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October 30, 2009

Shake shake shake your little red handknit Mary Jane booties!

We're only now getting around to having the baby shower for the coworker that I made my first-ever sweater for. I already blabbered on and on about the sweater here, but to go with it I also made the cutest knitted shoes EVER! If I do say so myself.

I did however neglect to block them, so I stuffed them with tissue paper instead. Ah, it happens.



I am IN LOVE with this pattern, it's the Tiny Shoes pattern from Ysolda. When I ordered it the charge to my paypal account was $3.40 (that's the conversion from the British pound) and it is SO worth it! This is another very well-written pattern, easy to follow for those at the advanced beginner or intermediate skill level. I don't want to discourage anyone from knitting anything they want but for me personally I wouldn't have felt able to knit these when I was a beginner. Everyone is different, though. They're just the cutest things ever. I keep looking at these tiny little red Mary Janes and wondering how I can manipulate the pattern to fit me!

These are another pair of booties knit in the round, this time using size 4 double-pointed needles and the little bit of Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino I had left over from the sweater. The buttons are the same little ladybugs I used on the matching cardigan. I followed the pattern exactly and the first shoe took me a little over two hours to make, the second shoe went faster. The pattern uses the kitchener stitch to bind off, which I had never done before and I followed the video on KnittingHelp.com and it was pretty darn easy. Isn't KnittingHelp.com the best invention ever? If I need to see how to do a stitch or if I forgot something I just pop over there and watch a video tutorial.

I found a free pattern online for another baby Mary Jane but it's in garter stitch and I wanted these to match the stockinette of the cardigan so I picked the Tiny Shoes pattern instead. Here is a link to the free pattern -- I may try it anyway, just for fun.

Blocking would have made a big difference in the final look of these little shoelets ... but I packed them when I moved and it was an hour long marathon last night to find them so I could wrap them up and give them away. I was just happy to find them. Here is the finished set:


I'm so happy with my baby gifts! I hope the recipients are happy as well.

Posted by laurie at 10:01 AM

October 29, 2009

Picture takin'

Hey Purl! I have been meaning to ask you this forever,and your post
picture today reminded me. Your arranged pictures of your knitting, vegetables, etc. are always so pretty and flattering to the subject. Now, I know you are a graphic designer (I think?), but I am very much NOT an aesthete (as much as I want to be). Long story longer...would you ever consider posting about how you stage photos to best show off your awesome knits? And how do you get that neutral white background? Do you have a special setup in your house just for this purpose? I ask because all my project photos are washed-out mug shots of my knits slung over the back of my couch or laid out on my living room floor. Which, shockingly, isn't that attractive. Thanks lady!

Hi Stephanie! Thanks for the email. I am not a very good photographer and I have a horrible no good camera that I refuse to get rid of because I am a tightwad in weird ways. So instead of relying upon a rockin' camera or any natural talent to get good looking pictures, I do it with staging and some post-op photoshopping.

My best pictures are always in natural light with NO FLASH. Good room lighting will do in place of natural lighting, though the colors may be off a bit. I'm a little bummed out because my new apartment has fairly crappy natural light in most of the rooms, so my cat pictures need a lot of retouching. I don't miss much about my old place but I doo miss that bedroom with the pouring sunshine.

I usually place my knitting or my mug or my whatever-it-may-be on a neutral surface, namely my desk, but any surface will do if you just consider the composition a bit. For example, if you're taking a picture of your lunch, consider removing the bits and bobs, like crumpled up napkins, stray papers, the torn corner of the ketchup packet. When I use my desk as the surface, I push the mousepad, stapler and pile of papers out of the way.

Having said that, sometimes I like to see the background of a picture, especially if it's inside someone's house. It can add to the flavor of the image!

However you choose to arrange your subject and wherever you choose to display it, it never hurts to use an image editor to help your pictures along a little. I use photoshop because that's what I know, but there are all kinds of freebie programs out there that can help you and might be easier to use. I rarely recommend photoshop to the casual graphics user because it's cumbersome and frustrating to the novice and it's expensive. If you don't plan to invest a lot of time in it, I don't think it's worth your money. But if you do plan to do a lot of design or retouching it is the only tool I would recommend.

I've written here and here about touching up your photos and adding text and framing them with a stroke. But to be honest, I don't think it's really necessary. I like looking at photos that are real and messy like life. I spend a lot of time cruising around on Flickr just checking out living rooms and bookcases and home offices. Yes, I crop and color-correct and frame my pictures on this site, but I do that because that's my job in real life -- cropping, arranging and framing web images -- and it's so much a part of my regular routine I just do it automatically. But for as many people who write lovely emails saying they like my pictures, I get notes from folks saying they think my images are sterile and too posed.

Posted by laurie at 4:33 PM

In the city ladies look pretty, guys tell jokes so they can seem witty

One of my hidden talents is that I have a freakishly vast knowledge of song lyrics from the 1980s. I can conduct an entire conversation in random song lyrics, which I do sometimes at work accidentally and then I find myself on a conference call saying something like, "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life ..."

Which goes over really well. As you can imagine.


Crosswords fascinate me. Not the actual completion or challenge of the crossword puzzle -- the only ones I have a shot of getting right are the crosswords in the back of People magazine. What amazes me is that it is someone's job to make all the boxes and clues line up just so. I'm sure they have software for it now, I think I've run across it somewhere online, but before fancy algorithms computed on microchips someone somewhere sat in an office and drew clues from words arranged in little boxes. This is what I think about in traffic.

Last night I stayed up past midnight trying to finish this knitting project and I'm still not done, but I think I can wrap it up at lunch time. Knitting on a deadline isn't as relaxed as random knitting, but it is far more productive. I'm going to lock myself away with my lunch and finish, my own little knitting sweatshop of one. Maybe I'll call my knitting friends at work and invite them, "I got me a Chrysler, it seats about 20, so hurry up and bring your jukebox money!" It would help if my song lyrics made any sense at all to the conversation at hand, perhaps.

More Sobakowa keeping the homefires burning:

They're lying on the beach perpetrating a tan so that a brother with money can be their man...

