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September 30, 2008

The Reincarnationist finds new life... in paperback

You have no idea how much I amused myself with that little title!

So last fall I got the chance to have dinner with M.J. Rose and quiz her endlessly about one of her books that I'd just read, The Reincarnationist. You can read that interview here and it includes a slightly tipsy picture of me showing way too much cleavage.

Now the book is out in paperback and two lucky duck readers will each receive a copy! Post something to let me know to put your name in the hat and I'll choose two winners at random. Enjoy!!!

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Comments are closed now, thanks everyone!

Posted by laurie at 8:28 AM

September 29, 2008

Looks like a Monday

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View from my office window. Looks cold, but it's hot and muggy!
Definitely not scarf weather.

Posted by laurie at 12:34 PM

September 26, 2008

The weekend approaches... need some rest!

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Sobakowa avec teddy bear....

Posted by laurie at 10:44 AM

September 24, 2008

All domestic goddessy and stuff

I am so happy that some of ya'll said you tried that Chicken and White Bean Chili recipe recipe off Epicurious and also liked it! I find that if I make a big pot of something on Sundays -- stew, soup, chili, rice and beans -- it's enough for lunch all during the week and paired with a wedge of cornbread it's a fast, filling lunch. If I can sneak some kale in there it's even healthier. Ha! Me and the sneaky kale.

This coming weekend (which seems so far away right now) I'm either going to make black bean soup with cilantro-lime sour cream OR white bean and escarole soup with garlic OR some variation of red beans and rice. I am leaning toward red beans and rice because I already have a big package of kidney beans in my pantry and some spicy sausage in the freezer. We'll see.

Sometimes I like to fool myself into thinking I am really cooking here... but making one pot of food to stretch over a workweek, is that culinary delight? No -- wait -- don't answer that. I'm happy with things they way they are. At least my lunch isn't coming from a brown paper bag handed to me by a McDonald's employee, and in my world this is progress.

- - -

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This is my favorite room of the house, the bedroom. At night after I'm done with dinner and tidying up and working and so on, I come in here and turn on the bedside lamp and all the cats pile up on the bed, they love this time of the night. I stretch out on the sheets and write in my notebook or read a book while Sobakowa lays on some part of my body and Bob wants to be petted and Frankie stretches out and it's the best time of the whole day.

The bedroom is very, very small, just enough room for a queen-size bed and one dresser and a narrow bedside table. No TV, no stereo, no phone. Just quiet and relaxing. Right now I'm doing the Scandinavian hotel room look with all white sheets and a plain white duvet cover for chilly nights (when they arrive, eventually.) Sundays are my favorite day in my favorite room because even though I still wake up early, I stay in bed longer on Sundays and all the cats snuggle in and I read or write in my notebook or do nothing at all for the first hour of the day.

It's definitely my favorite room. Simple and kind of sparse but really peaceful.

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Bob agrees.

Posted by laurie at 8:52 AM

September 23, 2008

Grapes for breakfast

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I don't usually capture Dapper Dallas Raines in a flattering pose, so here is he being all official and AMS certified.

And this has nothing at all to do with Dallas Raines or the weather, but have any of you tried the Rosetta Stone language learning program? It's a little spendy -- I usually get language CDs free from the library -- but if you truly could learn a language REALLY well (and fast) using Rosetta Stone it might be worth the steep price tag. I'm curious to know if any of ya'll have tried it and if you had good results or thought it was worth the money.

Speaking of foreign, which reminds me of traveling, I get the Magellan's catalog in the mail and I love it, it's totally like porn for the travel-bitten.

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I think these little shampoo sheets and conditioner sheets would be perfect if you're traveling with just a carry-on bag (damn you stupid liquid restrictions!)

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Then there are the magical packing cubes, best invention ever for packing a suitcase:

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Notice on the left that little gadget for weighing your luggage. That would have come in handy on the trip when I got charged an overweight fee for my bag. Whoops.

