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January 29, 2010

Take a picture, it will last longer

frankie-blurry-again.jpg

Thanks so much for all the tips and input on digital cameras! I hadn't even heard of that Panasonic Lumix but it sounds interesting since it takes video, too. The Canon seems to be the overwhelming favorite. You've given me a lot to think about! This was the best insta-poll ever, thank you!

Oh -- and special thanks to the folks who said they also suffered with a Kodak lemon, too. No one believes me when I first tell them the camera is a lemon. So I hand it over. Then they use it. Days later the expert will give the camera back to me in disgust, defeated by the lemon. The exhilaration of know-it-all-ness is defeated by the agony of the lemon.

This process was especially frustrating because Kodak wouldn't take my camera back without a ridiculous restocking fee. (Lesson learned: buy from a place with a no-hassle return policy.) And I held out hope I could read the manual front to back, search online help forums, stand on my head and make it work. Later it was an irritation that was mildly amusing as a party trick ("Fine then -- you try to take good pictures with this camera! I dare you!") and now it's just gotten to the point where I hate to take any pictures at all. That's crazypants. I used to take hundreds of snapshots a week, especially of the cats or on vacation. And last year I think I only took a few hundred pics all year long. Vacations have gone virtually unrecorded, I ended up with maybe ten usable photos of my trip to Ireland.

Yesterday WorkJennifer and I were talking about this and I realized I felt so much RELIEF just deciding to buy a new camera. It's a small thing, really, and yet it makes me so happy. And the bigger lightbulb here is to stop being such a dumbaii and living with something irritating for almost TWO YEARS. I do not know why I am such a slow learner sometimes!

I'm going to make a conscious decision to pay more attention in my life and if there is something causing me low-grade irritation all the time (like the camera) I'm going to just fix it where it can be fixed. It's silly to let my cheapskatedness or laziness or unwillingness to just immediately chuck something that's a lemon win out over basic harmony. Life is too short to have a crappy camera in your pocket.

Wow, that was like going to church and getting religion. Combine that with the high of online shopping and I am so ready for the weekend. I'll let you know what I finally decide to get and how it works out... and I'll be using that 30-day no hassle return policy if needed!! (I guess I should be happy to see I can still learn from my mistakes, yes?) (Even if it takes me a long, long time.)

Posted by laurie at 10:12 AM

January 27, 2010

I am the iceberg; camera help?

Geez, THIS WEEK.

Yesterday it was so insane that at 10 a.m. I declared to no one in particular, "I fear I have turned into the Titanic, sinking fast, and I am taking you all with me."

Depending on your definition of better today is "better" as I declared myself to be the iceberg instead of the Titanic, and my icy chill will destroy all I come into contact with!

Awesome.

- - -

Unrelated:

Even though I hate my camera I have not been inclined to buy a new one for all sorts of reasons consisting of laziness and cheapskatedness and general camera eschewingness.

But most of my pictures tend to look like this:

soba-blurry.jpg

And that's after I have retouched them in Photoshop and done my artsy designery best. This camera is a lemon, and no setting or combination of setting or tinkering by any individual has ever managed to fix it. It is a lemon. For a while it was like a party trick -- complain about lousy camera, and someone in earshot would declare they could fix it. Hand over camera only to get it back by disgusted good-intentioned helper days later declaring, "This camera is an (expletive) piece of (expletive.)" Indeed!

The main issue is that the camera takes blurry pictures. Even using a tripod and a timer, the mere rotation of the earth on its axis is cause for blur. And you know, that is a problem.

So having complained about this for well over a year and a half now I have realized that perhaps eliminating irritations (such as replacing the camera that I HATE WITH A FIERY PASSION) is a good step in my Year of Yes. Wow, aren't I a brainiac? And it only took me a year and a half!

So I am going to buy a new camera. I want a simple point-and-shoot camera. Nothing crazypants fancy, nothing big and heavy, nothing super expensive. I like Kodak products (even though my lemon is a Kodak, I still love the way they render light and skintones) but I am open to other suggestions. I know that you all will have suggestions because you are smarter than Einstein me who needed a year and a half to decide the bad camera had to go and you probably like your camera. If you do have a suggestion, will you share?

La Soba really hates being blurry ... her personal paparazzo needs to upgrade!

Posted by laurie at 4:19 PM

January 25, 2010

January centerfold

You want to take my picture?

bob is a model

Oh, it's the paparazzi again, I see.


bob is a model

Well, let me at least wash my face.


bob is a model

How do I look now?


bob is a model

I'm just so cute I can't stand myself!


bob is a model

Really, I am such a babe.

bob is a model

Being adorable is hard work. I need a nap.

Posted by laurie at 9:42 AM

January 22, 2010

I like the nightlife, I like to boogie

Title of post not related to content. Just had that song in my head.

The local mountains are covered in snow, you can see them so clearly, it's beautiful. By now we've had dark skies and torrential rain for so long that the city has gone into mass sunlight deprivation and we're all turning into vampires, albeit ones who slurp down soy lattes instead of blood. Does blood have carbs? Do vampires wear Ugg boots?

Last night there was a huge storm in the Valley with lightening and thunder and hail! It was like being back in Mississippi, except inside an apartment meant to withstand things like sunshine and smog. I was worried the skylight would crack. But everything withstood the elements and all was well. The cats got freaked out, though, and I still cannot find my camera so you'll just have to imagine our snow-capped mountains and the sleeping furballs.

- - -

I'm almost finished with a baby sweater for a friend who had her baby over a month ago and now I'm afraid the sweater will be too small. Bummer. Tomorrow I'm going to JoAnn's fabrics to find some cute buttons -- I love buttons, and if I find my camera I'll even (finally) take pictures of my super-dooper-no-fail button sewing method which is really simple and not worth the build up. But that's how we roll here in tabloid land.

