« October 2009 | Main | December 2009 »

November 30, 2009

Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall so I can mop the floor!

Happy post-Thanksgiving weekend. Did you survive the shopping, traveling and eating? Ah, it's a hard life. But someone has to do it.

I did a lot of eating and a fair amount of traveling up and down my stairs to do laundry (which I am almost caught up on, will wonders ever cease?) except my new place has a much smaller washer than my old washer so I can't fit my big blankets in the wash anymore so I may have to venture to the laundromat, but I am saving that up for the future, far, far in the future.

This is shaping up to be another exciting post. Maybe later I will talk about taking out the trash or that time I wiped up a spill on the countertop.

Some Things:
1) Hello folks who fell into a mad frenzy about my mention of the Magic Eraser mop on the little holiday post I wrote for PensFatales. (Am I the only one who wanders up and down every single aisle of Target on the weekends, contemplating each new cleaning solution and microfiber duster? Perhaps.) So yes, Magic Eraser makes a mop, but it's not as mind-blowing as the actual Magic Eraser which will remove scuffs you thought were permanent and will even remove paint, like off the stove in my old house, whoops. But it was clean.

So: The Mop Review. My floor wasn't really scuffed, just in need of cleaning, so I didn't have a very Magic experience either way. To be honest I have yet to find a mop I really like. I don't like those swiffer-type things because I want to use my own soap mixture on the floors, I want to wring out the mop in clean, hot soapy water and I want everything to smell like Dr. Bronner's Eucalyptus. You can (and I believe are supposed to) use soapy water with the Magic Eraser mop. I didn't buy the whole mop, just the Magic Eraser Mop Refill for my old butterfly mop, and they make a universal refill to fit other mops as well. If you already have some sort of mop just buy the replacement head and see if you like it. I wouldn't expect miracles, but I got mine on sale for about $5 at Target and I'd say I got my five bucks of happiness out of it.

2) But if you really want to bake your noodle, check out these shoes I got:

Those are the Slipper Genie Microfiber Cleaning Shoes and I have them. That's right, I have them in BOTH pink and green and people, I use them. I have three cats and a lot of hardwood floor space and without constant vigilance there are tumbleweeds the size of Volkswagons.

The microfiber cleaning smooshy part is attached to the shoe with velcro, so you just un-velcro it and put it in the washer. All I need now is one of those long brown cigarettes and some blue hair and a housecoat and I will be sexy for life. Amen.

3) I mentioned in my fake holiday letter at PensFatales that my entire building is full of Russians who may or may not be in the mafia. Someone who read that post commented:

they're not russians they're armenians in your building...big difference!

Well, I am relieved to see that people have not yet figured out where I live and started stalking me for pictures of me in my slipper genie shoes and housecoat because no, my neighbors are not Armenian, they are really Russian. You're right, there is a big difference. You must be thinking of that other apartment building with all BMWs and one rusting Jeep. That is probably the Armenian building.

Actually not everyone in my building is technically Russian, two of the couples are Romanian but then again Romania was part of the Soviet Union. I never hear anyone in my building speaking English, so we can safely assume they are all talking about espionage ... or dinner. I love Cold War-era spy stories so this new building is very helpful for my weird fantasies. There's even a Russian grocery store now on Ventura Boulevard, in case I need to do some Cyrillic shopping or some espionage of my own.

My apartment manager is from Moscow and during The Big Leaking Roof of '09 I got to practice the one phrase I have learned so far in Russian: Моё судно на воздушной подушке полно угрей, which means, "My hovercraft is full of eels." This is what happens when you try to learn a language off the internet.

4) I once dated a guy who was Armenian. He was very goodlooking. I was about 22 at the time, I think he was 19. He was my summer intern at the newspaper and it was my first attempt at workplace sexual harassment. Go me. Power to the people.

5) I don't remember anything about him except that he introduced me to Armenian food (delicious) and had a complete fixation with Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and he always tucked in his shirts.


Well my list is quickly devolving, so that is it for today. I'm going to do my work, and drink coffee, and later I will go home and wear my pink mopping slippers while whispering state secrets to a man who looks like a Russian Antonio Banderas. From the outside I may seem boring, but I am all about the espionage. The knitting, the cats, the country grits exterior... it's all just a cover. Or is it? I WILL NEVER TELL.

Posted by laurie at 10:04 AM

November 27, 2009

Black Friday

My sister-in-law woke up at 3 a.m. to be ready to hit the mall with some of her friends when the stores opened at 4 a.m. I always wondered who was off shopping at a mall at 4 a.m. and now I know, it's my sister-in-law!

I prefer to do my shopping the hermit's way: online, in my pajamas, with a glass of wine. I have furnished my house almost entirely from shopping online, I buy my clothes online, my books, shoes. I love the UPS man, the FedEx lady, the reliable ol' U.S. Postal Service.

Speaking of the postal service, I wrote a little guest post about holiday letters over at PensFatales.com. Unlike horrible, mean curmudgeony me, the lovely ladies of PensFatales allow comments, so comment away! Carry on my wayward son, there'll be peace when you are done.

As for me, I'm at work, waiting for the end of the day and for the weekend to officially begin with pajamas and wine and maybe some shopping of my own -- from the safety of my living room of course. Have a great weekend!

Posted by laurie at 11:05 AM

November 25, 2009

Happy Thanking Day!

Happy Thanksgiving! And day-before-Thanksgiving! Especially to the servicemen and women who read from half a world away.... I don't know how you put on fatigues each day a million miles away from home and do your work and still find the muster to endure yet more blabbering about my exciting life (cat poop! gardening trauma! the great and ongoing discussion of whether or not I should wear bangs!) but I appreciate my readers in uniform and thank you for checking in and emailing and for doing a job I'm too chicken to do but appreciate more than I can say.

- - -

Lately I have spent a ridiculous amount of time feeling anxiety over the next book and all which that entails, and even though I know it's a high-class problem to have and all that, there is still anxiety, a sucking pit of acid pooling in my stomach. It reminds me that all change (even good change) can cause stress. I've never been one who thinks that just because someone somewhere else has it worse your problems should miraculously vanish or become unimportant, but I do try to get out of my own head from time to time. Finding things to be thankful about always helps.

Jennifer and I went through a period of time where we'd email each other three things a day. Three happy things or stuff we were thankful for. We haven't done it in a while but it was funny how something so simple could make you pause from your constant brainchatter -- even just for a few minutes -- and focus on just looking for good things. It changes your mood.

Of course I feel grateful for my family and friends and that I am alive and employed and my cats are healthy and my car isn't making mysterious noises and I have so much, I even have a second a book to worry about. Today, though, my top three are:

1) My little circle of female friends, who I love and admire and respect and learn so much from. I've never been one of those people with 200 best friends, I've always kept a very small group, and now as an adult I feel even more grateful for the smart and funny women I know and feel close to. They give me perspective, they give me laughs, they give me a reality check when I need it, they show me their lives and share their stories with me. They make my life feel full and happy.