And since we're on the subject of weight and all, I know I am not a very light packer, I come from a long line of people who do not pack light. It is our way. My older brother Guy travels with his own Italian espresso maker. It's very charming. My dad travels with both a gas grill and an even bigger gas grill, plus a backup grill ... just in case. One can never have too many options for grilling. My mom travels with a pair of shoes for each outfit. I myself don't leave home without my L'Occitaine almond body wash and enough reading material for an army.

But I absolutely draw the line at bringing along the kitchen sink OR the bathroom scale:

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I don't WANT to take my "conscience" along, that's negates the whole point of going on vacation! That is just crazytalk. I mean really now. One goes on vacation to avoid things such as root canals, boring commutes to work, meetings at 4 p.m. on Fridays and weighing oneself. Jeez louise.

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Posted by laurie at 8:35 AM

September 22, 2008

Fall has fallen!

It's officially Autumn, and Halloween is a month and a week or so away. If you're looking for a fast little orange Halloweenish project, how about the Reversible Knit Halloweenie Beanie!

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The original pattern is right here, including instructions on making the curlicue stem. Go forth and pumpkinate!

Posted by laurie at 9:32 AM

September 19, 2008

That's so corny

I made cornbread and I declare, it is GOOD! In fact, I made two pans of cornbread (since I had the ingredients out and all...) but in the end I didn't use my dad's recipe because it called for more eggs than I had in the fridge. I went online and did some searching and found this recipe which we'll call cornbread #1, and this low-fat recipe which we'll call cornbread #2. I made some changes to the recipes and they both turned out pretty darn good all the same.

Mostly I added and subtracted a bit -- to both recipes I added in some very finely chopped red bell pepper, some finely chopped jalapeno (YUM) and a whole lot of frozen niblet corn. Yes, I added it in frozen and it was just fine. Each recipe was baked in a 9" round nonstick cake pan that I sprayed with some canola spray.

Here is how cornbread #1 came out:
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LOVELY!
The other main changes I made here were to decrease the oil called for in the recipe a little bit and I made up the difference with kefir, which is all I had on hand but you could use buttermilk, too. I also used plain unsweetened yogurt in place of the sour cream. I added in the red peppers and frozen corn, not creamed corn and, stirred it all in the batter (instead of layering it.) Um, I guess in the end it's a different recipe altogether! The first time I made this a few weeks ago I stirred in a big helping of shredded monterey jack cheese but I thought the end result was way too greasy so I left it out this time around.


Here is how cornbread #2 came out:
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Not pretty, but very tasty!

Cornbread #2 had a better taste (I think I put more frozen corn in it, so it was sweeter and also it was lighter in texture) but the bottom stuck to the pan. What you see in the picture is the poor naked bottom of my cornbread. I'd definitely make this recipe again except I'd line the pan with parchment first.

I followed this recipe pretty much to the letter and then I added in my peppers, jalapenos and frozen corn. Just dumped it all in the batter and stirred to get everything mixed up and then put it in the pan to bake. Making two pans of cornbread took about ten minutes total, plus of course the cooking time.

It's REALLY easy to make cornbread. I prefer mine to be savory with no extra sugar or honey and I like it to be 100% cornmeal (some recipes call for 1/2 cornmeal and 1/2 flour, which gives it a cake-like consistency that it not typical of Southern cornbread and isn't my favorite.) You can substitute plain, unsweetened yogurt for a lot of the fat called for in most cornbread recipes. I had a friend once tell me she added applesauce to hers instead of all the oil, but I have never tried that (I guess if you like sweet cornbread, that could be a good trick!)

Plus cornbread freezes really well -- I cut up one of my experimentations and froze it in individual pieces. The rest I've been having all week with this Chicken and White Bean Chili recipe I got off Epicurious.com. This chili is sooooo yummy! It's a really filling meal, perfect for re-heating in the microwave at work and goes great with cornbread. Not bad for Sunday afternoon cooking!


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Posted by laurie at 9:04 AM

September 18, 2008

Busy crazy week! Send wine!

Not much going on here ... just the catastrophic meltdown of the banking industry. Innerestingly enough the catbox still needs to be cleaned daily. And how are you?

