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May 28, 2009

Little happy thing

Yesterday my friend at work, Cindi, was chitchatting with me and I was bragging mentioning my garden and she politely asked me what I was growing and I told her about my vegetables in effusive, excessive detail. Then I also mentioned I had just about every cooking herb I could ever use or not use, depending on if you think a baked potato is "cooking."

So she perked up a bit at that last mention of herbs and pulled out a recipe she'd written down on a notecard and asked me if I had any tarragon... which I do! Lovely, aromatic French tarragon. And we talked about basil, which she needs one cup of for a recipe (and I don't have that much yet, it being only May) but I told her about my new spicy globe basil plant that's doing well and I'd bring her some of that, too.

So this morning I left her two little ziploc baggies full of spicy basil and French Tarragon. It made me so happy to share some of my little aromatic garden with her, I can't quite explain it.

(And after I snipped some sprigs for Cindi this morning I went over to my yellow crookneck squash plant to look at it in wonder. The little baby is still there and another on the way. Amazing!)

gardenmay28-yellowsquash.jpg

Posted by laurie at 9:10 AM

May 27, 2009

One day, one day ... one day

Right around this time last year I made my big declaration to buy nothing nonessential for the rest of 2008. I had all different reasons for this ... I wanted to get a hold on my consumeritis, which had crept back in since paying off my gargantuan debt, and I wanted to have less stuff to worry about and clean and I wanted to have more free time and more money. (You can read all about that here and here.)

A lot of folks were freaked out by my declaration ("What exactly counts as a non-essential?" "What about going to the movies?" "Why would you do something like that?") and some people were intrigued, and some folks placed bets on how long I'd last. But I didn't do it for other people (who lost those bets by the way!) I did it for myself and my own gratification. I revised my goal a few times, deciding books counted as essentials since I prefer to buy books and support the author, and gifts for others were definitely essentials. As for the real non-essential stuff, I had a few detours. I bought a bathing suit in December for my vacation, and I bought three sweaters and two pair of boots. That was the sum total of my non-essential spending from May to January, which isn't too bad in my opinion.

Of course somewhere around late September 2008, the markets went ass over teakettle and by the end of last fall a lot of folks started their own version of no-spend, either out of fear or necessity or dire circumstances. I felt really bad for the people who were thrust into budgeting that way, Lord knows I have been there and it's one thing to make a voluntary decision to dial down the spending -- it's another matter altogether to do it because there won't be food on the table if you don't. There's a stress that goes along with it, knowing you're rubbing two pennies together hoping to get a nickel. Having been at the bottom of that very dark hole myself, I felt it for others.

The one good thing I hope comes from all this is that people get the chance to see how truly little of their self-worth is wrapped up in purses or shoes or cars or even houses. At least that's what slowly changed for me the past four or five years. It's the reason I didn't care about not buying new, shiny stuff during my recent no-shop. For so long in my late 20s and early 30s I tried hard to keep up this appearance of someone who was "doing well" (whatever that means!) and all of it was a lie: the perfect condo, the perfect marriage, the perfect life. It was a sham. It wasn't delightful to move out alone and look at all my stuff, which I could no longer afford to house, and look at my bills that I had accumulated from all that junk. I was scared, and worried, and alone, and broke. But eventually (and out of necessity) it became very clear how little I needed to be happy. Healthy cats, a little yarn, a roof over my head, some Kettle Bakes, a bottle of two-buck-chuck.

Sure I like nice things, pretty things, tasty things. I love books and cute T-shirts and shoes, oh the shoes. And I'll forgo all that for a plane ticket to anywhere. But I think it's a balance, liking things just because, and not pretending they give you superpowers, or make you better, or nicer or funnier. Or happier. There's this story about a family who gets so excited buying a TV, and they think it's the greatest thing ever. Once they have a TV they'll be happy! And they are for a while, they watch the TV and dust it, and put it in a prime spot in the living room. But before long they're not happy with their TV because it's just a small television set and they want a bigger set, so they decide to buy one and think, "This is what will make us happy. We just needed a bigger TV set." And it does make them happy! Until they see how great those flat-screen plasma TVs look, and before long they are unhappy with their current big old TV set and need the newer, better, bigger flat-screen model. And then, then, they're really be happy this time.

I think about that story constantly. Even though I've found some peace and balance in my relationship with buying stuff, I'm still partially living my life on layaway. Dreams in storage. It's the idea that when I weigh X amount, or when I have X amount of money in the bank, or when I have a bestseller, or I figure out where I want to move, when I can buy a house, when I know more... then, then I'll really start living. Then I'll be happy.