2) Readers. All readers, not just folks who read here but people who read books and buy books and walk out of the library with a stack. Reading is the cheapest and fastest way I know to get out of my head and into a whole new world. I love swapping books with people and getting book recommendations and most of all I just love others like me who know they're never alone as long as they have a book. With a book I can go places, you know? I can lie in bed or sit on the subway or just curl up on the sofa with a book and I am somewhere else, it's magic.

3) My job. Obviously one day I want to be less Walter Mitty and more J.K. Rowling and I will never give up that dream. Until then, however, I still have bills to pay and like to eat (a lot) and my job has been a solid spot in a crazy year. 2009 has been a wild ride in the world of finance and I know how lucky I am to be employed. This year I got to work on a project that was very detailed and complex and time-consuming and challenging and it was the best project I've done in all the time I've worked here and I feel ridiculously proud of it. The whole team was smart and hardworking and I think it made what could have been a difficult year much happier for me, more fulfilling. A lot of other stuff was not going so well, but instead of harping on the icky parts I just focused deeply on the project I liked.

Sometimes I find I have to look for the one thing that is going right and focus intently on it until all the crappy stuff begins to lose its importance, lose its grasp on me. That's what I did at work this year and it made me happier about coming in each day. And for that I am well and truly thankful.

- - -

That's my three for today. Hope that wherever you are and whatever you're doing for Thanksgiving you're happy and full and that you have a good book picked out for later.

xo
laurie

Posted by laurie at 11:40 AM

November 24, 2009

Perfect pot roast recipe (for the crock pot)

I know I have mentioned my super-simple pot roast recipe before but folks keep emailing asking for it, so maybe this will help. I also conveniently just emailed these detailed instructions to my friend Aileen, so I had 'em handy! I am calling this a no-fail recipe because if anyone on this planet can screw up a recipe it is yours truly. I once burned water. I have scorched an egg while trying to boil it. I caught toast on fire. What I am saying is that I a not a very accomplished cook, and even I haven't been able to mess this one up!

There's no canned soup or powdered mixes or any of that stuff, just meat and real spices and liquid of your choice. I have a big crockpot so I make a big roast and freeze all the leftovers in portions and it's delicious.

No Fail Crockpot Pot Roast Recipe:

Pick any kind of beef roast -- rump roast, brisket, sirloin tip or anything. I usually pick one with not too much fat (if it's a brisket, I cut some of the fat off before working with it.)

Buy one of those little jars of pureed garlic. Make sure you have plenty of black pepper. You will also need some form of seasoning liquid like red wine and some beef broth -- or you can use beer (caution here -- I have made roasts with all sorts of beers and if you go that route, make sure you don't use a dark stout like Guinness. Too overpowering.)

When you're ready to cook, just unwrap the roast and put it on a big plate. In a bowl, mix the whole jar of crushed garlic with a LOT of black pepper. More than you think is necessary! With your hands, rub this mix really well all over the roast. I don't add salt but you can if you want.

Brown the roast in a big pan on the stove. I actually use a big stew pot so there is less splatter. You know how I am with messes. I add a small amount (maybe 1 tablespoon) of olive oil to the pan, heat it up on medium or medium high, then put the roast in. Brown all sides. This can take a while, maybe 10 minutes for all sides to brown depending on the size of the roast.

When browned, move the roast into the crock pot. Go back to your (now-empty) stew pot and add in some liquid. I prefer to add about 1/2 cup beef broth and 1/2 cup red wine and if I need more liquid I add more broth bit by bit. Or you can do this with about half a bottle of beer. When cooking with alcohol I like to let the liquid come to a boil which cooks off some of the alcohol taste but it's not necessary.

Scrape up all the pan drippings from the bottom and stir. After a few minutes you're done. Dump this whole mess into the crock pot. The liquid should cover just the bottom portion of the roast. Maybe not even that much (you don't want too much liquid, just an inch or so in the bottom of the crockpot.) It should not cover the roast entirely -- if it does, just take out a little of the liquid.

Cook on high for 1-2 hours, then turn to low and cook all night.

The next morning, open the crock pot lid and using some big tongs or two spoons, flip the roast over, it may fall apart, that's fine. It lets the other half soak in all the liquid, too. Put the lid back on and cook until you are ready to eat. You can cook this for up to 24 hours and it just gets better and better!!! Beef gets more tender when it's cooked low and slow like this, but don't try this method with poultry. Trust me. I tried it, it was not pretty.

So that's it, perfect pot roast every time:

Nov182009-dinner2.jpg

Enjoy!!

Posted by laurie at 9:14 AM

November 23, 2009

Santa's helpers have whiskers

As I was driving around Sunday running errands I saw at least ten houses in the Valley all decked out for Christmas already and at least two radio stations are playing round-the-clock Christmas carols. So it seems I'm not the only one with Early Xmas Syndrome. Maybe it's because 2009 has been so drab and dour, we're all anxious to get it over with and bring on the eggnog and usher in the new year and all that.

On Sunday I got my tree decorated. Much to Frankie's dismay it was not decorated with a giant calico kitten in the middle:

christmastree2009.jpg


The very best thing about having a tiny tree is that you don't need a lot of stuff to make it seem perfect and sparkly. I always wanted to have the job of decorating trees for window displays at big department stores, doesn't that sound like a perfect occupation? I love having a very small tree at home because I can change up the look a lot for not much money (or storage space for all those ornaments.) A few years ago I had a penguin tree, I still love those antique-looking glass ornaments but I wasn't really feeling like penguins this year. Last year I didn't decorate at all, but the year before that I had a tree of silver Eiffel towers. This year I only have two new ornaments, those little glass Eiffel towers I picked up at Target. I wanted more -- you really need at least five of the same ornament to make a theme -- but I am out of luck, it seems. I've been to four Targets and everyone is sold out. It doesn't seem to be available online, either (unless I want to pay $15 and up for an ornament that sold for $4.99, which I refuse to do on principle alone) so this year I'm themeless, it's just a sparkly tree:

christmastree2009-2.jpg

And my helpers enjoyed the afternoon, they love decorating:

christmashelp2009-1.jpg

christmashelp2009-2.jpg
"I believe I am the only ornament you need, madame."

Posted by laurie at 11:20 AM

November 20, 2009

Knitted Entrelac tutorial: step-by-step with pictures

I've become addicted to entrelac! I love it. The most important thing I can tell you about entrelac is that the first time you make this pattern you must take a leap of faith. Follow the pattern even though it appears you're doing it all wrong. Most patterns make sense almost as soon as you start them but this one may take a while -- hang in there, it's worth it!

For the purpose of this tutorial, I am knitting a scarf using the BEST free entrelac pattern online, written by Allison LoCicero. You can find the free pattern here, and it's one of the few rare patterns I've ever found online that has not a single error. If you have the book Scarf Style and you've wanted to try the Lady Eleanor stole, this tutorial will work exactly the same. The Lady Eleanor pattern is almost identical to the scarf, except it's much larger in scale and is worked over 10 stitches in a section instead of eight.