Also! I talked to Drew finally yesterday and he is fine and his house is fine mostly but as his corner of Houston is still without power, he cannot actually update his website or you know, do anything at all requiring electricity. And I learned from him that a semi-frozen Hot Pocket only takes five minutes to cook on the grill. Good to know!

Since Drew has no power and cannot view the innernets I will take this opportunity as his best friend to share with you the Drew I know and love best:

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That's the man!

Posted by laurie at 9:06 AM

September 16, 2008

Purty

My Uncle Skipper emailed me a picture of his Texas back yard:

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OK I WANT TO GO THERE NOW. I love horses, I always have. Is there anyone else out there who was a horsey girl growing up, reading Misty of Chincoteague and Stormy, Misty's Foal and Justin Morgan Had a Horse. And pretending you were digging clams with your feet like Paul and Maureen and hoping you would find an island like Chincoteague and a horse like Misty. I think I spent 90% of my childhood with my nose buried in a book and my head in the clouds, imagining me at the center of the story and the story often contained a horse.

Now of course my story contains this:

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MAGICAL STACKING KITTENS.

Go figure.

Posted by laurie at 9:07 AM

September 15, 2008

Finally, the orange arrives.

The big ol' lumpkin pumpkin has finally turned orange:
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It's big and heavy and ugly. I adore it.

There was a small baby pumpkin that might have turned out to be a giant beautiful pumpkin but the gardeners destroyed the vines so this is as big and pretty as it will get, which is very lovely but not so big:

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The only thing left living that I planted myself is the pepper farm, because I pulled out my sternest and most offensive spanish and warned anyone who came near my dad's peppers that a curse would befall them:

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It's hard to see from the picture but that plant is loaded with little chilis!

So it's supposed to be 102 degrees today in my beloved little sweltering valley, meaning that summer is still on and long. I don't know if I'll bother planting anything next year. Between the gardeners and the desert climate and the fact that I have no time at all for gardening, it's a miracle I managed to get two pumpkins! Even if one is a little lumpy and misshapen and ugly, it's a pumpkin! My very first. Now that almost makes me feel like fall is coming .... one day.

- - -
comments are closed

Posted by laurie at 8:49 AM

September 12, 2008

Semi-wool socks: My first!

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What was in the bag? Mystery solved!


I'm not sure I would have ever of my own volition picked up some yarn and needles and started knitting socks. But Lark Books is coming out with a sock-only book next year and they asked me to contribute a little blurb about knitting my first pair of socks. Which meant I had to learn how to actually knit a pair of socks!

My first socks are a worsted wool pair of foot-warming stripedness (so useful in the Valley!) I used a yarn called Classic Worsted Tapestry by Universal Yarn, Inc., purchased at A Mano Yarn shop when I was there using my giftcard on my birthday. I thought it was very reasonably priced at around six bucks a skein, and they say it takes one skein per sock (but I have A LOT of yarn left over!) I've seen some sock yarns that are $20 a skein, and this one knit up just as pretty as anything twice its price!

I'll save most of my commentary for the sock book, but I will say that knitting those mittens a while back certainly made me more confident to pick up stitches, which seems to be one of the main troubling spots in something sock-like. I also used an AWESOME pattern, "Beginner Socks" by Knitting Pure & Simple, a pattern also purchased the same day at A Mano thanks to the wise advice of store co-owner Annette (thank you!!). I'm very critical of most patterns because I think a lot of the ones I've read are almost deliberately obtuse, using shorthand when real words would help. This pattern was very clear and easy to follow, down to how many stitches you should have on each needle. It is kind of rare for me to be loving a pattern (I'm a tough crowd over here in Gone With The Pattern land) so it was a happy day to find a GREAT pattern like this one, it is really well done, and perfect for beginners. Here is a list of where you can buy the pattern. I plan to buy as many different patterns as I can find by Knitting Pure & Simple, the way the writer explains things makes perfect sense to me.

