitely appreciate your concern! I was just merely making an observation about Los Angeles. It's a funny place.

Posted by laurie at 9:59 AM

July 3, 2008

Happy July 3rd!

This morning it finally dawned on me we're about to have a three-day holiday weekend because I got an actual real bonafide parking spot at the park 'n ride lot (!!!). Right after I pulled into my parking space (!!!) another regular bus rider pulled her car in beside mine and at the same time we hollered to each other, "Oh! My! God! Parking!!" We were both so damn excited you'd thought we'd won the lottery.

Well, they say it's the little things in life that bring you joy!

So on a long weekend people usually ask what your plans are, getting away this weekend? Going anywhere special? But this year none of my friends or co-workers are going anywhere, I guess everyone is feeling the money squeeze. I'm happy to stay home and I already have a long list of things to do including wildlife photography (read: "taking pictures of the cats while they try to sleep") and cleaning the house (I have dustballs that have dustballs) and visiting my garden in the actual daylight hours. Who knows what the zukes have been up to while I was away at work!

I also plan to do a little top-secret work on this:

mccalls5137.jpg
My friend Corey said the pattern looked a little Holly Hobby-ish in the picture but I can't decide if that's part of the reason I chose it or not. Perhaps I still have a subconscious Holly Hobby fixation?

Anyway, I have no summer clothes that are cute and fit me so I have decided to make some. This started out as a budgeting grey area -- I don't want to buy any clothes but I have three weddings to attend this summer, plus I may want to actually go out one day between now and November in clothes that are cute and appropriate for the hot weather. I do have plenty of work clothes, but that's all business professional stuff and not exactly appropriate for summer weekends. And my office is cooled to three degrees above the "arctic" setting and while I'm not complaining -- I like it cold! -- my work clothes don't cut it in valley summers for weekend wear. I do have grubby clothes for pulling weeds and cleaning house (so sexy!) but nothing in my wardrobe fills in the gap between grubby and business professional.

So I decided I would make a few things this summer, as long as I was able to follow some self-imposed guidelines: only buy patterns and fabric I will actually use in two weeks' time, no stockpiling patterns and supplies for the apocalypse, and nothing with horizontal stripes... just on principle.

In addition to my sewing project, I plan to finish up a scarf that has been languishing in my to-finish pile since last November. It's a striped thing done in two shades of Paton's Rumor (to go with my mittens!) but I tried bringing it on the bus and it just sheds like crazy:

rumorscarf-shedding.jpg

So I am going to finish it up at home where shedding is the norm, and then I may try to wash it in the machine (in a pillowcase or something) in hopes of getting its hairiness down to a manageable level. Has anyone found a way to lessen the crazy shedding of this yarn? If so, please share!

I also have a cable-knit hat I made up using that same yarn and I might try to write the pattern up ... or not. I did some wacky decreases on it and I'm not sure I can remember them all! But it's a cute hat, maybe I can try to photograph one of the cats wearing it.

Also, my desk finally arrived last month and it has a file drawer still awaiting my files. I have yet to find the time to go through my files and figure out what to keep and what to trash (they're all stuck in a file box right now) and I want to sort them all out and transfer them to the new file drawer of my desk. I ADORE my new desk, though I won't mention where I got it since it was the worst customer service experience of my entire life and I plan to never shop there again, ever, As God Is My Witness, but the name contains "barn" and a word for crockery in its title. The desk itself is beyond awesome but getting it took two months, fifty-eight phone calls and finally an exasperated call (or twelve) to the district manager and finally the corporate headquarters. It really should not take that much effort to get something from a store in Woodland Hills to my home six miles away. Really people!

But now that I have my desk, I love it. I never would have dreamed of buying something this spendy, but I decided one day in a fit of inspiration that if I truly want the ideal life I keep picturing in my fantasies, then I needed to start actually walking in that direction. Meaning that if I want to one day be someone who works and writes from home and so on, I probably needed to pony up and make room for and purchase a desk I love and enjoy sitting at, just like in the fantasy future of my dreams. I used to use my coffee table or my bed as a desk-- seriously funky shui!

