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December 31, 2009

Happy New Year 2010!

I hope your 2010 is happy, healthy, wealthy, delicious and covered in chocolate. Happy New Year!
laurie and associates

(My associates)

Posted by laurie at 9:18 AM

December 29, 2009

New Year's Resolutions for a New Decade

Everyone around the office is conversationally asking, "So, what are your plans for New Year's Eve?" I don't really go out on New Year's Eve. There are plenty of reasons to stay in (the party-amateur drivers, the fact that I am a hermit, Dick Clark) but the main reason I don't make a big to-do over New Year's Eve is that it's not a big party holiday for me. I think it's probably my favorite holiday, but to me it's a very reflective day, very contemplative. You're marking the end of a calendar year and looking backwards and forwards. Because you're all flexible that way. Like the gal from the Exorcist, if only she'd been spewing resolutions instead of pea soup.

My plan for New Year's Eve is to stay home and commune with those in fur coats, cuddle up with that bottle of Veuve Cliquot I bought on sale at Ralph's ($20 off the regular price! Love you, Recession Alcohol Value Buys!) and call all my widespread friends and family members when it hits midnight in their time zones. I also enjoy watching that part of the nightly news where they show different countries ringing in the New Year.

Oh, and of course, there is list-making. And reflection.

Usually I make a hugeass long list of to-do items for my New Year's Resolutions. It's a hopeful wishlist of ways to improve my life, my outlook, my pants size, my future and my household cleaning routine. I love lists. This year, though, I have decided to dial down the Resolutions and make two very simple, over-arching goals for the year and all my other lists -- my to-do lists and to-read lists and to-clean lists -- will all just be the daily stuff that support my greater goals.

My 2010 Resolutions

1) Get really healthy
2) Come from a place of yes

So, the first goal is pretty self-explanatory. Some people lose weight and get all skinny and become marathon runners when writing their manuscripts. I do the exact opposite and marshmallow out. Since I am planning to have a mid-life crisis in 2011, I need to get into the best possible shape EVER so I can be foxy and wear cute clothes and not get out of breath on the way to my awesome ladycrisis escapades. Also, I believe it's probably a sign of some sort that I got exhausted just from going to the shoe store to purchase new tennis shoes for all the exercising I'm going to do in 2010.

Seriously, I broke a sweat trying on lace-up shoes.

On a side note, I found it funny how many people emailed me to say that 40 is not mid-life. I had no idea how many of ya'll were going to live to be 120 years old. I am impressed! More power to you!! Me, I am the one getting winded at the Lady Foot Locker so I'm keeping my expectations realistic. Plus, I still plan to take up smoking when I turn 60. But go with your bad self living to 120. I hope you wear any kooky thing you want and read trashy books all day and carry a dog around in a purse. That just sounds purely fun.
- - -

My other resolution is a little more nuanced: come from a place of yes.

This past year (especially toward the end of it) I had some moments when I was so carpy and negative even I didn't want to be around me. And I complained a lot, which is something I find I am naturally skilled at doing. It is my cardio, you know. And sometimes I can be quite amusing with my complaining. But there was some gradual crossing-over point when my good-natured griping became really annoying.

I really don't want to be that person. You know, the one you avoid because they're such a Debbie Downer. I hate that person! She emails me all the damn time! Always pointing out the stuff I am doing wrong, or should have done better, or how I am soon to meet a tragic end. Folks, I am determined not to be Debbie Downer. (I am also going to officially stop reading any negative emails or talking about them. I'm just going to delete at the first hint of crappiness. It's a mini-resolution. Delete! Delete!)

This "place of yes" resolution doesn't mean I pull a full Pollyanna and slap a happy sticker on everything. That behavior is deeply unimaginative, don't you think? And something about the relentlessly aggressive forced-positive approach to life just grates on me like sandpaper. It's so fake! It invalidates every real thing about the weird, wacky ups and downs of a true life. I like having different experiences and seeing all the colors of the rainbow and all that stuff. I just want to stop bitching about it so much.

So, in general, lay off the griping.

Coming from the yes place also does not mean saying yes to everything all the time. That would be "coming from the place of sure self-induced insanity." What it does mean is that I want to spend 2010 choosing to be upbeat, choosing to look for unexpectedly good outcomes, choosing to be hopeful, choosing to be friendly, choosing to believe the best in people and just letting go of the crap. Letting go of the nagging anxiety, the rote and chronic complaining, the irritating way I have of being able to see people's crappiest personality traits. I have a knack for seeing the devil within people... and I don't even mean to. This is handy when picking a boyfriend or a tax attorney, but not really useful at work where it's simply unproductive to harp on and on about That Person who is petty, jealous and mean-spirited. So what! They're a big steaming mess! Move on. They will still be a mess and yet you will not be paying them a whit of attention, and that is good.

Some people say it's all about being grateful (and that is true, too) but it's also about being less freaking fearful. Live it up a little! Stop looking for all the ways it won't work out and think of a few ways it will work out! That's who I want to be. Not pretending to be happy, but really choosing just to shrug off the icky and embrace an attitude of possibility.

When stuff happens -- which it does, that is the whole point of life -- instead of feeling anxious or worried or dwelling on the negatives, I'm going to give it up to the great cannoli in the sky, hope it all works out in some magical, unexpected way and go about my day. Not living in fear. Not expecting the worst. Not dreading stuff. Not making excuses. Not doing things I hate just because I feel obligated.

Wake up, say yes to the day, let it unfold, be a part of it, and choose the better-feeling thought (whatever that may be). Resist the temptation to point out people's petty behavior. Be forgiving of myself and others. Choose to believe people mean well. Choose to avoid people who are yucky. Don't take things so God-awful personally.

Take a leap of faith that things may end up better than you could ever expect.

- - -

So those are my resolutions. I have really good feelings about 2010. I am so ready for something different, and a new year is like a calendar re-boot. I am really grateful about many things that happened in 2009 but mostly I am glad it's over and we're on to something new! Maybe that's irrational. Or maybe that's me already strapping on my fancypants new running shoes and walking from the place of yes. Who cares! It's a new year, a new list, a whole new calendar of little blocks that could contain something - anything - great.

Are you happy 2009 is almost over and 2010 is coming? Am I the only one here who feels relieved? What are your New Year's Resolutions? I love hearing other people's lists. I love to hear your New Year's plans, too. (Comments are open for a bit.) (Look at me coming from the yes place on comments! hee.)

And most of all thank you for visiting with me every day, even though I got a little bit cranky and unfocused and marshmallowy. I will probably still complain about traffic because that is one of life's great pleasures, but I do hope to lobotomize my inner Debbie Downer for the year ahead.

Posted by laurie at 9:03 PM

House Hunters International

I just k=love love lub watching this show on HGTV called "House Hunters International. (You can check your local listings here.)

I stumbled on this show and now have it as a top season pass on Tivo. It's a brief 30 minutes watching voyeristically as someone looks for a house or condo or vacation home in some new countryt. Lately it's seemed they show a lot of beachy oplaces but they do often go to Tuscany, France, Spain, Prague, Crete, Switzerland.