When I bought my first sock pattern Annette helped me figure out the right yarn to use with it, this is why it's so nice having access to local yarn shops and their expertise. I can't tell you how many times I've bought yarn for a project but don't have a pattern or the other way around, a pattern and no yarn and then the project just stalls forever. Having all the supplies together at one time was a good start.

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Frankie likes yarn.

There was only one area where I got momentarily stumped when making these socks. With knitting I always find it's easier to go ahead and try the stitch or decrease or whatever and see if you can muddle through instead of freezing with self-induced Stitch Fear Paralysis. So when I got to SSK (slip one as if to knit, slip one as if to purl, then place the tip of the left needle into the fronts of these stitches and knit them) I had a little trouble envisioning how this would happen. So I tried it -- no problem slipping the stitches, it was the knit I was worried over -- and yet I couldn't figure out how to knit them together. Turns out that I was trying to knit them with the left needle instead of doing the knit portion with the right-hand needle, a feat only accomplished after visiting my favorite knitting website, KnittingHelp.com. I LOVE THAT WEBSITE. If you ever can't figure out a stitch, just go there and watch the videos, it's amazing. I wish the woman (or women? not sure) who run that site would get a million-dollar award, they have helped me so many times and I love those videos. This KnittingHelp page is where I figured out my SSK decrease, on that page it is called "SSK Improved."

In the end, socks are like all knitting -- what you make of it. I know some people are religious about socks and that is lovely, I am religious about champagne and good cheese and also potatoes. Well, food in general. I will definitely make socks again, though I think hats are still my favorite portable piece (turning the heel of that first sock while on the crosstown bus was a BIG mistake) and I liked how quickly this particular pattern knit up, worsted weight = fast! It's always important, too, to take the extra time in the very beginning and knit a gauge swatch (I personally like swatching but I am demented, or so I am told) and as I am always hopeful and optimistic with my first cast-on stitch, I usually try knitting my gauge swatch in the recommended needle size. It never works out for me, of course, but I still hope.

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Bus knitting.

This pattern called for five stitches to the inch and on the recommended size 6 needle I was getting six stitches to the inch. Up to a size 7 needle and I was getting 5.5 stitches per inch. At first I was dismayed (slightly) that I had to go up two full needle sizes to get my gauge right (from a six to an eight! no way!), but then I remembered I had two sets of size eight double-pointed needles in my knitting needle stash and it ended up great for me to be a SupaTight Knitter, since I could knit both socks at roughly the same pace, casting on the cuff for one and then knitting it to the heel turn (all easy enough since there was no counting) and then pausing. Then I cast on for sock two and knit the cuff and was able to compare my socks next to each other for a very close match in size. I know there is a fancypants way of doing this on one circular needle and so on but this pattern specifies how many stitches per needle using regular double-pointed needles and it's pretty step-by-step, something I liked and anyway, I already had all those size eight double-points. I don't think I'd ever used them before!

This yarn was beyond pretty -- I used color 7020. I'd make these again, no doubt. It took me a few days to make them both, because I am slow and I wasn't really able to knit the more complicated heel stuff while on the bus.

Don't know what my next project will be, I wish the weather would turn cold soon, a good chilly 70 degree day is what I need to feel inspired!

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Bob -- not impressed.

Posted by laurie at 9:51 AM

September 11, 2008

And the dalmation rides for free

A while back Faith and I were in Michael Levine's fabric store (BEST fabric store in all of the garment district, amazing, really) and I found this awesome, hilarious, unbelievable fabric of what appear to be ripped hot firemen in various states of undress:

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Click for a huge image. HUGE. heh.

And I really thought we shouldn't let such a quality FIND go home with anyone else so I kept trying to think of things I could make with this hot fireman treasure trove, as it were.

"I could make pillowcases maybe," I said. "Except what would male visitors to my house think of that? Is that off-putting? To see a girl with a herd of cats and some smarmy pillowcases?"

"Oh my God you should make curtains," said Faith.

"You think?" I asked. "Because... really...?"

"YES," she said. "CURTAINS!"

And we laughed and I thought this was a pretty great idea. Then it struck me ...

