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April 29, 2011

Oh Happy Day!

You know it's going to be a good day when you wake up, watch a Royal Wedding, go for an almost-five-mile walk up in the hills (!!) and come home to this breakfast:

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Seriously, is there a better summertime breakfast than a sweet slice of cold watermelon? It feels like summer already here because it's so warm out. I had my doubts about the early season on-sale melon supply but this was the best $4.22 I have spent in a long time. I think I can probably eat a whole watermelon in a day. Today may be that day.

When Jennifer was last here visiting me a few weeks ago -- she had just moved up to San Francisco and I had just moved into Undisclosed Location -- she saw me at my trainwreck lowest, and she made a suggestion that stuck with me.

"Don't forget about walking, that always seems to make you feel so much better," she said. She's known me a long time and she was absolutely right about the walking.

Last week I found a route that takes me up out of this transient little pocket and up into the winding Hollywood Hills, one of my favorite areas in the entire world. I love the rambling houses precariously tipping down the hillsides, I love the quirkiness of the neighborhoods and the lush quiet.

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(It was cloudy and the camera focused on the flower, but the view from that gate was spectacular.)

Walking costs nothing, requires no special equipment (other than comfortable shoes) and takes no studied skill or precision. But after just a few days of walking every day I can feel a huge difference in my attitude, my energy level and my optimism. When my life gets crazy out of control it seems like the first thing to go is anything good for me -- exercise gets pushed aside, I drink too much, I eat crappy food, I stop sleeping. But I have decided that as far as strategies for living go my descend-into-madness routine SUCKS. Next time I hit a stressful patch I'm going to try my humanly best to do at least one positive thing for myself and that is to walk. Walk as often and as long as possible. Walk, and then walk some more.

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Just want to say that my thoughts are with everyone in the South. I can't think of anything scarier than a tornado. Honestly. I saw Maury County on the news last night but they didn't show much, I hope everyone is OK!

Is there some weird life-rattling cosmo stuff going on? Seems like the whole planet is getting it. Usually I don't go out into the Shirley Maclaine territory, much, but my friend Astrologer Phyllis promises that come mid-May life smooths out and becomes sweet. And you know what, I have decided to believe her. That's right. If it is good enough for Nancy Reagan it is good enough for me.

Hang in there, everyone.

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Mysterious Lump On A Friday:

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Lump, Uncovered:

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Posted by laurie at 10:49 AM

April 26, 2011

Notes from the half-way place

A few weeks ago I got drunk and declared to the world at large that I was paring down by one half. Donate, sell, give away to friends, recycle, whatever, just reduce my personal collection of stuff by one half.

I had my own reasons. I had just gone through a move that was traumatic and expensive and required two trips on the moving truck and three movers. For one woman.

One human with all that stuff!

It costs money to house and move and transport and clean and care for that much stuff. It takes time and energy. And I am not yet done moving in my life, so I figured I could either sit in a corner and chew on my arm while dreading my own belongings or I could take this opportunity to lighten up. Action makes me feel like control and control makes me feel like I'm not going insane so you know, I took action. It's not everyone's way of dealing but it's how I do things.

Listen, there are times when it's healthy to sit and feel your feelings. Then there are times when your feelings will rear up and snatch you baldheaded and your best bet is to drink wine from a large mug and clean out your sock drawer until your feelings become less CRAZY. Trust me on this one.

When I shared my desire to get rid of half my stuff the responses were fascinating. I love people, love how we're all so different. Some folks immediately chimed in with, "Me, too!" or offered support or little tips for de-cluttering. Some folks found it all too sudden and worried that I was being impulsive and cavalier.

"Don't be hasty," one commenter cautioned. "You might regret it."

Lots of people worried I was downsizing my cats, and I ignored them since I assumed they were stoned.

Some felt it important to point out that my fondue pots or saws were not exact duplicates. Each has its own special use, each is unique. Never mind that I didn't use either fondue pot and that one of my handsaws was still in its original unopened packaging. Or that a woman living alone in a tiny city apartment needs not one but TWO saws.

This email said so much:

Dear Laurie, Please keep both saws! They are as different as boots and sandals and made for entirely different purposes. The one with the miter box is for small stuff, even metal stuff, that is only as deep as the distance from the top to the blade. The other saw is for wood and other bulky materials (plastic pipe etc) like when you want to cut a log for the fireplace or a branch off a tree. It will be the most useful for you. Best wishes!

I kind of loved that email. The urgency of the saw-keeping emotion was tangible. I felt it. I still got rid of the saw but I felt the keeper's longing in that note. Realistically, though, I live in urban temporary housing, a three-floor walkup with parking meters out front. My firewood and branch-cutting needs are minimal. If there comes a day when I need to saw my way out of a tree I will probably just call the fire department. But still I appreciated the deep desire to hang on, just in case.

Mostly I was interested to learn how exact and precise and semantically fastidious some folks are about phrases like "one half." I'm fairly certain no one is going to show up at my doorstep one day in August and measure my belongings by volume or weight or do an item-by-item analysis and fine me for being one-eleventeenth over the line on coffee mugs. Listen, I can't even get anyone out to fix my stove. There's not an apartment police nearby.

One Half was just my vague but simple goal, a good way to pare down. You could call it downsizing if this math is making you break into hives.

Some areas for downsizing were obvious and easy in my hoard. If there was a duplicate, it had to go. If it was broken, unused or never going to be used it went. If it was a gift I never wanted it went.

Other areas are harder and require flexibility. I don't have a lot of DVDs but the ones I have are all watched periodically, I like them all, I picked each one with care, and they have a designated storage space. No need to make myself feel bad and force myself to pare down something I enjoy when I can just as easily overcompensate paring down things I don't love, like old socks and T-shirts that I never wear or paper products I have never used.