And I want to dig through my stash and figure out what my next knitting project will be. It's so cold outside that it's perfect knitting weather! I have a whole bin of wool yarn in different colors that I bought on sale almost five years ago when I first learned to knit. Because I was a beginner and just yarn-excited, I bought without knowing what to do with the yarn, so of course I bought too much for a small project and too little for a big project but I kept it all this time because it's so darn pretty. I was thinking I might get it all out of the bin in the closet and use all the different colors to make a gigantic felted bag like one I saw in AlterKnits Felt.

I've really liked making baby sweaters, though, they're small enough not to get boring and they're so cute. I do want to make a sweater for myself at some point but not yet. I think my next project should be something felted. I love how the fabric shrinks down like magic and gets so dense and fuzzy.

- - -

Finally, I read an article yesterday online that was really interesting (read it here) about the well-meaning folks who are showing up unprepared in Haiti. I get it -- I also feel that deep urge of wanting to do something, anything, to help but then I remember who I am. Which is to say I don't speak Creole or French well enough to be a good translator, I have no medical experience or disaster relief experience, I don't know the lay of the land, I have no real ties to an established relief organization in the country and while I would be of no help at all I would likely try to bring home every person I met which of course you can't do unless you know how to get a passport and visa for everyone you meet.

In other words, the best way for me to help is with my pocketbook. I feel ridiculously lucky to have what I have in life and it's good to give generously to well-known groups who really can help (I chose the Red Cross.)

All this week I worried it was a little flippant to be joking about the rain and the flying palm trees when real devastation is happening somewhere else but obviously this website is built on the hard journalistic basics of whining about cat poop and weather and the trials and errors of reading a knitting pattern. That news article was a good reminder that even if I feel I am falling short because I am not helping with my hands, the reality is that my cash donation is more useful than my body ever could be.


- - -

Have a good weekend!

Posted by laurie at 10:40 AM

January 21, 2010

Thing One and Thing Two

Day before yesterday I was on the phone with a friend and we were talking about all sorts of things as we are wont to do and during the conversation I had one epiphany and one funny memory, both of which I will share with you since I forgot where I last set down my camera and it has all the pictures of Dallas Raines and the cats on it I intended to share with you today. So until I can find my camera again we have no pictures, just a lot of blah blah.

Thing #1:
My friend and I were talking about roasted vegetables, my newest cooking obsession, and we were talking about all the things I could roast and then I asked, "Do you think these vegetables retain any nutritional value after being cooked on a high heat like that?"

And he thought about it and we started talking about the nutrition and all that and midway through the conversation I just stopped.

"Wait," I said. "No, no, no. This is how I get myself into trouble! I start focusing on these ridiculous details and trying to be perfect when really all I need to remember is that eating a delicious dinner of roasted vegetables is healthier and better for me than eating a quarter pounder with cheese and a large order of fries."

"Amen to that," he said.

See what a lifetime of dieting has done to my head? This is how I get off track and overweight, by focusing on rules and regulations and trying to be on some kind of plan and then when I find ways I am failing I fall into a ditch. For those of you who have never struggled with your weight this will make no sense. But I know at least one or two of you know exactly what I am talking about.

I was pretty happy I snapped out of my stupid analysis of the nutritional value of a vegetable. It's so unproductive to get caught up in diet-mentality, but if you have been on a diet since you were eight years old it's difficult to break out of the habit. We make it so hard but it's not supposed to be. As Michael Pollan says, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." (His newest book Food Rules: An Eater's Manual is a GREAT read for anyone who has been freaked out by a lifetime of dieting. It's so sane. I highly recommend it, you'll feel better about food after you read it and you can finish the whole book in an hour.)

So, that was my epiphany.


- - -

Thing #2:

While my friend and I were talking I mentioned that right now is an excellent time to book a vacation since everything is on sale, and I offered (so generously) to search for a cheap flight for him to anywhere on the planet (and I guess mysteriously I would also be there, too, how fun to invite yourself on other people's vacations!) and so I started plugging in cities. He said to try flights to Manchester, which I did, then I started singing, "Manchester England England, across the Atlantic sea..." which is a song from the musical Hair. Which reminded me of something funny.

About five years ago I was in my Jeep on a perfect summer day and I had the top off the Jeep and the stereo cranked up SO LOUD and I was bumping the cast recording of the musical Hair. Because I am cool that way.

Something happened to my Jeep -- I can't remember what it was, the radiator exploded or the battery died or something, so I had to pull over on the side of the road and wait for the tow truck to come. The car was not operational. But it was just what happened back then. Things broke a lot.

The tow truck took my Jeep to a local garage and they pulled the car inside the garage and I signed the papers and then I went inside where they were trying to get it started. Finally, they managed to get the engine back alive and as it started back up, so did the stereo which was on full blast -- now inside the garage, so it was REALLY loud -- and everyone got an earful of:

Black boys are nutritious
Black boys fill me up
Black boys are so damn yummy
They satisfy my tummy...

All seven or eight guys in the garage turned at one time and stared at me.

"I just love musicals!" I said.

Then I quickly went outside. Far away outside. I smoked a cigarette (oh I do miss smoking) and I remember thinking to myself, "Wow, I wonder what they would have thought if I'd been listening to track number two on the CD when my car stopped."

(In case you don't know what I mean, here's a link to Hair: Original Soundtrack Recording - Special Anniversary Edition)

Ah, memories.

Manchester England England across the Atlantic Sea! And I'm a genius genius ... I believe in God and I believe that God believes in Claude! That's me ... that's me ....