"Oh you know what!" I said. "This will be my big experiment with The Secret!! I'll make these curtains out of HOT FIREMEN and I'll hang them in my house and I'll look at the every day like a ... like a curtainy VISION BOARD and I'll wait and let the law of attraction -- and I do mean attraction!! -- bring me the hot partially clothed fireman of my dreams!!"

Then we laughed. Because this was FUNNY in the middle of the fabric store, yammering on and on about naked firemen and self-help in the same sentence.

And then it kind of dawned on me and I remembered who I am.

"Oh Faith I can't make curtains out of this!" I said. "This is ME we are talking about and with my luck MY HOUSE WILL CATCH ON FIRE."

"Oh yeah," she said, knowledgeable about my brand of luck. "You're totally right. See if you can find some half-naked men handing over Lottery checks or something!"

Ah my friend Faith. Ever the optimist!

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Be careful what you wish for....


Posted by laurie at 8:34 AM

September 10, 2008

On the road again

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Yeah, where IS Randsburg?


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I concur, Your Honor!


... and if this cat toy could drive:

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Posted by laurie at 9:29 AM

September 8, 2008

Cooking for one, the "I don't cook" episode

Ok, confession time: When I am in my kitchen chopping and piddling around and so on, I pretend I have my own cooking show. This is made all the more amusing by the fact that I am a pretty lame cook, do not follow instructions well and often think a bag of popcorn + a glass of wine = a good meal.

BUT, sometimes I do cook. I'm trying very hard to cook more of my meals these days for two reasons:

1) It's so much cheaper than eating out.
2) It's so much better for you!

When I fix my own meals at least I know what's in my food and especially what's NOT in it. I have a serious and long-term abusive relationship with fast-food and one of the real downsides to fast food (besides the fact that to me it is crackass addictive, I could eat it for every meal) is that is has almost no nutritional value at all and is covered in stuff my body doesn't need. One day I was eating french fries, my version of heroin, when I looked at a fry and realized I was inhaling them and they have NO NUTRIENTS. I'm not even sure the fries I was eating were made from a plant-based object.

But I kept eating them. They tasted goooood.

So I have to really work at avoiding fast food, because even though my mind says, "This is garbage!" my mouth says, "I like garbage! Put salt on it and call it a day!"

The weekends are my time for cooking and preparing meals. There just isn't enough time or energy left in me at the end of a workday and a commute to come home and fix a meal. So on the weekends I shop for a few staples and then come home and wash my vegetables and assemble stuff for meals for the week, lunches and snacks or whatever, and I also try to cook something I can stretch through the week, like a stew or chili.

Cooking is not my favorite way to spend a day, so I try to do a fair amount of cooking in my crockpot. This past weekend I cooked a turkey in the crockpot, so easy! (Here's how I did it.) That will make a good dinner tonight!

Another confession here: I hate greens. I know you're supposed to love and eat leafy greens all day long but I just don't care for them. I don't even really like salad very much. But I have discovered by accident that I don't mind kale (I don't want to eat a big side helping of it, but if it's mixed in with something else it's ok.) And I am therefore committed to adding more kale to my diet since it's about the only green leaf I don't mind eating. Thanks to reader Rachel who mentioned a stew made of chickpeas and kale and sausage... I went to Epicurious.com (my favorite website!) and found this recipe, which I made yesterday. Chopping the kale in my food processor was a real pain in the butt, there's a fine line between "minced" and "paste" and it made a big mess, so halfway through making this dish I did not have high hopes for it. But in the end it was delicious! I made some modifications -- I cooked my own chickpeas (not from a can) and I added about twice the amount called for in the recipe. I also used a spicy hot Italian sausage instead of chorizo and it gave this stew so much kick, it's really outstanding. I also let it simmer for a lot longer than three minutes. It was so tasty I had it for lunch yesterday and I brought it for lunch today with some cornbread.