Let's get some basic terms out of the way:

RS - Right side. This is the stockinette side.
WS - Wrong Side. This is the reverse stockinette side.
section - each chunk of the pattern, for example one square is a section, and one triangle is a single section.
tier - A tier is a group of sections (triangles and squares or some combo) that go all the way across the scarf.
slip - move one needle to the other needle without knitting or purling it.
ssk - slip as if to knit, slip the next stitch as if to knit, then knit them together. For videos of this decrease, check out KnittingHelp.com
kfb - knit into the front of the stitch but don't drop the stitch off the left needle. Now knit it again through the back loop. This makes two stitches from one.
m1 - Make one, another type of increase. The best way to explain this is for you to watch the video on this page at KnittingHelp.com -- by the way, I use the version she calls "M1R (Make One Right) or M1B (Make One Back)." It is not the easiest stitch to work but makes a tight, neat little increase with a barely-visible hole.
pick up stitches - Knitty has a picture tutorial on picking up stitches. I talked a little about picking up stitches in this entry, but most of entrelace is picking up stitches, so try it a few times and before you know it you'll be doing it like an expert.

turn - The one term I had to get used to was this little tiny tricky word: turn. Turn? Turn what? Well, TURN simply means "turn the work." If you're holding the needles like this:

And the pattern says to turn, you turn it over so now you're holding the needles like this:

It's that easy. Yes, the yarn tail is now connected to the left needle. Yes you begin working in that position. Yes, it will really work. (Note: I know many folks have written to me to tell me I should learn to knit backwards so I'm not doing any turning but I like turning the work. This tutorial follows the pattern exactly, which includes turning the work back and forth.)

The pattern talks about base triangles, left side triangles and middle squares. Here is a visual illustration of where those bits are in the finished piece:

entrelac-explained1.gif

- - - -

I'm not going to break down the pattern word for word, only illustrate the parts that confused me when I first tried it. This is not a tutorial on techniques (like picking up stitches), so you will need to practice those on your own. If you get stuck and one of the pictures or the words make no sense, just look at the work in your hands and try doing the next logical thing and you'll know before long if it worked or not. Look for whatever seems to be the next stitch to knit. Or, look for a finished adjacent edge to start picking up stitches.

Once you knit a few tiers of the pattern it will start to make sense but until then you have to loosen up and just trust that what seems like a mad mess in the beginning will eventually come together.

Here goes!

- - -


GETTING STARTED AND THE BASE TRIANGLES

Cast on:

entrelace-tutorial-caston.jpg


Then the pattern says, "*Row 1: (RS) k1, turn
Row 2: and all WS rows: purl all sts in that section"

What it means: You are making the base triangles, which means you begin with one triangle. And every triangle begins with one stitch. Knit one stitch and now that "section" is just one stitch long:

entrelace-tutorial-first-st.jpg

Now purl the one stitch you just knit. Turn the work -- that means flip it over again. Purl that one stitch:

entrelace-tutorial-1sec.jpg

Now just follow the pattern exactly as written. Turn again. Slip a stitch (on a knit side, I always slip a stitch as if to knit. That means place the tip of the right needle into the stitch as if you were about to knit it, but don't knit it, just slide it onto the needle.) And then knit the next stitch and then turn.

You'll be working each step as it comes, stitch by stitch:

entrelace-tutorial-2st.jpg


Until you finish working all the instructions in the section and you will have one completed section, a base triangle:

entrelace-tutorial-1tri.jpg

Now you repeat the instructions as written, starting again with a single stitch and knitting into it to begin another section:

entrelace-tutorial-2tri.jpg

Work the section until you have two triangles completed:

entrelace-tutorial-2tri2.jpg

Repeat until you finish the third triangle, it will look like this:

entrelace-tutorial-3tri.jpg

My cast on edge is a bit tight so it really curls inward, but even if you cast on loosely it will do this to some degree. Congratulations, you have just completed the base triangles!

- - - - - - - - - -

TIER ONE
(Left side triangle, two squares, right side triangle)

This tier begins much like your first base triangle, making something out of pretty much nothing! You begin by knitting one stitch. Turn. Then kfb. You just carefully follow the pattern's instructions on this triangle and before you know it your piece will look like this:

entrelace-tutorial-t21.jpg

That's three base triangles with one left-side triangle.

Now comes the part that really stumped me the first time I made entrelac:

(middle squares) Row 1: (WS), With wrong side facing, pick up and purl 8 sts along selvedge edge of next triangle. Sl last st picked up onto left needle and p2tog, turn.

Don't get stuck on the term "selvedge edge." It's just a finished edge. In this pattern you do a lot of slipping of stitches, all those slipped stitches make for a great finished edge, easy to see where to pick up stitches. In this pattern you sometimes have to look for the most logical next place to pick up stitches. At this point, you will be picking up stitches here:

entrelac-tutorial-pu-st.jpg

entrelac-tutorial-pu-st2.jpg


Posted by laurie at 3:03 PM

November 19, 2009

Behind the scenes at the messatorium

I got a great email yesterday from reader Ellen talking about the pictures I posted yesterday of my living room:

Thanks for writing about having friends over before your new place is perfect. I'm dealing right now with the anxiety of having invited people from the three knitting groups I participate in to come to my "new" condo to do their stealth knitting in just two weeks.

It will be the second party I've had. The first was in the spring right after I bought the place, when it was unfurnished except for a dining table and chairs left by the previous owner's real estate agent. People brought their own chairs, looked the place over and knitted, talked and ate and drank.

I felt like the "before" party went well because expectations were so low. Now I'm getting to be apprehensive about the "after" party because I feel like I've been here long enough that the place should be perfect -- or at least not still have boxes in plain view in the dining room, office and craft/guest room. Worse yet, I'm retired so I think people expect me to have everything in place by now!

So now I'm trying to figure out how to tidy up, decorate for Christmas and still keep all my giftmas knitting on target. Having you write that you're only 50% done makes me feel better about the 15% or so that I have left to do to "finish" dealing with the move. Thanks! And I'm looking forward to the new book.

--Ellen


Thanks for the note! Boy do I understand your anxiety. Even though Jen and Amber are two of my closest friends and they have seen me in all sorts of messiness through the years, just the thought of having people over to my new place stressed me out because up until about a week before they came over the downstairs looked like this:

sept21-2009-livingroom.jpg

sept21-2009-livingroom2.jpg

Yeah. I won't even tell you about the upstairs, what a wreck!

Inviting my friends over was the impetus I needed to get off my duff and just get it together, at least downstairs. Nothing gets you motivated like having company! My biggest problem was that I kept unpacking boxes but didn't have designated places for all the stuff and it just piled up everywhere. At one point I got so frustrated trying to clear every corner of the whole downstairs bit by but that I took every single piece of clutter -- every item off every table and countertop and from every open-top box -- and I dumped it all in one place, the living room floor:

Nov182009-piles.jpg

With everything in one area I was able to sit down and just methodically sort it pile by pile. It took the better part of a whole evening to make a dent in it, but it worked. Now it's relatively clutter free:

Nov182009-pretty.jpg

So the downstairs of my apartment is fairly done up, although I do have a big pile of art that has yet to make it on the walls and I still haven't figured out any way to gussy up the treadmill area and I haven't hung curtains because I don't have a tall enough ladder and I need to borrow one from the apartment manager. Blah blah blah. But you know what? My guests didn't seem to mind one bit.