It's slow going and not always easy. Over the weekend I finally unpacked the books, scrutinizing each one before placing it on the shelf. Paring down books is an absolute necessity but it's not easy for me. I started with easier things like kitchen stuff and doodads and T-shirts so that when I got to the book boxes (17 of them, thank you) I was in a paring-down groove and it went well. I didn't get rid of half by a longshot but I did manage to thin the herd.

As I unpacked books I put all my unread books in one area of the shelves and at the end of the weekend I was surprised to discover that about 40% of what I kept are books I haven't even read yet! (Not including craft books and reference books, and I have a lot of those still, very hard to pare down there.) Now I can book shop from my own shelves -- that certainly fits my budget.

After reading that comment from a stranger, the one who cautioned me I may regret my decision to downsize, I wondered if I would miss this stuff. Would I regret it? Regret is one of the few emotions I think is useless and I try not to hover there for long. I decided it wasn't even a question worth thinking about. I can't live my life paralyzed, scared I'll regret giving away a dumb fondue pot or an old Sidney Sheldon paperback.

I'd prefer to cultivate hope, not regret. I hope this process will help me feel more connected to people than to items. I hope that I have a better appreciation for each day instead of each thing. I hope that moving will be easier next time. I hope that I can spend less time cleaning and organizing and stacking my stuff and more time living my life.

And anyway, when it comes to stuff they're still making it every day. You can always re-stuffify. There will always be saws on the shelves for your future unseen branch-cutting needs.

Posted by laurie at 10:24 AM

Thanks & such

Thanks everyone for chatting with me about your life. It was fascinating, and appreciated.

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Veddy inneresting, indeed.

Posted by laurie at 9:37 AM

April 22, 2011

Do you have real-life friends?

Do you have friends, a social circle? Or are you dangling out there alone in this realm?

I'm curious and want to know.

Also, good for this research endeavor: Do you live in a city or a small(ish) town? Are you close to your family? Also are you the kind of person who has Easter plans to be with your kids and extended family or is your Easter about doing laundry and catching up on your Tivo? [Anthropological disclaimer, I will be doing laundry and eating chocolate at breakfast then going for a jog to offset the disgust.]

The other remaining question for my small scientific study: Is your boyfriend/girlfriend/significant other the primary occupant of your social circle?

Thank you for participating. Mainly hoping to offset my own perceived failures.

Posted by laurie at 10:07 PM

Can't you see I am TRYING TO MAKE A CALL

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Posted by laurie at 5:26 AM

April 20, 2011

Spring in the city of angels

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Posted by laurie at 10:20 AM

April 19, 2011

Winner, some chitchat, new book club, cat picture

And the winner of yesterday's giveaway of Knitting Plus: Mastering Fit + Plus-Size Style + 15 Projects by Lisa Shroyer is... DAH DAH DUM! Marjorie at 11:49:44. Check your email. Yay! Book giveaways are fun. Thanks again to Jaime Guthals at Interweave who always sends such unusual and beautiful books to share.

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Reader Catherine in Australia wrote:

Hi Laurie, I really hope that things are settling down again and life is getting better for you (and the kitties too). This is probably the last thing on your mind right now, but I was wondering if you have any plans to continue with the book club? I have almost no chance of getting to an actual bookclub (due to 3 kids, part-time work, no babysitter etc) so I loved the idea of the virtual bookclub. I also have very limited reading time (like 15 minutes after the kids are in bed if I am lucky!) and I like to get a head start on my reading to catch up with everyone else, so I wondered if you might have any books in mind for the club. Lots of goodwill and best wishes, Catherine

This was perfect timing! I was just unpacking a box yesterday and found my high-school copy of The Great Gatsby and I almost abandoned my already marginal attempts at unpacking to go sit in a corner and read about old Tom and Daisy Buchanan. So that's it, it's official:

Book Club for May: The Great Gatsby
(paperback version | kindle version)
Let's meet back here to chitchat and discuss The Great Gatsby on Monday, May 23, 2011.

The "bookclub" is really just an online read-along and anyone who feels like participating can check out the book during the month and then make a date to come back here and comment on the book and read what others think about it. (Yes, comments will be open that day. Har har.) It's by far the best book club I've ever been to because there's no obligation, you don't have to drive anywhere, and you can drink and eat anything you want while reading and writing comments. And if I manage to get some de-stashing back in gear I will send one lucky commenter home with some yarn or a book or some jeggings.

Just kidding. Like I would part with some jeggings.

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OR you could read my manifesto. You're in it.

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Recently reader Bonnie asked me on Twitter:

What are the best positive, empowering, self-helpiest books you can recommend?

That would be a mighty long list. I read self-help for many reasons, including I SO CRAZY. For many years I read helpy books when I wasn't going to a shrink, books were my therapy-by-proxy. Now that I am seeing a professional I don't read as much self-help. Mostly I read Entertainment Weekly and Ready Made and odd collections of essays by writers from the 1960s.

But the self-help books I keep on my shelves are the ones I recommend:

The Four Agreements - A short book, with concise writing (I get irritated at self-help that's formatted like a legal textbook.) You can breeze through this in an afternoon but the lessons will stick with you.

The Mind of the Soul: Responsible Choice - You can't get any better than this Gary Zukav book.

A New Earth Before Oprah picked this book for her book club I had flipped through a few pages and put it down, too much work. I think the sentence structure makes the reading more dense than it needs to be. Having said that, I re-picked it up for her book club and reading this book from the beginning to the end made me feel like a new version of myself. There is a passage in this book about sinking below thought vs. rising above your thoughts and that section alone probably changed my life.

The Book of Awakening - I don't want to oversell this book, because I think it either hits with you or it doesn't. The format itself is one of my favorites, I love a good daybook. Remember when the world was on fire with Sarah Ban Breathnach's daybook Simple Abundance? I love this format and I think Mark Nepo is brilliant and writes lovely paragraphs. I keep it in the bathroom. Is that wrong?