Posted by laurie at 9:27 AM

January 20, 2010

Surprises

When I first moved into my new apartment, I thought that I would probably regret being in a condo that has two shared walls -- neighbors on both sides. I'm a freakishly light sleeper anyway and I wondered if I had made a mistake after the fact (for all my list-making and planning and navel-gazing, I do tend to make major life changes in a split second. Jump, then look. That's my motto!)

Surprisingly, I am really happy with my neighbors. For one thing, on the rare occasion I do hear anything it's kind of comforting somehow. I can't explain it. And it's also (surprisingly) much quieter here than it was living in my rented, detached house in Encino-adjacent. There, I once had to call the police on my next door neighbors who I liked, but who had somehow forgotten not everyone enjoys having their walls throb with ranchero music at 2 a.m. The best way I can describe ranchero is Mexican Polka. It's horrible and it was so loud that the shutters were vibrating on my house.

And in my old neighborhood, the folks across the street and their children had no "inside voice" so every conversation was carried on at the highest volume, which is how I could be inside my house with the doors and windows shut and still know that the husband had just asked the wife to make more coffee.

In my new neighborhood we do have gardening services, I guess, but they must come during the week and be both faster and quieter than anyone in my old neighborhood because I never hear them. At the old house you could hear a leaf blower or lawn mower or some loud, grinding engine of lawn destruction running anytime of the day or night all week long. Yes, this new neighborhood is much quieter. It's definitely more lively -- there are shops and bars and restaurants within easy walking distance all around -- but the living spaces are serene. I wonder sometimes if my apartment is the loudest one, since the cats have taken to tearing up and down the stairs like thundering rhinos and Frankie has discovered that her meow is amplified by the high ceilings, especially in the entryway, and sometimes she just stands there and hollers like a a baby. Weirdo.

I am still astonished regularly at how much shorter my commute is, and now I drive in to work which is so much more pleasant than it sounds. I like being alone in my Jeep and singing to the radio and drinking coffee and fantasizing about vacation every morning, it's kind of a nice cushion to the day where you get to be alone before being "on" for work. There are some thing I don't like about my new place, for example the amount of sunlight the apartment gets is minimal (it's shaded by trees in the courtyard and a building on the other side) and I do think it's probably too big for one person but I am glad I moved, if nothing else just to break the inertia I was in.

As I get older I see there is more of a tendency to be sad or nostalgic about things that wouldn't have phased me much when I was in my 20s. And there is also more tendency to be scared of change. Maybe when we get older we lose some of that freshness and adventurousness that comes from not having butted up against too many brick walls yet? Whatever it is, I don't want to get stuck. I see people who get stuck and stay in one place for fear of doing something worse. They say, "The devil you know is better than the one you don't know." I do not buy into that saying, not in my heart. I don't want to look at life as just swapping one not-great situation for one that could be worse.

It's all in how you look at it, I guess. I'm not sure that this apartment is where I want to stay in the long run but it sure is pretty for today and I'm glad I moved out of suburbia and into a real neighborhood again. It's nice. Even if I am the loudest one in the building!

Posted by laurie at 2:22 PM

You can stand under my umbrella.

jan202010-rainy.jpg

Yesterday midday we had a big storm cell pass right through downtown and there was even thunder and lightening. When the big clap of thunder came, people got out of their chairs to go look out the windows. One of my co-workers asked, "Is someone filming down here? Did they just do an explosion?" and we all said we thought it was thunder, but there was some discussion about it because there had been filming down on 5th street last week.

"No, it was thunder," someone finally said. "I remember hearing that sound once when I went to Mexico on vacation."

We're a wacky city, aren't we?

But it was GREAT for traffic, since I guess people got scared by the thunder and what it might mean for rush hour and apparently everyone went home early because I coasted home around 6 p.m. in under 40 minutes flat, which is a record even on a clear day in the summer when school is out and traffic is lighter. My coworker K. lives in my neighborhood and she and I were comparing notes about the commute and after we both said how good traffic had been she looked at me, stricken, and said, "Oh crap, I bet we just jinxed it."

We are very superstitious here about our traffic!

There were waterspouts as Dallas Raines predicted, like tornadoes of water, and they chewed up boats in the harbor and ripped up some homes and cars. In the Valley we had some wind and rain but my neighborhood is all clear and even though I am watching my roof and waiting -- knock on wood -- it's still holding for now. Just last week I was lounging on my rooftop patio thinking how great it was in January to read in the sunshine up on the rooftop and now my patio is a swimming pool. It's very exciting.

Tonight we're supposed to have rain of Biblical proportions and since K. and I jinxed traffic I can only imagine what lies ahead. But I still like the rain, it's so different from our usual sunny hallucination and it makes the city clean again, so downtown no longer smells like a human cat box and all the sidewalks are washed and even my Jeep gets a little bath.


Posted by laurie at 9:24 AM

January 19, 2010

And then Dallas Raines said, "Let water fall from the sky and let the earth be drenched, and let us spray-tan while the sun hides itself from us..."

Ah, sunny Los Angeles. You know that we're in for a weather event of the decade when Dallas breaks out the STORM TRACK logo:

jan192010stormtrack1.jpg

We've gone from Storm Watch to Storm Track in just hours! So exciting! Live team coverage! It's the biggest story of the day, especially for the reporters forced to stand on overpasses in slickers and that one guy who always has to stand on a frozen street somewhere in the mountains while it spits freezing rain at him. Although it was typical for Los Angeles that while the news was heralding the storm of the century and had live team coverage around the city, this was the weather outside:

jan192010stormtrack4.jpg
Sunny. For now ... (she said ominously!)

The weather outside looks frightful, though. It did rain and gust and so on -- real rain, not mist -- for a big portion of the day yesterday and the rest of the week looks insanely soggy for the sity of sun and botox:

jan192010stormtrack2.jpg
It's raining cats and dogs and waterspouts!

jan192010stormtrack3.jpg
Unless you live in the Valley where it's raining cats and dogs and palm trees! Raise your fist and represent!