I tried to find a picture of my desk but I realized I only have one slightly askew image that I took accidentally while trying to photograph my first mitten. When I'm knitting I like to sit on this little two-seater sofa thingy I have in the office (it actually folds out into a single bed) and it fits me lengthwise just perfectly -- there are some benefits to being short! I can watch my DVDs of "The Pretender" on the computer and the cats like this arrangement, too, because that room has all the great windows and they get to watch the birds and neighborhood dogs walk by with their owners. Here is the accidental pic of my desk:

bad-pic-of-desk.jpg

And here is a picture of the sofamajig with my knitting and craft supervisor in his normal post by the window:

office-sofa.jpg

All this decluttering I've done is really (finally) paying off, because for almost three years that poor office room was just a repository of scary boxes and junk. I don't have a lot of pictures from that time (I was so ashamed of having so much stuff and it made me so anxious!) but here is a picture I found of what it looked like maybe a year into the decluttering process:

officebefore1.jpg

Even at that time the junk level had been brought down by a good 50%, so that gives you some idea of where I started when I first moved in. I've definitely made progress. There's still more to do but hey, if I had nothing on my to-do list it would likely be because I was already croaked! It feels good to know I've made enough space for me to take a breather and enjoy the stuff I already have and spend a long weekend doing crafty projects (room to sew! finally!) and seeing what Jared is up to on the Pretender (I'm halfway through Season Two now!) and grilling out some hamburgers and seeing some friends and enjoying a perfect, stay-in-town July 4th weekend.

Have a great, safe, fun holiday wherever you may be!

- - -

p.s. I decided to keep the SuperCrafty.com rockin' summer embroidery sweepstakes up through the weekend. If you haven't already, be sure to enter to win and I will announce the weiners on Monday!

Posted by laurie at 8:21 AM

July 1, 2008

Mitten Thumb Pattern Decoded!

mittens-done.jpg
I have mittens!!

These are the Super Mittens from the book Weekend Knitting. These mittens are knit with Paton's Rumor yarn in Duberry Heather (code name for "pink") and I needed one and a half skeins of yarn to complete two mittens. I used size 10.5 double-pointed needles and then at the very end of the mitten, when decreasing, I switched to smaller size 9 double-pointed needles. Same when decreasing the thumb. It made a nice smooth decrease.

These mittens probably took me about three or more hours for each one, but I am a slow knitter. Also, when making the gusset and starting the thumb stitches be sure you are in a place you can sit still and do it all at one time with no interruptions.

It's not super comfortable to cast on and knit that first row in the round but it gets easier as you have more fabric on the needles. If you can stand the awkwardness for a few rows it does get better! Ah, there are so many things in life that get better after some initial awkwardness....

Let's get to the thumb!


Super Mittens from the book Weekend Knitting

Even if you aren't making mittens from that specific pattern, hopefully this little explanation will help with thumbing. (Thumbing is totally legal in knitting!) So, when you get to making the thumb here is what you will have:

thumb-stitch-holder.jpg

A mitten body and a hole where the thumb should go and a bunch of stitches on a stitch holder. Since I made this pattern in the next-to-largest size, I have 11 thumb stitches sitting on a stitch holder.

But the truth is, this method works no matter how many stitches your pattern uses. You're going to have some amount of stitches set aside to make a thumb. Those stitches will either be on a stitch holder or knit onto some scrap yarn, and you have this gaping hole. You need to find a way to connect all the stitches, make a few stitches to cover up the hole and knit in the round. That is your mission, should you choose to accept it!

Step one: Carefully slide half your stitches onto a double-pointed needle, then slide the other half onto another DPN. (See, I can use abbreviations, too!)