I don't think my home ever gets to the "completely totally finished!" portion of the decorating adventure. There is always cat hair to vacuum up, there are always projects I want to do but haven't yet found the time to work on. For example, I want to re-cover the cat scratcher in new carpet, I want to paint the big empty canvas propped up against the wall, I want to actually use the rooftop patio but it needs a lot of cleaning and work to make it useful. I want to finish getting my books organized upstairs, I need to figure out the mad mess in the office closets, I need to hang pictures. It just takes time. I don't think we ever really finish, because if we did then we'd be either bored or croaked. For me, the most important thing is to keep the kitchen and bathrooms clean and to try to keep the clutter level down to a manageable amount. Everything else is just a work in progress.

sobastairs.jpg
The best objet d'art is a cat.

Posted by laurie at 10:35 AM

November 18, 2009

Comfort food and Christmas, which is only 37 days away....

Nov182009-dinner.jpg
Roast beef, mashed potatoes and sauteed vegetables.

That was the dinner I made for a weekend get-together I had with Amber and Jennifer. They are two of my favorite people on the planet, it was so much fun to have them over to my new place. We had dinner and drank champagne and made Christmas cards all crafty-style, with glitter and paper and cuttings from magazines and little scraps of ribbons.

I wanted to have the apartment all decorated for Christmas but I got mired in work and only got a few things up, but it was enough to be festive. There's my sequin tree I got at Target a few years ago sitting on the kitchen bar:

Nov182009-sparkletree.jpg

My Burke table and chairs fit in this space but I haven't been able to part with my Target table so I have two tables, which is silly. For now.

My tree is put together but not decorated yet:
Nov182009-frankietree2.jpg

Frankie kept trying to sit inside the tree which is why there is a big hump in the side there. Then she started chewing on one branch (not the lights, just the faux greenery) and at some point she managed to scoot the tree over enough to unplug it. Cats.

Here she is decorating the tree with her body:

Nov182009-frankietree1.jpg

When I look at that picture I laugh. She is so determined. I have never seen anyone so single-minded in their need to sit inside a tree that is way too small for them. It's like watching a twisted episode of Wild Animal Kingdom. One morning I suspect I will come downstairs and the entire thing will be knocked over and she will be nested inside and totally happy with her efforts.

This little pile of Paris was in the bin with the tree base, but I haven't unpacked the other ornaments yet:

Nov182009-ornaments.jpg

The only new Christmas decor I've bought this year are these two little Eiffel towers:

Nov182009-newornaments.jpg
Apparently I like Paris.

And I put the wreath on the door but there is no picture because I don't want you knocking on my door unexpectedly. It's nothing personal, you understand, don't you? (The hermit's creed: Call before you come over, email before you call, think twice before you email.) It's nothing fancy anyway, it's the same wreath I bought on a shopping expedition with Jen back a few years ago and it's held up pretty well. I'm the first person in the building to have Christmassy stuff up on the door and I probably made a few people panic with my exuberance and earliness. This makes me secretly sadistically pleased, especially after so many years of me wanting to opt out of Christmas and feeling like I was surrounded by Holiday Cheer Freaks. Lo, and the tables do turn!

This was the first time I'd had anyone over, well, aside from the maintenance people who banged around on the rooftop patio trying to fix the leak. That doesn't really count as entertaining. So it was lovely to have my friends see my new place finally, even if it isn't all put together yet. It's about 50% done I think. I knew I had to work over the weekend, too, so instead of cooking a big meal the day of the get-together I made a pot roast in the crock pot and slow cooked it forever.

Nov182009-dinner2.jpg
Makes me hungry to look at this picture.

Of course the only and best side dish for a good slow-cooked roast is a big pile of mashed potatoes. I love the look of red potatoes mashed with the skins but prefer the texture of russet potatoes so I mix them, half Idaho Russets, half baby reds. I am apparently a connoisseur of the potato, who knew. And to add color to the plate I sauteed some carrots and zucchini in olive oil and lemon zest (I squeezed some lemon juice in there, too, it makes everything better.) You can make the roast the day before and let it cook that whole time and the sides are easy to prepare. It was simple but comforting. And I realized that while I make pot roast pretty regularly, it's not something most people I know make for themselves so it's kind of a treat, a little bit of home cooking in the big city.

Jen brought a bottle of very good cava and these lovely yellow tulips:

Nov182009-flowers.jpg

They balance out the fireplace mantle until I can find another orchid I like. Fresh flowers are such a nice touch and here the cats can't eat them. (I did have the tulips on the bar in the kitchen until Soba started in on a leaf and they moved immediately to the mantle, which is not on the cat radar for some reason. Weirdos.)

Speaking of the wise and venerable Sobakowa...

Nov182009-soba.jpg

She's living art, situated there between a pile of paintings I haven't hung yet and the Christmas tree. She likes to survey the surroundings from time to time.

I found the little wooden bowl I wanted to put in the living room and filled it with yarn and aluminum needles (to discourage the Bob from eating of yet another pair of bamboo knitting needles.) (Until writing this I did not realize how much of my decorating efforts involve keeping my cats from eating the whole house down to a nub. Funny.) I'm making another entrelac scarf, the perfect TV-watching project, you can do just a square at a time if you want. I love the way Noro looks wrapped into big, fat balls of yarn and I love the way it knits up like magic. It makes me happy to walk into my living room and see the bowl of knitting right there, and it's so pretty, too.

Nov182009-yarnbowl.jpg
Notice the mysterious dark ghost Soba stealthily running through the background.

And that's my little living room tour, hope you enjoyed the sparkle tree and dinner and the big fat cat ornament!

Posted by laurie at 11:50 AM

November 16, 2009

It's scarf weather until at least 10 a.m.

One thing I love about the Valley is that it gets cold in the mornings. It's only 52 degrees outside right now! That's downright wintery for us.

I have a stomach ache. I ate too many tortilla chips last night. Or maybe it was the salsa. Either way, I fear there may be spewing. I hate to throw up more than anything else so I may be able to avoid it by sheer force of will. This is how my morning is unfolding so far, and it does not bode well for the day ahead.

So here are my three good things:
1) With all the H1N1 flu news I thought this was a good time to re-read The Stand by Stephen King. It's my favorite epic book. The ending isn't my favorite, but the whole journey through the flu is one of the best written survival stories ever. Baby can you dig your man?

2) Christmas decorating. I got my tree put together on Saturday but haven't decorated it yet. My wreath from the past few years is still pretty so I hung it on the front door and already I feel the holiday cheer.

3) Netflix. I know, I know, I resisted for so long. Then I gave in and I have become an addict. I like being able to watch shows streaming online, that's by far my favorite part of the service. That's how I got into The Office and Dexter and caught up on last season's 30 Rock. I love TV, I will not lie to you.

So that is Monday. I am wearing a scarf. I am trying not to barf. I rhyme! Good times.

Posted by laurie at 7:11 AM

November 13, 2009

Friday the 13th and then just some blabbering

As superstitious as I am, I'm not really that interested in Friday the 13th. Though I won't fly on a Friday the 13th, so I guess I do still have my little trepidations. Not that I am flying anywhere.