I love this show! For so many reasons. you get an indise view of real estate in Paris or Venice, and you get to see inside the properties which are sometimes still decorated by the original owner.

I especially love watching American couples with chikdren pick houses in say France or Germany, houss that learly contain families with smal childrenb (based on decor and toys) and seeing the Americans freat about the balcony or the garden wall or funny thiungs that the local real estate agent is trying to process. One woman said, "I love these windows but there are no screens, and I worry about my two kids jumping out and falling..." and he said, "Wuldn't you just tell them not to leap forth from the windows?" He said it so seriously and earnestly that I realized there are whole nations where children are simply instructed not to leap out of the window. And they do not.

But who am I t judge? Last year I was thinking of hauling ass to France and the buggest argument me and the person in france had was about the windows. I need screens on the windows or the cats will fall out. I say this as someone wo has watched Bob fall off a sink. Repeatedly. We all have ur stuff.

Posted by laurie at 8:20 PM

December 28, 2009

All the vampires walkin' through The Valley move west down Ventura Boulevard

For my 40th birthday I have decided to have a mid-life crisis. I don't turn 40 for quite a while, I don't even turn 40 in 2010, but I am a planner and that gives me plenty of time to come up with something awesome for my crisis. Move to Spain and herd sheep? Get all-over liposuction? Have everything botoxed into perpetual stillness? Laser hair removal? Cabin in the woods manifesto writing? Move the cats and my shoes into an RV and drive around the country? There is so much opportunity for a midlife meltdown makeover. I am really looking forward to it. I am making a list of all the things I want to do between now and 40 and there's all kinds of crazy stuff on it. Lord only knows what my Midlife Crisis List may contain.

Making lists is just part of December. This is by far my favorite time of the year: the end of it. This is when all the crud and muck and shlub of days gone by gets wrapped up and shrugged off as "last year" and you get to move on and think about the shiny, happy unknown future which is "Next Year." Next Year can bring anything, and it might be good! You could win the lottery, meet a sexasaurus, get a fantastic haircut, lose weight, travel to someplace great, floss.

Anything can happen Next Year!

Even though I try hard to stay in the present sometimes the present is anxiety-causing or dull or full of traffic, so I tend to drift off into the future. I worry I am living a lot more in the future than right now, but that makes me anxious so I fantasize that in the future this will not be a problem.

I'm pretty excited about my future midlife crisis. I don't have a lot of tethers so who knows where I could float off to. Pull a Hemingway and write all day, drink all evening, fight the Spanish Civil War, go fishing in the Keys, have some six-toed cats. I'm not really that fond of boats but I might get on one anyway. Or at least a canoe. Or maybe a surfboard with a sail on it.

Maybe I will cut off all my hair or get those really thick bangs or buy a small watermelon farm in ... uh... somewhere watermelons grow, or I'll rescue goats. As surely goats need rescuing!

There are so many options! And I have time to make lists and lists and more lists. I feel I am very ready for a midlife crisis, I'm not really deeply committed to anything except TV and Magic Erasers, I'm not sure where I am exactly on my personal progress spectrum and it's been a weird, wacky year for the entire world. This is the ideal breeding ground for a real go off-the-rails out-of-the-box leap of crazypants.

As it is list time, I'm also working on my New Year's Resolutions, many of which are carryovers from 2009's list since I don't think I really accomplished much. I did write a book, but I'm not sure it's any good. I did travel a little, and write a bunch of stuff here online though not as often as I wanted. I sat in traffic a lot. I moved into a gorgeous new apartment, but sort of as an F-you to the gardeners who I doubt are really missing me. I made two baby sweaters!! Real sweaters, and also baby shoes, I do feel that was an accomplishment. Oh, and entrelac. Frankly I may put "entrelac" down as a skill on my resume I'm so proud of it.

I gave in to my hermit tendencies more than ever before, largely explained as "I'm working... sorry... can't leave the house..." and I enjoyed it, which I can't tell if that's a good thing or a bad thing. I completely lost the battle of the bulge and gained more weight instead of losing more, which was a bummer. I worked on a project at work that was really challenging and turned out great, and that was a good feeling. I got my first ever traffic ticket and did traffic school online, also known as "eight hours I can never get back." I started picking my battles more carefully, which was a nice change, and I totally opted out of the Recession Doom And Gloom which was the best choice I made all year.

But still in the end I feel like I didn't do much in 2009. In 2010 I want to be more active in my own life, but I haven't really defined what that means. Which brings us back to the Midlife Crisis, because all that stuff you wish you had the guts to do but are too afraid to do? I think a Midlife Crisis is the perfect time to try them out! Unlike a male midlife crisis which is so silly and predictable, I think my ladycrisis is going to be far more adventurous and zeitgeisty and run-off-to-Australia-and-recreate-The-ThornBirds, you know? Men have no imagination. And, besides, I already have a red convertible!

Posted by laurie at 9:37 AM

December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas!


Posted by laurie at 4:56 PM

December 22, 2009

Tuesday Five

Weird things I saw downtown this morning:
Guy walking across Spring Street in a dress and cowboy boots. Two armed guards with their guns drawn (!!) on Flower Street. Whole crew of guys on the Temple off-ramp from the 101 cleaning up what looked like all the fallen palm tree branches in the city congregating in one spot.

I hear that in other parts of the country people are having "snow" and "blizzards" and "ice." I have seen that stuff before on TV, like in the claymation movies all about Christmas and it looks sweet and fluffy. Out here we're having a hard winter! First, it was sunny and 80 degrees all weekend and I was low on sunscreen. Then, it got inhospitably cold overnight and today we're only going to see 60 degrees as a high temperature! How will we survive? And there is wind! (See: downed palm tree fronds, above.) My hair got messed up on the walk from the parking garage to my building and there were leaves blowing around. I was able to wear a scarf, though, the one upside of the harsh Los Angeles winter.

Santa Hat
Our office manager gave me a Santa Hat this morning and I want to wear it but I tried to put it on and my head is too big. Has my head swelled with knowledge or is this hat meant for small-headed people? Is it my ginormous forehead? Have I gained weight in my head, too? Depressing concept. Moving on.

Twitter, and then complaining
I am not sure I get the concept. I mean, I have a Twitter thingy and sometimes I write stuff, but since I never cook anything worth writing about and since even my shortest thoughts are two paragraphs long the whole thing seems like an exercise in self-editing, something I fail at miserably already. Interestingly enough, Twitter and Facebook (something I am not doing at all) are totally 100% available through our corporate firewall and yet Netflix has been blocked. Not just the "watch instantly" portion (that was blocked, and reasonably so, but you used to be able to still see your movie queue and re-arrange it) but now the entire site is blocked. So... let me get this straight. It's OK with the corporate security people for employees to spend all day on Facebook -- which they do -- but it's not OK for me to re-arrange my movie queue for six minutes on my lunch break once a week? GO FIGURE.