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, "Self, why Is Los Angeles having a hissyfit over a few inches of rain? We get two inches of rain an hour here in the summertime. Five days a week."

Well, we did get just around two inches of rain yesterday in the Valley and here is what two inches of rain does to one of the most traveled freeways in the United States:

jan192010stormtrack5.jpg
It's a panic in your pants!

And here is a picture of the backup on the 101:

jan192010stormtrack6.jpg


I am beyond happy that yesterday was a bank holiday and I got to stay home all day and do my little hermity home things and take pictures of traffic on my TV instead of sit in traffic on my fanny. It wasn't raining this morning so I drove in but I assume that tonight I will be sprouting butt-roots into the seat of my Jeep as I inch home along the 101 River.

- - -

In other news, having a long weekend I assumed I would get a bazillion things checked off my to-do list and I was very wrong about that. There are many great things about having a larger home but cleaning it is not one of them. It was so much easier to clean 800 square feet than to keep this behemoth clean, and I planned to clean the apartment top-to-bottom all weekend and found myself feeling not as energized about scrubbing as hoped, and more excited about knitting while watching movies as the cats stretched out in front of the fireplace. I did manage to take down my Christmas tree on JANUARY SEVENTEENTH, by which point it had become part of the decor and I was seriously asking myself if I could just remove the really Christmassy ornaments and leave the rest up all year round.

I did spend a lot of time in the kitchen, though. It was cold and blustery outside (for us, anyway, this is more winter than we see in five years time!) and I decided to cook some of my favorite winter foods, like pot roast in the crockpot and mashed potatoes with kale:

mashedpotatoes.jpg


First you mash the potatoes (I use yellow potatoes so it seems like they're drenched in butter) (tricky, no?) and then I add sauteed, chopped kale:

mashedpotatoes-with-kale.jpg

Yummy.
(whoops! I pressed publish before I was done!)

Anyway, I read this article that says most people make New Year's Resolutions and they're going strong right up until the first or second week of February and then they fall off the map. I generally last a little longer but by March I may be jonesing for a cheeseburger. I thought I would plan ahead and cook some of my favorite foods and freeze them so I have a whole store of Resolution-ready stuff on hand when my desire for a quarter pounder with cheese becomes stronger than my desire to cook. Pot roast and mashed potatoes is a favorite, definitely.

I also continued my roasting madness by taking on the asparagus:

roasted-asparagus.jpg

It was good. I forgot to take an after picture. I roasted some broccoli, too, and did all of it the same as the cauliflower: preheat the oven to 375, cut the vegetable in small pieces, give it a good drench of olive oil, add a pinch of salt, pepper and a bit of cayenne and add chopped garlic and top with lemon juice from half a lemon. Spread on a pan and roast until tender on the inside and browned on the outside. Asparagus is not my favorite vegetable but it was great roasted. Just a guess here but I think pretty much anything tastes good when it's drenched in olive oil and garlic and topped with Parmesan cheese.

So that was the weekend and the week ahead looks soggy with a chance of pot roast. Beware of waterspouts and flying trees!

Posted by laurie at 9:34 AM

January 18, 2010

MLK Day Weather Madness!!!

jan182010-weather.jpg

The rain keeps pattering down, we're having what's supposed to be crazy amounts of weather -- a whole week of rain! It started yesterday and there's no end in sight. For a place that usually gets between two inches and five inches of rain all year, getting that amount in a two or three day period is quite a newsmaker.

Luckily today is a holiday and I can stay home and listen to the rain and drink coffee in my pajamas and knit. A perfect day!

Posted by laurie at 5:07 AM

January 15, 2010

Friday

I am so impressed with the mobile giving campaign to help the earthquake victims in Haiti -- apparently over $7 million has been received so far, with over $5 million going to the Red Cross. How COOL is that? If you want to use your cell phone for good instead of gabbing today, here's how:

To give to the Red Cross, phone users can text the word "HAITI" to 90999 to donate $10, and when prompted, hit "YES" to confirm the donation.

The donation is added to the cell user's bill, and receipts are available.

Other text-message codes for donations include:

• Text the word "HAITI" to 20222 to donate $10 to the Clinton Foundation Haiti Relief Fund.

• Text "HAITI" to 25383 to donate $5 to the International Rescue Committee.

• Text "HAITI" to 85944 to donate $10 to the International Medical Corps.

Of course you can always donate any amount to the Red Cross at www.redcross.org.

Also, check with your job to see if the corporation will do matching donations -- the company I work for is matching colleague donations dollar for dollar. It made me feel really grateful and happy I work here.

Oh, and the next time I start getting myself riled up thinking about those crazypants people who shout "Death to America" and try to stuff explosives in their panties and blow up airplanes, I'm going to make myself focus instead on the mass of people in this world who give freely to help folks they have never met in a country they have likely never visited and may never see.

In my year of yes, I have decided I need to focus a whole lot more on the giving spirit and not nearly so much on the little faction of those whose spirit is programmed to take away. Truly the desire to alleviate suffering is so much stronger than the few people who want to create it.

- - -

The news in Haiti is also a really good reminder to those of us who are fault-line-adjacent to make sure we have a plan and some supplies on hand ourselves. When I'm out and about this weekend I plan to pick up a case of bottled water, a few Lara bars and some extra pet food and write the date of purchase on the item, then stash it somewhere. You don't have to go overboard planning but a few flashlights, fresh batteries and some water will go a long way towards preparation.

If you work in an office and you wear high heels to work there is one thing you can do right now that will cost you no money at all: dig through your home closet and find an old pair of sneakers or loafers or comfortable shoes and put them in your bag and take them to work. Leave those shoes in your desk drawer.

