May 14, 2012

Stuff we said that time

"So has it improved or is it still weird?" Jen asked.

"I can't tell," I said. "It's like being trapped inside a black and white farce movie where everything is -- oddly enough -- subtitled in porn Ukranian with typos."

She paused for a moment.

"I have no idea what that meant," she said, "and yet I know EXACTLY what that meant."

- - -

bob-porn-ukranian.jpg
"That's right, boys and girls. Misspelled porn Ukranian is a problem. Give to the Meow Mix Fund and eradicate this scourge. I am Bob T. Cat and I approve this message."

< outtake >

bob-porn-ukranian2.jpg
Did I do it right? Do I get Meow Mix? What is You Kranian? Can I stop posing like this now? Is the teddy bear here?

Posted by laurie at 9:51 PM

May 1, 2012

Dig and be dug in return

Now listen, I am not what you would call a poetry lover. In my world only two kinds of poetry exist -- remarkable poetry, which is so rare it's almost extinct, and the other crap. The other crap is all horrible poetry that makes me physically endanger myself with the dramatic amount of eye-rolling which accompanies each and every line.

So it's not often I get wrapped up in a poet, but it happens. It's happening now, and my current obsession is Langston Hughes. I woke up one morning about a week ago reciting the lines to my favorite Hughes poem, Motto, and since then I have been on a Langston Hughes binge, re-reading his work and all the biographical pieces I can get my hands on. He was a fascinating guy with some crazyass politics. I can appreciate that. You have to be a little insane to be able to zip words together so beautifully.

I wonder what ol' Langston would make of all the May Day protests and traffic snarls and malodorous anarchists who line the sidewalks downtown every May 1st?

He'd play it cool, that's my bet.

Motto

I play it cool
I dig all jive
That's the reason
I stay alive
My motto
As I live and learn
Is dig and be dug in return

The best place to start your own Langston obsession is with The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. Once you dig in, I also highly recommend The Ways of White Folks: Stories. You can also pick up The Big Sea: An Autobiography (American Century Series), a fascinating look into his life and a must-read for writers.


Imagine the blog this guy would have had.

Posted by laurie at 7:15 AM

February 25, 2012

All the things plus that time I almost burned down the building with a pop tart

The first thing you should know is that I paid almost $300 to have someone professionally install the new version of this software on my server, because upgrading from 2004 MT software to 2012 MT software is just so far outside my bowling lane that I literally deleted the entire database, whoops. But I HATE this new software. HATE. Loathe. Bad feelings. I finally discovered what the problem was with the comments, by the way. The "spam filter" (in ironic quotes) filtered out only the real comments and left the spam comments to free-for-all and make spam sex in my comments section. I do not know how I plan to address this. Just a few weeks ago I deleted over 12,000 spam comments. And that was just the tip of the crazyberg, there are something like 50,000 more. So ennui descended -- cue French music! -- and I just avoided this website which seemed like a good option at the time.

Thank you in advance for the solutions you are going to email me but I also have not read blog email since October. There should be a better excuse here, but I went on vacation with my family in mid-October with no email access, and when I got back my account was so overrun it was impossible so I just got irritated and opened a personal email account somewhere else. How do spammers even make money? How is it possible that the presidential candidates talk so much about so little yet they never mention spam? Spam affects ALL OF US. It also especially affects me so I will only vote for the person who officially offers to make spamming a federal crime.

Today I have a new strategy. I am just going to turn off all comments and go back to the tedious work of spam deletion and then figure out a solution at a later date with wine.

In some ways I imagine the way I feel about this website is the way a young wayward 30-something feels when she turns up one day unexpectedly pregnant, gets freaked out then excited and then happy, changes everything about her life, only to wake up eight years later to discover the child she is raising is a sociopath who does bad things to caterpillars. She still feels love for the child, but she kind of wants to institutionalize it and pretend it isn't hers.

So that brings us up to date! Hello, readers!

ALSO. There is good new news but I can't quite share it yet since I'm superstitious. So that comes later. In the meantime, a few things:


1) Funniest Dialogue Ever, from 30 Rock

Jenna, talking about Liz Lemon's surprisingly rich acquaintance uber-nerd:

"I don't know a lot about business, but he did an internet, now the computers like him, and Wall Street is Google."

