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February 26, 2009

The email machine is currently working and other news.

This is the brief two-minute window of time where I actually have access to my email and the server hasn't crashed. Miracle of miracles!

Nancy from Ohio writes: Do you get scared traveling by yourself? What about pickpockets and safety of traveling by yourself?

Hi Nancy!
Well, definitely the most important concern when you're a woman traveling alone is your personal safety. That's why I've picked all relatively safe destinations to visit by myself (Western Europe, places in the states) and I haven't ventured out into more adventurous locations ... yet!

Once you've picked a destination with reasonable expectations of personal safety, the key is to not freak out and get get paranoid but just take normal precautions. I figure I live in Los Angeles and work downtown and I would never walk around lost and tipsy here at night, or leave my handbag draped over the back of a chair or anywhere unattended, I wouldn't wear a backpack on the metro escalator or carry my valuables through skid row. So why would I do that abroad? (Also I think most places I've visited overseas are way safer in general than Los Angeles!) When I'm traveling, I carry a purse and look at maps and I'm a tourist but I take precautions just like I would in L.A. I keep my handbag zipped up tight, my passport stays in the room safe (or you can lock it in your luggage back at the hotel) and I stay aware of my surroundings.

It's a little bit of a leap of faith, no matter where you go. It also gets MUCH easier to believe this once you actually go on a trip. It's the fear and anxiety beforehand that get you! Once you're there you'll see it's not nearly as scary as you imagined.

Holy Cow! I'm traveling alone!
- - -

Margaret J. wrote:

Hi Laurie! I've really enjoyed your last couple of posts
about Madrid. And phooey to the people who ask if/how you can afford to travel. First of all, it's none of their business and didn't their mamas teach them manners? Secondly, from what I've seen, 2009 is THE year to travel. There are LOTS of great deals out there, because even places like Vegas are having a hard time luring the tourists. So keep up the adventuring and thanks for sharing with us!

Dear Margaret, thanks for the note!
I agree-- this is the year to travel cheap! You know how some people go online obsessively for facebook or fantasy football or stalking? I am like that with travel websites. I have all my favorites bookmarked and I read travel news like it's going out of style and I watch airfares like some people watch ebay.

This year is full of crazy deals. This is the best time since Bird Flu to get a cheap ticket to a far-away destination. My favorite sites are CheapTickets.com, Kayak.com (check out their "buzz" feature to see flights in your price range to any region of the world) and for hotels I love LateRooms.com. I am the master of the cheap airfare ... my flight to Madrid was $558 roundtrip (including taxes and fees.) And my hotel was a great last minute deal from Orbitz.com. If you're flexible on your destination you can go just about anywhere on the cheap right now. By the way -- American just announced a big European fare sale, too. It's good for travel through May (usually cheap European fares dry up by the end of March.) You do have to purchase by March but that gives you plenty of time to plan a trip.

And the dollar is holding its own against the Euro for the first time in forever. I found all my meals and drinks to be really on par in Madrid with what I would pay here in Los Angeles, if not a little cheaper. And I always go to the grocery store wherever I am to stock up on water, wine, snacks and stuff so I can have a picnic now and then instead of full restaurant meals. Oh -- always look for a hotel that includes breakfast in the price. My hotel in Madrid had a GREAT buffet breakfast included in the room price. The buffet was stocked with juice, coffee, yogurt, fruit, cereal, breads and pastries and freshly cooked sausages, bacon, eggs and Spanish tortilla de patatas which was incredible. They served until 11 a.m. so for me it was breakfast and lunch.

- - -

Marcy S. emailed to say: I admire your willingness to travel abroad alone. You've inspired me. I've never been afraid to do things alone. I eat in restaurants, go to festivals, even travel by myself, but for some reason, I never thought of traveling abroad by myself. So, after reading about your trips to France, Italy, and now Spain, I've decided to start saving up for a trip to England. I will then go to France next (since I have an undergrad degree in French, I should manage pretty well with the language).

Dear Marcy-- thank you! The main reason I write about traveling and post pictures is because I figure if a big sissy such as myself can up and travel alone to a foreign country, anyone on earth can do it. And I can't believe I wasted so much time thinking you had to travel with someone! What I didn't realize is that I am a great travel partner ... I laugh at my own jokes and appreciate dorky signs and don't mind when I hog the bathroom.

The best part about traveling alone is the total immersion in whatever you want to do. You can sleep as late as you want or wake as early as you want. You're never waiting on someone else, you can stare at a Goya painting for half an hour if you want, you can eat anytime and any place you choose. I've discovered that when left to my own devices I will spend five hours in a museum every single day. I never had the luxury of doing that before -- anyone I've ever traveled with has been ready to go after about an hour. Now I can spend as many hours in a museum as I want without worrying that I am ruining my partner's vacation.