Because I work in a high-rise building we have frequent fire drills. I know they're just drills, but the more ladies we have clopping down the stairs in their high heels the longer it takes to get outside and finish the drill. It's ridiculous how slowly the whole thing goes. In an earthquake there's glass everywhere so going barefoot may not be an option. Take five minutes this weekend to unearth an old pair of comfortable shoes and bring them to your job next week. So simple! So easy! You will feel so prepared.

- - -

Have a great weekend!


- - -

Edited to add (3:30 p.m.):

I know the methods of giving or donating above may not be your personal preferred method of giving and I appreciate that each person gives in the way that is best for them. You should do whatever feel right with your money, your time and your hair.

I just wanted to highlight how easy and simple it can be to donate $5 or $10 for those who may not have a lot in the bank right now to give. One thing I know for sure is that even when you have very little in your pocket, you still want to help when you can and I know from personal experience it may feel embarrassing to call some 1-800 number and try to give five or ten bucks. That's how I felt during Katrina, back then I was broke five ways to Sunday but still wanted to give anything I had. So how cool is it that you can give through a simple text message! Small amounts do add up, and technology has made it so much easier. I just got an email from a friend who said the texting campaign may have raised close to ten million dollars since Wednesday!

While there is a billing cycle (I guess this was on the news, too) of up to 90 days, the Red Cross isn't waiting 90 days to act. Like most charitable organizations I'm sure they project their incoming donations and send immediate aid based on projections of incoming cash flow. And all those texts are adding up, almost ten million dollars! That's amazing!

Just got this email from Annie T.:

I just donated to the Red Cross through my local grocery store (Lucky). They can add it right on to your grocery bill. Another easy way to give. The man behind me in line heard me donate, and so he did as well. That feels good.

Annie, that is so cool! Thanks for sharing that tip!

Also, I got so many nice notes today from people saying they were also surprised and happy hearing about the people all over the world willing to donate what they can to help and how it just makes you feel hopeful.

I could not agree more. Hope you all have a lovely weekend!

Posted by laurie at 8:27 AM

January 13, 2010

Soggy

jan13-2010-rain.jpg

We did get our promised five one-hundredths of an inch of rain, just enough to make the city feel like winter and the traffic to come to a dead halt on the freeways. The streets of downtown are empty, though. Guess everyone is still trying to get here.

Dallas Raines says that we're going to have BIG winter storm on Monday and Tuesday of next week, with maybe a whole inch or two of rain! We sometimes only get four inches of rain in an entire year, so you can imagine that people will be calling in sick and there will be a run on frizz-ease at the Rite Aid. I love this goofy place.

- - -

Are you watching American Idol this year? I haven't watched it since season four or five, it was just too much of a time commitment. It's a lot of TV. But since this is Simon's last year and since Ellen is the new judge I thought I'd tune in. Last night was the first set of auditions in Boston and I can't believe I am telling you this but I got teary eyed a few times, just watching people get so excited about giving a great audition and making it through to "Hollywood" (which is really "Burbank" but whatever.) I'm a sucker for seeing people with a dream get a break in a business that seems impossible.

Mostly though, I was astonished at how thin Victoria Beckham is and how she manages to stay alive and still be that skinny. It was kind of alarming.

Our celebrities keep getting skinnier and our population keeps getting inversely fatter. Obviously I am not drawing any groundbreaking conclusions here, this is all stuff we already know, but this is probably the first time in my life I've started to let go of my hope of ever being really skinny again and instead I am just holding onto the goal of being healthy and getting back to an average size. My goal in the past has always been to lose weight and get skinny. Now I'll just be happy to buy my clothes in the regular section of the store and call it a day.

- - -

So that's Wednesday. Tomorrow should be sunny again, with moderate winds and less navel-gazing.

Posted by laurie at 9:54 AM

January 12, 2010

Big! Winter! Storm!

Although we've made it through winter so far with our 78 degree temperatures and sunny days, all is about to change and bring the second largest city in the United States to a crippling halt:

dallasrainesjan1210-1.jpg

Dallas Raines says MIST IS COMING!!!

Now you may be saying to yourself, "Self, why is Los Angeles crying like a baby at their five one-hundredths of an inch of rain when we've had 15 feet of snow? And why are they are breaking out the down parkas and handknit alpaca scarves for a high temperature that would send all of us here into shorts and T-shirts?"

Well, this may seem crazy to you when you've just spent two hours shoveling snow off your driveway, but do you have any idea what five one-hundredths of an inch of rain can do to the shiny finish from your recent car wash? The water spotting is really tragic.

Plus, apparently the jet stream will be bringing us... uh, palm trees:

dallasrainesjan1210-2.jpg

Just in case you wanted to know what the weather is like in places that have no weather, well, now you know. We have palm trees in the forecast. Keep us in your prayers.


- - -

This morning I was running late and I really wanted a smoothie but I don't have a suitable travel mug for straw-based drinks. Conundrum!! Then my redneck ingenuity gene kicked in and I was quite impressed with myself as I made my smoothie, poured it into its usual tumbler, wrapped the top in plastic wrap and poked a hole for my straw:

jan12-tumbler.jpg

I would have gotten extra Cracker points if I'd secured it with a rubber band OR if the tumbler had a Coors logo but I do live in Los Angeles and we can only assume I have suffered in the Cracker Ass McCracker department because of my proximity to the left coast. Still, I was pretty full of myself for fixing this problem. Hee.

- - -

Yesterday when I was waxing nostalgic about the good old days when people used to be able to greet you at the gate at the airport I was just.. being nostalgic. And you know how nostalgia can be, very rosy and reminiscent and not truly that accurate. For example, people also used to smoke on airplanes and air travel used to be prohibitively expensive and it was much harder to get from here to there since there were fewer options and internet travel hadn't been born yet.