Sadly, I may never be Google that way. [For reference, see: entire complaining monologue above about my own website.]

2) Chicken Chili, not even chili, but I like it, I like it, I really like it.
I realize I have written about this chili recipe 437 times and yet it is not even real chili. Real chili, as all Southerners know, is made from ground beef. You can make your "chili" from tofu or turkey or chicken or scrambled iguana eggs but the mean-spirited quotation marks stand. It is not real chili. Real chili is all cow. (WOW, coincidentally, did I pick a great day to turn off comments or what! Sorry, vegans, no comments for you today.)

Southerners are so crazy about chili that entire families have been torn apart by the controversial issue of beans. Do beans belong in chili? My family from Texas says no, by the way, though I myself am partial to the more bayou side and I like some red beans in my chili. My father's chili is all beef, no beans and it is often spooned over enchiladas. Whole 'nother ball of wax.

So this chicken recipe is just crazypants, but that is why I love it. You can add any old thing and it's still great, though not traditional, and maybe that is what makes it so great. It's all improv! I start with a whole chopped big brown onion, more than the recipe calls for. I add it to the pot along with a whole chopped red bell pepper and a green bell pepper. Tons of fresh garlic. Then I add finely chopped chicken breast (tip: freeze the chicken a bit before chopping, it goes so much faster when it's a bit frozen.) Add all the spices and stuff like the recipe calls for. But you can switch up the beans, I usually add one can of white beans and one can of mixed-up beans, the Ralph's store brand has an organic version of black beans, red beans and pinto beans mixed together and they are great. I also add in about a cup of very finely chopped green stuff -- maybe kale or chard, whatever is on sale. You can't taste it and it adds some nutrition.

At the very end of the cook time I add a tiny dash of cinnamon. Sounds crazy but it adds some warmth and coziness to this totally not-chili chili. The recipe makes a HUGE pot of food so you have plenty to freeze for later. It freezes great, too. If you get your chicken on sale this dish adds up to about $7.00 for ten servings. Not bad, Chad!

3) The Chocolate Pop Tarts are the dangerous ones
I have this cheap toaster that I bought God Only Knows Where and since I rarely toast anything it's not a big life issue for me, like spam or chili or television. I have very strong feelings about those other topics, but toasting is not really on my worry list.

Yesterday I was at the store getting the ingredients for my chicken chili and I found myself alone in the pop tart aisle and I had the chocolate goodness in my basket so quick and downlow you'd think I was scoring heroin on an episode of Intervention. I got home and dug the toaster out of the cupboard and plugged it in and set my pop tarts to toast and they toasted all right. The plunger thingy just stayed plunged. They never popped up like in the commercial.

I'm pretty sure I haven't consumed a pop tart in about ten years so I wasn't paying that much attention to the pop tart protocol and I was distracted, you see, and dusting the weird little vent at the bottom of the fridge and I could smell the intensity of chocolate pop tart but I didn't know it was ON FIRE until the smoke alarm sounded and there were flames -- yes, flames! - inside my toaster.

Lest you think this is a story with a sad ending, may I remind you that pop tarts comes in boxes of pairs, and there was a reserve waiting for me. So I used the microwave to heat my backup tarts. I know when a machine cannot be trusted.

I have at least learned that much.

Posted by laurie at 7:08 AM

February 3, 2012

Ridiculous New Software

There are some problems with the software upgrade. I already know there are some issues so while I do appreciate the notes and emails and texts and tweets, of course, I already know that there are some little fixes that need to be made.

Unless you have MT experience and want to help a sister out with some code, though, definitely send me a line!

If we're all patient it will get sorted out eventually. Thanks!

Posted by laurie at 8:23 PM

January 20, 2012

And then there was the time I pressed that button.

While prepping my server for an upgrade this morning, guess what happened! I sort of deleted the entire database. Yes, that's right, I pressed a button and like magic all eight years of writing and cat pictures and navel-gazing and comma splices disappeared. Gone. Finished.

Luckily I have a remarkable server company (pair.com, if you need the best hosting on the planet) and John at the help desk was able to restore my database from a backup and he didn't even laugh at me (much) when I offered to come to his house in Pennsylvania and show him my thanks in person. By cleaning his house of course! Duh.