The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success - Gotta have some Deepak on the list. This is my favorite of his books. The idea that money must flow in and out changed my thinking about money completely.

Bridge to Terabithia - I know this isn't self-help. But this little piece of perfect makes me think about life in a new way each time I read it.

• Ditto A Wrinkle in Time

That's my short list. Many self-help books directed at women involve self-esteem or finding a man. I don't read those books. I've always been mystified by the cult of self-esteem when (to me) self-mastery is such a better quality to cultivate. And when it comes to bagging a man, I'm waiting for the Laurie's Guide To Marrying Al Gore paperback.

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I fit in this handy carrying case so obviously, I am your new laptop.


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Posted by laurie at 5:33 AM

April 18, 2011

Free Book Monday: "Knitting Plus" by Lisa Shroyer

To start this week off right, today I'll be giving away one free copy of Knitting Plus: Mastering Fit + Plus-Size Style + 15 Projects by Lisa Shroyer. Thanks to the always charming Jaime Guthals at Interweave for sending me this copy to give to one lucky reader.

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From the publisher's description: "Knitting Plus is the must-have manual for plus-sized sweater construction and knitwear design. With this helpful guide, you’ll learn how to design wearable, tailor-made sweaters. Explore basic pullover and cardigan sweater construction styles from raglans and set-in sleeves to drop shoulders, seamless yokes, and dolmans. Knitting Plus explains each specific sweater element and then offers key tips for plus-sized knitting. Included throughout are simple versions of each construction type as easy-to-reference templates so you can quickly adapt and alter each sweater for a custom fit. Each pattern offers a broad range of sizes and instructions for bust sizes from about 44 to 56 inches. Packed with design information and ready-to- knit patterns, Knitting Plus is your go-to technique and design reference for customizing patterns to fit all sizes."

Plus-sized knitting books are surprisingly rare in the knit book world. I looked through this one and it features a nice mix of simple patterns and more complicated lace and cable patterns. The Fair Isle sweater alone is a work of art. Instead of banding the pattern horizontally the designer (Nancy Shroyer) created vertical bands and it's one of the most flattering sweaters in this style I've seen:

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To enter to win this book, simply leave a comment on today's entry by clicking the comment link below. You don't have to compose a manifesto, it's ok to just write "book entry."

Picky Stuff: You must leave a valid email address to be eligible. If you prefer that your email address is mysterious and hidden, you need to enter some website address in the "URL" field just below the email address field. For example, you can just cut/paste http://www.crazyauntpurl.com and it is magic. Technology!

Good luck!


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Updated 4/19/2011: Congrats to reader Marjorie for winning this great book!

Posted by laurie at 10:33 AM

In defense of We Who Clean

Since I had about six hours to find a move-in ready apartment (that was pet friendly) (and affordable) (with covered parking) (in Los Angeles) I took the lightest definition of move-in ready. This apartment was empty and the carpet had been put in but nothing had been cleaned. There was no time to clean it myself ahead of move-in day, move-in day being the next day and all, so I moved in and then cleaned.

Cleaning is therapeutic for me, and every time I mention my love of scouring or scrubbing it sends some folks into a bad place. Readers caution me that I should be on OCD medication, that I need therapy, that it's unnatural to love cleaning house, that my behavior is worrying.

I thought about this last week as I scrubbed the bathroom floor. I wanted to write about the floor, about the sensory experience of that morning, I was as close to happy as I had been in days. The bucket was filled halfway with hot water and swirled inside the bucket was a touch of Dr. Bronner's eucalyptus soap and a sprinkle of baking soda. I wore my heavy-duty rubber gloves and beneath them I wore my moisturizing gloves, giving my poor old hands a break. While Sheryl Crow sang in the background, I used a stiff-bristled brush to scrub away the detritus of the renters who lived here before me. And probably the ones before that, too. Clean tiles, clean grout, clean baseboards, clean and so good-smelling.

After scrubbing for half an hour and wiping down the tile floor with a clean towel I smiled at my handiwork and felt good. My arms were pleasantly tired and aching like they'd had a good workout. The room smelled fresh and the floor and baseboards were finally clean.

Oh yeah, can't write about this, those people already think you lost your damn mind.

But it's no wonder I love cleaning -- it's a physical activity, one that burns more calories than a midday stroll. It's repetitive in the wax on/wax off zen way, it uses different muscle groups, you sweat, you get to use interesting products and tools, and at the end you have a tangible visible result. In that way it's like knitting -- you knit for two hours and something is visibly created from your needles and yarn. You clean for two hours and get the same good feeling of a tangible creation.

Of course I get the luxury of enjoying cleaning because I don't have to do it. No one expects me to wash up or do laundry or dust. No one cares if I have vacuumed today or yesterday or two weeks ago. Not one person on the planet is looking over my shoulder, taking inventory of my homemaker skills. I'm accountable to no one, only myself.

This idea of being accountable to no other soul on earth seems to terrify many people. I mentioned it to my brother once, and I could see him become visibly discomfited.

"That's crazy, sis," he said. "You need that kind of security. I need all those people around me, my wife, my kids, my friends, my business partner, the folks from church."

And he does, and he has built a good life out of his accountability to his wife and children and work and church. He and I are just wired up differently.

Many people believe that if they are accountable to no one -- not a spouse or a roommate or a child or an employer -- they will go entirely off the rails, act out, go crazy.

I like being free and responsible only to myself. I prefer it, really. It made me grow up, for one thing. It brings out the best parts of my personality: self-reliance, fiscal responsibility, acceptance, action, humor. There's no one to blame but me so I'm learning to make better decisions and to cut myself some slack about them.

Since I'm not being checked up on or watched or graded or reviewed I can choose my behavior and do what feels right to me. This has had the odd result of making me more socially aware. For example, I stop at stop signs even when no one is around because it feels right and I like voluntarily participating in the rules of the road. That's a nerdy example, but you get the idea.