I've also started taking more super-short trips because I don't mind the airplane rides and I think it combats the loneliness factor. After about five days in a place with a foreign language I start to get lonely. I spent a week last year in Paris and I think it was about two days too long. Four days seems to be the magic number for me, but your mileage may vary!

Oh, and when I am traveling alone no one makes fun of me for stopping to take pictures of little signs done up in cross-stitch:


- - -

Angie writes:

Ok, please elaborate (quickly, I am leaving for FLA in 1 week) on these packing cubes, I don't understand how packing into something for the sake of organizing helps cut down on your luggage. My DD8 and I are planning to travel for a week on 1 carry-on and our purses. I've got the mix/match going, but the cubes, I don't get?

Hi Angie!
The cubes help me because it's easy to see at a glance what will or won't fit -- the cubes are space limited. Second, the cubes keep everything organized. And finally, and most importantly, they keep your stuff enclosed so that when TSA is digging through your bag you don't have them touching your panties and socks and it all fits back together like luggage tetris.

Before I bought the cubes I used ziploc bags, but the cubes are re-useable and more durable. You don't NEED them -- I mean it is absolutely possible to pack without them -- but they seem to make my packing much easier. I also use a 17" carryon bag, which is smaller than average, so every inch of space needs to stay organized.

Have fun in Florida! Take sunscreen!

I use this set of three cubes by Rick Steves.

- - - -

Beth writes:

Hey Laurie, I was wondering what brand of luggage you use. My husband and I are planning a trip overseas next year, and would love any advice you have to offer, as we've never been. Thanks!

Hi Beth!
The only advice I have with luggage is to buy something lightweight and durable. Lightweight is key because the airlines are charging you an arm, a leg, and a torso for every bag over the weight limit. And durable goes without saying.

A few years back I bought some cheapo luggage at Ross and it lasted me exactly two plane trips. So I went to a regular department store with a sale coupon and bought my one little Samsonite carryon two years ago. It has been the most durable piece of luggage ever! I have hauled it through the airports of the world and it's still working like a charm. I think for something like luggage (which you plan to keep for a long time) it's not a bad idea to invest in good pieces. But right now sales are everywhere, so I would keep an eye on your Macy's ads and even online places like eBags, which often offers free shipping. Just remember -- lightweight! That's the key!

The little carryon I have is kind of similar to this one from Samsonite. Mine was an older model and much less expensive but it's the approximate same shape and size.

Have fun on your trip!

- - -

Amanda writes:

OK, how does one work up the guts to travel alone? I spent a semester in Italy in college, but it was as part of a group, and since then I haven't even been brave enough to go out of state by myself - even though I enjoy traveling. I guess it doesn't help that I *did* meet one of those Italian pickpockets... Is it just one
of those things you have to just DO without thinking about it too much beforehand?

Well, I'm sorry you had a pickpocketing experience, and I can see how that could dampen your desire to travel alone. Or ... I guess you could consider yourself officially pre-disastered, since the statistical chance of you being targeted twice is very low. Right?

I think it comes down to desire and decision -- how much you want to travel abroad combined with the decision to just do it. And then you just do it. For folks with a lot of fear and anxiety, I would start someplace that you can speak the language (so if you speak only English, I would suggest the U.K., Ireland, Australia, New Zealand or Canada.) Then set yourself a budget and start looking for a plane ticket. And buy it.

I don't recommend buying a ticket for a trip months and months and months away because that gives you way too much time to worry and get anxious. Buy a ticket for a trip just a month or two away. Then get a guidebook, read about some good areas of town to stay in and pick a hotel. Then just go. Go and have fun. You've already been pickpocketed once so it doesn't have to happen again. You can figure out where things went wrong and change it up (for example, if it was a backpack, consider a purse with a zipper and inside zippered pockets and hold it under your arm. If it was a pocket, don't keep anything in your pockets. That kind of thing.) I don't think one poor experience should deter you from seeing the world if you really want to see it. In fact, you might even consider yourself lucky because you got the one bad experience out of the way already and now you can travel without problems!

And of course, some people have no interest in traveling at all and there is 100% NOTHING wrong with that. I myself would not go on a cruise for a million bucks in cash ... I am just not a boat person. But I know people who love nothing more than a relaxing cruise. Each to their own!

- - -

And finally...

Pamela T. asks:

Can you go for days without checking email or going online? How do you stay in touch with people when you're gone alone?

Sadly, I am one of the humans not yet retrofitted for technology and I can go for long stretches of time without even remembering the computer exists at all. But in an effort to not incur the exasperation of my coworkers, my family and my editor, I do try to pay attention and answer emails a few times a week. (Usually.) My email has been held together by gum and rubber bands for about two years and the server upgrade a few months ago wiped out all of my folders and filters and now it is back to being rubber bands, gum and now the occasional paper clip. One day I hope to be free of email altogether, but I fear I am the only one who feels this way.