Posted by laurie at 10:20 AM

October 28, 2009

Reader Q&A Day

The immediacy of email still surprises me, mostly because I am not very immediate about it on my end. But just imagine you post some little essay and then you go get coffee, wash your hands repeatedly, flip through an Avon catalog, stare out the window, and fifteen minutes later you check your inbox and you have 149 emails about your forgotten essay's factual inaccuracies. How else would I know when I had neglected to talk up Alaska's tax-free status?

I tell this to my friend Work-Jennifer and she says, "Doesn't it bother you that an essay about people pointing out flaws in your fantasies only elicits a flood of email from people pointing out flaws in your writing?"

I think about it for a minute.

"I must be either totally desensitized or completely shallow," I tell her. "Because all I thought was, 'Wow, I have a lot of readers in the state of Alaska! Cool!'"

Here's some other recent email questions from readers:

I'm making the baby sweater with seed stitch bands that you recently made. I could NOT figure out the buttonhole rows. Finally, I realized that "P1,k1,p1,k2tog,yf, seed stitch to end" must be English instructions, and that the "yf" that made no sense should be "yo". I think the edition that I took my pattern from is older. When I looked on the website for errata, the pattern was called Baby Jacket with moss stitch bands. --Maureen

Maureen, I had the same problem with the buttonhole rows on the red baby sweater! That "yf" made no sense to me. I had to Google it and that is when I discovered Debbie Bliss and her seriously adorable baby clothes (in Baby Knits for Beginners) are British and over there all yarn is called wool and yarnovers are called yarnforwards. Have you ever noticed how everything sounds better in a British accent? Or any accent-- lilting French, cheerful Irish, sexy Italian. I've spent years and years getting my Southern accent down to a bare hint and yet I could listen to someone with a British accent read me the phone book. Maybe yf would sound better in a pattern as a book on tape?

- - -

Hi Laurie. I made the chickpea and kale soup you linked to last week and my husband and I both loved it! I just wanted to thank you for sharing that recipe. so -- thanks! (and if you have any suggestions for the chard or collards taking up space in my veggie drawer...) --Mims

Oh, I am so happy you like that soup recipe. I love it, it's a new staple in my house and it freezes and re-heats really well. Also, I am shocked that I do actually have a good recipe for chard! I made this Swiss Chard and Red Pepper Gratin last year when this recipe came out in the New York Times and I really liked it. That is also the recipe that started my deep love affair with arborio rice. I'd never made it before and so I just boiled two cups of water to one cup of arborio (so I had plenty left over from the recipe) and it was like heaven. Gooey, white carby heaven. Oh -- and the gratin wasn't bad either.

- - -

Hi Laurie, I have been reading and enjoying your site for a couple of years. You mentioned in a post once that you are learning Polish. That struck me because I lived in Poland for a year and learned as much Polish as I could - tough language! Anyway, I found this website yesterday from a CNN post and thought it might be helpful to you - http://lang-8.com. You post journal entries in the language you are learning and native speakers correct them for you (and you can do the same for English learners). --Lisa

Lisa, that is so cool! I'm not sure I'm ready to write anything in Polish just yet but I love this idea. Proving once again you can do so much more with the innernet than just buy shoes and stalk old boyfriends on Facebook.

- - -

Hello! I have been on a rather disappointing quest! I'm a relatively new knitter, and quite obsessed with conquering the art of sock construction...something at least bound to be productive one day. My weapon of choice is a set of DPNs which are metal. I've tried knitting a wide variety of gauges and for the life of me can't figure out why there are three gaps in my work. Every time I change over from one DPN to another, there is a nearly double wide gap in my sock, which looks ugly! Would you happen to know how to fix this? What am I doing wrong?! Any thoughts or suggestions will be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

Hi Trish! Those gaps are really common, especially when you first start out using double-pointed needles. Sometimes they're called "ladders" or also "holy crap why do we have to use these freaking DPNs?"

Because I am a freakishly tight knitter I don't get gaps. I do sometimes get knitted objects that can stand on their own from the stiffness of the gauge but hey, no ladders! Since I don't think everyone is comfortable being a crazy-tight knitter, I looked online for some suggestions to help you and found this thread on the knittinghelp.com forums. I hope some of the suggestions there can help you close the gap.

- - -

Hi Laurie! =-) I have a question for you. I have made the sweet little baby sweater out of the variegated yarn and am at the button stage. Did you ever tell us how to sew on those buttons that never in a million years will come off? I was away from the computer for about 4 months over the summer and into the fall and don't know if I missed it...and that is a LOT of reading backlog, I tell ya! If you did write about it can you point me in the right direction to find the post? Or, if not, if you ever get a chance, I am sure there are others like me who would love that info. I'm a fairly new knitter, maybe about 3-4 years worth of scarves, hats, bags,and dishcloths. Now I have graduated to baby sweaters and simple adult garments. No grandbabies yet (except grand cats, of course) but I figure the sweaters are good knitting practice and I can put them away in my grandma hope chest or have something already available when I get invited to showers, etc.
Debby Mc

Debby, I am SO glad you emailed me, I forgot all about the buttons! This weekend I'll sew something up and take a picture or two for illustrative purposes, as I to tend to be wordy, and I'll post something next week. Thank you for the reminder! And congratulations on your sweater-making!!

- - -

Hi Laurie-- I just wanted to ask you where you got that rug in front of your fireplace in the picture. The smaller one on top with the squares. It's the exact color palette and similar square pattern as my living room rug and I could use a little bit of matching in my mish-mash of apartment decor. :)


Hi Heidi! I wanted to be named Heidi for about ten years of my childhood. I was so jealous of girls named Heidi. Lucky you and your cool name.

The fireplace rug on top of the other rug (which are still there, by the way, I have made no progress at all in my house) was a little find from Target. They have such cute household stuff. And best of all, this time I actually found a link to the rug online for you here. I bought the small one which is a little too small for the fireplace hearth, but I love it and I feel weird returning something my cats have been sitting on for two weeks, so I may use it at the front door as the entry rug. But for now it's being held down by this little goofball:

If you look closely you can see Frankie's tail on the bottom right side of the picture. It's the tail with the white dot on the end. She sees the camera come out and wants to be in all the pictures. I had to push her out of the way before Soba gave her a smack down for harshing her kittycat fireplace buzz.