With no one asking me to clean up after myself, and with no humans living with me, cleaning is completely optional. I used to hate cleaning my room as a kid, I loathed all the chores I had to do. Clean the bathrooms every Saturday morning, vacuum, do laundry. Every day there were dishes to be done and shoes to be put away. When I got married I did all the housework and resented every minute of it. I got so angry once I went on strike but I was the only one who noticed.

All those years when someone expected me to clean house I was resentful and irritated and didn't want to do it. I tidied up out of obligation and necessity. I loathed it.

A few years after my divorce I went on a particularly zealous cleaning spree in the tiny Encino-adjacent house. I noticed I lost four pounds in six days and slept so hard each night that I woke refreshed and happy. It wasn't from healthy eating or drinking, I can promise that much. So I thought about all the cleaning and scrubbing and floor-refinishing I'd done and looked up the calorie counts online for housecleaning. That was the day I made the connection between cleaning and stress relief. Of course it's stress-relieving! It's a physical workout as good as jogging (especially the way I do it) and at the end you have a visible result, like you do in knitting. And I can clean for hours on end. Put on some great music, open the windows, wear comfortable clothes, get out the good-smelling soap.

It's not OCD gone wild, or part of my scary transformation into Girl Who Lives In Bubble, or some condition of crazy that requires medication. I enjoy having a clean home. The cats very much enjoy it. It's better than starting a heroin addiction. And cheaper.

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My cleaning tools are remarkably low-tech:

Scrub brush, toothbrush, sponge, Mr. Clean Magic eraser, heavy gloves, good bucket and tool caddy.


My go-to cleansers:

I use cleansers that are low or non-toxic. Mostly Dr. Bronner's soap (I love the different scents), vinegar, baking soda, and Shaklee H20. The Shaklee cleanser is very expensive but it lasts forever. I've had this one bottle since 2005. You put a few drops in a spray bottle, add water and it's a glass cleaner and surface spray. It works like a charm and is so non-toxic you can bathe in it. I do not bathe in it, though.

That pizza shaker is full of baking soda. I use baking soda everywhere, it cleans everything! Try it on a sponge to remove soap scum off a shower door. You will be shocked how well it works.

The heavies:

These cleaners are toxic, and I use them sparingly. I use Ajax with bleach for the toilets, especially in a new rental place. Bleach if necessary for sinks, tubs, general disinfecting. To remove the black mildew that was in the tub grout, I wet cotton pads with bleach and pressed them into place and let them stay for a few hours. It worked!

I try to limit the amount of toxic (heavy) cleaners but used sparingly they can help keep your home disinfected and clean.

And this is my main man when it comes to cleaning:

It's also a calorie-burning king.

Posted by laurie at 8:46 AM

April 17, 2011

Breakfast at Sweetsalt

My friend Christine invited me to breakfast yesterday, we went to a cute little sandwich shop in Toluca Lake called Sweetsalt, opened by Top Chef contestant (Season five) Alex Eusebio. I don't watch Top Chef but that detail seems important to the story for those of you who do. Everything on the menu looked like it was ten bucks or less and the food is outstanding.

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Photo above has a weird angle to it. There was actually a girl sitting out front just below this sign. There is a cute patio area for dining outside and she was eating a salad at one of the outdoor tables. I was trying to avoid getting her in the picture because I didn't want to seem like I was taking a picture of her all creepylike.

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The sandwich shop carries Zapp's potato chips! Zapp's are from Louisiana and are not easy to find here in Los Angeles. I got ridiculously excited about the potato chips.

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Christine and I both had the turkey and avocado sandwich with applewood smoked bacon. DELICIOUS. I recommend.

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Posted by laurie at 9:05 AM

April 16, 2011

Wagon Wheel, and other songs

An accident, really, I was trying to text someone and I hit the wrong button and before long I was playing country music on my phone.

First night since I moved in that I didn't actively hate this apartment. Something about drinking too much and listening to some good songs. I like when Randy Travis says he's been diggin' up bones, or when Travis Tritt sings "Chances Are" (though the new version by Garrett Hedlund is better, I think.)

This place is just like that crappy apartment I had when I first moved to the city, a hundred years ago back when I was working at the newspaper and struggling to get by and something about the country songs made me remember it in a rearview mirror kind of way. Like nothing is really as bad as it seems. Like one day this will be a good song, except I can't carry a tune in a bucket.

I love country music. And I love being one of three people in all of Los Angeles who loves country music. You can't feel bad when you're twanging. Until I turned fourteen years old I believed that George Jones was related to me. All my uncles would quote him, and we listened to him all the time, and I was just a kid anyway, so what did I know? I thought George was some cousin or something, one of those family members we talked about but didn't trot out at family reunions. I mean, hell, he stopped loving her today.

So I was just laying there on the bed, it's hot outside so I had the window open a crack and you can hear the sirens and traffic. I'm trying to send a text and I hit the wrong button and now my phone is playing, "One day I ventured in love, never once suspecting what the final results would be..." and before long I've gone through Freddy Fender, Merle Haggard, Randy Travis. And George Strait is singing, "I'm carrying your love with me..."

And after a while nothing seemed that bad. Not even this apartment.

I'm practically related to old George Jones anyway. Now I just got to find a way to work in mama, and a train, and an old dog and we got us a SONG. A surefire HIT. AMEN.


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Posted by laurie at 11:01 PM

April 15, 2011

An L.A. day

10:05 a.m.

It sounds like someone is walking on the roof.

This apartment is on the top floor of a three-floor walkup, so there aren't any upstairs neighbors. All that's above my unit is the flat tar-and-paper roof. I can tell the roof has leaked before because of the patch job in the acoustic ceiling. The swirly popcorn paint treatment was popular 30 years ago when this building was last fashionable.