I do stay in touch with my family and my house sitter while I'm gone. And I do it all with the world's cutest laptop. About a year and a half ago I bought the ASUS Eee PC, and it's not a real laptop (it has basically no hard drive and no DVD drive) but it's ultra-portable and it was REALLY CHEAP! I got this model for $299. They have newer versions out now with better storage, better memory and a better screen and they have a 10-Inch version, too. And Sony just released a gorgeous netbook of its own but it's spendier, at $899.

I use this little guy all the time when I'm traveling for staying in touch (I call my friends and family using Skype) and most hotels where I've stayed offer wifi either free or for a small fee per day. I bring along a little foldable headset with a microphone and when I call my dad from some far-flung country, it sounds like he's in the next room. And Skype calls cost just pennies (and they're free computer-to-computer.) This little laptop fits inside my handbag and weighs less than two pounds. And when I was in Madrid I used it to watch the entire first season of 30 Rock, thanks to my co-worker New Jersey who put all my episodes on a little flash drive for me.

(Knitting and watching shows in the hotel ... jet lag never had it so good.)

Actually that picture doesn't illustrate how TINY this thing is. Here's another shot while skyping with a pal, the little laptop is with my coffee mug for scale:


I honestly could not believe you could purchase something like this for $299 -- and that it would WORK -- but it's a great little machine and it's been working like a charm for almost two years now. The keyboard is a bit cramped and takes some getting used to, but it's fine for traveling and it's super durable. It also has a built-in webcam and great speaker sound. I don't work for this computer company or anything, I just like sharing a cool product when I find one. The newer versions of the Asus eeePC are on sale at Target, too, I've seen both the black and the pearl white models on display.

- - -

Ok, enough yammering on for one day. Time to go fill that coffee mug!

Posted by laurie at 7:40 AM

February 24, 2009

Mas Madrid...

This is the line to get into the Prado. Muy largo!

The Prado Museum is amazing. They have a fantastic collection. But no museums let you take photos inside anymore, even with flash off. Bummer.

On the street, I noticed this sex shop featuring American movies, and in the green lettering just above the word "American" in says "Californosa!" Nice. Our major export... porn.

Heh. The antique gay pharmacy! Yes, I am five.

I love to grocery shop in other countries.

Bimbo bread!

The best kind of museum: The Museum of HAM!

I spent several afternoons in the Plaza Santa Ana, it was sunny and lovely and one day this band showed up and started playing Zydeco music. Seriously.

I spent a day at the Reina Sofia, they have an amazing collection but the layout is a little like viewing art in Alcatraz. The coffee shop was lovely, though. A cafe con leche for one euro twenty.

I saw one of these in London, too, but the Madrid Church of Scientology was HUGE. I thought that was just an L.A. thing?

The Puerta Del Sol in the daytime.

Cute window display with a knitted cactus and a knitted cake. Actually, it might be crochet. Anyway, it was cute.

- - -

One of my coworkers stopped me in the hallway the day before I left for vacation.

"Where are you off to this time?" she asked.

"Madrid," I said.

"How in the world do you afford all this?" she asked, in a voice that implied I was about to embark on a three-month voyage to the moon.

"Well," I said, "I don't buy stuff. I don't buy anything really unless I need it, and so now I spend money I used to spend buying junk on traveling. I don't buy magazines or DVDs or placemats or trinkets or earrings. I drive a fourteen year old car. So my priorities are just different, I guess."

"Oh," she said. "That makes sense!"

This month I noticed more than a few raised eyebrows from people who had thoughts of their own about my travel plans, especially in light of the doom and gloom news we hear every day about the world spiraling into a dire dust bowl of despair. The news has affected me, too, even though I try not to let it leak in... more than once I reconsidered taking this little vacation. Was it wise? How much would it cost me to cancel the flight? Should I be spending anything at all? But I had budgeted for it, and it seemed silly not to go on a few days of vacation because of free-floating anxiety.

I guess I got used to living well within (and below) my means way before the economy tanked and I do realize I am very fortunate -- fortunate to have learned how to budget, fortunate be employed and fortunate to have the choice of saving or spending the way I best see fit. And I'm grateful for all of that.

But mostly I am grateful I finally learned how to make good financial decisions. I chose not to buy a house I could ill-afford even when everyone I knew was telling me I was a fool for renting and that I could qualify for a zero-down loan. (By the way, no one gives me that piece of unsolicited advice anymore.) I chose to drive the same old car instead of buying something new and locking myself into monthly payments. I chose to stop spending money on superfluous stuff a year ago so I could focus on experiences, not decorations.