And why am I feeling all nostalgic about this anyway when I usually travel alone and no one would be meeting me anyway, and all those happy homecomings might make me feel sad instead of independent and world-traveling-pants as I do now?

As I was driving in to work this morning I was thinking that things have also changed in a good way. For example, flying feels safer than it has ever been. I flew a lot before 9/11 and have flown even more since then, and while security is sometimes tricky for the most part it's orderly and seems to make people behave better. I have noticed that since 9/11 you rarely encounter a belligerent or ridiculous passenger making demands and threats to the flight attendants or other passengers or causing a scene because they know that a team of armed guards and FBI agents will meet them at the gate with handcuffs. This is a GOOD thing. Especially on long trans-Atlantic flights where alcohol flows freely and people can easily get obnoxious.

And flying is cheaper in general, making a trip to another country affordable and more accessible than ever before. It gives more people the opportunity to travel abroad and when you travel you see how alike we humans are, no matter what language we speak. And that diminishes fear which is a really good thing! Fear eats away at your quality of life. When I get scared to try new things I remind myself that I will not be lying in the hospital bed dying and wishing I had watched more TV. ("I really wished I hadn't missed that season of CSI Miami ... someone push the morphine drip...")

Nostalgia is one of my default settings, but I have noticed I sometimes feel all rosy or maudlin about things that weren't even that good at the time. I refuse to let the idea of terrorism change my life or the way I look at travel. Air travel is still a gazillion times safer than any other mode of mass transportation and the idea that you can start in Los Angeles and end up in Prague or Moscow or Buenos Aires in just a few hours is still pretty freaking amazing.

- - -

Finally, this morning I saw this car waiting to get on the freeway on-ramp ahead of me:

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Hello Kitty!

Posted by laurie at 8:59 AM

January 11, 2010

Sprouts and other kitchen things

After I wrote about my delicious roasted cauliflower last week, I got an email from a reader letting me know she'd made Brussels sprouts the same way with excellent results. I thought that was good info to have and filed it away in my above-neck computer.

I'm trying to get on a good schedule where I do grocery shopping on Saturday morning and then wash and scrub and clean and soak and chop any veggies I bought so that on Sunday I can do some cooking and assemble my meals for the week. The best way I know to get a handle on my health is to eat food I made myself. It's time-consuming, though, to cook all your meals. I keep reminding myself that this year getting healthy is my priority and you just make time for what's important. This is important to me, so that's how I found myself at the market Saturday morning browsing around the veggies and ran across a container of fresh Brussels sprouts. I picked them up and brought them home for a test drive.

Confession time: I have not eaten a Brussels sprout in probably 15 years. And I have certainly never cooked one. I washed them and let them dry and then sort of wondered what I had gotten myself into.

The ends of each sprout looked like they needed trimming, so I did that while I preheated the oven to 375 degrees. This oven seems to run a bit hot so I'm finding the best roasting setting is just below 400 degrees. The bigger sprouts got chopped in half while the tiny ones remained whole. I roughly chopped about four cloves of garlic (I LOVE garlic) and sprinkled them with salt, pepper, a little cayenne and a healthy dose of olive oil:

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Put them on a foil-lined pan (I LOVE Reynolds Release, it's magic, and for someone who can burn anything it has been a lifesaver):

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This is what they looked like after cooking for about 25 minutes:

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And in the bowl, with some grated Parmesan cheese:

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They weren't bad at all. The cauliflower is still my favorite, but this was tasty, especially the outer leaves which got a bit crispy. I might cook them a bit longer next time but I have to say, for my first home sprout experience it wasn't half bad.

The dish I made alongside the sprouts was chicken with baby onions from Epicurious.com. One of the things I love best about Epicurious is that you get the benefit of reading all the reviews and tips. So I carmelized the onions before adding the chicken and things were going great until I realized I had no chicken broth in the cupboard. Whoops! I just went ahead and cooked it all in wine (and my pan was smaller than maybe recommended so that was plenty of liquid) and all was going well until I got distracted with something else and slightly overcooked the chicken. It's a little dry but the taste is fantastic so I'll try this one again, this time with all the right ingredients. The caramelized onions added a delicious taste to the chicken. I served it on some brown basmati rice (and that's what I packed for lunch, too.)

Just realized I seem to talk a lot about food on Mondays! Guess that's what happens after you spend most of Sunday afternoon and evening in the kitchen. But I am so relieved knowing all my lunches are ready for the week and little snacks and I roasted a big pan of potatoes (which keep well in the fridge) to have with dinner later in the week. It is work, I won't deny it, but it's the only way to break the vicious cheeseburger loop I seemed to be caught in for most of 2009.

- - -

You know what I was thinking about today? Since 9/11 things have changed so much at the airport that there's a whole generation of people now who probably don't remember that awesome feeling of having someone meet you at the gate. Remember that? Remember the wonderful, happy, giddy feeling you'd get knowing they'd be there so excited to pick you out of the crowd walking off the plane? And they won't get to know that sad goodbye, tearful, waving to someone as you walk down the jetbridge.

I'm still mad as hell at the stupid shoe bomber, who forever ruined the walk through security (the unsanitary aspects of walking where thousands of feet in questionable stages of cleanliness walk shoeless just skeeves me out) and now the underwear bomber will probably have us all getting felt up in the crotchal regions as we pass the TSA. And these are all unpleasant, depending on what the TSA agent doing the feeling-up looks like, but what I miss most of all is that awesome feeling of flying to see someone you missed so much and there they are at the gate, craning to see you get off the plane.

Meeting at baggage isn't quite the same.