The first time I heard someone walking on the roof I assumed it was a repairman, perhaps a satellite TV installer. The footsteps seem to happen every day, though. Now I think maybe there is a homeless encampment on the top of the building.

There are stairs that go up to the roof but I haven't gone up there to look. I probably won't. It's hot outside, and I don't really care if someone is living on the roof.


11:15 a.m.
I'm driving in to see my therapist, which already sounds like the beginning to a bad 1980s novel set in Los Angeles, and I'm early so I can stop by the post office.

Traffic begins to slow, then crawl, then stop altogether and so I unlatch my seatbelt and lean over the passenger seat and zip down the other window on my Jeep. It's getting really warm outside.

Police helicopters are hovering overhead. I switch stations on the radio and when the traffic report comes on the woman's voice on the radio says all the exits are blocked nearby because police are searching for a murder suspect on Laurel Canyon Boulevard at Ventura.

"Damn it," I think. "That's where the post office is."

Then: "And a murder suspect is running loose, so there's that."


1:22 p.m.
At Rite-Aid there's a guy who sits outside with a can and asks for donations for some charity, or maybe the donations are for him, it's not obvious.

He's talking to a big guy with red hair, the big guy is wearing a Spongebob Squarepants T-shirt and dirty khaki shorts.

"How much can you clear in a day here, bro?" asks the big guy.

"I do all right," says the man holding the donations can. "My sister is out there at the Whole Foods, she cleans up."


3:40 p.m.
I'm in traffic again, this time on side streets, and now it's hot. The sun is just baking. We crawl single file past a line of black and white police cars, everyone is stopping to look. The cops have either pulled people over or parked in between the cars on the street, it's all chaotic. There are several young people in handcuffs, a few are girls who barely look old enough to be in high school. People at the Starbucks on the corner drink coffee and watch. People in their cars drive by so slow they're hardly moving and they watch.

A guy with a camera is walking up the sidewalk toward the police cars. Right beside him is a guy holding a large microphone, the kind you see on location shoots.

The windows are zipped out of my Jeep and I'm stuck in this traffic. I'm just a few feet away when one of the young girls in handcuffs notices the guy with the camera.

I hear her say, "Are we going to be on TV? That's so COOL!"

On the radio the traffic report starts. Apparently the exits have reopened near Laurel Canyon, they caught the murder suspect.

The light turns red, then green again and eventually traffic starts to move. One last look over my shoulder, the girl in handcuffs is smiling at the camera.


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Posted by laurie at 6:26 PM

April 14, 2011

Hey, let me help you with that!

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It's hard work, but someone has to do it.

Posted by laurie at 8:27 AM

April 13, 2011

This Is How We Do It

A few nights and wines ago I made a sweeping proclamation that I would reduce my stuff by one half. Ah, my friends, that is one lofty goal. When I get in a frame of mind I'm like Scarlett in the dramatic potato-eating scene. I love to do things all dramatical and AS GOD IS MY WITNESS! Then of course I wake up the next morning and have a cup of coffee and think, "What? Really? Do I have to wear this dress made of curtains to the grocery store?"

In this case I feel very happy about the proclamation because it feels right. The elusive and delicious feeling of control is there, of course, but beneath it all is the sense that I'm freeing myself. And wasn't that my (possibly ill-fated) New Year's Resolution, anyway? "Lighten up!" I said. I meant it jauntily but apparently the entity in control of Resolution Enforcement is wicked literal.

When I make the decision to hold on to everything (read: hoard) it comes from pure fear. I prefer making decisions that liberate me, decisions that come out of hope. Holding/hoarding is my way of digging my heels in and refusing to move one. more. inch. That isn't a strategy for right now, I really do not want to dig my heels into this part of my life, in fact I will be blissed out when this portion moves along. I'm sure there are layers below layers of this crazy onion we could unpeel all day long. But let's get back to the One-Half Proclamation!

This week I am putting the proclamation to work as I unpack. I'm keeping my ONE HALF (As God is My Witness!) in mind as I unpack and handle each item. Small decisions. One by one they will add up -- piles for the Goodwill, the local library, friends, and maybe a few items to sell, charities, folks who may enjoy this one thing.

I'm going micro, item by item. This is the perfect example:

fondue-pots.jpg

While unpacking the kitchen boxes and I found the fondue pots. Yes, pots, plural. I have one that is so me, styled straight out of some 1960s housewife dream kitchen and I love it. But I don't think I would ever use it for fondue since it's probably made of lead and asbestos. Which is why I have another fondue pot which I have used exactly twice in ten years. I don't even like it. Or like fondue all that much, because of the possible germ transfer while sharing. No one said germaphobia was cute, OK? Don't judge.

I gave the like-new and very clean fondue pot and matching fondue forks to a good friend who adores fondue. I'm keeping the rockin' 1960s pot I love and I'm going to display it and maybe use it as a place to put my keys, or a houseplant, or whatever.

I have just successfully reduced my ownership of fondue pots by one half! This is how we do it, one fondue pot at a time. It's not daunting and dramatic when you look at it from this angle.

Here is another example:

mitre-saws.jpg

Unpacking a box from what used to be the pantry closet, I find I have two saws. As most women do. One is a wooden-handled saw that I don't like because it's scary looking and also sort of dull and the blade is too flexible. The other saw is brand new and comes with a miter box, which crazy precise people like me LOVE in the middle of the night when we can't sleep and need to make perfectly angled corners. Also, I have not used either saw in over four years. Notice the Ikea miter box & saw combo is still in its original package. HOARD MUCH.

I am giving away the wood-handled saw to charity, thereby reducing my ownership of saws by one half.

Honestly, if a woman like me who has a backup fondue pot just in case can pare down all fondue pottage by one half, then surely I can be a beacon of hope for others with fondue pot issues or similar.

[Edited to add: No, I don't have an exact duplicate of every item. I know the universe is mad literal, but I am not. This was just an example, simplistic and flawed as it was. Though duplicates are an excellent place to start paring.]