That's about it for today. I'm almost finished with my top-secret knitted item, which I have to ship by tomorrow at the very latest so I will be up late again doing weird things with yarn and wine. Hopefully by this time next week you will have pictures of what I believe is both the silliest and the most oddly-proportioned thing I have ever made in my entire life.

Thanks for the emails! Love you, Alaska!

Posted by laurie at 11:36 AM

October 27, 2009

Taxes and Death and Big Talk

More from the cutting room floor. Seems like all my favorite stuff got edited out with a red pen!

Taxes and Death and Big Talk

My accountant is a year younger than me, and he’s tall. Over six feet tall. He has dark brown hair and is the best looking accountant I have ever met. The first year I went to see him I was still in the process of getting divorced and I cried in his office. I did that a lot back then.

The next year I was happier, because I was really moved on from the crying and I was working on my first book. It was an exciting time, so much so that I managed to completely ignore his suggestion to begin paying quarterly taxes and this year I am sitting in his office, thirty hours before April 15th and I am watching the numbers on the screen add up. I brought my checkbook but I’m not sure how much it will help, I forgot to rob a bank first.

The accountant and I agree that the number is large, larger than we expected. I have to pay that amount, and I ask if there is some way to claim the cats on my tax return. He laughs politely. I own no house for deductions, I have no dependent children, and I am in the state with the highest tax burden in the U.S. The accountant and I chitchat before I leave –- I don't cry, victory again! -– and then he tells me he's getting married and she's in the medical field.

"Taxes and death," he says. I laugh politely and leave.

Later that night I call my dad and tell him I've been to see my accountant and I am now researching the states with no personal income tax.

My dad is used to me saying things such as "I think I want to be a painter and develop a dark side," and "I’m thinking about quitting my job at the bank and taking my chances at professional cat whispering. Unless there's an opening for blimp drivers, doesn't blimp driving sound fun?" He listens to me patiently contrast all the pros and cons of the seven states on the list.

"There’s Florida –- too humid. Nevada is too gambly. Texas is on the list but I was born there and if I move back no one will find my southern accent charming because they all have accents," I said.

"Yes," said my dad, "that and now you sound like a Yankee from living out in Los Angeles for so long."

Sounding like a Yankee is a cardinal sin for most southerners but I took voice and diction lessons for five long years so that I could have conversations with other human beings from outside the Delta without them interrupting me four words in to say, "Where are you from? Your accent is so... thick!" so I am not only unoffended by sounding Yankee-ish, but smugly thrilled that my family thinks I am a yellowbellied Yankee traitor in the diction arena.

"New Mexico was a real possibility," I tell him. "But it seems hot, and I already live in the San Fernando Valley so it would be out of the frying pan and into the fryer. South Dakota is really far. So that leaves Washington State and Wyoming. Those are all seven states with no state income tax. I don’t want to pay taxes anymore, so that’s as close as I can get without being jailed or moving offshore."

"I can see your time at the bank has paid off," said my dad. "You have become a true financial whiz kid."

"I’m thinking Wyoming," I said. "It sounds rugged."

"What will you do in Wyoming?" dad asks. He is always the annoying and how do you plan to pay for that missy sort of pragmatist.

"I don’t know, but I will be free, dad! Freedom! Los Angeles has been great but I am certain I have an inner rugged pioneer spirit just waiting to burst forth!" I said.

"When you come here for a visit you don’t even like to go upstairs," he pointed out.

I know better than to call my pragmatic, Southern parents and talk to them about ridiculous notions such as enlightenment, moving to encourage my inner pioneer or sharing my dream of one day opening a museum of knitted objects. Not just knitted scarves and hats but everything like tables, chairs, plates, little knitted cupcakes and silverware. I think it could become quite the roadside attraction.

This is a clear example of discovering who is on your team. There are people you love and admire and talk to every day –- friends, family members, psychic astrologers. But not everyone is on your team. Some people are just programmed to be dogmatic pragmatists. They can't help but poke holes in all your fantasies and stories. They're the ones who interrupt you to tell you that they don't think "Roberta" is the best name to use when you become an undercover operative for the CIA. Like they would know!

Those who are on your team will nod and smile and act like they are listening to you as you pour your heart out on the telephone. They are silently playing online scrabble on the other end of the phone line, but they are not arguing with your logic, your planning skills or your loose definition of "earning potential." These people are your support team, the ones you go to first with your ridiculous ideas and wild-hair-up-your-butt theories.

Everyone else –- no matter how close you may be or how closely related you may be –- will be full of all the ways your current dream and plan will never work. They will tell you how bad the economy is, or how risky that kind of adventure is, or that you're too short for espionage, and they will helpfully provide any number of ways you can fail, fall over or embarrass yourself. Those are the ones you do not share your schemes with. You can still remain close to these folks but you don't tell them about the long afternoons at your desk when you daydream, picturing yourself on horseback wearing faded jeans and something plaid, riding free on a windswept big-sky farm in tax-free Wyoming.

- - -

Edited to add: Thank you for all the people emailing me furiously about Tennessee and New Hampshire. Those states tax dividend and interest income which technically does not make them personal tax-free states. As for you folks emailing me about Alaska, what can I say? It was a silly essay, not a real-life hard news story about the taxation situation in the U.S. I probably had wine. What's funniest of all is that it's not actually about finding a place to live OR about taxes! In my mind it was about fantasizing, dreaming, goofy stuff. Clearly now I know why this essay was cut. Thank God I have an editor, right? I seem to be hearing another language sometimes. Funny funny.

Posted by laurie at 10:17 AM

October 26, 2009

Ho Ho No

My mailbox has started filling up with holiday-themed catalogs, all those shiny Christmas ornaments, little doodads, candles, glittery wreaths and table dressing.