However, I have to admit that the constant dour news about the economy makes me feel a little guilty, guilty for living my life when I know so many people are struggling to make ends meet. It's weird, feeling guilty for something that's not yours to control. I wonder where that comes from? Is there such a thing as economic survivor's guilt?

I didn't mind answering my coworker's question. A few years ago I would have been sensitive about it, or felt bad for what someone else saw as extravagance. But it's not like I'm having octuplets on welfare checks or giving my cats million-dollar bonuses on the taxpayer dime. I work hard and manage my money very, very carefully. And I believe that finding the money to do anything -- including travel -- is sometimes just a shift of perception and priorities. For example, the average American car payment ranges between $380 and $460 per month. I drive a car that is paid-off (read: practically antique) and I take care of it and use mass transit whenever possible to help my Jeep live as long as it can. Now, assuming I would have a car payment of $400 if I bought a new car, each vacation I take is roughly the equivalent of three months of car payments. (Hawaii in December was the exception, it was probably 4.5 car payments.) It's just math, you see, not voodoo. Money isn't magic and it's not even that complicated -- managing money is about discipline and paying attention. It doesn't matter if you've allotted the numbers in your budget to a car, to a house or to a plane ticket ... the key is to actually use a budget.

Perception is endlessly fascinating. For me, the very idea of buying a new car is terrifying. You have to make a huge decision on which car to buy and you want to make the right decision because you're committed to that car for years of your life. That's overwhelming to me. And you might have to haggle, which feels like Dante's seventh circle of consumer hell. And then you have this new expensive thing that you worry about, and you get paranoid about dings and spills and scrapes and all of it sounds awful to me. It sounds like something that will require research and commitment and cash and it makes me wonder if I can get another good five years out of Big Red.

To some people buying a car is no big deal at all. To them it's much easier than randomly snapping up a cheap airfare to some distant city, getting on a plane and walking around a bunch of strangers. To me, traveling is relaxing and I don't worry about the hotel because there are always other hotels, and I don't worry about where to go or what to see because there's always something to see. I put less research into my vacations than I do into my haircuts. It's just a few days out of your life when you take pictures and order wine in a new language and deconstruct airline food. But to other folks this idea makes them break out in hives of anxiety. So I guess, like everything, it's all in the way you look at it.

I'm not sure if I'll be traveling again for a while, the pervasive economic doom makes me feel like I should be squirreling away every dime. But it was a fun trip, a nice few days away.

Last night in Madrid. Adios!

Posted by laurie at 7:33 AM

February 23, 2009

Me gusta Madrid!

This is beautiful Madrid at night:



This is me in Madrid. You may notice I am a tad on the freakishly blurry side:


That's what happens when you have a crapass camera and don't really want to bother strangers with a detailed explanation of how they have to stop breathing and become one with the rotation of the earth to get a somewhat unblurred image. (I am going to buy a new camera this year. I can't take another year of blur!)

Last year I had so much fun on my Valentine's solo trip to Rome that I decided I should make it a regular thing, taking myself somewhere fun and far away on Valentine's Day. Madrid is beautiful and alive and crazy and delicious and it was perfect for a little getaway.

The first time I went to Madrid I was in my twenties and my ex-husband and I arrived in the middle of the afternoon and we stayed in a hotel right on the Puerta del Sol and I remember looking at him later that night when the whole world was walking by -- teenagers in groups with their friends, old folks out at eleven o'clock in the evening just taking a paseo, ladies with baby strollers, couples hand-in-hand -- and I told him I could live in Madrid the rest of my life. Madrid has an energy that matches mine, or maybe it's the energy I want to have, either way I love it. I'd forgotten how much I enjoy Spain and how great the Spaniards are, it's been almost ten years since the last time I was there.

I didn't stay in the Puerta del Sol this time since it has turned into the world's largest excavation dig :

The last trip I took to Spain was a long meandering driving adventure through the countryside of Galicia and the Basque area and Portugal, too. I knew I wanted to go back but I never in a million years dreamed I'd be arriving in Madrid by myself (and might I add I arrived with merely a carryon bag) but that's what I did and it was muy bueno. It's so much easier to be in a place where you can communicate, too, my Spanish is MUCH better than my French or Italian. I think last time I was in France I ordered a cheese sandwich on a grandmother with a side of boots.

While in Madrid I stayed in a GREAT hotel:
The Catalonia Las Cortes. Fantastico!

Minibar, nicer TV than I have at home, even room for a desk for my laptop. (King size bed ... you can kind of see the corner of it in this picture.)

The bathroom was really nice. I need a nice bathroom. I am prissy.