Many months ago I posted a link to this video:

The first time I saw it, it made me go into the ugly cry. You know that part where everyone suddenly starts to come down the stairs and sing? I just started sobbing like a weirdo.

At first I couldn't figure out why that was my reaction. And I got a lot of email from people telling me the same thing happened to them. It took a while, but finally it dawned on me that most of the time we're so disconnected from pure joy that it's a shock to the system to feel a rush of it. Pure joy makes us leak at the eyeballs.

I've learned a lot from the email I get, it's been by far the most interesting and thought-provoking part of all this. I get emails all day every day. Most of them are lovely, happy, goofy, funny. Informative. It's through email that I've found cool patterns and funny videos and all sorts of things, people sharing them with me, I love that. Then there is a whole other category of correspondence, the concerned emails. It took me a while to get accustomed to it. All these strangers, all their fears. We're so alike in that we all carry secret fears but it took me a while -- a very long while -- to understand that some folks feel a deep need to warn others, help them avoid sure tragedy. It's not even a thought process, they just do it instantly. I think perhaps it's their way of reaching out, relating to others, showing connection.

That first year I was so soft, every fear I had was so transparent. People would comment or email me with their fears and I felt overcome, like I had to take on each of these new, strange, unforeseen worries.

"That thing you wrote about today? You shouldn't do that, maybe you didn't know, but... it could end horribly, tragically, it's unhealthy, causes cancer, explodes on impact, will cause food poisoning, is bad for cats, contains toxins, is bad for the environment, leads to getting fired, traveling alone is dangerous, hotel safes are not safe, your passport will get stolen, you will get lost, watch out, beware, it's harmful, you drink too much, peanut butter is fattening, the garden soil is probably toxic, I knew this friend who ate that and got so sick...."

And I would worry, fret, overwhelming anxiety crept in. I am human and fallible with my own personalized bag of crap and fear. But I couldn't anticipate or even dream up other people's fears until I started getting emails. I would write some hasty, chatty little thing and suddenly people -- people I did not know -- would scold me, school me, tell me all the ways I was ignorant, astray, about to maim, addicted, lost, tragic, pathetic, about to kill my cats, surely going to cause an accident. I was caught totally off guard.

That first year I took it all to heart because I had never experienced anything like it, and I was tightly wound all the time anyway. Soft.

The second year I was divorcing and broke and just tired. I took it less to heart. I began to suspect that complete strangers read my online diary and surmised one thing: this woman is a total idiot. She makes bad decisions and is stupid. Nothing about the email had changed, mind you, but all the sudden I was making it about my shortcomings, seeing it as an assault on my intellect. Irritated. Offended! Lord, that ought to tell you where I was those days.

The third year I just over-thought it and finally snapped, culminating in a breakdown in the Nashville airport. Awesome. I cried into the basket of chicken fingers at some overpriced restaurant with bad barbecue sauce.

After the meltdown, I loosened up. It helped that I was more comfortable with myself and that I had not actually come to some tragic end as predicted. I threw caution to the wind and I did not get eaten by a monster. I laughed a little more, at myself and at other people and our collective insanity. I started feeling grateful for notes from strangers. Happy. Interested -- not assaulted. I started looking forward to the new and goofy stuff I would see in my inbox each day. I can't wait to see what people are saying today! How does that person have email in prison? I had no idea that yarn could be funky because of YARN PLY. Isn't that interesting how this woman interpreted that sentence and got something totally opposite of what I intended? That is so fascinating! I should aim to be more succinct next time. Also, I should spell check. I use a LOT of commas. They make yarn from what kind of animal? Wacky!

These days I love getting email and seeing where people are at, what they're reading, what they hear, what they knit. I even appreciate the people who tell me I need 12 steps and a prayer because I finally understand that it isn't about me, it's about them and their fears and that's fine. But it's theirs to carry, not mine. People tell you things all the time that have nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. You don't have to take it on personally. That is a relief and it frees you up to just live your life instead of constantly being on the defensive. I do feel a connection to folks whose hearts beat in rhythm with compassion even if it's misplaced concern. That sort of care is hard to come by and I appreciate it all. But I am not a handyman's special, I am not a fixer-upper for someone else, I am not an art project. Once I got that into my thick head everything came easier, I relaxed, it's been good with an occasional ugly cry thrown in for balance.

I am a little taken aback that we seem to live in so much fear. It doesn't seem healthy, folks immediately feeling the need to warn others about surely impending doom. I can't tell if it's forever been this way or if something in our society has shifted, moving us into a place where we instantly think of the worst-case scenario, feel the need to warn people, feel scared of outcomes. Scared of peanuts. I'm not built that way so it still feels foreign to me and I haven't quite wrapped my mind around it. But maybe it's always been this way? Or maybe the pervasive news of fear has forever altered the way folks see the world. What do you think? I'm not sure, myself.

With all our stress and anxiety and concerns it's no surprise we fall into the ugly cry seeing a group of people dance in a train station. We're a whole world so constantly vigilant against tragedy (or addicted to it?) that a moment of pure joy makes us fall to pieces.

Like everyone, I want to choose happy over tragic and like most people I have my days. I'm not a Pollyanna. I absolutely hate it when someone tries to paste a happy face sticker over every last thing, it's trite and annoying and it feels fake. But I also work daily not to immediately default to the worst-case fear, either. It's so exhausting to always be on guard against unforeseen trauma and it never really changes the outcome anyway. It's easier to make jokes about stuff, loosen up, let your freak flag fly, use the damn hotel safe if you want to and eat peanuts with wild abandon.

And now and then it feels good to do a little ugly cry. It's cleansing.


Posted by laurie at 9:58 AM

November 12, 2009

reader q and a

I was just wondering when you're knitting booties and it says to "turn" and continue
knitting, what does that mean? I cannot find a demonstration on youtube or
knittinghelp.com to save the life of me! I followed your slouchy beret pattern and
it really helped the way you explained it. Maybe if you could explain turning that
easily I could get through these booties before my friend's baby goes to college.

Thanks
Iris


It means to literally, turn the piece in the other direction.

The best way I can illustrate this is to imagine your knitting is a piece of paper. You are holding the paper in your hands, and the instructions say, turn me over. So you do! Just like that, that's the same thing you do with the knitting.

The needle that was in your left hand will be in your right hand, and the one that was in your right hand will now be in the left hand and what you were looking at as the front will now be in the back. Turned!

The yarn may now be hanging down from the left needle, or not depending on your pattern, but it's all good. Just turn and follow the rest of the directions. Hope that helps!


- - -


Thank you for your blog. I'm having a mid-life Stuff Crisis, paralyzed
completely from the brain out because I am shocked and horrified at the realization
that: my clutter is so completely out of control that I don't even know who I am
anymore. Terrified of facing it. Want to just enter a witness protection program
and pretend it never happened. But I remember you've faced it down before, take a
deep breath, and I can go on your blog and read the archives and be inspired and
laugh about it through my own tears. Thank you.