It's all wrapped up, isn't it? I used to buy things because shopping was an activity and an idea that maybe this thing, this object, these jeans will make me happy, satisfied, confident, complete. And even though I finally figured out I couldn't purchase my happiness and contentment in a store I still even to this day put my happiness on a pinpoint -- sometime in the future, when I do this or know that or achieve this, I will be happy.

That's the real work for me. Finding contentment today, in the place where I am right now. Putting away the credit cards and budgeting and living within my means was a good step, no doubt about it, but I'm still walking through each day with one foot in the future, always waiting to live until I get there. And there never comes. I don't even know where there is! I think I've been hoping I'd recognize it when I find it.

It's in my nature to be restless and dreamy, always thinking of the future, imagining myself in a different life down to the shoes I'm wearing in that imaginary future. I think it's why I used to move around so much, always looking for something new. These days I have to resist the urge to make things happen just so I feel I'm closer to there. What I really need to do is be here, really BE here. That's where I am after all.

It sure is hard to break that life-on-layaway habit.

Posted by laurie at 9:01 AM

May 26, 2009

Let the squashification begin!

This year I planted little yellow crookneck squash before I planted the zucchini, and although I have never grown a yellow crookneck squash personally, I had great confidence that they would be happy and prolific like their zuke cousins. Look what I found yesterday:

gardenmay25-crookneck.jpg

Little baby yellow squash -- just three weeks after planting! Squash are truly amazing. If you can grow nothing and you feel farming is not in your future, try a summer squash. So little risk, so much reward.

And since squash are such prolific happy growers and they seem to like the scorching baking San Fernando Valley, I decided that this year I should grow my favorite squash. I like the little yellow ones and I'm OK with zucchini, but it's not my favorite by a long shot. My favorites are the perfect, rounded scallop-edged pattypan squash. I love them best rolled in cornmeal and fried like okra -- serve with some sliced cold tomatoes and that is a perfect summer dinner! So I planted two pattypan squash plants in large pots, since my Rodale's Organic Gardening
book says this variety are compact enough for containers. I love my container gardening!

gardenmay25-pattypan.jpg
Pattypan squash seedlings. Grow!

My raised bed garden is growing happily along:

gardenmay25-raisedbed.jpg

And even though I had zero expectation of my little corn/pumpkin patch, seeing as how I basically dumped some dirt on the ground and called it a day, my cornfield and pumpkin patch is growing like gangbusters, if gangbusters were green and leafy:

gardenmay25-cornfield.jpg

My pumpkin is even producing babies already!
gardenmay25-babypumpkin.jpg
Grow, little fellow. Grow big and round.

Who would have thunk it? And the little pumpkin seedlings in the corner box are growing, too:

gardenmay25-cornerpumpkin.jpg
I shall have a pumpkin windfall this year!

My favorite herb right now is this spicy globe basil that has taken off and it smells SO GOOD:
gardenmay25-spicybasil.jpg


I realized too late that I forgot to take a picture of the kitchen garden over by the garage door. The chili pepper plants have completely exploded into giant chili pepper bushes! They've grown at least two feet in the past three weeks. I guess they enjoyed the fertilizer! I'll have to take pictures later in the week ... no flowers on them yet, though. The nights are still cool here, down into the 50s and 60s, and the pepper plants don't seem to flower until nighttime temperatures are in the high 60s.

Finally, my upside-down planting experiment is science gone right -- so far. I worried at first because the little stems and leaves were curling upward and nothing seemed to be growing. It took a few weeks, but the upside-down topsy turvy cucumber is the BEST looking cucumber plant I've grown to date. The picture didn't come out well, but it's happily vining along.

The topsy-turvy tomatoes are lush! My cherry tomato plant is growing and even has little yellow flowers:

gardenmay25-topsycherry.jpg

And the Roma tomato is lush and lovely dark green and the stem is so thick and healthy:

gardenmay25-topsyroma.jpg

I'm beginning to think I may actually get a whole tomato out of this year's garden! I always plant a tomato seedling or two and I have yet to harvest an actual real red tomato. I've harvested zucchini that weigh 22 pounds, but nary a tomato has burst forth from my garden. I came close one year and I got a single green cherry tomato which promptly shriveled and died in a valley heatwave. One year I had tomatoes by proxy, a coworker whose thumbs are greener than mine had big, juicy perfect tomatoes and I begged her to bring me some green tomatoes, which she thought was crazy but obliged me and I made some fried green tomatoes, harbinger of summer. YUM. But I have not actually grown my own red (or green) tomatoes.