I got a great deal on the hotel through Orbitz.com, and this trip to Spain was about 70% cheaper than the trip I took to Maui over Christmas. I AM NOT KIDDING YOU. I was in Maui for about the same amount of time and it was twice the price of this trip to Madrid. (I don't think I wrote about going to Maui, did I? It was very pretty and nice but I had booked that trip way back last April before prices fell and I was locked into what ended up being a VERY spendy vacation, by my standards. Just as an example, my hotel in Madrid cost 1/5 of my hotel in Maui. Seriously.)

I know I've said it before but if you can afford it, this is a great year to travel and a great year to travel abroad. I got a good rate on the Euro and the flight was very reasonable compared to last year's prices. Usually when I travel I set myself a budget for spending while I'm there, and this budget is the amount of money I change into foreign currency at my bank before I leave for my trip. I get a base rate on the exchange so this works best for me (and I'm not paranoid about carrying money) but everyone is different. And of course if I need more there's always ATM machines. Usually I manage to stay within my spending budget, though. Especially when taking a carry-on bag -- no room for a lot of souvenirs!

By the way, I cannot believe I managed to travel to Spain for six days with just a carry-on bag. In winter. I never thought I would become someone who could travel light! I used to need a sherpa and a pack mule just for a weekend visit to San Diego. I think it was that damn book tour that did it ... after weeks of hauling around a suitcase the size of a Smart Car, I was exhausted by my own stuff. Now I try to pick hotels with a hairdryer in the room and toiletries so I didn't have to bring shampoo and stuff, and I packed clothes that all matched and were interchangeable. Since these people were never going to see me again I didn't figure anyone would just die of embarrassment for me if I wore the same red sweater twice.


The secret to packing light.... packing cubes!! I use three for every trip, one large one for pants and sweaters and two small ones. In one of the small cubes I pack undies and socks and in the other T-shirts, something to sleep in and accessories. I also pack a little cosmetic bag and in my shoulder bag I take my ipod, a book, notebook, knitting, and other stuff.


This trip was great, perfect, exactly what I needed. I haven't been in a funk per se, but close enough to funky to be icky. Nothing gets you out of your little tunnel vision like traveling! There's something about getting on that airplane and going to a whole 'nother continent and breathing the air of a new city that makes you feel alive. I guess it's because everything is so new all your senses are alive and on guard and you're awake. It's definitely what I needed right now, the right city at the right time.

I love traveling by myself. More pictures tomorrow!


Posted by laurie at 10:21 AM

February 16, 2009

Warm hands, happy campers.

My friend Corey and I have become obsessed with knitting handwarmers. The office we work in seems to be cooled to the temperature of the Arctic tundra, and we both like quick little accessory projects (I cannot tell you how much fun it is to have a coworker who knits, too) and after some trial and error we both decided a handwarmer is THE BEST project.

Honestly, it could not be easier. She had on her latest greatest invention recently:


That's some super-cute Lion Brand sock yarn. Isn't it awesome? She said she cast on about 42 stitches on a size 4 or 4.5 needle (but she said they're a little to big and she would cast on less stitches next time, maybe 38.) And you just knit in garter stitch as long as you like, and when you're done fold them over and stitch up the long sides making a tube. Be sure to leave a little opening for your thumb.

I made a really cute pair out of Rowan cotton, but I left them in my car so I didn't take a picture of them. But they're cute. Now I'm trying to find a way to make my own pattern for the same basic thing plus a thumb gusset. It can't be that hard, I'm going to work on some ideas this weekend.

The best part about these is they are so easy! Just knit a rectangle and fold it in half and sew up the long edge, leaving a gap for the thumb. It's like a scarf for the hands!


Posted by laurie at 7:41 AM

February 12, 2009

It's chilly in the angel city!

Do you have any idea what this mystical substance is?


That's FROST on my windshield. That is a form of precipitation that is in a frozenish state! I wasn't sure what to do with it so I took a picture. It is very weathery here in Los Angeles these days. First we had two entire days of rain (!!!) and half my office called in sick because of it, and then the temperature dropped and it's so cold. I'm not sure how we'll manage with our partly cloudy skies and frigid 57 degree temperatures. It is a real hardship I tell you what.

Oh, I haven't posted many bumper stickers lately. I saw this one parked at Whole Foods the other day:


It always amazes me that folks slap a sticker on a bazillion-dollar vehicle. Fascinating!

Posted by laurie at 10:22 AM

February 10, 2009

The linen closet. Possibly the most exciting thing since dryer lint.


Bob sleeping on his red blankie.

I bought that red fluffy blanket for Roy when he was very sick but by that time he stayed in his little kitty tent all day on his self-warming heating pad and never used the red blanket. I missed that cat so much after he died that I got rid of everything he'd used when he was sick, I had to let go that very day or I knew I'd somehow be locked forever in a weird place where I didn't want to be. The red blanket, never used, got washed and folded and stuffed away in the back of the linen closet.