Debra, the only "trick" I used was to sew the snaps using two different cuts of thread. That means I threaded a needle, knotted it, and sewed two of the four openings on the snap with that thread. Knotted it and snipped.

Then I threaded the needle again (or you know, you may have thread still on the needle) and knotted it, and used that separate load of thread the sew down the other two holes of the snap. This way even if one thread becomes frayed or comes loose, you have a backup thread holding it on.

Hope that helps and makes some kind of sense!!
xo
laurie


> Below is the result of your feedback form.
> It was submitted by debra.gilbert@thirdfederal.com (Debbie Gilbert) on:
> Monday, November, 9, 2009 at 11:36:04
>
> ---------------------------------------------------------------------------
>
> funny: knitter
>
> message: Laurie, did I miss the post about how to sew in snaps to the 5
> Hour Baby Sweater? I am about to finish one for a friend's baby and I
> would love to see how you do it. Thanks. Debbie
>


- - -

I haven't seen you mention anything about blocking the items that you make.
Blocking is the main reason I am reluctant to switch from crochet to knit. I
remember hearing years ago that it was difficult to block things. Do you find it
hard? Is it easier now that there are so many different choices in yarn?

By the way, I am SO happy that you moved into your new place! And, I'm glad that
the kitties are adjusting so well!

Take care,
Toni Bernotus


Hi Toni!
I don't think blocking is hard at all, it's just like any sweater you buy in a shop with a label that says to wash and then reshape and lay flat to dry. That's blocking. You can block an item by washing it, shaping it and letting it dry or you can shape it (or pin it into place) and spritz with water to block. I'm a big fan of the spritz method unless the item needs to be washed (for example, if it's a gift for someone else I wash it first.)

You can use steam to block many types of yarn, but I stopped doing that because I found I was a little overzealous with the steam and kept blocking the will to live out of the yarn itself. But a lot of folks like steaming, it's super fast and easy.

Most of my items need minimal to no blocking at all. But most of my items are scarves and handwarmers (read: simple squares or rectangles). I did block the baby sweaters I made but it was easy, just hand wash and shape into place on a clean towel and let dry overnight. Of all the things to keep you from knitting, blocking would be at the very very bottom of the list. It's easy as can be, and unless you're making garments you can get by with doing surprisingly little of it!

xoxo
laurie

Posted by laurie at 11:26 AM

Love in the Time of Crochet

I wanted to write a book called, "Love in the Time of Crochet" except that I am not in love (well not with anyone who is aware of my existence, yet ... looking at you, Al Gore) and there is the small issue that I can't crochet. I can chain like nobody's business, though. I could chain around the world.

I just thought you should know.

Coffee and fashion this morning on my desk. The fall preview magazine for Bloomies had a great selection of this season's hot little knit, the infinity scarf:

Nov122009-bloomy1.jpg

Nov122009-bloomy2.jpg

Nov122009-bloomy3.jpg


Knitting one of these seems like an easypeasy project, use some big long circular needles, cast on a bazillion stitches and knit away. Maybe I'll put one on my to-do list, that would be good TV knitting. Of course if I get really lazy I could just take one of my long simple scarves and seam the ends together and voila, a circle! Infinity plus seam.

Speaking of long simple scarves, I unpacked a box last weekend and found the kitchen magnets, my 2005 tax receipts and my big green Noro garter stitch scarf:

Nov122009-noroscarf.jpg

After I did my first entrelac scarf I thought I might undo this scarf and use the yarn for another entrelac project but while this scarf was languishing in a box I decided to make an entrelac scarf using totally different Noro that I bought over the summer before I moved and realized that I have more yarn than I can feasibly use in my lifetime. I forgot how pretty it is, I love the green.

Let's hope it gets cold soon so I can wear one of my eleventynine hundred scarves. One neck, so little time!

Posted by laurie at 10:27 AM

November 11, 2009

Some complaining, followed by cat talk

Two or three weeks ago I went to Ikea to buy some bookcases for my new place. There are two things I miss from my old place and one of them is the long, huge built-in bookcase that ran underneath the big picture window in the living room. (The other thing I miss is the crazy morning sunlight pouring into every corner. Ah well.) The new bookcases sat in their cardboard packaging on the floor until last Saturday when I finally put them together with a cold drink and the movie "Purple Rain" playing on the computer.

By the time Prince finally sang Wendy and Lisa's song, I had almost all of the two larger bookcases put together and I finished the last one Sunday morning.

Last night I had to go back to Ikea for something totally unrelated and I was shocked to see that in the two-maybe-three weeks since my last visit they've gotten rid of all but two or three real people check out lanes and have installed about eight self-check-out lanes. I hate self-check out. I said this out loud, mostly to myself, but a yellow-shirted Ikea employee hovering over the self-check out lane (a misnomer if ever there were one) said tartly, "Well, we still have regular check out lines..." and even as she said it, we both turned our heads and looked at the two real-person checkout lanes, with two lines of irritated shoppers that stretched through the warehouse so far you couldn't see the end.

If you've never been to the Burbank Ikea I can see where you're
maybe thinking the crowd on a Tuesday night only warrants two live checkout people and you maybe think I am exaggerating for storytelling purposes. Well, you know what your local grocery store is like at 5:30 p.m. on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving? That is the normal status of the crowd at the Burbank Ikea. At any time of the day or night, there is a metric assload of shoppers filling up baskets with Poopli and Kumbarli and Varmooogman and eating 99-cent ice cream cones.

Or maybe you're passionately writing me an email about how much you personally love self-scanning and bagging your own crap using a machine that takes five times as long as a real checker and doesn't tell you until the very end that you can't use a coupon. Save your email and passion for someone else, my friend. If I wanted to shop without any people involved I would shop online. I love shopping online. I do about 80% of all my shopping from the comfort of my own desk, with a glass of wine and trust me, I tried to buy what I wanted at Ikea's website. But they only offer about 1/1119th of their inventory for sale online, and what they do sell online is completely negated by the ridiculous shipping charges (to get my cheapy bookcases ordered and delivered online would have cost me an additional $159. That is crazytalk. That is MORE THAN THE BOOKCASES COST.)

I imagine the self-scan checkout aisle is what happens when you marry an a spreadsheet and a number-cruncher and they give birth to a retail store. I just don't understand why any business that is either too cheap or too lazy to hire and train enough real humans to well-staff its brick and mortar stores doesn't just take the whole show online. Online shopping is the best invention ever. And somehow someway many places have figured out how to make shipping totally painless -- I ordered a huge, lovely rug from Overstock.com and they shipped me that sixty pound rug for $1.99. One dollar and ninety-nine cents. I'm a big fan of Overstock.com. And I would shop at Ikea online if they had a decent online store with reasonable shipping prices.

But I'm not going back to brick-and-mortar Ikea and their self-scan madness. I'd rather pay a little more somewhere else and be able to get my items into a bag without wanting to kill some stupid touchscreen that won't let me clear the last item. BEEP BEEP BEEP.


- - - -

This has nothing to do with anything above. It's still hot during the day and hard to believe it's mid-November, but at night it cools down nicely. It gets quite chilly upstairs here in the new apartment and during the night it has not been unusual to wake up with all three cats using me as a heater. I practically emit waves of heat as I sleep, it's impressive. But I get so hot with all those fur coats smothering me.