Noises, creaky
The building is making these creaky noises and I can't tell if it's from the wind or if we're having a mild earthquake. Which reminds me, to all those people who made fun of me for drinking instant coffee guess which one of us will be happily caffeinated during the next Big One while your Starbucks is closed? I can boil water on a gas grill and drink my Nescafe Clasico even if the power is off for two weeks... you and your fancy coffee snob preferences will be knocking on my door for some of that Nescafe love...

- - -

That's all for today. I'm grumpy but not sure why. Maybe it's because I want to be home drinking my instant coffee and re-arranging my movie queue! Ah, the jet-setting life of the single gal.

Posted by laurie at 11:26 AM

December 21, 2009

All is well that ends well.


I'm going to tell you the end of this story first: everyone is fine. I am fine, the cat is fine, all is well in the world. Sometimes it's best to know the ending of a story before it even begins.

- - -

Last week I noticed that Sobakowa was a little bit lethargic. It was hard to tell for sure if something was wrong. She was eating and seemed to be drinking her water and sleeping in her normal spots but something just seemed off. I thought I would give it a day or so. After all, I have been sick for a couple of weeks and I'm lethargic myself -- maybe I was just projecting.

But the next day came and Sobakowa was sleeping in the closet. This is not usually a good sign. Bob sleeps in the closet because he is afraid of air. But that's very unusual behavior for the Sobakowa, who will greet strangers at the door and look at them with pleading eyes to take her far away on adventures that don't include cats. She really doesn't like cats.

I have a veterinarian who comes to my house to give all three cats their yearly check-up and vaccinations -- believe me it is easier to bring Mohammad to the mountain than to truck a mountain of felines over to the vet for a booster shot. And after Roy died I couldn't go to my regular vet's office without thinking of him, which usually ended in tears, so they recommended a doctor who makes house calls and everyone has been healthy and fine and well. Until now.

But of course with a sick kitty you need more than a housecall, I've been down this road before. I knew I had to take her in to the veterinary clinic so they could do all the tests and labwork and so I packed her into her little pink and grey kitty jail and off we went to Sherman Oaks Veterinary Clinic to see Dr. Clipsham. I left work early to make the last available appointment at 5:30 and as I was driving home it was just so much like all those other days years ago when I would leave work early to take Roy to the last available evening appointment, for his new medication or maybe new X-rays or sometimes for kittycat acupuncture, which seems crazy but helped him a lot. And I would have done anything to help that cat.

Roy and Sobakowa came to live with me on the same day, but Roy was already full grown and Soba was just the tiniest kitten you've ever seen. Mr. X and I had gone to a shelter to adopt a cat -- we decided beforehand we'd adopt an adult, one who was having a hard time finding a home. That was the plan. So we found Roy and that's a story all its own, but while Mr. X was signing the paperwork and paying the fee, I wandered around the shelter looking at the other animals. That's when one of the volunteer workers handed something to me.

"Here, can you hold this for just a sec?" she asked.

She was trying to clean out a bowl of spilled food from a cage. She handed me this little scrap of wet, matted, food-covered fur about the size of a baby sock. It was sticky. And it was shaking. And it smelled really bad.

I took it in my hand and I stared at it for a minute.

"What is this?" I asked. It was so tiny.

"Oh, it's the runt. All its brothers and sisters got adopted but this one was so ugly no one wanted it," she said. She was scraping food off the side of the cage.

I pulled the scrap close to my chest and it wriggled underneath my hair and up against my neck and squished into place. Then it started to purr. The little food-covered thing that nobody wanted began to purr.

I walked up to Mr. X who was just putting his wallet away and I said, "We can't leave. This one is so little and ugly and no one will take it and now it's mine and I can't leave until we buy it. And I think it's stuck to my hair." And so he sighed and got out his wallet again and filled out some more papers. There are times I can be reasoned with and times when I am impermeable to reason and he was at least smart enough to recognize when there was no arguing with me. I wasn't leaving without both animals.

And so we brought it home and I bathed it in warm water and baby shampoo and then we found out it was a little kitten, and it was a girl kitten and it was the only creature that poor, scared Roy would let near him for months. He'd been terribly abused by people and was skittish and had burn marks on his ears. Soba had boundless energy and she bounced off the walls, got into everything and ruled the whole house top-to-bottom, bringing Roy out of his shell and knocking over all the vases (which hasn't much changed). Roy was the only cat she ever liked and much later, when Bob and Frankie were found behind the garage of our old North Hollywood house, she tried to murder them and when that failed, she ignored them whenever possible. She has always preferred the company of people.

I still think of her as a teeny tiny kitten (she is the smallest of all my animals, just under ten pounds and about a foot long, with these stubby little legs) but she's actually closer to a senior citizen, or that's what Dr. Clipsham told me when I brought her in on Thursday.

"She's getting on up in years," he said. "I'm glad you brought her in, because if we can catch something early it can make all the difference."

I tried to bite my lip so I wouldn't start crying. It was too much like all those times with Roy, in and out of every doctor's office. Roy had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor just shortly after my divorce and I did everything I could to keep him healthy and happy and I still haven't quite recovered from his passing. Even up until the very end I never expected he would die. It just never occurred to me, I refused to think of it. I assumed I could keep him afloat with sheer force of will alone.

When we bring an animal into our lives we forget that they will not, most likely, outlive us. And realistically that's a good thing. I mean, cats just don't live to be 70 or 80 years like human beings. And it would be far worse if the human lifespan was dialed downward to match that of the animal companion. I know this now, after two years of missing Roy and trying to make peace with the fact that I missed my cat far more than I ever missed my ex-husband.

So when I saw Sobakowa sleeping in the closet you can imagine I got a little worked up, and I thought, "I can't do this again." But we're built for all sorts of things we assume we can't endure and in the end I made an appointment and bundled her off to the doctor and they examined her carefully, and took her blood pressure with a tiny little kittycat blood pressure cuff and they took samples of blood and checked her sugar levels and electrolytes and ordered a huge panel of tests on everything under the sun and then I handed over my credit card to pay for the $323.45 bill and we were sent home to await the results the next day.

Promptly at 9 a.m. the next morning the phone rang. I saw it was Dr. Clipsham calling and I took a deep breath, because whatever it was I would deal with it, and I said hello.

"Well, Laurie, I have great news! We ran a full panel of tests and Soba is doing great. No infection, her numbers are all where they need to be, weight is good, teeth are great, blood pressure and blood sugar are fantastic."

"Ok," I said. I exhaled, hadn't quite realized I'd been holding my breath! "So what's wrong with her?"

"Well," said the doctor, "Based on the tests we took, we think she has a little bit of an upset tummy. We think she has a hairball. A tummy ache can knock their energy level back for a day or so, but come by and we'll give you some hairball cream and in a day or two she'll be back to her normal self."

"My cat has a hairball?" I asked.

"Oh, it's perfectly normal," he assured me. "Stop by later today and one of the girls out front can give you the cream."