My linen closet is in the hallway and it's actually pretty big for such a small house. I use the top part of the cabinet for linens and the bottom part for storage (tools, toiletries, miscellaneous sundries.) I have known for some time now that my linen closet was OUT OF CONTROL but I have done nothing at all about it except stuff more towels and pillowcases inside and close the doors. It's good sometimes to pull a Scarlett O'Hara and say, I'LL THINK ABOUT THAT LINEN CLOSET WHEN I FRANKLY GIVE A DAMN. Which I don't. Or didn't ... until I couldn't sleep. Then I was all over that linen closet like me on white Arborio rice.

I think I forget sometimes that I am just one person and I do not need 14 mismatched towels, eighteen sets of sheets and 22 blankets. After all, I only have one bed ... well, I do have a pullout sofa in the office that makes into a twin bed but scientific studies show that one can actually use bigger sheets and just tuck them in and apparently the law will not come to your house and arrest you for bad homemaking. Allegedly.

Part of this linen closet trouble started last year when I found a whole closeout sale on 1000-thread-count sheets and decided to stock up (that was prior to going all no-shop). My previous supply of sheets were 300 thread count (which were awesome right up until the moment I slept on a 1000-thread-count sheet and then I crossed over into a new level of uppity) and now all my old sheets have been relegated to the back of the cabinet in the ghetto area near the mismatched pillowcases and the raggedy beach towels.

Why didn't I just get rid of them? Why did I KEEP all my old sheets instead of donating them to Goodwill or something? This makes no sense, it is not logical thinking -- it is the part of the prefrontal cortex called the Clutterelis Unexplainedness. I am very sciency today what with my deep medical knowledge of the brain and all.

So the other night when I couldn't sleep I pulled everything out of the linen closet and stacked it on the bed in piles. I sorted it into basics: my awesome new fancypants sheets in one pile, towels that match in another pile, favorite blankets and throws in another pile, and "everything else."

The bulkier stuff, like the extra pillows, got smooshed down into space bags. Space bags! Why can't they make space bags for my thighs? (Oh wait -- they have -- they're called Spanx). It was hard to figure out what to let go of, but I did manage to pare it all down and I wrapped all the purged linens in two (!!) big plastic bags and sent them to the garage for Yard Sale day.

Then I put everything back into the closet:


Not bad for an hour's work!

For some reason I feel happier knowing that there is order and organization happening behind the closed doors of my linen cabinet. I have to walk past that linen closet ten times a day and now it's not nagging at the back of my mind, clean me! Help me! Free me of these ugly towels with frayed edges! Funny how clutter nags at you even when you aren't looking at it directly. While I was in full-sorting mode, the red fluffy blanket was out on the bed for just a minute and Bob started rooting around under it, then making biscuits on it and finally falling asleep in a happy round pile of cute:


The red blanket stays. It has a contented new owner.

Posted by laurie at 8:22 AM

February 5, 2009

It's very cloudy.... we know this much for sure.

The only big news in Los Angeles right now is the impending doom of RAIN!!! Very exciting. I can't wait to stand outside later tonight and get rained on while awaiting a bus that leaks and spend twelve hours stuck in traffic. Or maybe I am just grumpy! We're very busy at work. There are many art emergencies.

One of the best things about work is New Jersey, my new-ish co-worker who is one of those people who sometimes says the funniest thing you have heard in 22 days. I love people with a sense of humor, I think it's the best quality you can ever find in a human. That and people who have a good relationship with a bar of soap.

Anyway, me and New Jersey spent a good half-hour one day talking about our individual levels of OCD-like behavior. I am most interested in other people's quirks. People who seem quirk-free scare me to no end! They are the sort of people who email you asking for a detailed explanation of HOW and WHY you took a picture of an embarrassing ad on a TV if it was so embarrassing? They are the sort of people who need an in-depth analysis and fact-finding exploratory mission of a dorky elevator story.

[So, one day I was in an elevator. An embarrassing ad come on the TV screen. Everyone in the elevator acted like it wasn't there. I thought it was funny. I kept it to myself. We exited the elevator. Two -- or perhaps three -- days later I was in the elevator alone and the same ad came on the TV, and I took a picture. Of the TV. Using my cellphone which is why it has weird lines on it. I happened to have my cellphone open, I recognized the ad and I felt quite triumphant to have snapped the image but the mechanics of the picture didn't seem the least bit interesting or funny to me. I really only like telling funny stories, not logistical ones. Unless the logistics themselves are the funny part. Which in this story they are not.]

I think I just put my ownself to sleep typing that.

I've never been one much interested in in-depth factfinding. I love to make up facts! I make up facts all the time, usually about mileage, espionage and advertising. I think this is a very Southern quality, one which I am very happy to have in my genetic makeup. I could lose the inherent disposition toward fried foods, mind you, but I am glad I have a storytelling gene.