So I came up with what I thought was either a ridiculous or brilliant idea. I bought a small heated blanket for one side of the bed, hoping to lure the cats away from sleeping on the small of my back, or my legs, or my shoulder. I bought this one: the Microplush Electric Heated Throw but I got mine a dull grey color.

It's really unimpressive out of the packaging, kind of flimsy and it has this big electronic control attached to it. But I smoothed it out on one side of the bed and turned it on and later, when I went to bed, Bob and Frankie were already on it asleep. They've been sleeping on it every night (it's machine washable, too.)

Sobakowa doesn't bother with it, though. She still sleeps on me all night, my own personal fur coat that covers one shoulder and stares at me like I'm on house arrest. I haven't seen her use the electric blanket once. She likes the real thing, a human heater, not some self-serve heater stand in.

Posted by laurie at 9:33 AM

November 7, 2009

My Conway Twitty voice says, "Happy Birthday, Darlin"

When Lark and I were living together in Tennessee we were in a teensy place, a single room with a bathroom and no kitchen. It was an apartment carved out of one of those great antebellum mansions that dot the southern landscape, divvied up into little spaces for starving students and singles on a budget. I have no idea what we did for meals, I don't remember, back then I was so less concerned about my stuff, my routines, I was too young to have formed any. I think we had a dorm fridge and a microwave. I guess back then we ate less and smoked more.

I had long blonde hair and wore patchouli and broomstick skirts and Lark was a rock star, the most famous person any of us knew, and he and I lived in squalor in this little place with candles and all my stuff and my first cat, Isabella. Little apartment on Main Street.

Every night I worked at the college bar, either manning the front door taking money and checking IDs (a strange job for someone not 21 years old yet) or I worked behind the bar serving draft beer and taking tips in a jar. Lark melted into the background during the first set of the opening act, later he seemed to spring fully-formed from the stage curtains, a tall, dark superstar in our midst. He worked the crowd, singing with his guitar and making the people sway, dance, sing along. He was a celebrity. Girls used to fawn over him after shows and I got jealous and angry and closed-up tight like a fist. All the guys knew the words to his songs and wore their jeans frayed and patched like his and they smoked like chimneys and none of them asked me out because they knew I was his girl.

I don't know how I was unhappy and happy at the same time but there you have it. The apartment had bugs and we'd sleep with the lights on because I was so scared they'd get in my hair. Even then I was particular and tidy, one weekend I set off five foggers in our tiny apartment and forgot to warn the other residents in the house and they thought they were being assaulted by chemicals (they were.) That same summer our hot water get shut off and bathing became a painful excursion into the cold. Lark and the band were recording in the studio every night until dawn, so after I ended my shift at the bar I'd go with him to the warren of soundproofed rooms and while he was singing and the band played I'd go into the ladies room -- it was completely empty at 3 a.m. -- and I'd run the hot water in the sink and wash my hair, shave my legs, and afterwards clean every spot of water off the countertop so no one could guess I'd been there. The soundproofing couldn't contain him. I could hear his voice carry through the vents as I washed my long hair in the sink, my entire decade's soundtrack formed by the one person I can say I loved and never lost.

Many of my girlfriends stay in touch with old boyfriends, old lovers, they email or correspond now and then. One of my friends even went on vacation with an ex-boyfriend recently. It's incomprehensible to me. I have always burned my bridges so thoroughly that no one ever speaks again, I cannot name one single ex-lover I stay in contact with but Lark. We're like a persistent cold, cropping up from time to time in the loneliest hours. Of all the people who have seen me undress and slept beside me he is the only one I still speak to.

He's a big-time music video producer now and I'm whatever I am, and sometimes we talk about packing up and moving back to Nashville and renting one of those old haunted houses and just for one year stepping back in time. Doing the unthinkable, re-creating lost youth. Fuck it, if anyone can do it it's me and Lark. I'm not sold all the way yet because I'm not even halfway there, I can't get my head out of L.A. and I can't get out of traffic and I'm in this apartment that costs a fortune and I'm still one foot into the future like always, wondering if tomorrow my fortunes will change as they are wont to do. It's that kind of town. But like they say, Nashville is just Los Angeles without a tan.

The memory of a love like that is hard to resist. How do you ever get over a true love, especially with a voice like that? Have you ever had someone write a song for you? Not just a good song or a sweet song, but a GREAT song? It's intoxication. It's pure addiction. I can't carry a tune in a bucket but there's a darkened, stealthy star singing my song. Who gets over that?

I never rule out anything. Maybe one day we'll do the impossible or maybe we'll always be fond long-distance friends, but everything in between is smooth and comfortable, like only someone who has known you twenty years can be. We talk about 'maybe' because it keeps a door open. I call him when I am two sheets to the wind and wishing I had accomplished more. I always know he will pick up the phone, and he'll exhale and call me darlin' in that voice, the one that seeped through all the vents and ducts at the recording studio and was the soundtrack to my life for ten years and a day.

He's not perfect. Don't get thinking he is. But he is the only one I hold on to and that means something. Today is his birthday, young as always, a voice that never ever changes.

Happy Birthday, Lark. Hope your show at 12 & Porter is luscious, I hope one of those A&R people try to seduce you like they do, I hope you get the hotel key of the prettiest girl. And when you are onstage, sing my second favorite song, Truth. It's no Dark Heart but damn it's a good song.

Truth and lies, that's all you need.

Download it: Truth download the mp3

More songs here.

Posted by laurie at 9:44 PM

November 5, 2009

Dallas Raines and Ralph, my two favorite men

The beginning of the week brought November and summer, it was ninety degrees downtown. Dallas promises that summer will end eventually and I hold onto hope:

Nov52009-dallas1.jpg

Nov52009-dallas2.jpg

Doesn't he look like he's delivering the bad news with that stern expression, telling his fans that sad but true we'll have to endure several days of partly cloudy. However will we manage?

At least it's not going to be ninety degrees today again. I have the physique of someone better suited to winter wear than summer attire, it would be nice to finally get the accompanying weather.


- - -

This week I splurged and bought a beautiful orchid I've been eyeing at the grocery store:

Nov52009orchid.jpg


Los Angeles has spoiled me with grocery stores that are like carnivals, my local Ralph's is a destination in itself. There are fifteen different types or orchids in the floral area, and you can buy small appliances in the aisle next to it, or the entire Paula Deen cookware line. There are gourmet cheeses, the deli with fat tamales and delicately stacked sandwiches, a pet food aisle a mile long with everything you need for the pampered cat or dog or hamster. Everything under the sun. Spicy gluten-free snack foods and little jars of picked everything, from miniature ears of corn to slim white asparagus stalks to olives stuffed with garlic or pearl onions or almond slivers. And depending on which Ralph's you pick, your celebrity sighting list will grow with every single visit. Even though I have lived here for almost fifteen years I still get a little thrill each time I see someone from TV picking out cereal or lemons or dog food in my grocery store.