We hung up and I burst out laughing. My cat has a hairball. I'd spent the night pushing away horrible visions of tumors and kidney failure and liver disease and leukemia and diabetes and God only knows what else. I waited. I barely slept that night.

Finally, after a battery of tests and a full exam, it has been determined that my cat is in great health and she just has a hairball. Hallelujah! It's a Christmas miracle! It's a $323 hairball. And I could not be happier.

Posted by laurie at 9:21 AM

December 18, 2009

Hot off the press....

Apparently my publisher printed the book early and shipped it off and so the tome of absurdity which is Home Is Where the Wine Is is available now instead of February 14th, so much for my little anti-Valentine's day approach. Ah well, we all know which road is paved with best intentions.


My publicist did an interview Q&A with me earlier this week, this was the first question:

KW: The cover of your book has another pair of sexy legs in high heels. Are those your legs? LP: No. Have you seen me? We had to go with stunt legs.

(One day I aspire to have the legs from my book covers.)

So, this is the scary part -- knowing it's out there and waiting and hoping that the words on the page make people laugh and praying with divine fervor that folks don't hate it but if they do they politely refrain from telling you as much. And of course if it's really a turd we'll all just make jokes about it later.

Jokes! Comedy! Stunt legs! Ah, let the weekend begin.

Posted by laurie at 6:54 AM

December 16, 2009

Holiday party nerves mitigated only by the cold that will not die.

Tomorrow is the holiday party.

Every year we have a holiday "party" at work and every year I see it for what it truly is: another opportunity for me to get nervous and in my attempts to seem like I'm normal I overtalk and say truly godawful inappropriate things for which I may possibly get fired for later. Rock on!

When I worked in the newspaper business or in entertainment, holiday parties weren't these scary things where work mixes with socialness in a confused jumble. At my previous jobs the holiday party was a big Saturday night drunkfest. One year the advertising director of a certain entertainment company showed up at our Christmas party with two hookers and a bottle of tequila. One year when I was at the Daily News the reporters burned editor-in-chief D.B. in effigy and then later I drunkenly propositioned someone from the city desk ... it was all in good fun. Somehow I lost a shoe.

Here, at Big Corporation, Inc., the "party" is held during the middle of the day and you come back to work right after. It's like a long lunch with drink tickets. Except this is an extremely business professional environment, so there's a very fine line on the drinking plus you're still technically at work and on the clock so you want to be sure you still have your work face on. I have a hard enough time keeping a lid on my mouth while I'm here just working, adding in a veneer of socializing can be disastrous for someone like me. Meaning someone who has a limited ability to filter combined with a brain that says things like, "You know in France they're just called fries. And what do you think they call the good plates in China?"

Usually I manage to say something really inappropriate that makes whoever I'm talking to need to take an urgent phone call, then I sweat until it's time to come back to work.

I had no idea until I came to work here what a business professional environment was like. I'd always worked in deeply dysfunctional newsrooms and later, equally screwed up entertainment companies. The parties were fun but in that way it's fun when the lunatics start running the asylum. Here, the day-to-day is so much nicer, people are pleasant and respectful and no one swears or throws things at you and no one is crying in the bathroom stalls. The dress code is much stricter and I have to monitor my trucker's mouth, but for the most part it's really nice. So the holiday party seems like a bizarre thing to be the most stressful event of my year, but there you have it. It's a two-hour landmine in which I try desperately to not say anything that will make people shun me back at the office.

Luckily (or otherwise) I've been unable to shake this horrible cold and my voice is raspy and it hurts to talk so maybe I'll run out of steam before I get wound up. And to keep from having to carry along a backpack of Kleenex I'll be downing some cold medicine before the party which will hopefully make me too drowsy to say ridiculous things, like last year when I told an SVP that he had "junk in the trunk and gold in the hold." As you can imagine, he had to take an immediate important call... away from me.

Kind of makes you long for the days when your boss showed up with a couple of hookers and some tequila.

Posted by laurie at 6:28 PM

December 15, 2009

There'll be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting ...

This year everyone in my group at work decided that instead of buying gifts for each other we'd adopt a family. We actually got the idea from Work-Jennifer, I was asking her what she usually does for co-worker gifts in her group and she told me they'd stopped doing that years ago and now they all adopt a local family and make Christmas for them instead and I thought this was brilliant! After all, I'm not sure anyone in my group is going to just keel over if they don't get yet another Starbucks gift card.

And now most of the loot is collecting in my office and we're all going to wrap presents tomorrow at lunchtime.


Usually I buy giftcards for my own family members, so I haven't done real Christmas shopping -- picking out presents and goodies -- probably since I was married. OMG SO MUCH FUN. Corey and I both picked the little girls in the family and so I got to buy pink clothes and girly shoes and TOYS! And most of all, I got to buy The Head:


Every woman near my age in this office has walked by my open door and seen The Head and swooned, because we all remember being kids in the 70s and wanting The Head. I never had one as a child, but apparently the love endures because even these 30-odd years later I keep looking at it and it makes me happy. The moment I saw it in Target I knew that one little girl would spend Christmas morning combing The Head's hair and putting on her play makeup and changing out her bows and barrettes. There were actually two versions of The Head at Target (the other one was Barbie Wedding Day Head) and for a minute there in the pink aisle it was Sophie's Choice, WHICH ONE? HOW TO CHOOSE? But since the little girl on my list said she specifically liked Princess stuff, I went with the Belle Head.

For a brief moment I considered buying one for myself on Saturday but I can't think of anything I want to be less than a woman living alone with a bunch of cats playing dress-up with Barbie Head. You know?

Still, I have enjoyed having it on my desk for a few days....

Posted by laurie at 11:11 AM

December 14, 2009

Another day, another product cancellation

Sobakowa will not be happy.

I went to three Whole Foods this weekend looking for her favorite cat food until I discovered that brand is being discontinued. Why does this happen to me? And now, by proxy, to my animals?

It started in high school with Elizabeth Arden Bare Sugar lipstick. My aunt worked the cosmetic counter at one of those fancy department stores and that Christmas she gave me Elizabeth Arden Bare Sugar and it was the first ever perfect lipstick for my coloring. I saved all my babysitting money for a tube of glamor every three months until I discovered too late the summer before 12th grade that it had been discontinued. I tried a letter-writing campaign, I called, I threw myself at Elizabeth Arden's mercy and she ignored me.

You know, I still hate Elizabeth Arden to this day and have never purchased another Elizabeth Arden product, not one single thing since 1989. How's that for holding a grudge?

Throughout the years I have become better-adjusted at handling the inevitable discontinuation of things I like -- Patons Up Country comes to mind, and more recently the impossibility of finding Patons SWS in the normal places -- and I know as soon as I find a lipstick I like to buy in bulk because the moment I found it a silent alarm was triggered somewhere in a consumer testing facility in a backroom in Michigan, and the product will mysteriously be discontinued by the time I get my purchase to my car. It's one thing to know with fatalistic certainty that everything from the brand of panties I prefer to the laundry detergent I like most will be discontinued, but when retailers start flukking with my cats I lose my cool. Finding a healthy cat food that they will eat is no easy task. And they're not big on change. They're CATS. They find one food and stick with it.