It sounds all funny and whoopsy and easypeasy now but readers, what I experienced this morning was a full thermonuclear meltdown. When I realized my error -- just after ruining years of work but just before finding solace in the soothing dulcet tones of Help Desk John -- I experienced a mix of physical and psychological insanity that I have only felt once before in my life.

When I was thirteen my mom left my adorable, perfect, blonde baby brother Eric in my care at the Acadiana Mall in Lafayette, Louisiana for one hour. It was hard being a mom to two awful teenagers and one crying (but adorable) baby, so I do not blame her for trusting her youngest and most adorable child to a permed, bracefaced kid with a deep obsession for Duran Duran keyboardist Nick Rhodes. While I was using my allowance to buy a pair of acid-washed denim jeans with zippers at the ankles, my little brother vanished in the middle of Express. He was only hiding under a rounder of long, flammable rayon dresses but those few minutes when he was missing and not answering my frantic calls were the worst moments of my life. My baby brother was missing and probably being sold on the black market and I was SO GROUNDED and would never be able to live with myself or wear my cute new jeans.

Then of course we found him and I made him promise to never tell what happened. As soon as our mom picked us up in the food court he told her exactly what happened and I was SO GROUNDED. But it didn't matter, really, because I had my little brother safe and sound and I had my acid-washed jeans with the tiny ankle zippers and all was well in the universe and one day Nick Rhodes would come to Bayou Nowhere, Louisiana and marry me.

My point here is that you should never push the delete button without first backing up the database. And even then, go shopping instead of deleting. Listen to some old Duran Duran songs. Call your mother. Do whatever it takes to keep from nuking your life's work. There is more to life than a tidy file structure, OK?

Posted by laurie at 2:28 PM

January 9, 2012

Mayan Calendars, Mayan Onions

Did you make any New Year's resolutions?

I made a few small goals for 2012, assuming the planet stays intact. I love that NASA felt the need to issue a press release stating that the world will not actually end in 2012, it was comforting to those of us who enjoy a good press release with a glass of merlot. Those crazy Mayan onions and calendars! Predicting nothing but onion rings and apocalypse.

Since many people use the new year as a time to berate themselves for the onion rings of months past and start a new exercise regime, I thought this email from reader Kathryn was timely:

How do you separate the idea of exercise for weight loss from the idea of exercise just for the sake of it? Who exercises just for the sake of it?

You can almost hear the unspoken, "... you crazy weirdo!" at the end of the note. I can appreciate the strangeness of this idea, it's like getting a Brazilian bikini wax without getting any lovin' the next weekend. Who does that wacky nonsense?

Well, some folks.

Try to think back to a time before exercise was a mandatory condition for fitting into an arbitrary pair of jeans. What was it like to be a kid and want to go ride bikes? Or roller skate? Remember in the summer when all you wanted to do was stay in the pool just five more minutes? Please, mom? Just five more minutes!

When I was a teenager something fizzled and went wrong with the messages because exercise became about looks and sizes and weight. Untangling that took some time but was well worth it. (When I say it took some time, I mean "years.") I'm not sure the best way to untangle it for yourself. You may have to experiment with different activities and new motivations. What I can tell you for sure is that there are psychological benefits from exercise that you simply can't get from a diet. Bodies were meant to be moved around. I happened to find a simple, cheap thing I enjoy -- walking -- but it can be anything as long as it makes you feel good. Gardening is exercise. Cleaning house is an excellent workout (there's a little shout-out to my OCD homies! woot woot!) Yoga, swimming, softball, playing with the dog in the backyard, chasing a kid, these are all activities that can be as weight-neutral as nail polish.

Over the weekend I was walking in the Hollywood Hills and as I was midway up a particularly challenging slope, I heard the sound of bicycles wheezing up the hill.

"You can do it, Jonah!" said the dad. "Keep pedaling, buddy!"

It was a dad and two pre-teen-ish kids, a boy and a girl. The dad kept saying encouraging things to both kids to get them up the hill, and as they passed me I heard him say something that gave me a little stab.

"OK, Justine, we're almost to the top, make it this far and you've earned that ice cream!"

I cringed. I thought about how careless it was as a remark, certainly not intended to give a kid body issues for the next 30 years. But all the same it was the subtle beginning of associating a bike ride with work, earning, payoff. And associating food with work, burn, sweat it off. Can't a kid just go for a bike ride anymore? Do we really have to earn our ice cream? What the heck happened to us, people?