Posted by laurie at 12:20 PM

January 7, 2010

The Dog Sweater

A few months ago I spent weeks furiously knitting on what I thought was likely the goofiest and awesomest thing I had ever made, this dog sweater:

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That's the Dogasaurus Rex sweater from Patons "Another Dog's Life" pattern booklet.

The sweater was a gift for my parents' cute Pembroke Corgi. His name is Chivas, like the Scotch. (This apple did not fall far from the tree as you can see.) They knew I was making the dog some sort of garment but not the Dogasoaurus Rex! I asked my dad to measure the dog and I followed the pattern exactly and I carefully knitted and stitched and pieced and so on down to the stegasaurus spikes:

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Lots of Lion Brand Wool-Ease in different colors.

But either my knitting was way off or my Dad measured a Rhino because the sweater most decidedly did not fit, which broke my heart because I SLAVED over that thing. I still can't believe I made it, it was big enough for me to wear! And I guess when they first put it on him he was not a willing participant, and did not enjoy being draped in five hundred yards of stockinette:

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I was embarrassed and sad at my knitmess.

Feeling like a big old failure, I told my mom to send the stupid sweater back to me and I would find someone with a horse who wanted a handknit dinosaur turtleneck. But my mom never sent it back. This is because she is a magical person who can fix pretty much anything in the garment department. She taught me how to sew when I was very little and throughout my life she had to hem or alter pretty much everything I bought because I am ridiculously short and I would get frustrated that nothing fit off the rack. However, since this was a knitted item, it never occurred to me she could fix it with her mad sewing skills. I figured she was using it as a grill cover or something.

I WAS SO WRONG!

Without telling me, she went to Wal-Mart and found yarn in a matching color and bought herself some yarn needles and my mom, who has never knitted that I know of, somehow someway FIXED the dog sweater and surprised me with it:

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You can see the little pin tucks right over the tail end. She fixed it! It's a Christmas Miracle!


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Action shot!


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Grrrr, I am a fierce warrior Dino-Dog!


So that is the tale of the knitting agony of defeat followed by the sewing triumph of will which is my mom. Even her fur-covered children are so short they have to get their clothes hemmed!

Some things just never change.

- - -
Thanks so much for the nice words! Have a great weekend!


Posted by laurie at 10:18 AM

January 6, 2010

Coffee, the miracle elixir

It's a new year, but my body didn't get the memo. My sleep issues are boring and long-winded, I've had chronic insomnia for years and I have lots of ways of dealing with it but sometimes even when I do manage to fall asleep or even if I take an Ambien (like I did last night) I wake up in the middle of the night. There I am, just wide awake at 3:30 a.m. and nothing will get me back to sleep.

Sometimes I get up and write for a while or read or just watch TV but usually by 6 a.m. I am sleepy and ready for bed and that is disastrous, because if I fall asleep then I fall hard asleep and it's inevitable that I will be late for work and start the day behind schedule which makes me feel upside-down and backwards and grumpy from the very start.

I hate that feeling of falling behind before you even start the day!

This morning when I watched the clock pass from 3:30 to 3:35 to 3:38, I decided to get up and stay up. I wrote a little bit, read a little bit, petted the cats, flossed, made coffee, watched the weather. (I love watching the weather report, even though the most exciting thing we ever have is a little mist four times a year, I still must see the weather report!) I got dressed in track pants and a t-shirt and when it finally ticked away to 5 a.m. I put on my hoodie and fancypants new Nike shoes and went for a walk.

What a difference a cup of coffee makes! On Monday I shlubbed my way through a plodding, lumpy 30-minute walk and needed a nap midway through. Yesterday I slept right through my alleged walking time and took a lunchtime walk instead, just a little "exercise" to the mall. But today I was full of energy, walking almost like I wasn't the marshmallow I've become. Walking with my arms swinging and none of that slow walrus pace I had on Monday.

There are several people here at work who actually "work out" and do real exercise on a regular basis, so I consulted with one of them and she said she always tries to have a little cup of coffee before hitting the gym. How did I not know this secret until now? Amazing. I love coffee, and now I have another reason to adore it anew.

- - -

I meant to take a picture of my shoes but I forgot. When I wear them I pretend I am someone who is spry and athletic.

- - -

I have been fantasizing a lot about vacation, since it's the start of a new year and I get a whole new set of fresh, sparkling new vacation days. Usually I take a trip in January around MLK day and another in February around Valentine's Day but I think I'm going to hold off until later in the year to do any traveling. I love to think about vacation, though. I like to imagine packing a bag, walking out of the airport into a different city, getting a taxi, walking around and seeing the sights of some new place.

It's so weird that I love to stay home more than anything in the world, but I also love to randomly book a flight to someplace far away and just go. I would rather get on a plane and fly for 14 hours to some foreign country than to have to speak in a meeting or go to a party where I don't know people. Sometimes I get nervous and start sweating just from talking to my boss! But I can hail a taxi in Madrid or order wine in Poland. Funny.

I guess when I'm far from home there isn't a lot of social anxiety since I am not going to be seeing anyone from vacation again and they don't give me a performance review and I don't have to go to a party with them or work in an office beside them each day. You're kind of free on vacation. Free from your daily time constraints and free from worrying what people think about you.

- - -

I have been knitting a bunch of things, but one is a present I haven't mailed yet and the other I'll post tomorrow, I just got pictures of the item on the recipient. Wait until you see that amount of goofy goodness. My mom had to do seamstress surgery on it to get it to fit (I have NO IDEA how she managed that) and it was kind of a Christmas miracle. Hint: it involves the dog. Too funny.

That's all for today. MORE COFFEE.