I'm not going to tell you the name of the cat food until I have my grimy paws safely on a case of it myself, but when I called my fifth Whole Foods this morning, one of the "helpful" grocery guys said, "You know, this food is discontinued so you might want to just start buying the Organics brand that replaced it."

"Yeah," I said, "I'll let my cat know. I am sure she'll understand, because what cats respond best to are logical conversations about fluctuations in stock."

I'm not sure he got the sarcasm.

Yes, of course I will have to find a new food but there has to be a transition period! You know, a period of time when she can have her old favorite food and we introduce new food brands one by one and see which is a winner. It's a process. It can take a very long time. Thank God for the internet, where I just spent $50 plus shipping on Soba's favorite food, buying me a little time.

But I won't be forgetting this one. I may be used to switching lipsticks every few months and I know not to get too attached to hand creams and soaps and yarn brands, but when you start messing with my cats it's all over.

I will be holding a grudge for a very, very long time on this one. I'm still hopping mad about the Great Cat Litter Debacle of 2007! I really am a "As God Is My Witness" sort of consumer, full of nothing but love and light for my favorite products right up until they are rudely, savagely discontinued and then I raise my little fist of rage and declare "As soon as I find a suitable replacement product, as God is my witness I will never shop from your brand ever again!" I'm looking at you, Elizabeth Arden.

Posted by laurie at 11:11 AM

December 11, 2009

A Rainy Day


I love the rain, even if it does make traffic epic and even if I have manged to lose all my umbrellas since moving. I like the way the city gets grey and cold and misty and it feels almost like a different city altogether. Most of my vacation traveling has always been done in the dead of winter or the more affordable shoulder season and so when I think of cold, grey skies and spitting rain I think of Prague on February, Poland in October, Paris in March. For 349 days a year Los Angeles is sunny and bright and the few rainy days we have are such a departure from the ordinary that everything feels changed.

And I think a little part of me has vacation fever, or maybe just cabin fever. Or fever fever. Mostly I'm just glad it's Friday so I can have a weekend to myself, to sleep late (or sleep at all), to drink coffee in my pajamas and not have to talk to another blessed soul. It's supposed to rain all weekend, too. Perfect. Perfect for hibernating and knitting and daydreaming of vacation.

Posted by laurie at 8:55 AM

December 10, 2009

Tossed salad and scrambled eggs

If only my body could produce something useful and valuable like gold or greenbacks with the same astonishing rate it produces snot, I would never have to return to work again.

Alas, I had to return to work. If nothing else for the heat and the internet.

First, let's start with the weather, which we are currently having. Usually we don't have "weather." We regularly have traffic and crazy people and star sightings, but we only rarely get weather. It's very exciting. We had rain and it snowed in the local mountains and it got cold! It didn't make it over 58 degrees yesterday, which means we're in the dead of winter. And it's supposed to rain again and get even colder, and it's already downright chilly.

So it was very convenient for the heat in my fancy new apartment to stop working. Thanks to the cold weather I was able to see with great clarity that it was very, very not-warm. And that is how I met the heater-fixing Dmitry, which means I am on my fifth Dmitry, an accomplishment in itself.

The first Dmitry is the manager, the nice Russian guy who looks like Antonio Banderas. Calm down, he's married. He's actually incredibly pleasant and during this past week I learned he was once an Olympian back in the old USSR.

"Dmitry, my heat isn't working." This was Tuesday morning, after I'd spent Monday night shivering while the heater blew cold air.

"How do you know it no is working?" he asked. This is what all the Dmitrys have in common, they suspect that whatever you are saying is broken is not really broken. It's fascinating.

"The heat is set to 90 and it's still blowing cold air," I said.

"I'll come see."

So Dmitry #1 came by to see if the heat was really broken. After some time he determined that yes, I might be right.

"It's 52 degrees in here," I said. "It's COLD. And it's going to be 32 degrees outside tonight. Can you get someone over here to fix it?"

"Once when I was training for Olympics we were in the coldest part of Russia and there was no heat for almost four days and..."

I put my hand up. "OK, I'm just going to have to stop you right there," I said. "I'm impressed with the Olympian portion of the story but I fear we're moving tragically close to the '...and I walked uphill in the snow each way with no shoes...' part of the story and I am not from Siberia. Do you know where Mississippi is? I'm from that part of the planet. Where we like to have working appliances and HEAT IN THE WINTER."

"Let me make some calls." And off he went to call Supervisor Dmitry, or Dmitry #2, who also came by later to see if I was hallucinating that the heat was broken. (This is completely fascinating to me, this idea of arguing with the tenants to see if something is broken or not.) After some stomping up and down the stairs they decided to call in Dmitry #4. I'd expected Dmitry #3, the one who fixed the roof leak and later the garbage disposal -- oh, did I forget to mention that also broke? Sometime last week it started projectile vomiting water and sludge all under the kitchen sink. Dmitry #3 did not argue that it was broken since it was clearly not working correctly, but he did accuse me of using some kind of drain cleaner or something mysterious and thereby breaking the disposal, which made me laugh.

"Yes," I told him, "That's right! I am the source of all things breaking! I also stuffed a whole human head down there just to break it because what I love is having broken appliances in my new apartment! It's my goal! I love paying exorbitant rent to live in a place where everything breaks for the sole purpose of having you blame blame me for it!"

Interestingly enough, Dmitry #3's English is good enough to understand dripping, irritated sarcasm. ("Human head," he said. "All right, all right.")

So with the heater out, I expected gruff, annoyed Dmitry #3 to come back and accuse me of doing something to the heating and cooling unit. Instead I got Dmitry #4 who just went upstairs, banged around in the closet a bit and declared in Russian something that translated into: "We have to call someone to fix this."

Which is how I am now on my fifth Dmitry and I have only lived in this apartment for three months.

Let's summarize. Since September, the roof has leaked, the garbage disposal has exploded, the fireplace broke (oh yes, forgot to mention that, but Dmitry #1 fixed it) and the central heat has gone out. The microwave also has some issues but I've been trying to get that resolved since I moved in and it's boring so I won't go into it. Also, my internet stopped working at home but that's technically the cable company's issue and they're coming Saturday.

Here are the possible reasons why:

1) This building was constructed in the height of the big housing/condo boom just before the Recession and was built in four days by the Russian Mafia as a front to hide the espionage center hidden deep underground the parking garage, and to communicate with satellites they have powerful magnetic machinery which interferes with all the appliances in the apartments above... OR ....

2) The person who lived in this unit before me knew there were some issues over the years but ignored them, leaving them for someone else to deal with.. OR....

3) My apartment is haunted.

I am going back and forth between haunted and supermagnetetron spy installation. It's a tough call.