It used to be fun just to get on the bike and pedal hard up a hill. Remember? Before the Mayans had us on our last onion ring?

Posted by laurie at 2:38 PM

January 6, 2012

One foot in front of the other

This first week of the year is known in my neighborhood for the appearance of two things:

1) Mysteriously growing piles of poor, dried-out Christmas trees on the curb.

2) A flood of new exercisers on the sidewalks each morning who are hell-bent on fulfilling New Year's Resolutions but haven't yet figured out you must push the button for the crosswalk to give you a walk sign. PUSH THE BUTTON.

Yes, it is true, if you arrive at the crosswalk first it is your duty to push the button. If you do not push the button in Los Angeles, you do not get the crosswalk man. Without the crosswalk man, people in cars think it is OK to drive into you. New exercisers, take heed.

A few days ago I got this message from Karen on Twitter who nudged me to say,

@crazyauntpurl, I could sure use another inspiring post about walking.

I'm not sure if this will inspire you or entice you to send me heavy medication, but below is a little graph, courtesy of Nike.com, that shows how much pavement-pounding I did in 2011:

2011-walk-chart.gif
(click to enlarge)

(Oh, so many things I wish we could merely click to enlarge.)

According to my Nike+ chip, in 2011 I completed 246 workouts, walked for 331 hours and 47 minutes and burned 187,681 calories. The calorie count is not accurate at all but is still amusing.

What's crazypants is that I walked an astonishing 1, 172.93 miles, which is just about the distance from my home here in Los Angeles to Oklahoma City. That tally doesn't count all the shlepping I did in Washington, D.C. (I forgot my sportsband that weekend) and it is all the more impressive since apparently I didn't move from my sofa for the entire month of January. Take that, New Year's Resolutions!

This is the time of year when every magazine and TV news program and website and weight-loss business cashes in on our perennial self-loathing and peppermint bark regrets and showers us with information on diet and exercise. Every cover story mentions cutting calories, working out, celebrity diet secrets and "Half their size!" (I bought it, by the way. I always buy that issue of People magazine. I am not immune.)

Inevitably each success story includes gems about "portion control" and "strength training twice a week" and "I allow myself a small piece of chocolate, but don't overindulge." I am waiting for the article that talks about accidentally ordering a large pepperoni lover's pizza to celebrate the day so-and-so made it through her first spinning class. Oh wait! That was me!

I feel proud of my imbalanced and simultaneously impressive graph of footsteps. It reminds me that one does not have to be perfect or even completely consistent to be successful at something. (No matter how you stack it, walking over 1100 miles in one year is a success.) But look at January -- nothing. Nada. And there were some slow dips mid-year when it was eleventy-nine hundred degrees outside and I was less than motivated to move. Still, by year's end I was a little walking machine. Lacing up my shoes and getting on the road is my favorite part of the day.

Now it's 2012 and I have so many goals for this year, so many hopes and keep-my-fingers-crossed dreams and to-do lists and tasks and work, work, work. At the beginning of every year I feel optimistic and hopeful. Secretly I also feel scared and worried about momentum. What does the year ahead hold?

When a slump comes or a month brings a whole lot of nothing, I want to look back at my little 2011 walking chart and remind myself that as long as I don't give up I can actually walk all the way from Hollywood to Oklahoma City one step at a time. It is perhaps one of my cheesier metaphors, and I don't care, I am the one after all who celebrated spinning class with a pizza.

It is important to note that two years ago I could barely walk around the block without needing a sherpa. For a whole year I would get up on the first day of each month and challenge myself: this month, take a small walk each day. I consistently failed. I would miss a day here, a day there, I don't think I ever made it the full 30 days for a whole year! But I never gave up. I just kept going, and one day I stopped counting days because all days were walking days.

Like most people I used to mix up exercise and weight loss. I thought that I had to exercise so I could lose weight, and that just made me irritated and guilty. I'm not sure when exercise and weight loss started to become separate ideas, but that split has certainly changed my outlook on movement. I like being outside and seeing all the people with their dogs and looking at the yards and storefronts and flowering trees. I like going to yoga (even though I have the worst Downward Dog in the whole class) (who sucks at Downward Dog??) I like my weird dance classes and I like hula-hooping.