Now that I don't have a private garage I've lost a lot of the space I had for long-term parking for all that "put it in a box and forget about it" stuff. Especially holiday stuff. It's not a big deal to stack a few big bins or boxes of Christmas decorations in your garage but move it indoors and shove it into a closet and you start wondering if you really need that much of your home storage space devoted to things you use for a few weeks a year. I think this is a good development. I'm definitely going to decorate my new apartment this year (if it rains indoors again I'll play Christmas music and pretend it's a holiday installation) but I'm going to cull through all the stuff I have in those big green bins and see if I can part with some of it. I do plan on decorating early. I'm having a get together with some friends on November 15th to make crafty Christmas cards. I always say I'm going to send cards and I never do, so maybe this will be the year.

And I'm not buying any new Christmas decorating stuff! Probably. I don't know why holiday decorations are so crackass addictive to me but they are. I brought all the slick, enticing catalogs with me on the subway this morning and flipped through them on the way to work and then as soon as I got into the office I put them in the recycling bin. Spending narrowly averted. For now.

Last week Oprah had a program about how other people live around the world (a subject that endlessly fascinates me.) The Danish folks she visited with lived in such clean, open spaces with no clutter anywhere. No clutter! As the show was playing in my living room I kept looking around at the countertops in the kitchen, the table, the little piles of clutter everywhere. I can blame part of it on moving but really I still have too much stuff. It's such a weird idea that one person has this much crap. And that it's both a comfort and a burden. I love my stuff because it makes me feel anchored and secure and I loathe my stuff because it makes me feel anchored and heavy.

There's a balance in there somewhere, I just need to keep looking for it. My friend work-Jennifer was listening to me noodle over this conundrum last week and she pointed out something interesting, "You're a total homebody. You do a lot of work at home, you prefer being home to being anywhere else, so it makes sense that your home would be filled with things you enjoy."

She always has a good take on things. I guess I want to lighten up on the clutter so I can really focus on the the pieces I truly do enjoy. There's a pile of stuff sitting in the foyer, it all came from the old garage and I haven't gone through it yet to even see what it all is. Not having a garage anymore is good, because I can't just put things in a box and wait around until "one day" I decide what to do with them. Now I just need to go through that pile of boxes and then make a trip to the Goodwill.

Then the house will be almost ready to drape in fake pine and shiny holiday bells. I'm not fighting the rapidly approaching holidays this year (What? It's October Freaking TWENTY-SIXTH? Already?) Nope. I'm going to jump into them early, with all my shiny stuff and hope I am strong-willed enough to resist the siren call of new holiday decor. Maybe just a new wreath? Maybe...?

Frankie likes Christmas trees.
And cats are not clutter.

Posted by laurie at 10:15 AM

October 23, 2009

Need a ride?


Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Posted by laurie at 10:07 AM

October 22, 2009

Like a star sighting, only better

Brush with fame

A few months ago I wrote about my favorite childhood books, one of which is The Grounding of Group 6 by Julian F. Thompson. Yesterday I was thrilled to get an email from the author himself -- his wife had seen my list and he sent me the nicest note. It was very exciting to get an email from an author that I've loved since I was a kid! Turns out he has a website (his wife made it for him!) and he also has a new book out, Getting In: How one ingenious applicant induced a letter of acceptance from America's most selective university

That's my brush of fame for the day. Exciting! Even better than the time I saw Ralph Macchio in the produce aisle at Gelson's. (He was so short. Why are all actors four feet tall? Is it because they have to fit inside the TV?)

It was exciting to get Mr. Thompson's email because it makes him REAL. I've read The Grounding of Group 6 a hundred times since I was a kid and I love his characters and his style, and I thought it was magic the way he could get me to read and re-read the story even though I knew what happened, had it memorized. That's what great writers do, they tell a story so well you want to read it over and over. But I forget that authors are real people -- people who read websites (or their wives do) and sometimes they even send a note. I forget this even though technically I am an author myself. Which brings me to:

Brush with insane

I love the mundane, the kitchen reality of making dinner or going to IKEA and I have a small, normal life. I like it that way very much. Most of the action takes place in my head, in words, on paper. But yes, of course, some things have changed now. I'd like to say the main change is that now I have a houseboy named Raimundo but we all know that hasn't happened... yet. Anyway, I was going to try to explain the inner shift that happened but that seems vaguely moronic and boring so instead I will tell you a real-life conversation I had with a fellow commuter on our fine L.A. freeway system. It's illustrative.

It was a Tuesday some time ago. It was hot and I had the windows zipped off the Jeep and I'd stripped down to my camisole because sweat was running down my spine. My CD player had suddenly stopped working and every FM station was on commercial break. Traffic was a nightmare and the whole four-level interchange downtown was clogged and people were tense, murderous, ready to honk.

I had to merge onto the 101 and the guy in the primer-grey Honda right next to me kept edging me out. I am not a timid driver, I'm not one of those people who needs an Act of Congress to merge into another lane. I'm efficient, I'm on top of things. But this guy was determined not to let me in. I would sense a small opening in the traffic and before I could even turn my steering wheel he would accelerate and block me out. Finally, I put my blinker on and merged right into his lane and I figured that if he didn't stop we'd have an accident and during the investigation, one of us would be ticketed for having no insurance and it would not be me. I merged.

His windows were down and we were six inches from each other.

"You effing b**ch! You drive like sh**! Eff you!!!" he yelled at me.

With no windows in the Jeep it was like we were sitting right next to each other, hollering.

"Oh yeah? Yeah? You want to go there?" I yelled back. "You think I'm an Effing B**ch? I'm a PUBLISHED AUTHOR. You can find my book in fine bookstores near you! SUCK ON IT!"

It was both my greatest road rage accomplishment and the most publicity I've done voluntarily. And he did shut up, I assume he was stunned by my expansive vocabulary. I knew that even though I may have stooped to his level and hollered at him on a freeway, I had one up on him: I was a published author. I felt the confidence of my own dream come true. I flipped him off and merged onto the 101.

Posted by laurie at 9:21 AM

October 21, 2009

Not reassuring at all


There is little danger of you becoming transported by aliens to another planet. There is little danger of you getting scabies or falling into a black hole. There is little danger of zombies eating your whole brain...