Yesterday I did finally come back to work but I had to leave early to meet the fifth Dmitry, the one who complained a lot but seemed to at least fix the heater. The last place I lived in didn't have a working oven for two years so I guess it's an improvement to have a team of Russians fixing things, even if they do blame you for breaking them and look at you suspiciously and talk about you in Russian behind your back ("Weak American girl! Can't live in 52 degrees house! Wait until you have to work in the Gulag!")

December is a weird month anyway, it's like one of those trick clocks that you wind up and it starts to go faster and faster until the hands are racing around the face of the clock, speeding up each day like a cartoon of anxiety until it pops all it springs and flops over dead. I could be discouraged that everything is breaking all at once, but instead I feel relieved to get all the brokenness out of the way up front. No need to spread it out over the year, just get it all done with right at the beginning so you don't have to do that again.

So that's what's happening over here in crazytown. I have a vicious cold, but it's starting to get better (I still sound smoky-voiced and husky like a bad Bette Davis impersonator) and I am on my fifth Dmitry and I am behind on email and real mail and work and life and yet thanks to the healing haze of sudafed I almost don't mind. I'm at work and I'm wearing argyle and my glasses (which make me look kind of serious and mean) and I am just counting down the hours until I can go home and get into bed and drink my hot tea laced with Calvados and see what new and exciting things can break before the year is out. It's only December 10th, you know.

Posted by laurie at 11:42 AM

December 4, 2009

Missives from Kleenex City

I'm home today because I have a cold. Unlike the people who come to work and sneeze and snortle and infect us all with their germy germs, I am staying home to lie in bed and try not to cough and read books and drink hot tea. I just had a tea made from a weird combination that Corey got me started on. It's a little too mastercleansy for me, but every now and then it does hit the spot. Juice a few lemons, add cayenne pepper and some finely grated ginger. (I keep my ginger root in the freezer and then grate it, frozen, on the small side of a box grater. Works great.) Add honey and hot water to make a tea.

By the way, the most emails I got this week were from shocked (shocked!! I tell you!!) readers from Australia and the UK and Ireland and Europe who were curious how Americans heat water if they don't have electric kettles. I wonder how many suffered mild heart attacks when I answered back that many of us heat the water in a kettle on the stove but some - gasp - heat it in the microwave. heh. State secrets exposed!!

Of course I am using my shiny, happy electric kettle today:

I'm trying to decide if I should bring it upstairs and just plug it in here in the bedroom and just resolve not to leave my bed all day. Especially with all the awesome book and TV recommendations from yesterday, thank you!! We'll have to make that a regular thing, it was too fun. And it's sometimes hard for hermits such as myself to find other people to talk about knitting, books, TV and movies with.

Speaking about movies, Jen and I did not end up going to see "2012" last night, she was working late lawyering and I wasn't feeling well so it was probably best. But I still want to see it. And I can't wait to see "Up In The Air" because I love George Clooney and I am also one of those crazy airmiles people. It is all about the miles.

But today it is all about the Kleenex and the hot tea.
Have a great weekend!

Posted by laurie at 8:55 AM

December 3, 2009

Book soup

Let's talk books!

I'm on a reading kick lately, which is strange since I have also been on an insane TV binge. But I haven't been sleeping much and my manuscript is done and shipped off so I guess I am making up for lost time, catching up on TV and books and even laundry. Yesterday I was trying to convince my friend Corey to watch the new season of "Hoarders" with me and she refused.

Corey: I don't have time to watch TV! I have a five year old at home.
Me: You need Tivo. It will change your life. You can watch TV much more efficiently, especially if you have insomnia like me. I love TV.
Corey: You're a TVaholic!
Me: I am!
Corey: You're addicted to TVahol!

So, yes, I am addicted to TVahol. I didn't used to be, I didn't grow up watching TV at all. But I love my shows, what can I say. Hoarders, Oprah, CSI(x3), Castle, Glee, The Closer, and I've even somehow got sucked into that show with Christian Slater, "The Forgotten." It will probably get canceled -- every year I pick one or two new shows to watch and every year they get canceled. The fact that Castle had a season two shocked the pants off me.

In addition to mainlining TV, I also love reading. Right now I am on an Ann Patchett binge since reading The Magician's Assistant and falling in love with her writing style. Now I'm reading Bel Canto which I am really enjoying so far.

Corey recommended Olive Kitteridge to me on the same day another lady at work told me she was reading that same exact book and I decided that was a sign enough for me so I went to add it to my Amazon.com list and noticed the novel was by author Elizabeth Strout, who wrote one of my favorite all-time books, Amy and Isabelle. I loved that book so much, and now I'm looking forward to this new one.

A few weeks ago I mentioned that in honor of the swine flu paranoia, I was re-reading the best flu apocalypse love story good-vs-evil epic narrative ever written:

THE STAND. Baby, can you dig your man?

I was so excited to get emails from other Stand-fans and lovers of Stu Redman. In the movie based off the book, Stu was played by Gary Sinise so now when I read the book he's Gary Sinise mixed with the Stu I imagined all those years ago when I first read the book as a teenager. And he is sexy. One of my emailers and I were chatting back and forth about the book and I mentioned Stu Redman was the perfect man and she said:

"Yeah, that's how you know it's fiction -- that's the only place to find one of those!"

That about cracked me up ass over teakettle. I laughed all day thinking about that.

I love survivalist stories and end-of-the-world the-apocalypse-is-coming fiction. (And movies! Jen and I are going to see "2012" tonight which will be the first movie I have seen in years because, you know, busy busy and also ... hermity. But it is about the end of the world! Must see!) My fascination with giant disaster movies and post-apocalyptic books is strange because in my real life I am ridiculously good at not worrying about worst-case scenarios at all. I am very relaxed about what I cannot control in real life (mostly) but I do love a good end of days survival story. Got any recommendations?

After I finish Bel Canto I may start in on another Ann Patchett (I get like this with authors, I find one I like and want to read everything!) or I may have to move over to one of the selections in this pile:

I am so excited that so many of my friends online are out there getting their work published and this is a whole stack of books just out from people I know! I am so happy for them, it's like the doors just keep on opening and opening. I love it.

Unclutter Your Life in One Week
Erin Doland is the lovely editor-in-chief of one of my favorite all-time blogs, Unclutterer. Her book is coming at the right time... after moving and unpacking (mostly) I need all the help I can get, so I am excited to dive into it.

How to Knit a Love Song: A Cypress Hollow Yarn
Rachael Herron is the author of yarnagogo.com and the friend who invited me to guest post at PensFatales.com. This is the first of three fiction books that have yarn and romance and suspense all wrapped up together and I think she's a talented writer and I only wish I had a plane ride coming up soon, because it's just the sort of book you want to read uninterrupted for hours on a plane.

Crazy Lace:an artistic approach to Creative Lace Knitting
Myra Wood, one of the talented designers who provided patterns for my upcoming book (because a whole set of patterns from me would be a lot of scarves, you know?) anyway, Myra has a beautiful and colorful new book out all about lace. The pictures of the projects are just gorgeous!