This may be the year, folks. This may be my tomato year.

Posted by laurie at 10:07 AM

May 22, 2009

Friday! The end of the 405 will come, soon.

The email I've gotten recently has been fascinating. It's like a litmus test in reverse, via email. Or maybe Rorschach blots... each person sees something different, based on how their brain works and what's going on in their lives.

With me, all Rorschach blots look like soft beds where you can sleep a full six hours. I'm busy, and a little sleep-deprived so snoozing sounds great. All week I've been taking a class down by the airport which entails driving two hours each way. That's four hours of sitting on the freeway (in my car, not on the bus), with seven hours in between of filling the brain with code. During class breaks I try to catch up on emails for both my job and my other job. At home, I try to remember to feed everyone and scoop the box and wear something clean and maybe if there's time water the plants. I have a manuscript rewrite that's past due and at the bottom of the pile of to-do's there's this website which gets the dregs of my 6 a.m. one or two paragraph blurts.

A diary like this one is a lot like a photo album. Or, more accurately, it's like a stranger's photo album, and you turn the pages and see a picture here, a smile there, a cake with a candle, a vacation shot, a self-portrait.

And the person who is flipping through the pages looking at some stranger's life fills in the in-between parts with their own ideas, maybe draws some conclusions. But you don't see a snapshot of every minute of every day (and who would want to? this is why I still haven't wrapped my mind around twitter) so it's easy to make assumptions or create a storyline. Except those assumptions are yours and have nothing to do with the person in the photo album. The storyline you create based on a few snapshots probably won't look much like the real movie.

I don't know why that fascinates me but it does! Myself, I love to people watch and I'll make up stories for the people who walk by, I like to "guess" their occupation, their hometown, their secret dreams. It's just for fun.

So this busy, busy week I decided to write little paragraphs here and there instead of leaving the page blank -- little snapshots -- and I've gotten the strangest and funniest email. People wondering if I was going through a terrible emotional break up (no, I'm fine), folks wondering if I was changing jobs (not that I'm aware of), and people letting me know there are support groups for both my spider and earthquake fears (thanks, I'm OK). It's always illuminating to see how something you think is tiny and unremarkable sparks something wholly unexpected in someone else.

Oh, and this has nothing to do with anything but I drank so much peppermint tea yesterday in class that at the end of the day my pee was minty fresh. Wee!


Posted by laurie at 9:06 AM

May 21, 2009

Maybe it comes with some Cracker Jack

I wish I had a decoder ring for my life. It would help me figure out which way to turn next, and what would make me happy, and how to handle yucky situations and who's telling the truth. It might also predict the weather, although that isn't a requirement. It would be a sure-fire bullshit detector and would warn me of impending tragedy.

My special Life Decoder Ring would never lead me astray. It would let me know when I'm making a bad decision (or a good one) and would magically alert me when I've reached my fat consumption for the day. It would be like a psychic palm pilot in an emerald cut, 24-karat gold setting.

If you stumble upon one, please let me know.

Posted by laurie at 6:23 AM

May 20, 2009

I was not alone in the shower.

I just took a shower with a spider.

It was not intentional, of course, and only people who share my irrational and completely unfounded fear of spiders will understand my reaction. I screamed like a little girl. Because that's what creatures who are over 5 feet tall and weigh ... rather a lot ... do when they see tiny little insects that could be easily squashed but yet hold a terrifying power over humanity. We lose all sense of reason and huddle far away (while still being able to keep a keen eye on the dreaded creature) and we whimper and cringe. It's very normal, I'm sure.

So there I was, alone in the shower with The Enemy, and he was near the drain and struggling mightily not to be sucked down with the shampoo and water. I splashed water at him, but still it took a while for him to spiral down, and then I felt an immediate sense of sadness. Had he suffered much? Was it inhumane of me to let him drown? Did he have a name? Couldn't I have been at least brave enough to squash him with the soap and spare him the pain of drowning?

It was then I realized I have slipped off the shelf of anxiety and landed squarely in the realm of the utterly insane. Perhaps it's a sign to get more sleep, or eat more carbs, or do something, anything, before I start naming the dust balls in the dark recesses of the kitchen and communing with my belly button.

Posted by laurie at 6:44 AM

May 19, 2009

Ok, enough!