This is how I am going to do it, not with grand, impulsive decisions made from fear but with decisions made from accurate, honest thinking. Will I need two saws? Two fondue pots? If I need one in an emergency, because Lord knows there are probably both fondue and sawing emergencies in my future, would I be able to procure a replacement in a ten-hour window? If the answer is yes, I will let go of the less enjoyed item. The answer today is yes. DONE.

Let's be clear I'm not paring down because I feel bereft. I am paring down voluntarily because I don't think I can endure another moment of heavy living.

Holding on and hoarding is my fear-life. Letting go is my hope-life. I am using this time to put the Universe on notice. I am letting go of all the crap and I am opening up to the goodness ahead. Universe, are you listening? I AM LIGHTENING UP LIKE I SAID. NOW BACK OFF.

(Wow, I got a streak of self help in me a mile wide. I'm like a platitude on CRACK.) (And I am lighter by one saw and one fondue pot with associated forks.)

- - -

soba-pare-down.jpg

Yeah, she needs to get rid of this crap. Two red toolboxes. Way to go, human lady.

- - -

(Today's title is from the Montell Jordan song of the same name, you see, the hood's been good to me, ever since I was a lowercase G! This is how we do it.)

Posted by laurie at 8:09 AM

April 12, 2011

Ups and Downs, and Golf

Usually I have no problem writing copious paragraphs about my emotional response to all things in life like emery boards or wasabi paste or cat litter. Emotions seem to pop into my life in fully-formed paragraphs. Except right now.

Right now I feel like a bug trapped under glass. Is that an emotion? I don't even want to say out loud (in words) what is really going on beneath the surface because that makes it real. And I have all this senseless brain chatter telling me I should be grateful and look on the bright side when what I really want to do is scream. And screaming doesn't seem very Southern or Nice.

My solution is to focus solely on ridiculous things, like scouring and cleaning and bleaching grout. My mind says: "I can't control where I live, and that makes me want to sit in a corner and eat my hair, so even though this is just temporary housing I still need clean grout. AS GOD IS MY WITNESS THIS GROUT WILL BE CLEAN."

All that shelf-papering and cleaning and handwashing makes me feel the illusion of control. I like the way you scrub a thing and the stains come out. It's predictable, with an outcome you can rely upon. I need one thing to rely upon right now. I like how you can haul every single item of clothing and all linens in your possession to the laundromat and after a series of sensible, pre-determined moves (load, fill, soap, quarters, wash, unload, dryer, dryer sheet, quarters, dry, repeat) everything in your entire life made of fabric is crisp and clean and smelling like Ecover eucalyptus soap. This is what I have been doing instead of crying or hollering or even whispering the words, I just lost my home and I hate it.

On Saturday I did something that I haven't done since I was in the midst of my divorce. I know it's the stress and the lack of sleep and anxiety combined, it makes my brain short out and go haywire. I'm still ashamed of it anyway.

Saturday morning I woke up crazy early. I had an event in Orange County, in Irvine. It's quite a drive from here. I had planned to go visit my grandmother that day and since I was up so early I thought I should go before the event and we could hang out for a while in the morning.

I got up, made coffee. For breakfast I had nothing here to eat, no cereal, no apples, no oatmeal. So I made a little pot of rice on the stove and ate a bowl of brown rice, got dressed, fed the cats, grabbed my map to the Irvine location. I got in the Jeep and made it across the 101, through downtown, down the 5 all the way to Commerce when I suddenly thought about the rice.

Did I turn the stove off?
Did I?
Did I leave the pan on the burner?
Did I turn the burner off?

I know you don't know where I live now (Unspecified Location) and probably don't know where Commerce is, anyway, but to put it into perspective I drove an hour in early morning Saturday traffic (light) that was the equivalent drive from Tampa to Orlando. And then I made a U-turn in Orlando-equivalent and backtracked in medium traffic to Tampa-equivalent knowing I would have to re-drive this whole thing in very heavy traffic for HOURS.

But there was no way to avoid it. I couldn't keep going. I do at least know myself well enough to know I couldn't go to the event, participate fully, talk to strangers, sign books, visit, go see grandma, and then drive three hours back all while wondering if my temporary housing was on fire or poisoning my cats with gas fumes. I would have lost it midway through, lost it majestically.

This is what I do when my anxiety is so high that I stop functioning normally. I do things like drive all the way to COMMERCE (ORLANDO) and have to turn around and drive an hour back home. Yes the stove was off the whole time, of course, and thank God, and then I got back in the car and re-drove back to Orange County.

It's too much pressure sometimes, there's no back up, no one to check on things for me, it's all too much. Or that's what I told myself as I drove back up the 5 freeway and across downtown, across the 101, back to this place where I still don't have a mailbox key yet. Too much! Can't do it!

Of course you do it, and it's not too much, and the stove was off, the cats were fine, Commerce was lovely the second time around. I made it to Irvine and after it was done I went to visit Grandma.

I told her about all of it, the move, the boxes, the fear, the stupid stove. I told her I felt selfish and stupid to tell her all this junk when she herself was in a wheelchair, no longer living in her own home. How can I complain, bemoan?

"That's nonsense," she said. "Everyone has good times and everyone has bad times. We all just do the best we can where we are."

There's something about Grandma. She's not being trite or washing over things. She knows bad times. She isn't making light. She's just got the long lens, the 88-year-lens. She really means what she's saying and for the first time in weeks I sat beside her and I actually felt calmed, a little.

"So you're having a bad time," she said. "You will get through this, people always do. Now let's watch some golf."

We sat there for a while, and we watched some golf.

- - -

Comments are not available for this entry.

Posted by laurie at 12:32 PM

April 11, 2011

Conversation/Window

bob-n-frank-talk1.jpg

Frankie: Glad you came out of the closet.
Bob: Yeah.
Frankie: Thought you'd lose weight in there, though.
Bob: Nah.
Frankie: I see that. Might want to cut back on the carbs, dude. For real.