On New Year's Day, instead of getting up and resolving once again to start a desperately determined exercise program I just laced up my shoes and went for a walk.

No one has time to exercise, you make time. I made time. I moved my whole life around to make time. No one likes getting started and realizing they're out of shape. No one enjoys the first trip around the block. And no one ever becomes perfect. Some people still order pizza as a reward for pedaling a bike to nowhere.

The chart reminds me that perfection isn't the goal and that perfection will never happen. I finally get that you don't have to be perfect to accomplish something. I look at the chart and I realize I was flawed, I was erratic some days, I was not even on the pavement for a whole month -- and still I walked 1, 172.93 miles.

I just didn't give up. That's all I have to remember for 2012. Keep walking. Don't give up.

And push the button!

Posted by laurie at 10:54 AM

December 29, 2011

Listmaking, Bonhomme Janvier, and other crazy white people things

By now you already know this little stretch on the calendar is one of my favorites, the end of an old year and the crisp optimism that comes with a brand-new set of months. All possibilities are back in play.

Yesterday I was at Umberto getting my hair cut and absorbing the wise counsel of Aharon, hair stylist extraordinaire, who knows more about people and human nature than almost anyone I have ever met. He also knows quite a bit about the right shade of blonde. Aharon has an assistant named Troy who is exactly the picture I have formed in my head of what the perfect assistant should be: funny, easy-going, happy and ridiculously good looking.

People, I plan to have an assistant one day. Along with a hefty insurance policy covering sexual harassment claims. And also I want to get a horn for my Dad that plays "Deep in the heart of Texas..." What can I tell you. I have lofty aspirations over here.

ANYWAY. Troy and I were chitchatting about New Year's Eve, I love to hear what everyone has planned for that night. Some folks are very contemplative and nesty on that night, some care nothing for it, some plan dramatic excursions to Hawaii or Las Vegas or go to big parties in the Hollywood Hills.

"Are you going out?" I asked Troy. "Your girlfriend is still in town on winter break, right?"

"Yeah, we might go out to a party." he said. "But I think my mom wants us to be with her. It's a Korean thing."

This is probably a good time in the story to mention Troy is Korean.

"What is a Korean New Year thing?" I asked.

"My mom wants us to go to church with her," he said. "In our culture we have a service just before midnight, like to get rid of the old year. Then there is another service right after midnight, bringing in the new year."

I thought this was one of the best things I had ever heard and I said so. I was so taken in by this idea that I was just about to invite myself along until he mentioned the whole service is in Korean and all of it lasts about three hours.

"Do white people have any crazy traditions like that?" he asked. "I've never heard any, not about New Year's anyway."

I enjoy being the representative for all white people, especially crazy white people. I feel I could take it on as an ambassadorship of some kind.

"Well," I said, "Southerners have all kinds of weird superstitions around the New Year, like you have to eat black-eyed peas on New Year's Day for good luck and even if you hate black-eyed peas you have to eat at least a spoonful or the year is done before it starts."

"Black Eyed Peas? Like the band?" he laughed.

"Oh they're better," I said. "Especially with hot sauce. And Cajun superstition is a whole 'nother ball of wax, because for Cajun people New Year's Eve was when Bonhomme Janvier brought little presents."

"Bahn ome who?" he asked.

"Bonhomme Janvier, he's the Cajun Santa," I explained. "And down in the bayou there's all kinds of stuff about sweeping bad news off your porch, and there's one superstition about whatever tasks you do on January first set the tone for the whole year. So you don't want to bury a body or scrub toilets or get scabies. You can only do happy things like eat and drink and get naked."

Troy tipped his head back and laughed.

"I don't think I've ever met any Cajun people, but they sound almost as nuts as us Koreans," he said.

"Oh trust me," I said. "Southern people and Cajun people are much crazier than Koreans. We might both be from cultures with good food, and you might even have the edge on spare ribs, but we have you beat on crazy. We invented drinking, I'm pretty sure."

He started to argue but I hit him with the last and very final word in crazy.

"We invented country music," I said.

I had won the argument. Do not even get me started on Zydeco!