Posted by laurie at 8:38 AM

January 5, 2010

My beautiful January

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There's dapper Dallas Raines giving us the best weather in the nation. January in Los Angeles is paradise, you know that somewhere else people are shoveling snow and freezing off the tips of their noses but here it's prime flip-flop weather, beautiful, crystal clear and sunny.

For about two or three weeks each summer we get this sweltering heat that makes me insane, but the rest of the year is delicious and bright. January in Los Angeles is always my favorite. On Sunday I had brunch with Jennifer and Amber and we sat out on the patio at the restaurant in our t-shirts, soaking in the sun. I don't even know what it's like to bundle up each day, wrap yourself head to toe to prevent frostbite. I like to take vacations to cold places because it feels like you've really gone somewhere different but I'm guessing the novelty of winter wears off pretty quickly if you live in it.

This morning traffic was back to its usual snail's pace but I didn't mind because the sun was out but it was still chilly (OK, our chilly is about 55 degrees...) and that's my ideal combination. A little music on the radio, a little sun on your face, a cool breeze. Got to love January in L.A.

Posted by laurie at 9:26 AM

January 4, 2010

Hello, week. Hello, year.

Maybe I had the idea that 2010 would come and some magical switch would be flipped and I would feel positive and renewed and full of interest in things such as exercise and vegetables. Most of my fall/winter 2009 diet consisted on Funyuns and takeout so the bar was set pretty low in the progress department, yet still no magical switch-flip seemed to occur as I slept off my bottle of Veuve Clicquot into the new year.

One of the wisest things I have ever heard was about inspiration: you can't just wait around for inspiration to strike. Sometimes you have to take action and just start driving the bus in the right direction. After you get a move on, the inspiration will come. It is so true! If I sat around waiting to be inspired to make changes or write or clean house or do anything I would surely be waiting on my butt for a long time to come. So this is how I feel about the new year, I'm making a plan and taking some action instead of just waiting for another day to pass. I can hope to be better and all that, but hope is not a plan.

One thing I've had to do is get realistic about my schedule. Unless I make time on the weekends to go shopping and prepare food, my week devolves very quickly into poor eating choices (see: Funyuns). I just don't have time during the week to wash and peel and chop and marinate and cook and clean and prep and peel and simmer. Even with my smaller commute time I still have a serious drive each day and by the time I get home at night I want to flop over. Instead of complaining about this or beating myself up for once again being too tired after work to whip up something not from a box, I have just accepted my schedule. It is what it is. So I went grocery shopping and then I spent the weekend making all sorts of interesting things for my week. I shredded a huge pile of carrots for that carrot blueberry salad I love (also, the shredder tool on the food processor is the best invention! I love it!) and I roasted some beets to make a chilled beet salad:

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Roasted beets. Delicious.

Before I moved to California I didn't realize that most non-Southern people have only eaten beets that come from a can. No wonder so many people hate beets! Fresh beets are delicious and sweet and earthy. It's very Southern to boil beets and then let them cool and slip off the skins. I prefer to roast them in a foil packet because it's so foolproof. Heat your oven to 400 degrees, put three beets in a foil package (I don't know why, but three seems to be the magic number) and seal it tightly. Put the foil on a cookie sheet and then cook them in the oven for about an hour, or if the beets are very large leave them for an hour and a half. Beets get all juicy when you cook them this way, so I always use a cookie sheet just in case (I hate to clean a mess in the oven, I truly do.) Then take the foil packet out of the oven and just let it sit until it cools. Once cool, open it up and the beet skins will slip right off, it's so easy.

I like beets sliced and dressed in a little vinaigrette. Add some goat cheese and toasted pine nuts and it's all fancy and yummy. There are so many things you can do with a cooked beet: add it to salad, mix it with sliced red onions and lettuce, toss it with a crunchy sliced Bosc pear and add lemon and olive oil.

Yesterday I also made THE BEST cauliflower ever. If you like cauliflower (I do, it's probably my favorite vegetable besides green beans) you will love this recipe -- Roasted Cauliflower (here's a basic version on epicurious.com.) The key to roasted cauliflower is to cut the pieces very small, about two inches or so. Also, I don't mince the garlic like the epicurious recipe calls for, but instead cut it roughly into pieces about 1/4 inch or just cut the cloves in half. Put the cut cauliflower in a bowl with the garlic, salt and pepper and olive oil. I add a little cayenne, too, and about half a fresh-squeezed lemon. Mix it up and spread it on a cookie sheet:

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Then roast it in the oven on 400 degrees until it's browned on the outside. It seems to work best if you stir it up once or twice while cooking. Top with a little Parmesan cheese for the most amazing cauliflower ever:

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I ate all of it.

Of course one cannot live on carrots and beets and cauliflower alone, so I cooked some chicken and brown rice and steamed some broccoli and then packed all my lunches and breakfasts and snacks for the week, which made me feel like I had already accomplished something monumental and it is only January 4th. I definitely did not feel deeply inspired when I started all that work, but when I finished and put the last dirty pan in the dishwasher and set it to run I felt this huge feeling of relief. Like I had gotten off to a good start.

By the way, that dishwasher has changed my life. I love it. It's better than a brand new car.

And when I got in to work today, I was thinking how I wished I had bought more lemons this weekend when I was at the store because I still have a whole bag of fresh cauliflower in the fridge and I want to make some more of that amazing crackass addictive roasted cauliflower. When I went to the breakroom to make a cup of tea I noticed some kind soul had brought in lemons from their tree to share with the group and now I have two of them resting happily in my purse, which I believe is a very good omen:

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Lemons in my super-duper cheap but fabulous Target purse.

So that's Monday. No magical switch has flipped, but with a little effort and a good grocery shopping list I think I am at least turning the bus around and getting myself out of the ditch. That's enough for me.

Posted by laurie at 12:27 PM