All this week I'm taking a software class at a training facility that's practically sitting on a runway at LAX. In other words, it's close to the airport. The building is in Inglewood and the class is on the 12th floor of a high rise.

Today we were in class and the monitors started shaking and there was another jolt! and some rumbling. The instructor said, "We are either taking off, or there's an earthquake..."

Yet another one! This time I was sitting right on top of it, rolling, rolling. Delightful! When the class let out at the end of the day everyone fled to their cars, away from the scene of the quake. The girl in the ticket booth at the parking garage was completely freaked out, she told me she's from Detroit and she's decided to move back. Today.

Personally, I have decided that when the earth moves I prefer to be at home. And I prefer it in the figurative sense with some Gilles Marini/Jason Bourne character who is shirtless if you know what I mean and I think you do. Enough with this literal earth shaking! Let the sweaty figurative earth shaking commence!

Posted by laurie at 5:42 PM

May 17, 2009

Shaker? I don't even know her...

We just had a jolt, this was a big one. I was standing in the kitchen packing grapes for my lunchbox and I think I heard it before I felt it, at the very beginning I didn't realize it was an earthquake then it hit. And then we rolled.

All the glasses and mugs above the sink rattled, clinking together, and I dropped the grapes in the sink and went to stand in the living room where there's less glass. Just in case. And it lasted longer than any quake we've had in years. I have news radio on right now, they're saying it was a 5.0 centered in south Los Angeles, which is just down the 405 from here. (The USGS always seems to downgrade it after the initial assessment, by the time you read this maybe it was a 4.7 or 4.8).

We've had almost a decade of relative quiet and just this past year they've started, little jolts here and there and then one fairly strong shaker back in July but this one was different. Maybe because I was home alone and it's night, or maybe because it lasted so long. It was one of those things that had you wondering if it was going to intensify, if this was the one.

Then it ended, and I realized my hands were shaking and my heart was beating fast! Maybe I am my own personal Richter Scale... anything close to a five and I get skeered. I wonder if that counts as cardio?

Posted by laurie at 8:49 PM

May 14, 2009

Thursday?

I've been sick and even typing makes my head hurt. But I'm not above snapping a picture in the parking lot at Dr. Feelgood's office...

bumper-minds.jpg

Posted by laurie at 10:27 AM

May 11, 2009

Grow, grow ... faster!

It's Monday, which means Garden Update. I am sure it is scintillating, what with everything being two weeks in the ground and me photographing their every new leaf.

But look... the pumpkin LOVES the miniature raised bed garden! It's now twice the size it was last week!

gardenmay11-pumpkin.jpg

The brilliant blue jay-like bird which I call a Blue Jay and 37 readers emailed to let me know it is a Western Scrub Jay stopped by to say hey. He loves hanging out with his friends in the yard and harassing the squirrel. I have decided to clear up the naming confusion and call him Gomez. He just looks like a Gomez. Except there are many many Gomez birds in my yard now that they have trained me to fetch them peanuts and birdseed. I have a fleet of Gomez birds.

garden09-gomez.jpg

Now for the Topsy-Turvy update. Ya'll, it is WEIRD. See, in the pictures on the Topsy-Turvy box the plants grow lush and happy in a downward cascade of leaves and fruit. But in my yard, the little tomato seedlings are struggling to grow upward, like they are really not loving being upside down and their genetic memory is reaching for the world of normalcy where tomatoes grow upright and roots are at the bottom. I don't know, it seems wrong somehow!

Cherry tomato:
gardenmay11-topsytomato.jpg


Roma tomato:
gardenmay11-topsyroma.jpg

You can see in that picture how some of the leaves that get the most direct sunlight crisped right up last week. It's the valley. It was 100 degrees a few days in a row. Which also means I had my first garden fatality:

gardenmay11-joecuke.jpg

It was just too damn hot for the cucumber in the Back 40. I'll replant that spot with a crookneck squash or something that likes heat. What's most fascinating in my garden of eatin' this year is that the only cucumber that seems even remotely happy is the one hanging upside down!

gardenmay11-topsycuke.jpg
This is the best result I've had with a cucumber plant maybe ever, so I am sticking with it. It's all for science!

The "Heatwave" variety of tomato seeding is still living out in the raised bed garden and it hasn't been even close to hot weather here yet (two measly 100-degree days is just a little foreshadowing) so only time will tell if he can withstand the infernal valley summers.