One of my favorite scenes from any movie is from The Big Lebowski -- not a favorite movie of mine, but I do love the scene where he's asked for ID and pulls out his Ralph's club card. I remember being in the audience in the movie theater in Burbank and everyone just burst out into hysterical laughter. That was before every store on the planet had a special discount card, of course, and the Ralph's card was still just a new goofy local thing, and anyway, it was so spot-on, a perfect joke.

So I spotted this orchid at Ralph's and it came home with me last night. It's on top of the mantle so nobody chews it to a nub. I never really had a place before to put indoor plants where the cats couldn't get to them, but in the new apartment nobody jumps on the mantle. I like seeing it in the morning when I come downstairs, it feels like such a luxury to start the day with an orchid. I should have bought one ages ago. It was ten bucks, a small price to pay for beauty.


- - -

Dictionary.com says both eying and eyeing are correct but eying looks weird to me.


- - -

traffic-in-the-dark.jpg

Everyone is complaining about the commute home this week. But I was talking to Amber yesterday and she said, "I don't care. I don't want to move anywhere else. Where would I go? This is Los Angeles.... we have everything." I get so used to people bitching and complaining about the city that I am happily relieved to know others are as in love with this crazy place as I am.

This city isn't just where I live, it's the other character in my life story. L.A. has its own personality and irritations. I love it like it's my own unruly child, my errant boyfriend, my ridiculous but charming roommate who steals my car but gives it back after a high speed chase on the evening news, so that even my car was on television at least once. (It was.)

Everyone hates the traffic, that's a given. But I've lived in towns so small there isn't even a single yellow blinking light strung between poles at an intersection and I felt caged in by the intimacy of it. It's not that one is intrinsically better than the other. They're just different. Some people crave that kind of quiet and serene pace but I feel plugged in to the world when I merge onto the Hollywood freeway. Anonymous, vast, constantly moving. It's my own internal rhythm matched by a city I picked voluntarily and can't seem to leave. I tried to leave it last year, I was planning to move to France, getting the cats all their paperwork and mentally crating up my stuff and practicing my verb conjugation but in the end I just couldn't do it. Maybe one day. Maybe not.

My coworker from New Jersey has only been here a year, not quite long enough to just accept traffic, stop resisting it. He's still in the abusive relationship stage: fighting it, yelling at it and making up later in a bar in Santa Monica where an Irish waitress with a stack of glossy headshots in her purse serves draft beer to beautiful people who are all from somewhere else.

"I warned you that everyone forgets to drive in the dark," I told him. "The worst traffic days of the year are Valentine's Day, Halloween and that fateful week after we dial the clocks back. And rain, of course, but that's not on a schedule."

"I know," he said. "You told me and I didn't listen because I didn't believe people could possibly be SO STUPID."

"Oh, people can be so much more stupid," I say, reassuringly. "One day you'll wake up and instead of fighting traffic and being mad at it and asking 'why, why, why?' you'll be planning around it. That is when you know you have assimilated."

And it's all a trade-off anyway. There are a million places on the planet with no traffic and no helicopters hovering overhead and so much rain that people don't call in sick to avoid mist. But there are so few places on earth where you can select from over a dozen types of exquisite orchids right there in the grocery store, between the organic goat's milk yogurt and the Persian cucumbers, all while some actor from your favorite childhood TV show pushes a basket right past you.


Nov52009orchid2.jpg

Posted by laurie at 10:33 AM

November 2, 2009

Procrasticleaning for the masses

I completely missed my calling as a peeping tom. If only peeping tom didn't have such a negative connotation, what with the perversity and sneakiness and dirty-old-man-in-raincoat and so on, because really I do love looking inside people's lives. I like to see their houses and what's on their kitchen tables, and how they managed to make their TV set look always somehow better than mine does in my own living room. I often stare at my TV set and wonder why it never seems to look right in the room, no matter where I put it.

Mostly I am speaking of a decorator peeping tom here. Like, more of a peeping Nate Berkus. I think this has something to do with my deep desire to be living some other life, with the fantasy all-white kitchen and the matching sofas which seem to repel cat hair. I haven’t figured out how famous people never seem to have any pet hair on their sofas or chairs. Do they hire someone special to come in each day and lint-roll the furniture? Or is everything covered in plastic all day like my Aunt Mattie's house? Maybe they just quickly remove the plastic coverings right before the photographer shows up.

And famous people don't seem to have a junk drawer. I would love to do a peeping tom expose on the Junk Drawers of the Rich and Famous. My junk drawer started out as a junk closet, a junk room, and a junk garage. A few months after I moved into the little tiny house of post-divorce, I began the long and arduous process of scaling down. It was a necessity since I couldn't move in my office with boxes stacked floor-to-ceiling and I couldn't find anything, and I feared that an earthquake would come and bury me, my cats, and eleventy hundred pairs of shoes in a tomb of accumulations.

In the first two years I lived in that little house, I managed to pare down my stuff by almost half. Half! And I don't miss any of it, which surprised me. I had one big final garage sale with all my friends and then the hardcore decluttering kind of stopped. But I wasn't really done. I was just at a place where I could stand still for a while without junk nibbling at my ankles. My plan is to keep chipping away at Mt. Cluttermanjaro, scaling down until I reach a place where it is no longer hard to clean my house and where I can move to another house or city without requiring assistance from the Army Corps of Engineers. This last move about did me in.

I have noticed that since the initial Great Clutter Removal I seem to experience fits of organizational ennui or a deep desire to clean most often as a method of procrastination. In fact, I may be the world’s leading foremost authority on Procrasticleaning.

My house can be a pit of cat-hair tumbleweeds and dirty laundry for days, and then when I have a big deadline or something I ardently want to avoid, I become the finest cleaner in the west, vacuuming the toaster and disinfecting the ice-cube trays and trying new and unique ways to make the wood floors shine like glass.

Procrasticleaning is the natural offspring of the dreaded Deadline. My house is never cleaner of shinier of more fresh-smelling than when I have a looming deadline. The night before my taxes are due, for example, I can usually be found deep-cleaning the oven or re-arranging the contents of my freezer and carefully labeling each container with perfectly printed-out sticky labels.

A week before a manuscript deadline you will find me in a frenzy, an orgy of lemon-scented cleaning and Magic Erasers scrubbed across all spots and stains, both real and imagined. Instead of finishing those last 12,000 words, I’m removing the lime scale from the showerhead or lint-rolling everything in the closet or cleaning the blades of each ceiling fan with a damp dust cloth.

During the downtimes in my life when no deadlines or tasks or time-sensitive duties are hovering over me like a cloud of anxiety, my house reverts back to its normal cat-hair encrusted state with rumpled sheets and smudged windows and mysterious hairy growing things in the fridge. I dread deadlines and timelines, but if it weren’t for them my fridge might never get cleaned out, disinfected with a special procrasticleaning mix of tea-tree oil and soapy water.

This is probably not how the Rich and Famous do it, but without tax day or I-promised-to-do-so-and-so dates circled on the calendar, my floors would forever be unmopped, my sheets always rumpled and my sofa perpetually encrusted in a layer of fur. At least I haven’t resorted to covering everything in plastic.

Yet.

Posted by laurie at 1:16 PM