Posted by laurie at 9:38 AM

October 19, 2009

Raindrops not falling on my head (for now)

On Friday my boss let me work from home so I could be around while the maintenance guys came to my apartment and tried to seal The Great Leak. If a strange man with a hammer is going to be in my bedroom I want to be there. (Some jokes just write themselves.)

So they did a fair amount of cosmetic repair and not enough roof repair to make me feel confident in the watertight properties of my rooftop patio and yet I am surprisingly unhysterical about this situation. This is where I am now and my bedroom may rain again but here I am nonetheless, with a shorter commute and a California Fireplace. And just like relationships, homes all have their own individual issues. Luckily it doesn't rain much out here.

ScarfWatch 2009
I fear our window of opportunity for autumnal scarf-wearing has passed. We're having typical October weather, 100 degrees and sunny on the weekend and today it's going to be a chilly 75. Then back up in the 90s by Wednesday. October is traditionally one of the hottest months in Los Angeles. The idea that it is snowing right now on the east coast seems surreal. I love the idea of traveling to cold places and I myself hate hot weather but I wouldn't know what to do with snow. Do you just stay home? Maybe you just stay in and knit and watch old episodes of Cold Case. That sounds like a good winter to me.

Which Is What I Did Yesterday (sans snow)

I forgot I like Cold Case, I stopped watching it because I had too much TV, and then one night a few weeks ago when I couldn't sleep I caught an episode and added it back to my Tivo, so I spent part of my weekend ass-planted on the sofa knitting and watching TV. I NEEDED THAT. I am knitting a project I can't show you because it's a gift for someone who reads this website. It's so hard to keep surprises surprising! I'm about 1/4 of the way done with this project and sometimes I look at it and start laughing. Also, Lion Brand wool-ease is a really good yarn. It's so forgiving and knits up so well and it's not expensive at all. And Lion Brand doesn't discontinue yarn lines left and right like some companies, so you can rely on them which is very reassuring.

Not that it matters since I can never buy yarn again. Recently I confessed to Corey that not only do I have enough yarn to last me until the apocalypse, but I also have embarrassingly little desire to part with even a single skein. I love all my yarn, even the mismatched one-offs. I am a yarn hoarder. Sure, my hoarding is neatly encapsulated in little rubbermaid plastic bins and it's all stacked carefully away in the closet but it's still hoarding, it's just organized hoarding. I even have yarn in my earthquake kit -- you never know when you'll need to whip up a quick roll-brim hat during an emergency.

To-Do List, 12 Pages Long
Getting settled in to my new apartment has been harder than I expected. I was working late nights on a big project at work and then there's the book and that whole thing with the swine Cupcake Flu. I've been so exhausted. This is the first time since Labor Day that I've come close to feeling normal again. I even walked down to the Metro Rapid today, which is a hike but worth it to skip the local bus (they both dump you at the subway but the Rapid does it in half the time).

So since I'm feeling more sprightly, I'm making a to-do list for the apartment and it's getting awfully long: I need to hang some curtains and make sense of the linen closet and fix the refrigerator doors, among other things. At my old place the doors opened the wrong way and it was a little awkward but not a show stopper. In this apartment it's nearly impossible to get anything out of the fridge without opening the doors all the way and then walking around them to peer inside. I'm not particularly excited about this little piece of home handywork on my to-do list but I figure while I'm at it I can satisfy my deep urge to disinfect every last inch of the fridge and freezer.

Kitchen storage is a real problem. My little house in Encino-adjacent had a tiny kitchen but it was surrounded on all sides by walls and there was a lot of cabinet space. This new kitchen is open to the dining area and it definitely feels less cramped because of all the open space but then again, there are no cabinets. And the few cabinets I do have are built on a curve so they're angled and funky inside. I have a ton of Pyrex glassware that I use for taking my lunches to work and I have nowhere to store it. Yesterday I had a bright idea: I decided I should just go to the market and buy all the supplies for a big pot of kale & chickpea stew and all the stuff to make that delicious chicken & white bean chili and then I can fill up all the containers with stew and chili, stick it in my (currently empty) freezer and I'll have lunches for a month plus a safe place to store all that Pyrex.

So I filled up my shopping cart and yesterday I spent the afternoon making the chili, it filled up eight pyrex bowls and my lower cabinet no longer spills out onto the floor every time you open it. Tonight I'm going to make the kale and chickpea stew and that should fill up the rest. (By the way -- the secret to the kale dish is to use a VERY good spicy sausage. The sausage is what gives this dish all its flavor. I have used all kinds of spicy sausage from Whole Foods instead of chorizo and the dish changes flavor depending on what you pick. But don't skip the sausage or this dish is just dull. Healthy but dull.)

The to-do list just gets longer and longer! But even though I still have a few lingering boxes and piles and none of the paintings have been hung and I can't find half the towels (where did they go? so mysterious!) there are nice things about my new place. The dishwasher, for one. I LOVE HAVING A DISHWASHER. It's been five long years of handwashing and dish pan hands and I love the loud, satisfying slurch of my dishwasher. Everything comes out so clean and sparkly. Lord I have missed having an automatic dishwasher.

And the cats love the California fireplace. About ten years ago I lived in a big house in another part of the valley and we had a real wood-burning fireplace and it was nice, mostly, but it was such a pain in the butt to clean and the wood was expensive and hard to store properly so we hardly ever used it. A gas fire is the way to go -- flip the light switch and voila! Beautiful flickering flames in the blink of an eye and there's nothing to clean up.

The first time I turned it on the click-click-click sound of the ignition scared the cats, they went running up the stairs. But then they eventually came down one by one and before long Frankie was rolling around belly-up, basking in the warm glow. The cats are even getting along better these days. They just have so much more space to spread out in and they can run up and down the stairs and sit in the windowsills and they're not all crammed in together. I actually saw Soba play with Bob last week. Real playing! She came around the corner of a box I'd left in the living room and she saw Bob lolling around on the floor nearby and she hunkered down and did that kittycat butt-swishing thing and then she pounced -- but playfully, not like she was trying to eat his head. I stood there in bare shock. I haven't seen her play with Bob maybe ever. Usually when she jumps at him it's because she's biting out a chunk of his fur or drawing blood. And a few days ago I saw Frankie affectionately rub up against Soba and the Sobakowa endured it without hissing.