The rest of my cooked chickpeas were used to make more hummus -- yummus -- and then I still had all this kale left over so I decided to make a more adventurous dish, mashed potatoes and kale. It's apparently based on an Irish recipe for Colcannon, which I had never heard of but I looked it up on the internet and hey, it's Irish! People love Ireland! And I love mashed potatoes, so I figured it was a good companion for my crockpot turkey.

I also didn't have high hopes for this dish but it ended up being pretty darn good, if I do say so myself. I definitely didn't add the whole amount of kale called for in the recipe but it still greened up my potatoes. If you make mashed potatoes a fair amount -- and I do, alas -- it's a good way to get some greens into the butter and cream. The potato is an amazing thing, it makes everything taste good!

I don't know about you, but all the success for me in working towards being healthy and taking good care of myself (ESPECIALLY with nutrition) is in planning ahead. If I don't spend Sunday afternoon or evening cutting up veggies, washing cucumbers, making my lunch, putting my snacks in little containers then I find myself standing in line at McDonald's ordering yet another in a long line of nutrition-free ass building meals.

And my mental cooking show is AWESOME. This past Sunday as I was standing in my kitchen chopping yet another onion, I realized I was narrating my every move in my head, telling my fictional audience whoops! Don't let your fingers get in the way! And I realized what a dork I was, running a cooking show in my mind when I am the world's goofiest and arguably least talented cook. But I was happy to notice I was content standing there, not resentful or irritated like I sometimes am when I feel pressured to cook a meal. I was just doing something good for myself, treating myself well by making a new and unusual experiment in kale.

That was a nice moment. The studio audience in my mind agreed.

Posted by laurie at 8:50 AM

September 5, 2008

Hot town summer in the city! In September!

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Hello, Dallas Raines, lookin' good my man!

It's going to be over 100 degrees again today. I know in my logical-thinking brain that this is just our weather, and September and October are usually our hottest moths of summer. But in my little "I want it to be THIS WAY" brain, I still think September should mean crisp autumn air and football games and new notebooks and a little bit of chill in the mornings, almost unexpected after the long summer. Tennessee has some of the best seasons of anywhere I ever lived, there is nothing like a September in Tennessee, and later as the leaves change and it's cool every morning you know winter is coming.

The best part about autumn used to be getting all your new school supplies. I LOVED that day. We'd go to the store and get what was on the list and then my parents would let me pick up one or two notebooks just for myself. I usually filled them all up before school even started. My favorites were the old black and white composition books because they were never actually required at any school I attended and therefore seemed somehow not childish at all, but they were harder to write in than spiral notebooks. I still haven't lost my addiction to spiral notebooks, I carry one with me everywhere I go. Lately I've found these plain spiral notebooks with a plastic cover, they're more durable and can endure banging around in my bag all day.

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(There's also part of my shopping list and a recipe for cornbread of epicurious because my dad's recipe for cornbread is locked inside his mind and he didn't pick up the phone when I IMMEDIATELY needed to know what to buy at the store to make cornbread this weekend. I just need buttermilk and eggs, I think I have everything else at home. Including his recipe... somewhere.)

Yes, even though it is NOT autumn and NOT chilly and NOT crisp at all, I am still going to make cornbread this weekend and maybe some rice and beans. My repertoire in cooking is pretty limited but I'm trying to break out of my burned, crispy microwaveable box and try new things. I'm also trying to sneak healthy crap like Kale into my meals and it seems to cook down in stews, maybe I can mask it inside some black beans or something. When I take the time on the weekend to do some shopping & chopping and make something nutritious I feel so happy about it, and then I'm not struggling all week to find decent things to eat and I feel like I am at least making some effort toward my well-being. Because it's not like the treadmill is exactly running on its own you know:

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Yeah, I thought that's how it worked, too!

Posted by laurie at 8:29 AM

September 4, 2008

I cannot imagine why more people don't want to live here

Yesterday New Jersey asked me to define "sig alert." I told him it means there's bad traffic that's worse than usual, like a whole freeway is shut down or something large is on fire. (There is a technical explanation but that is what le google is for.) I also gave him what I thought was a very valid tip: If you are heading toward the freeway and you see more than one traffic helicopter circling around near your on-ramp, MAKE ALTERNATE PLANS.