Sword of the Slave
Eric Thompson is off writing an entire world of fantasy and swordfights starting with Sword of the Slave. Fantasy writers kind of mystify me... even my fiction stuff is autiobiographicalish, so I can't imagine making up a whole world!

- - -

So much good stuff to read! If only we all got to stay home all day and read books while our trust funds collected more golddust... ah, that's the life.

And finally, do you ever get the deep sudden need to re-read an old favorite book you've read 100 times already just so you can sink back into it for a while? I was telling someone the other day how I was shocked to see when I moved just how many books I have... and they are heavy going up three flights of stairs! She asked why I didn't just get rid of my books. I know there are many I could pare down, but how to choose? I love my books like old friends. The ones I re-read the most often are probably Timeline by Michael Crichton, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg, Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esqiuvel, The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger, The Stand, The Awakening by Kate Chopin and A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. I guess I should have put the two highbrow selections at the top of the list, eh? (I really have no interest in pretending to be a highbrow reader. I'll read anything, I'll read the back of the cereal box if it's compelling. I'm not a book snob.)

So I thought I would open comments for a few hours on this topic so we can all chat about favorite books and movies and being TVaholics. What are you reading? Did you love The Magician's Assistant, too? Is anyone else watching The Forgotten but me? Is anyone else as obsessed with Hoarders? I have to go clean something right after I watch it. But also my heart breaks for those folks. And how many people are now reading The Stand in preparation of getting the swine flu?

Posted by laurie at 10:12 AM

December 2, 2009

Reader Q&A Day

message: Hi Miss Laurie,
Would you be so kind as to share your dad's enchilada recipe that you made a couple
years ago?
Thank you,

Aha! It is very sneaky isn't it, the insidious question of how the heck to Americans boil water???

Most people have a kettle on the stove and heat it using the stovetop. OR, and this really freaked out my French friend, many people just put a cup of water in the microwave to heat it! He thought this was barbaric. Which matched his assessment of us in general LOL.

So there you have it, the weird and odd water habits of native North Americans!! Loved your email. Thanks!

> Below is the result of your feedback form.
> It was submitted by lynley.ducker@ombudsman.gov.au (Lynley Ducker) on:
> Tuesday, December, 1, 2009 at 21:18:28
> ---------------------------------------------------------------------------
> funny: person who likes french fries

Reader Lynley in Australia writes:

message: So how do Americans boil their water? Because I watch thirty
> hours of US television a week (and I assume it's all a documentary)I think
> I know north american domestic habits. But, on reflection, I have never
> seen anyone make a cup of tea. How do you do it without an electric
> kettle? Saucepan on the stove? I love a lot of things about your blog, but
> most of all these little snippets of the unknown.

Hey Laurie,
Just thought I'd let you know (again with the Canadian stuff) that I don't know
anyone who DOESN'T have an electric kettle! Sometimes here you'll find people with
gas stoves that have kettles that sit over the gas flame, but that's considered kind
of old-fashioned. But EVERYONE has one, and when I've visited out west, Alberta or
B.C., they all did too. In fact I had no idea that Americans don't all have them

Posted by laurie at 3:57 PM

Stuff I Like Addendum

Yesterday I forgot to include a very important item on my Stuff I Like List. (Previous lists here and here.)

Best Inexpensive Thin Sweater -- Perfect For Traveling!
Target Mossimo sweaters. Last year when I went to London in November I wrote that I packed just my thin layering sweaters, a few T-shirts and pants and I was set. I got those sweaters at Target for such an amazingly inexpensive price, so I got them in every color and wore them to death but by the time I told you about them Target had removed them from the inventory online because I couldn't find them for you. Well, they're back online and they are currently on sale!


These sweaters are so comfortable and great for casual stuff and look great dressed up, too. You can even wash and dry them right in the machine and they hold up pretty well -- and for $15 they're a steal! Here's the basic black, red and brown and they have it in plus sizes, too: plus size black, red and brown. They have other colors available online, just browse around for more options. Here is a link to all Target sweaters, too, in case you want to browse everything.

I am one of those people who can get hot in a blizzard, so I like traveling to cold places but I need to do it in thin layers so I can peel down like an onion when I start getting hot. I get really grumpy and short-fused when I'm overheated, it's one of the little charming quirks about my personality ... anyway, I have learned to dress to suit my personal climate and adjust as needed. Thin sweaters are the best! Just enough to layer over a thin T-shirt and they pack well because they aren't bulky. And you can still fit into your coat when you're wearing them. I have them in every color.

I do not look this skinny in my skinny sweater.

Posted by laurie at 11:09 AM

December 1, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

New Year's Resolutions TWENTY TEN!!!

Stop eating the stuff that I am not supposed to eat.
Last year I discovered I had... something kind of like a food allergy. I am not being specific because I have no desire to be the new poster girl for this malady. And some details are just better kept to oneself. But there is now a list of foods I am not supposed to eat and I have been grumpy about it and not entirely compliant (read: sometimes not compliant at all.) Which makes me feel bad and then I get sick which is not exceptionally great. So, in 2010 I will be compliant with this food list except when I am on vacation, because I believe that's what I can reasonably do for this year.

Go on Vacation
I really want to take a vacation in 2010.

Be careful with money
To go on vacation, I need to be very careful with money. This place I'm living is more expensive, so in 2010 I want to keep good control over my finances.

Finish my first fiction book.
Then: Finish another.

Yes, two in one year. I can do it. This will also help me offset the anxiety that I have about writing nonfiction. As it turns out, if you want to keep having friends and family who speak to you, you have to be very careful with what you write and then that leaves you with no subject matter except yourself and I am tired of writing about myself. Also I have a lot of anxiety that my next book is awful and will fail so writing new things will make me less anxious.

Stop acknowledging any and all hungry pecking duck emails.
No matter what I write I will get email from someone somewhere who is an expert on something I offhandedly mentioned and they will lecture or scold me about something I wrote. And/or someone will be hateful mad about a word or sentence or just generally want to send a pecking, biting little email. It happens every single day and I know this. The fact that I still let it annoy me or that I even respond to it says more about me than it does about the emails and not in a good way. So in 2010 I am going to completely ignore and delete any and all pissy email. I will not talk about it, dwell on it, respond to it, set people straight, apologize or in any way engage. I can't control other people and make them be nice and have a sense of humor and so on. All I can control is myself and my reaction to things and so my new reaction is delete, delete, delete and forget it immediately.

Posted by laurie at 10:23 AM

More happy things I like

Sometimes I like to blather on about stuff I like. My previous Stuff I Like lists are here and here. That was all I could find. I tried searching the archives but I have a LOT of archives. Who wrote all that stuff? Geez.

By the way, no one paid me to talk about these products. (Sadly.) I just list things I like and these are my current favorites. I like to share because who knows, you may also be looking for THE perfect water heating device and I have found it. This is investigative journalism at its finest.