It gave me a little twinge, like I felt bad we hadn't moved sooner or something. But there's no use in feeling bad. Maybe it wasn't ideal, having all my cats in such a small house for so long, but I was just doing the best I could with what I had. And at nighttime we all end up smooshed together in bed anyway, no matter how many square feet there are in a day we always share the same little patch of blankets each night.

Frank on a melange of rugs. I haven't found a perfect rug for the fireplace yet so I'm using all the other rugs at one time. She likes it.

Posted by laurie at 9:19 AM

October 15, 2009

Home Is Where the Wine Is

I was so wrapped up in my new apartment's indoor waterfall yesterday that even as I shared with you the exciting news about the finishing of my manuscript and the simultaneous opening of a chasm in my roof, I neglected to actually tell you the name of the book.

As you can see, I am very skilled at promotion. My publicist has an entire area of grey hair devoted to me and my freakish desire to not leave my house or tell anyone at all about my secret life in books. I think it's because I still can't believe I wrote a book, not to mention TWO -- plural! -- and I fear if I acknowledge it then I will wake up from this good dream and find myself naked from the waist down and late for my chemistry final. PAGING DR. FREUD. DR. FREUD, WHERE ARE YOU?

So! I have a new book coming out! It's called Home Is Where the Wine Is. It also has a long subtitle that changes about every ten days. I am not a fan of subtitles and my editor loves subtitles and I love my editor so I just go with it. One day the subtitle will probably be a paragraph long and contain Sanskrit characters and I will just smile and nod because I have long since released all control over the issue of the subtitle.

One thing I didn't know until I myself wrote a book is how little control the author has over some things. Like the subtitle or the book description or where it shows up on the shelf in the bookstore, if it shows up at all. I'm really lucky, though, my publisher is great and they agreed to the title I wanted and the book cover is so cute:


Look! The stunt cat makes a re-appearance!

So thank you for the lovely emails wishing me well with both the book and the indoor waterfall in my bedroom. And thanks for reminding me to actually share the title of said book.

You can pre-order it on amazon.com or borders.com or at barnes and noble.com. It comes out around Valentine's Day but do not fear -- it is not a sticky sweet romance starring me and the hot bus driver riding off into the sunset and making sweet love on a riding lawnmower. Not that there would be anything wrong with that of course. But this is not fiction, after all, it's me we're talking about and this is Los Angeles and my legs are not nearly as hot as the ones on the cover of my book. It's a collection of essays about dating and complaining and traveling and of course there is at least one adventure in the high art of hair removal because hair removal is my deep existential dilemma. I hope people will like it and laugh a little but you never know. OH! And there are knitting and crochet patterns in it. And a few recipes. And the grave of Al Capone. We aim to please!

As for the leaking roof, the rain finally stopped and it's supposed to be ridiculously hot and dry this weekend so hopefully a team of rooftop specialists will remove the current high-tech fix ("a tarp") and do some actual water-preventing work on my apartment so that I do not have to re-pack all the yarn and move to a cabin in the woods and give up essay writing for a career in the manifesto business.

I can't imagine manifestos get such cute cover art.

I joke, but listen, there isn't a day that goes by that I don't feel a shot of pure, deep gratitude. Thank you for reading because that is what made all of this possible. Well, the book part, not the indoor rain. I am still looking for someone to blame for that. Gratitude is good for the soul and all, but blame is good for the complexion.

Posted by laurie at 9:45 AM

October 14, 2009

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

Last night around midnight I finished up the final version of a gigantic sheaf of words I have been working on FORever and sent it off and I was so pleased, so happy, so relieved ... so tired. I went upstairs to get into my big comfortable bed and I discovered a delightful new water feature right in my very own boudoir.


The rooftop patio is right above my bedroom and sometime during the Great Storm of '09 while I was downstairs typing and mainlining pinot grigio, a seam opened up in the ceiling and water had soaked the floor and the bed and the drywall. I tried to put buckets and towels where I could but it was coming down awfully heavy and I spent most of the night emptying buckets and wondering if I had entered the smiting period. That's a time in your life when things begin to tumble around in the dregs and later you make jokes about "that time your roof caved in and the FBI tapped your phone and then someone flashed you at Ralph's and you weren't even that offended." I'm just imagining of course, but really who knows what could happen when the smiting starts.

Or maybe it's just Los Angeles, where it rains so infrequently that one inch of precipitation can cause your rooftop patio to morph into a waterfall.

I waited patiently until 8 a.m. and then started calling the manager who is Russian but looks like Antonio Banderas. He was nice and apologetic and apparently I'm not the only apartment experiencing indoor rain. Now I'm just waiting for the maintenance people to come and then I have to go to work and print out 1600 stickers and pretend I don't look haggard and wrinkly from being up all night.

So that's the worst of times. The best of times is that I got the nicest email from my editor this morning congratulating me and reassuring me. I love Allison. If this book ends up being so bad we all just make fun of it later, it's my fault. But if by some miracle it does end up being readable, Allison is the reason. A good editor is the finest person you can have in your corner and she is the very best.

So, in the spirit of both writing and smiting, I thought I would share with you one of the essays that didn't make the final cut but seems oddly apropos today.

Before I started driving I thought an Act of God was a hurricane, earthquake or a smiting. I wasn’t real clear on what smiting consisted of really, but growing up on the bayou one is often warned to be nice or God will smite you.

My first real official grown-up car was a red Volkswagon Fox. It was a smallish, boxy metal car with a stick shift, four-speed transmission and optional passenger’s side door mirrors. They were optional. That was the kind of luxury package available on the Volkswagen Fox.

And I loved that little metal box of a car. I drove it from my home in Mississippi up to college in Tennessee and back every single semester break and holiday. I learned all the back roads, knew the best road stops by heart and I would smoke menthol cigarettes and listen to college music on the tape deck and I would always stop at The Snack Pack ten miles outside my house in Mississippi to change clothes and wash the stank of cigarettes off my person and spritz heavily with perfume as my parents had a nose for nicotine like nobody’s business, and I did not want to be in their crosshairs.