My dad is an excellent storyteller, and so is My Uncle Truman. My Uncle Skipper used to tell us tall tales when we were kids and with such a straight face you half believed him, no matter how fantastic or unreal the story. I think I miss the days when people didn't all expect you to have footnotes and detailed explanations and wikipedia entries citing all your references. They just laughed at your funny stories.

So it's going to rain today in the City of Angels ... that is an allegedly true fact. The city may come to a complete grinding halt, that is a sad but true fact. And there may or may not be a funny story about it. Who knows! It's quirky out here! Which is exactly how I like it.

Posted by laurie at 8:46 AM

February 4, 2009

Reaching new lows in the elevator

The little TV monitors in the elevators create unusual opportunity for embarrassment and discomfort. My most favorite recent moment was finding myself in the elevator with the SVP of Compliance while a particularly loud and energetic erectile dysfunction ad blared on the TV monitor. We both stood there in silence and acted like it wasn't happening. Fun!

It was the pinnacle moment of elevator awkwardness until recently when I found myself alone with the SVP of Corporate Security, a very nice and very professional man who I like and we were chatting and then this ad came on the TV monitors:



Posted by laurie at 9:25 AM

February 3, 2009


Yesterday I left work early with a sinus headache. I just wanted to come home and lie in bed with a pillow over my head.

I pulled into my driveway and there was Mrs. Lee, sitting on a footstool in the middle of her driveway, which is right next to my driveway, and she was surrounded by stuff, stuff everywhere. They've been doing something to one of their cars and for for days their driveway has been a playground for tools and wires and parts and junk. It's almost Southern. It looks like Mr. Lee's tool shed exploded all over the concrete drive.

So she was just sitting there with her headphones on, doing what looked like a massive purse cleanout in the driveway next to the spare transmission and spark plugs.

"Hey Mrs. Lee, you OK?" I asked.

"Oh you know, Julie, not so good." Mrs. Lee always calls me Julie.

"What's up?"

And that's when she told me her and Mr. Lee were not very happy and some things had transpired and now after 22 years of marriage she was thinking of divorce. She said she might move back to St. Louis and stay with her first husband. I didn't touch that one with a ten-foot pole.

I hugged her. She's gotten more used to me hugging, this time she didn't even flinch. I wanted to give her some advice, something useful, since I was the poster child of divorcees for several years there but I just didn't have any advice at all. Everyone's situation is different and everyone makes their own way through and sometimes I think the best you can do is just listen, so I did. And later I brought her over a bottle of wine and some oranges from my backyard tree. And then I went to bed with a pillow over my head.

I hate to think of someone being sixty-one and getting unhitched. I guess I still have some traditional ideas about marriage hidden in there, like how by the time you're retired you ought to have figured some stuff out but that's ridiculous, as soon as it crossed my mind I realized it was such a dumb assumption. Who ever figures everything out? I can't imagine I'll be sixty-two and have figured anything out at all. I didn't even realize there was still a part of me that expects grown-ups to have all the right answers. When does one even officially become a grown up?

So I guess time will tell, maybe they'll work things out. You just never know. Maybe she'll move and fall in love all over again and grow her hair out long and start calling people in St. Louis Julie. or maybe she'll decide to move back to Korea and she'll open up a big organic farming complex and live her life happy among the plants (she has this incredible garden in her backyard, it's magical, I'm not kidding. She has a green thumb and entire green limbs, it's fantastic.) Or maybe she'll stay here and they'll work it out and be happier than ever and get a dog. That's the thing about bad events, they always seem like the very end but unless they are the very VERY end, you keep going right through them until you reach the other side and usually something good is waiting. Or that's how I choose to see it all, anyway. Even if I do sometimes find myself in bed with a pillow over my head.

Posted by laurie at 8:59 AM

February 2, 2009

Civic Duty and Wildlife

On Thursday and Friday of last week I had jury duty. Jury duty is the weirdest assortment of people all together in one room you can imagine. My favorites are the people who magically lose the ability to speak English for the duration of jury selection.

By the way, when I got back from my first day of Jury service on Thursday I already had my first Netflix movie waiting for me in the mail. So I have decided to reverse my earlier opinion and say I'm impressed. I realize that my Netflix issue stemmed entirely from my envy and deep jealousy of those people who have more relaxed schedules and can work free movie time into their days without having to forgo things like dinner or sleep. I'm just a little over-scheduled, which is my issue and not yours or the Netflix corporation's problem. And I know this. And it's one of those things I'm working on it, it's on a list somewhere I'm sure.

I haven't found time to watch the movie yet, but I will. By the way, the first movie I got is Shirley Valentine, I haven't seen it in ages and they don't carry it at my local Blockbuster and I've been wanting to watch it (is it a Freudian subtext that the movie is about escaping the drudgery of your own life?). So yay for Netflix. I think the next movie in my queue is a documentary about Hasidim.