- - -

Best Bargain Hair Conditioner
Pantene Pro-V Beautiful Lengths Hair Conditioner
I have long, very fine hair that tangles like crazy and will break off in the middle of a sentence for no good reason at all. I also live in a climate with 2% humidity so I need a very thick conditioner! I love the Kerastase products because they really do work, but good grief they are expensive. The conditioner I was using was thirty bucks a bottle. I first tried Pantene after reading a Consumer Reports article about hair products and apparently the Pantene stuff ranked very highly so I decided it was worth five bucks to try it. And it worked! I personally do not see a $25 difference in my hair quality from using the pricey stuff instead of the cheaper product. In the past year I have tried all different flavors of Pantene including a deep-conditioner I couldn't find online for you, but it comes in a jar and I got it at Target. I find the jar thing to be a little awkward in the shower, so I switched to the "Beautiful Lengths" stuff and it's perfect.

Best Green Veggie From A Box

Cascadian Farms organic green beans with almonds
I love these green beans. I put them in a saucepan with a little olive oil and sprinkle on some garlic powder and cook them until they're unrecognizable (Southerners love green beans cooked to death, I never realized it was a cultural thing until I moved out here.) And these beans taste so much better than any others I have ever found, canned or frozen. One day I flipped over the box and read the label and found out why -- they have a little sugar and salt on them. Sneaky! But so so tasty.


My closest Ralph's doesn't carry these and Whole Foods stopped carrying them a while ago, so in a pinch I buy bagged, frozen organic French cut green beans at Whole Foods and cook them to death (really, the secret is cooking them in olive oil and adding garlic powder, or garlic salt if the beans are unsalted and just cooking forever) and then adding my own almonds. It works fine but the all-in-one boxed kind are the best. Must be the sugar.

Most Addictive Lip Balm Ever
Carmex Stick lip balm
It works great and I always have it in my purse. It even has sunscreen!

Favorite Travel Widget
It's not really a widget, it's a service. But if you're getting on an airplane, get thee to SeatGuru fast! You can find your flight's make and model on your reservation, then look it up on SeatGuru to find the best (and worst) seat assignments.

Most Used Most Awesome Kitchen Gadget
The electric kettle!! Ubiquitous in European kitchens, the electric kettle is the best invention in hot water since the flame. I don't know why Americans haven't embraced the electric kettle, though. It's a mystery.

The one I have is the Aroma 1-1/2-Liter Kettle and I LOVE it. It's shiny and pretty on the countertop, it's easy to fill and clean and the heater is in the base so there's no heating element inside the pot. Plus, there's an auto shut-off, so you can leave the base plugged in without worrying you're about to scorch the kitchen.

I use my kettle every day, the water heats up super fast and I love that it's not sitting on the stovetop getting grody. I don't make a whole pot of coffee each morning, I make one cup of tea or I make instant coffee. Yeah, I know, you're writhing on the floor in pain at the mention of instant coffee, but I like it and if you buy quality coffee it tastes just fine. I have it on very good authority that the French often drink instant in their own homes so move past your indignation that I drink instant and focus it instead on the idea of the French drinking instant coffee!

Best Book I've Read In A While
The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett
A woman at work brought this in for me to read and she was right, it was a perfect book for me. For one thing, the main character loves Los Angeles. And it's a character story, a lovely, small, perfect character story. I bought a copy for myself, my mom and my friend Corey. I love to buy books for people, especially good books like this one. I love good books.

- - -

Finally, I got an email from a reader asking me about my Asus eeePC -- she was about to go on a trip overseas and had recently purchased one for the vacation, and asked if I had trouble typing on it and she said hers did not fit in her handbag and she had some issues with it. And she didn't think her friends or family had skype and she wasn't sure it was all worth it and was thinking of returning it.

I know I have talked up my rockin' little netbook (here's an entry where I yammer on about it), it's so small and was so inexpensive! I couldn't believe they made anything so tiny that actually worked:

But I bought my netbook a few years ago and a lot has changed since then. Now almost every computer brand makes one and they have gotten bigger and better. More keyboard space, more battery life, and still very affordable and portable. The eeePC I have is a very early version, it has a teetiny screen and an infinitesimal keyboard and runs on Linux. (I do not want to check email or work while I'm on vacation and the small keyboard was never a problem for me.) The battery life is limited, about an hour or two. The touchpad buttons are clunky.

Having said all of that it was the first computer I had ever seen that was so small, came in cute colors and was both sturdy and affordable! Unlike my "real" laptop, I had no fear taking it all over the world and plugging it into suspect power outlets or accidentally dropping it in the TSA line or having it banged a bit in the suitcase.

However, the new crop of netbooks are as varied and full-featured as the regular laptop market. Travel + Leisure magazine recently ranked their favorite new travel gadgets and listed many new, slick-looking netbooks:

Sony VAIO W 10.1" Netbook - Up to 7 Hours of Battery Life (Windows 7)

Toshiba Mini NB205 10.1" Netbook - 9 Hours of Battery Life (Windows 7)

ASUS Eee PC 1008 10.1" Netbook - 6 Hour Battery Life (Windows XP)

HP Mini 110 10.1" Netbook - Up to 8 Hours of Battery Life (Windows 7)

Lenovo S10-2 10.1" Netbook - Up to 6 Hours of Battery Life (Windows 7)
(Check out the cute floral options)

Please note I have not tried any of these computers myself. But the netbook concept in general is a favorite thing and this list alone should give you an idea of how outdated my 8-inch, 1-hour battery life Linux model is. There's a world of options available now! Netbooks galore can be had for under $400 and with a lot more bells and battery juice.

As for the skype question, when I am traveling I use skype to stay in touch with people but they don't need the software. I just put in a few bucks of credit on my skype account and I can call anyone's cellphone or landline for uber-cheap, around two cents a minute. (You can also use skype on your iphone if you're in a wifi hotspot, I have not tried this yet.)

Having said all of this, I wouldn't buy a netbook just for a single trip abroad. And especially not a trip to Europe where you can often duck into an internet cafe. Your hotel may even offer a computer in the lobby for guest use.

I bought my netbook because I knew I was going to be traveling fairly frequently, I did not at the time have an iphone, I knew I would be traveling alone and would want to call home and I knew I would want it for entertaining myself on the plane and in the airport lobbies of the world. A friend of mine at work loaded a ton of movies and TV shows onto an external drive for me (please do not email me asking how to do this as I have no idea and am of no help at all) and now I can watch videos when I travel. It has been most useful as a phone, though -- using skype through the hotel wifi to track down lost luggage in France, make changes to a tour in Rome, reschedule my flight in Maui. I used it as a handy research tool to find train schedules and opening hours at restaurants and yarn shops.

Could I have traveled without it? Absolutely. But it has been handy and helpful and I like it and it has probably paid for itself in phone bill savings alone. Several years ago my luggage went to Morocco and I went to Paris and it took HOURS of calls to get that figured out. That's when I started packing a carryon bag.

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Ok, that's my list for today. Happy anti-recessioning! After all, when you're saving $25 on hair conditioner, it adds up and you can buy that netbook of your dreams. Or lots and lots of green beans.

Posted by laurie at 1:43 AM