The first Act of God came right before the end of the semester freshman year when a deer committed suicide on my car right there on the rural route, three miles from the house. I was going through a heavily vegetarian phase at the time and I was more devastated by the deer’s death than the massive cavern he'd carved into the side of my tiny red car. I didn’t know when it happened that it was an Act of God, but I soon learned that's the term used on the insurance papers my father filled out. Any event outside human control was deemed an Act of the big guy. Good to know.

The second Act Of God happened just two months later when an owl flew into my windshield. I do not know if you are familiar with owls –- I was not –- but they aren’t the tiny furry little birds who eat lollipops in TV commercials. They are actually huge, enormous rockets of power. The owl who dive-bombed my windshield did so on the northbound lanes of highway 55 and the collision of the two produced a thwack! like a sonic boom. The entire windshield spidered into a crackling web but held it together. I freaked out and spilled Diet Coke in my lap and cursed God for smiting me.

I pulled the car over to the side of the road and sat there for a moment, trembling, and thanking the smiting God that there was no traffic on the highway and that I had not swerved into a big truck in surprise of the attack.

After a few moments I got out of the car and inspected the damage. The windshield was broken and there was a rather large dent in the front passenger’s side of the car, on the metal area above the windshield. It looked like someone had tossed a bowling ball out and hit me like a bullseye. I just stood there staring at my red Volkswagon, wondering why on earth animals were so cruel and suicidal and why me? Why me? Me who had just last semester become a vegetarian, right before the deer hit me?

It wasn’t long before a trucker spotted me and my car on the side of the road and CBs crackled and buzzed and the highway patrol found me. They carried me off to a service station a few miles up ahead where I called my father and gave him the bad news. He just got in his truck and drove out to the scene of the second Act Of God and shook his head, and thanked the nice deputy who’d helped me out, and he asked me if I was OK.

“I think so,” I said.

“Well, you’re certainly better off than the owl you hit.”

The third and Final Act Of God happened at the very end of summer, when I was driving home for Labor Day weekend. The whole southeast was in a drenching downpour, huge areas of Alabama and Mississippi were under flood warnings and still it rained, and rained and rained.

I was driving home on the back roads, avoiding the traffic on the interstate. And even though no one would believe me later as I re-told the story –- first to my Dad, then my mom, then my brothers, then the nice man at the insurance agency –- as I was driving on one of the rain-soaked backroads of Mississippi a tree fell on my car.

It happened almost in slow motion. A giant old oak whose roots had been exposed from weeks of continuous rain chose the exact moment I traveled under its mighty branches to suddenly tump over. Onto my moving vehicle. I was fine, my car was dented and covered in tree bark and mud but mostly I was just really tired of nature throwing itself at me when I was driving. I appeared to be unharmed and my vehicle was still running, so I drove out from under the branches and arrived home. The car was dented and scratched and the front grill was broken in, covered in mud and leaves.

My father didn’t believe this “tree-falling-on-car” story the first three times I told it so he himself suited up in a slicker and got in his truck and drove out to the scene of the accidental logging. He came home an hour later, wet and covered in red Mississippi mud, and sighed the sigh of a weary man.

“A tree fell on her car.”

And later as he tried to explain this to the nice man at the State Farm agency, the man turned to my father and said, “Three Acts of God in one summer! Now that is really something. “

“Yes,” said my father. “That is really something all right.”

The insurance man looked my father straight in the face and asked, “Do you think your daughter has angered God?”

And sometimes I wonder. Three Acts of God in one summer. My summer of dating was a lot like the Acts of God summer – surprising, unfortunate, with superficial (but repairable) damage and nothing left but some really funny stories to tell.

Posted by laurie at 10:20 AM

October 13, 2009

Stuff I have been doing and also not doing, sometimes at the same time

1. Awaiting the Storm of The Century
We are on Storm Watch 2009!!!! over here. There were actual raindrops on my windshield this morning. It was very exciting because I was prepared for windshield watering ... a few weeks ago I bought brand new windshield wipers, not out of a fit of preparation but mostly from embarrassment. My old ones had cracked and rotted from disuse and part of the rubber was flapping off. My new wipers are so efficient. I got to use them at least three times this morning! This is the first measurable rainfall we've had since June 5th, and that was a fluke. They say ("The U.S. Department of They") that this is going to be a wet winter. I love the rain, it makes everything clean again. Downtown, which normally smells like a human litter box, will soon be fresh and sparkly.

2. Procrastinating
We have projects at work that are so involved they've spun off side projects and the boxes at home will not unpack themselves and my manuscript was due 100 years ago and I have decided I want to move to Spain and herd sheep. I've been doing a lot of anxious cleaning. I cleaned my keyboard four times yesterday.

3. Blah blah
I've been listening to everyone at work talk about their Myers-Briggs, except one co-worker who shall remain unnamed who thinks the whole thing is a load of crap. Which is funny to me because I would much rather be said coworker's personality type than my own.

4. They're all leased anyway
All the cars in my new apartment's garage area are really nice, expensive cars. There are about eleventy-nine BMWs and just as many Mercedes SUVs and then there is my Jeep, which is still the coolest car EVER!!! but it definitely needed a bath, so I took it to the car wash and even agreed to have them put the shiny stuff on the tires. Now when I walk out to my car it looks like this rugged, dented machine on top of these shiny Barbie Jeep tires. And then of course it brought upon us the wrath of Storm Watch 2009!!!!

5. Winter
Winter has arrived, we can tell it is here from the cold and inhospitable high of only 68 degrees yesterday. How ever will we survive? People at work are complaining today about it being chilly. I would feel more empathy for them but some people need to eat a sandwich or two because they have no fat to keep them warm. Me, on the other hand, I can wade through the frozen tundra with nothing more than a cardigan and my own thick layer of personal insulation.