- - -

(time passes)

- - -

bob-window-cat.jpg

Bob discovers sunlight!

Posted by laurie at 8:24 AM

April 7, 2011

Not even really sure what day it is, but mark it in the calendar as the day I found the box of undies.

pantiesbox.jpg

Yeah. That's what I'm talking about. An unmarked box of panties at the very bottom of a nine-foot-tall stack of boxes. Conquered it. Now I can stop visiting the laundromat every other day, which was beginning to look and feel more like home than my own apartment.

Next time I move the code word for the underwear box is ramekins. I'm writing this here for the world to see but am certain the moving guys don't read this diary. We're good to go.

- - -

REAL LIFE THINGS

Don't forget the two fun memoir-and-rap-songs panels I'll be on this weekend. (In the brochures, simply called "Memoir Writing Panel." I have my own ideas.)

Essentially what we have here is a group of real authors who talk about the serious art of memoir writing and also there is me, for what I assume is comic relief and/or the diversity card. My only real goal is to have some much-needed fun at both events and use as many bad 1980s rap song references as possible BUT in a way that makes me appear to be a serious writer. Can I pull it off? WE SHALL SEE.

Friday, April 8, 2011 at 2:45 PM
Memoir Panel Discussion
RT Booklovers Convention
The Westin Bonaventure Hotel
404 South Figueroa Street
Los Angeles, CA 90071
[ view a map ]


BUT IF THAT WERE NOT ENOUGH!

Literary Orange Saturday, April 9, 2011
My panel is at 1 p.m.
Memoirs: The Human Comedy
UC Irvine Student Center
A311 Student Center
Irvine, CA 92697-2050
[ view a map ]

When it comes to crafting a memoir, one must always check themselves before they wreck themselves and their craft. SUCCESS IS MINE.

Posted by laurie at 8:38 AM

April 6, 2011

Nemesis DISCOVERED

nemesis-next-door.jpg

Posted by laurie at 10:06 AM

April 5, 2011

Miracle cat leaves closet, paparazzi catch first glimpse.

miraclebob.jpg
Spotted near the corner of Cat Tree Ave. and Box Lane.

- - -


HEY HEY HEY!

I will be at the RT Booklover's Convention on Friday at 2:45 p.m. for a memoir panel with author and friend Rachael Herron. Actually the convention people keep sending me bills, so I am assuming I will be there but if not it's because they no longer offer the "Little Match Girl" discount rate.

Date: Friday, April 8, 2011 at 2:45 PM
Topic: Memoir Panel Discussion

Where:
The Westin Bonaventure Hotel
404 South Figueroa Street
Los Angeles, CA 90071
[ view a map ]


BUT IF THAT WERE NOT ENOUGH!

On Saturday I'm going to be at Literary Orange, which is exciting because it's Orange, people. Orange is my color. And I think some of the cool ladies from San Juan Capistrano will be there. There may be knitting.

Today is your last day to register online (after that you can register the day of the event.)

Date: Saturday, April 9, 2011 (My panel is at 1 p.m.)
Topic: Memoir, possibly also 1980s rap lyrics

Where:
UC Irvine Student Center
A311 Student Center
Irvine, CA 92697-2050
[ view a map ]

And you know my hands will be washed and ready to shake yours. See you there!

Posted by laurie at 8:27 AM

April 4, 2011

Therapy Session

Me: So, right. I have two events back-to-back this week and one of them is a signing, on Saturday. And my hands are ... like ... kind of raw. From, uh, you know, the hand washing. Like lots of hand washing. I'm really doing the hand washing. And I want my nails to look pretty but I'm doing some crazy right now.

Shrink: Would you say it's more than the usual hand washing?

Me: Like more than the tenth power of unhinged. Yes. More hand washing.

Shrink: What are you thinking when you're washing your hands?

Me: Uh. Huh?

Shrink: If you can put a voice to your anxiety it will help. What are you anxious about?

Me: How long is our session? Cause I got everything from radiation cloud to money to pizza in the closet.

Shrink: Can say out loud the anxious thought as you go to wash your hands compulsively?

Me: That depends.

Shrink: That depends on what?

Me: CAN I STILL WASH MY HANDS ANYWAY

Shrink: Uh, yes. Sure.

Me: OK. I'm down with verbalizing. As long as I can still wash my hands.

Shrink: How are you on moisturizer?

Posted by laurie at 6:28 PM

April 3, 2011

iPhone pics from the week

Have you just about switched completely from your digital camera to your phone camera? My phone cam doesn't take pictures as crisply and beautifully as my camera, but it's awfully convenient!

The line at the DMV, out the building and around the corner. It was a pretty day, though, I got a tan:

april311-dmv.jpg

One small corner of Box City:

april311-boxcity1.jpg


You know, even when they are perched atop chaos those original Burke star-based chairs look awesome:

april311-boxcity2.jpg

Here's a cool car I saw in a parking garage this week, it was in pristine condition:

april311-woody1.jpg


The original California woody. Love:

april311-woody2.jpg


Here is how an OCD person puts down shelf paper:

april311-shelfpaper.jpg

(If I do say so myself I kind of rule the world of contact paper. First, clean your surface and if you are a germaphobe, disinfect it well. Let air dry. Next, cover every available surface with contact paper to seal out the germs of the previous tenants. AWESOME with a cold glass of pinot grigio served in a red plastic cup. Contact paper from Target, under $6. Feeling cleansed and in control of one single cabinet: priceless.)

And finally, the Soba in the new sitting spot:

april311-soba.jpg

Posted by laurie at 2:38 PM

April 2, 2011

OCD In The House

Nobody does obsessive contact papering like me. Yes, of course my OCD brethren are out there representing, but I believe if there were a contest for shelf papering I would win the sanitized emblem of stickiness for eternity.