(begin scene, office location, very beige)

"Traffic is ruining my life," says New Jersey.

"Well," I told him, "this means you are becoming acclimated. It's like base camp at Everest. First you have to get here, which is a trek in itself. Then you test your stamina with the poor circulation of the major freeways during good weather in the summer when school's out. Then as you become more acclimatized, you're able to go farther and longer into the city without dying. Then with the help of a guide and a sherpa you may make it through the holiday driving season..."

"Which begins with Halloween," said my other co-worker. "Halloween is INSANE."

"Oh!" I said, "And don't forget about Daylight Savings Time changing."

"What does Daylight Savings Time have to do with traffic?" asked New Jersey.

"During the long days of summer and fall, people magically forget how to drive in the dark," I told him. "The first Monday after daylight savings time ends is like a traffic parody."

"Now you're just trying to scare me," said New Jersey. "People forget how to drive in the dark? YEAH RIGHT. Next you're going to tell me you have a terrible winter and no one can drive because of all the horrible poor little Los Angeles weather ... it never even rains out here!"

"Uh, I think I hear my phone ringing!"

(end scene)

Posted by laurie at 8:33 AM

September 3, 2008

Word to your fiscal!

Doesn't "fiscal" sound like something you'd need antibiotics to cure?

September brings me to month four of Not Buying Stuff. Ya'll may remember my mid-year resolution to stop buying crap for the rest of the year? You may be wondering if I am through with my Bloomindale's DTs yet. Well, I still have a ways to go until January 1, 2009 but I think I am making progress in my desire to buy less stuff.

The main premise of the resolution was to have a break from consumerism and buy only essentials from June 1st to the end of 2008. I decided early on that gifts for other people were excluded, as they are essential and I love buying gifts. And then about mid-June I decided books were essential, too, because I love books! I need books. So that was my plan and I think I've done fairly well with some little blips along the way:

1) Magazines. DAMN YOU GLOSSY TEMPTRESSES. Early on in the summer I bought a couple of magazines at the grocery store without even thinking about it -- didn't even realize I'd gone off my non-essential lists until I got home. I believe this is what they call "shopping on autopilot." Since then I've only bought one magazine, bringing my addiction level to tolerable on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

2) Clothes. I underestimated the amount of work I have piled up before me at all times and simultaneously ignored my labyrinthine commute while also vastly overestimating the amount of free time in my life ... and ended up with no lovely handmade dresses to wear to any weddings (PLURAL) I had to attend this summer and had to buy something on my lunch break one day. It happens. Go judge silently to yourselves.

3) However, have solved this issue by declaring I will attend no more weddings for the next decade (!!!) unless it is a direct blood relative who I adore. Also, in unrelated news, I am SO DONE with weddings.

4) Replacement electronic devices. This one is an iffy category, because it was an unexpected (and sad-making) event in which my ipod and headphones were lost on the commuter bus never to be seen again. To many people an ipod is not an essential and I myself tried to rationalize not buying a replacement, deciding I would buy it for myself (again) as a Christmas present (AGAIN.) But after a few weeks of commuting without my beloved cocoon of headphones and ipod, I was about thisclose to killing every human who breathed on mass transit in Los Angeles county and decided that as long as I am sitting on some form of mass transportation for almost four hours a day, an electronic happy-making device is a FREAKING NECESSITY. So I bought another one. This time, though, I bought a refurb model from the Apple store and used my rewards card for the purchase so all is well that ends with me not killing anyone on the bus.

- - -

And that's about all the off-plan spending I've done since June 1st, which is pretty damn good. I don't feel like I've been missing out on anything, to be honest I don't think I realized just how much time I used to spend each weekend driving a shopping cart up and down every single aisle of Target. Now I go to Target about once every month for just basic household supplies and I don't buy anything off my list. I haven't been to the mall in a loooong while. It's good, it's giving me the extra time I need to read all those books I decided were essential!