6. Freakazoid
Since I got sick my germaphobia has taken hold of me with renewed fervor. I had to leave a store the other day because some woman with all these kids kept sneezing wetly and with great gusto up and down every aisle and it was almost like she was following me and finally I figured we were about to reach a tipping point in the sneeze-to-clean-air ratio and I had to abandon my groceries and leave. I have explained before how my germaphobia is both cyclical and has many phases of understanding. It's pretty simple, really. When I am very stressed out and feel like I have no control over my life I lose the ability to touch a public door handle. I think if we had to pick crazy qualities, I would definitely choose my brand of crazy over other people's coping mechanisms. It's cheaper than spending $200 a week on yammering with a therapist and it's more fulfilling in the long term than say road rage or a gambling addiction. Everybody's got some crazy! This is mine.

- - -

Happy Monday-that's-a-Tuesday! I like short weeks. Friday sneaks up on you faster that way.

Posted by laurie at 10:32 AM

October 1, 2009

Panty lines visible from outer space and other news

The title says a lot about my morning. Et tu, Brute?

Cult of Personality
Everyone in my division had to take the Myers-Brigg type test and we had our results revealed during an all-day departmental meeting yesterday. I'd taken the test before about ten years ago which was of course prior to my great interpersonal meltdown, my "I got drunk and directed traffic in my nightgown" divorce, and before I came to work at Big Corporation, Inc. When I originally took the test I was an INFJ and I didn't expect any change since they say ("The U.S. Department of They") that people rarely change core personality types.

The "I" stands for Introvert. When I first took this test a decade ago I was shocked to find I was not just an introvert, I was a REALLY BIG introvert. My score was off the chart. The more I learned about it, though, the more it made sense. The best way I have ever heard the Extrovert/Introvert thing explained is that extroverts get their energy from being around other people and introverts get their batteries recharged by being alone. There's a lot more to it, but I wasn't surprised to find that I am still an "I" -- the person who prefers to go on vacation alone is an introvert? Big shocker!

The "N" stands for Intuition (as opposed to Sensing). The best way I've heard this explained is that Sensers make lists of to-do items they want to check off today (if not sooner!) and Intuits make lists of stuff they hope to one day achieve or see or experience. S people are detail-oriented and N people are maybe not so much.

F is for Feelings! Feelings, nothing more than feelings, trying to forget my feelings of love... I'm not a high-scoring F, so I also have some affinity for the other side which is "T" for Thinking. Generally speaking Thinkers are logic/truth/principles people and Feelers are harmony/tact/loyalty people. (By the way, there is a whole lot more to all this Myers Briggsonian stuff than I am explaining, this is just the Cliff's Notes of the Cliff's Notes version.)

The only surprise here was that I switched from being a very high J -- Judging -- to a very high P -- Perception. I was a little surprised at how big of a change I'd made in this area but the more I thought about it the more it made sense. I used to be a big judgypants. I had very specific thoughts about everything, I was exacting, regimented and spent most of my time and energy focused on other people and their issues. I gave a fair amount of my own unsolicited advice and spent a lot of time answering questions no one had asked me.

The change in this part of my personality was gradual but enormous. It's like someone else moved into that part of my brain. I still make judgment calls, but it's almost always self-directed and I've replaced my opinionated spouting off with "Eh, everybody's got problems. Who am I to judge?" I still share my opinions (product recommendations, here I come!) and I'll give my opinion about a topic when asked but even the tone of that has changed. I used to say with great authority, "Well, you know what you SHOULD do, you should do this and then this and then this and then you ought to blah blah blah..." and now it sounds like, "Well, let's see. This is what works for me but what works for other people will be different. However, since you asked, and only since you asked, this is what works in my experience..."

Funny. Anyway, this change made me secretly very pleased because it proves that people can change and this particular change has made my life infinitely better. Like Dr. Dyer says, "Your opinion of me is none of my business." And conversely, it's really not my job to tell you what I think of you. I can't tell you how much easier this has made my relationships. And my life in general is a lot less tense, I'm just not that interested in solving other people's problems or telling them what to do and I really don't feel like arguing anymore. It's like exhaling.

So, I am an INFP. Also, not surprisingly, I was the only person in the entire division who was an INFP. It's lonely out here in the wilderness of weirdness. Secretly I always want to fall into the statistical norm and I never do. It's a little like always getting picked last for kickball. The only comfort here is that everyone at my table fell into a statistical norm and each said they'd prefer to be in the "less than 1%" categories. That's the shared human experience, isn't it? Always wanting something different from what we've got.

If you want to take this test online I found some similar tests here (it has less questions but they're pretty consistent) and there's also the Myers Brigg Foundation, and of course there is a Wiki on it.

Earthquakes & Tsunamis
I am a little freaked out by the recent big earthquake activity in the news. Usually I am pretty Zen about this subject since I have no control over the tectonic plates and I have an overachiever Type A Plus earthquake kit at home. But recently I started having a recurring earthquake dream. In this dream, we have a major shaker here in Los Angeles next March. In one of these dreams I was writing about the earthquake, and I wrote the date but all I could see was "Ma" so then I wasn't sure if it was March or May, but everything else in the dream was the same.

At first I thought these dreams were stress dreams, much like the recurring tidal wave nightmares I used to have. But the earthquake dreams were so specific they freaked me out. So in a nod to my core superstitious personality type -- not noted in Myers Briggs -- I am now writing about this dream because saying it out loud will ward off a temblor. Also, probably later I will toss salt over my shoulder and walk around my cat three times while holding a sausage. Freakazoid.

October Brings Big Weather!
Who says we don't have weather here in Los Angeles?


Not only are we having wild temperature mood swings, Dapper Dallas is also hovering around the word DRIZZLE! Not that I believe it will happen, mind you, but just having mist in the forecast is enough to make people here think winter is upon us. Dallas Raines knows how to excite a crowd. I just got new windshield wipers on the Jeep so I'm ready for even a real raindrop, should that occur. It's always exciting to see the seasons change here in Los Angeles. Before you know it we'll be out of fire season and into mudslide season with a chance of wind. Our weather really keeps you on your flip-flop clad toes!

Posted by laurie at 10:24 AM