Contact paper is the world's finest barrier between me and the previous renter's germs. I first clean with clorox wet wipes, scrub hard and long, then coat every cabinet and drawer with contact paper. I clean the baseboards, the grout, use a toothbrush on the sinks. Then cut and angle and position contact paper.

It is Sunday and I have not unpacked one single box because I am still cleaning. Germaphobia is a cruel taskmaster.

I know the property management company hired somebody to clean this place before I moved in but my idea of clean is a little different from the general idea of clean. There must be disinfecting, scrubbing, stain removal, shelf papering for Armageddon. If I weren't so averse to touching other people's stuff I think I could have a huge business in OCD apartment cleaning. No one but no one cleans like a stressed-out germaphobe.

Guess it is better than heroin addiction.

Posted by laurie at 9:45 PM

Dear Universe, this note is for you.

At heart I am a nester.

If you follow astrology -- don't worry, you can keep it a secret -- you might find it illuminating to know I'm a Cancer with Cancer rising. In astrological terms that means I am a homebody with hermit rising. All I ever wanted was a childhood home, a place to come back to, a base.

Instead I am from a nomadic tribe who moved every time the wind changed. You know why I can pack up and move a hugeass household in three days? Because this is not the first time I've done it.

But until this move, which has been chaotic and stressful and frankly kind of traumatizing, I didn't realize how much time and energy I spend thinking and fantasizing about my eventual "home." I've never had a home. I didn't grow up in one childhood house, I moved three times a year until college. I lived in every state south of Kentucky at least twice. Los Angeles is my home because I chose it, and I have lived here longer than any other one place in my entire life. I desperately tried to keep the confines of my L.A. life small -- Woodland Hills to North Hollywood -- but even so I still seem to move like a gypsy. I have been here 16 years and lived in TEN DIFFERENT PLACES. What the fuck, people. Who does that? I never wanted it. All I ever wanted was to be a kid with roots.

This week I have accepted that's never going to happen for me. My roots are in my head. That's the best I got.

All this time I fantasized about my eventual home base, I decorated it in my head, I believed in it. I wanted it so badly. I could picture myself making coffee in that kitchen, hanging my clothes in the closet, cleaning the kitchen sink. I have fought against every single move kicking and screaming. I hate moving and hate being uprooted. All I wanted was to plant ass-roots into a couch and have some comfort zone. Even as a small child I hated the feeling of packing a box, loading it into the Pinto and hauling it to some new place. I just wanted to stay put.

That is apparently not the Universe's plan for me. So I give it up. I'm done with it. I surrender. DONE. Give up! Give up!

I give up. Not the pathetic and sad kind of giving up but the surrender give up. I surrender, Universe. I release control. I never had any real control so the illusion was just that, an illusion, and I give it up. I'm done! Finished! Finito! Au Revoir!

I have no idea at all what my future holds. No idea where I will live tomorrow. And I am going to decide right now to be OK with that. It's not an easy decision. I'm committed to it, though. I may have to re-decide every five minutes to surrender and I will do it, I give the hell up. Screw it. I'm done. I give it up to the Universe.

This time last week I had no idea I would have to pack up and move under cover of darkeness. And people, I am not a simple living kind of gal, I have a whole household of stuff, it took two trips on the moving truck and 17-hour days of packing to get it done. For people like me who are true control enthusiasts the hardest part of living is realizing how much -- almost everything -- is out of our control. But almost everything is uncontrollable! Why do you think I wash my hands so much? Why do I arrange the spoons just so? Because control is an illusion, a dream, a mirage. Sometimes in a single day the only thing at all I control are those damn spoons. Releasing control feels like losing but maybe it's the only way to be. Release. Give it up. Relax the fuck out.

Sorry for the cussing. I am in a cussing frame of mind right now.

To give up totally, to surrender absolutely to the whims of the grody and whacked-out universe, is all I can do. I'm done with attempting to control the uncontrollable. It hasn't worked. The only way to survive is to adapt, right? So this is my adapting with foul language.

All I can do is change, adapt, streamline. I am going to downsize by half. HALF. Half of all clothes, all shoes, all books, all kitchen stuff. Donate, sell, give away. Live more simply. I can't do another move like this ever and I won't. It seems obscene to say this while knowing someone else is in Japan with a whole house washed away. I have no idea why the "it could be worse..." line of reasoning never works with me. People always say, "It could be worse!" and that has never once worked. Maybe I am just a douche rocket. But I am not actually sure I can suffer enough to help someone else. Or suffer enough to make someone else better. Everyone has their stuff, and always someone else somewhere suffers more. Does that make your crap less hard for you? Kind of not even able to answer this question. Thinking maybe now is not the time to tackle this dilemma.

So I surrender. I surrender the idea of control. That's all I can do. I know I'm not fragile but I feel fragile today. It's not easy to move, have legal and police and scary stuff, relocate surreptitiously, and also give up a lifelong dream to have one single home base. All in under a week! Most people have a home, right? Most people at least had a childhood home. I don't have that, but I do have this city. When things were freaky and I was alone I knew all about this city, my Los Angeles. I knew where to find an apartment and who to call for a truck and where to locate the good tacos. Everything changed in a day, but the city was still here.

People wonder why I live here, why I love it. It's the closest thing I ever had to a home. In Los Angeles there will always be things you can count on: a long line at the DMV, traffic on the 405, the sun coming out, people honking, fresh oranges sold off the back of a truck, a 7-11 nearby.

And that 7-11 will sell wine.

Posted by laurie at 7:16 PM

April 1, 2011

I pity the April fool!

I don't actually have anything to say, but I have been waiting all year to break out my Mr. T voice and say that line, so there you go. I pity the April Fool!!!

Also, SO MUTHAEFFING HAPPY that March is over.

Posted by laurie at 1:33 PM