One plant that has shocked me is the little chili pepper plant in my kitchen garden. This is one of the heirloom chili peppers my dad brought me and planted from a seedling. I've had it for two years or so now and this winter I cut it all the way back to the roots. It started leafing out a month or two ago, but once I added some richer material to the soil and mulched it went CRAZY:

gardenmay11-kitchen.jpg

It's taking over the herbs. Funny!

Speaking of herbs ... last night my mom and I were on the phone talking about happy little things. She was telling me about this pretty ceramic planter she and my dad had found a few days ago and how she'd filled it with a gorgeous red geranium and every time she looked at it she felt happy. Just a little happy thing.

So I told her my little happy thing: Yesterday I was making my own salad dressing -- squeeze and zest a few lemons, add olive oil, salt and pepper and stir -- and usually I would add some spices from my cabinet. But I remembered I have this awesome fresh herb garden outside and I went out to the patio with my kitchen scissors and snipped a little French tarragon, a sprig of marjoram and several stems of fragrant thyme. It made me ridiculously happy to chop them up and add them to my vinaigrette.

It's the little things!

Posted by laurie at 1:48 AM

May 8, 2009

We're Number One! Yay?

Forbes Magazine just released their annual list of the most expensive places to live in the United States. Guess who tops the list? Ah yes, Los Angeles. Home of the crazy.

Here's the full list:

Forbes: Top 20 America's Most Overpriced Cities

- No. 1: Los Angeles, Calif.
- No. 2: Chicago, Ill.
- No. 3: Miami, Fla.
- No. 4: New York, N.Y.
- No. 5: Providence, R.I.
- No. 6: Riverside, Calif.
- No. 7: Long Island, N.Y.
- No. 8: Cleveland, Ohio
- No. 9 (tie): Newark, N.J.
- No. 9 (tie): San Diego, Calif.
- No. 11: Philadelphia, Pa.
- No. 12: Portland, Ore.
- No. 13 (tie): Tampa, Fla.
- No. 13 (tie): Memphis, Tenn.
- No. 15: Orlando, Fla.
- No. 16: St. Louis, Mo.
- No. 17: Jacksonville, Fla.
- No. 18: San Francisco, Calif.
- No. 19 (tie): Warren, Mich.
- No. 19 (tie): Boston, Mass.
[Taken from this article, opens in a new window]

I don't know whether to feel proud or to hide beneath my desk. I think I'm just going to have some coffee and think about the orange I'm having for dessert tonight when I get home, I picked it from my tree, the very last orange of the season. I let it stay on the tree as long as possible to see how big it would get. It's huge!

last-orange.jpg

One perfect California orange. Well worth the price of admission.
Have a great weekend!!

Posted by laurie at 9:14 AM

May 6, 2009

If Only Life Were A Musical

Now that I am all the way across the building, Corey and I can no longer chitchat freely so occasionally we have to use the corporate closed-channel IM, which is moderately creepy because someone somewhere in the building sits and reads all the IMs to be sure we're not being humorous or having any fun. It's the corporate version of domestic wiretapping. Luckily, we're two fairly tame renegades, and neither one of us has much time for instant messaging.

But a few days ago we were messaging back and forth about an Excel spreadsheet problem (scintillating!) and that was when I discovered Corey is someone who completely gets my "If life were a musical..." train of thought! I just think life would be better if it were a musical, with ordinary people in ordinary situations suddenly breaking into song and dance:

[ imagine a few boring lines about spreadsheets]
[ not going to repeat them here]
[ too mind-numbingly dull]

corey: 
I think someone should do a skit that is just IM text. It's OK to read, but can you imagine if we talked like this?

laurie:
OMG great idea
laurie:
we should make it a musical

corey:
The musical of lost conversation threads
corey:
That's a job for Stephen Sondheim

laurie:
I wish real life were a musical
like at the book fair we would have all broken into song
and yesterday we would be like the factory scene from Carmen

corey:
Several folks did start singing at the book fair once the Ella started playing
corey:
Have you seen that YouTube of the Antwerp train station?

So she sent me the video below, which of course was blocked at work but I went home at watched it and about peed my pants with glee. (Glee! The new pee!) It made me so happy I squealed like a little child and must have watched it eleventeen times:

Oh, if only life were a musical! Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start!

Posted by laurie at 8:22 AM

May 5, 2009

Cinco de Mayonnaise

I can't believe it's already May. It's practically summer. I'm not ready for summer! Make it stop!

bumper-driving.jpg
Not as funny as if you could read the stickers yourself ...

Posted by laurie at 9:06 AM