I am a class-A nerd.

- - -

Thursday started out weird before I even arrived at the Van Nuys courthouse.

It was supposed to be a good morning, where I could sleep in because I didn't have to be in the jury waiting room until 8:30 a.m., and the commute from here to the courthouse is about an hour and twenty minutes less than the commute to my office. (There's something very wrong with that picture, I know.)

Anyway, I was planning on sleeping in until the decadent hour of 6:30 a.m. (!!!) and taking a leisurely shower and having a nice cup of coffee while the cats snuggled around and watched a tivo'd episode of The Daily Show with me on the sofa. Doesn't that sound like a good way to start a day?

Instead, around 5:30 a.m. I heard a crazyass animal wail and all the cats jumped awake and ran to the back window, and I grabbed my glasses and tried to peer into the darkness through the window and see WHAT THE HELL WAS TRANSPIRING IN MY BACK YARD.

I put on my Uggs and turned on the back patio lights and stood out on the back porch asking, "Who's there? What's happening?" as if something would answer. And it was so dark that I saw nothing but I could hear these crazy animal cries coming from the back yard. And rustling. Lots of rustling.

Now my back yard is vast and wild. It is at least four times the size of my actual house, and stretches off into inky darkness that the porch lights can't penetrate. And any number of wild animal things could be happening, none of them good. The first and worse case scenario involved coyotes, which may sound crazy here in Encino-adjacent but a few months back I was out for my morning walk very early (before sunrise) and I saw two coyotes running down my street. I lived in Topanga Canyon for many years and I know what a coyote looks like, it was no little dog or strangely skinny German Shepard. You see a coyote once and you know. But I figured they must have been displaced from all the wildfires, that was back in November when half the North Valley was on fire.

So my very worst fear was that some coyote was back there with something. And all the rustling and noises were coming from this scary area:

Very Mysterious Backyard Growing Thing

But in the dark it looks like this:

SPOOKY Mysterious Backyard Hiding Place

And then I remembered that we have possums, or opossums, some sort of possumlike animals living nearby, because sometimes I can see them on the patio eating the Meow Mix meant for the stray cat who lives in the neighborhood.

So maybe it was a possum back there, I thought, maybe it was a possum having babies. Then I wondered if suburban rodents make animal crying sounds while giving birth. Which I can not remember having ever wondered about before in my entire life because I am not a great outdoors kind of person! I do not want wildlife in my back yard! Yes, I spent part of my childhood growing up on a farm, but we had COWS for chrissakes, normal livestock, and DUCKS and horses. We didn't have coyotes and possums and whatever the hell was in my current big-city backyard!

It was not a good morning. I was beginning to rethink my eventual future life plan of resettling somewhere more pastoral, like a ranch in the Southeast or some mountain retreat in Colorado. If I can't handle the wildlife in Encino-adj., I'm not sure how I would do in the so-called "pastoral" wild yonder. Maybe my goal should be to find an apartment with no yard on the beach in San Diego.

So I kept trying to shine a flashlight into the impenetrable murkiness of doom. I wondered if I should call someone. I wondered if I should make coffee.

Finally the sun started to come up and the sky lightened and as the backyard became more visible, I grabbed a big metal rake from the garage and crept around the other side of the yard to find out what was in the shrubbery. I walked as far away as possible while maintaining visual contact with the moving underbrush. That is when I saw a large -- REALLY LARGE -- gray furry backside.

"Oh my God we have wild boar in Encino," I said to the shrubbery.

(Obviously I am really great in the outdoors.)

And right then the furry best turned and looked right at me. And it was the world's most gigantic RACCOON. It had the perfect black eye mask, and it must have weighed a good forty pounds. I mean this guy hasn't been missing any meals. And just then something else rustled and for a split second I was afraid raccoons were maybe carnivorous and this would be something VERY BAD but instead out popped another black masked face, this one smaller and decidedly underneath the big guy.

Which is when I exclaimed out loud with complete shock, "OH MY GOD THERE IS RACCOON PORN HAPPENING IN MY BACKYARD."

So all that noise had been because some Rocky Raccoon brought his ladyfriend back for a night of romance and animal love. IN MY BACKYARD. In Encino-Adjacent!!

- - -

On Saturday when the gardeners came, I showed them the scene of the, uh, animal planet documentary, and asked them if they could start removing some of the crazyass overgrown ivy and perhaps cut back the amount of habitat in the backyard. I love animals, truly I do, but I can't live in the house that is makeout point for all the wildlife in the neighborhood.

I realize I live in the Valley and backyard aerobics is a billion-dollar industry, but I don't even have a permit. And the lighting is really bad.

Weird, weird, weird weird weird.

Posted by laurie at 8:24 AM