So far, the main upsides of my decision are time and cash. I haven't been spending like crazy so my credit cards are happy things, not crazy-making anxiety-producing things, and I don't feel pressured to go out to the mall for this or run to Target for that or go to Macy's just because I got a 25% off coupon. (By the way, is Macy's ALWAYS on sale? Half my recycle bin is Macy's fliers!)

From now until the end of the year I want to make a few adjustments, especially since I can tell with my automotive intuition that my car is about to need a repair costing one million dollars. For one thing, I'd like to manage the rest of 2008 without a library fine. I mean really now. And lately I noticed I haven't been really aggressive with budgeting my grocery shopping but I'm going to try to be more conscious of that in the time remaining here in resolutionland.

The biggest thing I decided to change is lunch -- I'm going to bring my lunch to work every day for the rest of the year. There's just not any time or energy left in me at night to make lunch so it requires a bit of planning and forethought on my weekends, and usually I do OK but lately I've been busy on the weekends (or not even in town) and when I'm not prepared for brownbagging it I can rack up $40 in no time flat just on eating junk in the middle of the day. I know that if I bring my lunch every day I save money AND I eat healthier so I just have to commit to planning ahead each weekend. I made a red bean stew over the long weekend that I can take for lunch each day this week and you know, it has kale in it, so it's not as delectable and tasty as McDonald's french fries but it's not half bad either especially with a big dose of hot sauce. Plus I averaged it out and this stew cost me about eighty cents a serving. NOT BAD.

Also, I made STEW people. That required COOKING.

So my summer of no-spend has gone along fairly well, with fall and winter still to come. When things feel crazy and out of control and unstable, it always feels good to establish a zone of control and for me it's easiest in the arena of finances. I've discovered through trial and error that the number one way to get on top of things is just to stop spending, even if it's just for one week. You can always use a budget (like my excel budget template) to track your spending and your income and see what's left over or where you need to cut back. But the quickest and easiest way I've found to get a handle on it is just to stop buying stuff, immediately. It's always nice to feel in control of the ol' fiscal health, and I didn't even need to see the doctor for it!

Posted by laurie at 8:48 AM

September 2, 2008

Back to life, back to reality (I am certain I have used that title before, but hey, I like recycling!)

Long weekends with a Monday holiday have the added benefit of making the following workweek shorter and ... curlier?

They seemed to go together.

Here are the astonishing goings on at my house of late:

1. I COOKED. Well, not really in the sense of "put things in pan and make meal" but I made HUMMUS which is practically cooking!

2. Except none of the ingredients had to be cooked by me.

3. Not important! HUMMUS is very appetizer-like, and therefore constitutes cookage! I opened the whole can of chickpeas entirely by myself, which means something.

4. Also, in tandem with my hummus-making, I single-handedly warded off all vampires for the weekend and probably whole ensuing week by adding not the required one but instead THREE whole cloves of garlic to the mixture because I thought maybe the recipe needed some "modification." Come here, let me breathe on you. It is lovely.

5. In addition to the cooking and elimination of all vampires in the metropolitan Valley region, I also made "crudites" which are not pronounced "cruddy tayes" like I thought (thanks, innernet!) and it turns out that these fancy -- probably French -- items are le carrot sticks, le cauliflower florets and le celery. I'm guessing with the hummus and the French vegetables I must be in Lebanon.

6. Bob eats carrot peels. This was discovered by me, Wildlife Researcher, this weekend as I apparently "cooked" my way to a big ol' kitchen mess. Begging the question ... how does one peel a carrot so badly that there are orange peels stuck on the fridge door?

7. Also, I drank wine. Possibly the reason for number 6, above.

In not-cooking news, today also marks the beginning of the back-to-school traffic season which my coworkers and I had mentioned to New Jersey a while back but he disregarded us and our paltry traffic wisdom and he just walked in demanding to know WHY PEOPLE DRIVE and WHY PEOPLE LIVE HERE and WHERE IS THE COFFEE.

He was a little flustered so we still didn't tell him about what happens when it rains....

Posted by laurie at 9:44 AM