Since I have an uneven number of stitches, I put six stitches on one needle and five on the other.

thumb-divide-stitches.jpg


Step two: Now you have the stitches on needles but there's no way to knit them unless you have some yarn! Adding yarn like this isn't really that hard. Just take the tail end of your yarn and drop it down into the hole that's about to become a thumb. I pulled enough yarn down inside the mitten so I could hold it pretty firmly in my left hand as I knit my first stitch. If you're worried about your first stitch being loose, you can always come back on the next round and tighten it up good. You will not go to mitten jail if your stitches aren't perfect!

thumb-join-yarn.jpg


Step three: Now start knitting. I have my mitten body on the right and my mitten thumb stitches on the left like so:

thumb-start-knitting.jpg
With a third double-pointed needle, insert the tip of the new needle into the first stitch between the mitten body and the thumb and begin knitting.

Just knit it right up! Knit all the stitches (I had 11 stitches to knit up.)

thumb-keep-knitting.jpg

But see how I still have this big hole where the thumb joins the mitten:

thumb-open-edge.jpg


Step four: Pick up stitches
This is the goofy fun part -- you're going to make stitches where none exist!! They call this "picking up stitches" or sometimes it's called "pick up and knit." I consulted my knitting guru, Stitch 'N Bitch: The Knitter's Handbook, for a full explanation. The author says that pick up stitches and pick up and knit both mean the same thing. But of course in knitting, as in life, ask four people and they'll all be experts with four different answers.

So all I can tell you is that for this thumb, you just make some loops where none existed and then on the next round you knit them as normal ol' stitches.

To begin, put a needle under a stitch on that open edge, wrapping yarn around the tip of the needle and drawing it through to make a loop on the needle (which you will then knit next time around). There is a great photo illustration at knitty.com and a video of this technique at KnittingHelp.com. And if the pictures and my yammering and the video still aren't enough, just try it yourself. I always learn best by doing it myself, anyway.

Ok, back to the pattern. It calls for three stitches to be picked up in this whole long area:

thumb-big-hole.jpg

But I picked up five stitches. If I only made three stitches for this wide of an area there would be holes and my mittens are not meant to be holy! I will be picking up 5 stitches and then on the next round I'll do a fancypants "knit two stitches together" stealth move ... twice. That will decrease me back to the required number of stitches so I don't have a fat thumb on my mitten.

That means: My pattern wants me to have 14 stitches to knit in the round for my thumb to be a good size.

I have 11 stitches on the stitch holder (and now on my double-pointed needles).

I have to pick up three stitches in the gap area, 11 + 3 = 14 total stitches.

But three stitches isn't enough to cover a whole big long gap! So I am picking up five stitches. 11 + 5 = too many! So I will fix it on the next round by decreasing two times. All is well in mittenworld.

So to pick up stitches, take an empty double-pointed needle and stick it under a stitch on that open edge, wrap the yarn around the tip of the needle pretty much like you would if knitting, and pull it though. Your goal is to get a loop on a DPN just like it was a normal old stitch:

thumb-pickup1.jpg

By the way it is really challenging to take pictures of yourself knitting. I am just saying.

thumb-pickup2.jpg

Do this until you have five loops on your needle:

thumb-pickup5.jpg

YOU DID IT!!!!! Pat yourself on the back! Place a marker on your thumb stitches to designate that you, rockstar thumb knitter, are beginning to knit in rounds for the big thumb finale. I always place my marker between two stitches so it doesn't fall off:


thumb-marker.jpg


Step five: Knit in the round
Now remember, on this very first round as you make your thumb, you will need to:

1) Tighten up your very first stitch (where you added the yarn at the start of this novel.) Just check it out so nothing weird is going on there, and ..

2) On the stitches we picked up don't forget to knit two together (twice!) so you decrease those five stitches down to three stitches. It keeps your stitch count right but prevents any icky holes.

Knit until your thumb measures the desired length. I definitely think it's a good idea to switch to smaller size double-pointed needles when decreasing at the tips of both the mitten body and the thumb, just like the pattern says. I switched to size 9 double-pointed needles on my decrease rows and my decreases are nice and round and pretty. Switching to a smaller needle makes your stitches smaller and more compact and the tips of the thumb and mitten taper real nice.

Step six: Wear mittens in middle of summer, making people think you are crazy. Dream of frosty, cold places to go on vacation and wear your fabulous hand-knit mittens.

Posted by laurie at 8:03 AM