Eventually I left, of course, one inevitably must leave the comfort of the Beverly Hills flat iron and return to the Valley floor. It was so warm outside that I zipped the windows off the Jeep and cranked up the radio. Driving up and around and through the canyon roads of Los Angeles on a balmy December day is like pure honey, there is nothing better. When traffic is moving and a good song is on the radio there is no other place in the world you want to be.

I thought about the few little squares left on my calendar, the last days of the year. In my head I started making a list, all my resolutions, my goals, my tasks, people I need to email, people I need to call, bills I need to pay, stuff I need at the market, I'm almost out of half-n-half.

I came around a curve on Crescent Heights and I was singing along with the radio, making my list, and out of nowhere I saw a guy on rollerblades walking a giant black poodle up a driveway. Or maybe the poodle was walking him. And it was 78 degrees on a December day at the very end of 2011 and in that one absurd moment it didn't matter who I needed to call. Everything would still be there in a few days.

All I had to do was stop at Ralph's and get a can of black-eyed peas. The only thing you must must do on New Year's Day is eat your black-eyed peas.

That and avoid burying bodies.

---

So tell me, I want to know: What is your New Year's tradition? What is your unique superstition? What is on your list? Do you eat your black-eyed peas, do you go to church at midnight, do you sweep the porch?

I love the New Year because it is the one night and day that everyone (all of us, hot Koreans and crazy white people and Cajuns and everyone in between) mark in the same way, flipping a new page on the calendar, recognizing the dawn of a new year.

How do you do it in your house?

Do tell.

Posted by laurie at 10:36 PM

December 21, 2011

Three good things

There are eleven days left in 2011. The end of the year is always a tangled time especially for those of us who naturally bend toward insanity, but I like the dusting out of the old year and finishing up the last odds and ends. And this year has certainly had its odds and ends.

I'm going to spend the next eleven days finishing what I started, thinking ahead to a fresh new year, and on at least one occasion I will paint my nails bright red while watching a Nick & Nora movie.

My three things for today:

1) The weather is sunny and chilly and clear and I get to wear my Uggs, and that makes me happy.

2) I figured something out that I couldn't see until just this morning and I feel relieved and freed up by it. I love the way the brain works, all wrapped up in confusion and mystery and emotion and then one morning you wake up and *click*

3) Barbecue sauce.

What are your three things?

xo
laurie

Posted by laurie at 2:16 PM

December 16, 2011

Earrings always fit

Yesterday I was at the mall returning a T-shirt. I'm not sure which Einstein in the fashion world thought it was a good idea to create a black T-shirt that requires dry cleaning but I can assure you, dear friends at Macy's, no matter how cute that little top is I will not be dry cleaning a shapeless pocket-front T-shirt.

While I was standing at the sales desk waiting for my return to be processed a man approached the sales clerk.

"What size is a large?" he asked, holding up a dress for the clerk to see. "Is this a large?"

She checked the tag inside.

"Large is really more, well, anything starting at size eight and up is the large range," she said. "Eight, ten, twelve..."

I must have cocked my head to the side like a puzzled basset hound. A size eight is a large? Perhaps my brain was working so hard on digesting it that I made noise, because the man looked right at me.

"What size are you?" he asked.

"UH. WELL," I said. "It often depends on the item."

(And the crowd goes wild, with an excellent save from Perry out of left field!)

The poor man was just standing there, holding up a hanger with a black dress, looking exhausted and defeated by the mysterious world of women's sizing. And in that moment I felt his pain. Because women's sizing is just ridiculous and it's Christmas and anyway the fourteen-year-old sales girl thinks a size eight is a LARGE.

"OK," I said. I turned to face him. "Is she smaller than I am? Or bigger?"

"Oh thank you," he said. "I'm completely lost here." He scrutinized me for a minute.

"She's taller than you are," he said. "And she's definitely bigger than you are. Maybe not on top but bigger in the middle."

The clerk made a little giggle and the man suddenly realized what he'd just said. His face started to turn red. I couldn't help it. I laughed.

"Well let's all be glad you're not lingerie shopping today," I said. "OK, if she's taller this isn't the right section anyway, this is all petites. Is it a gift? Does she need a dress for sure?"

"She likes dresses," he said. "Petites? I don't understand. Where does it even say that?" His voice had taken on the desperate sound of a man who had hit the shopping wall. He was out of oomph, his shoulders dropped even deeper into his collarbone. He'd been beaten.

In a moment of Christmas kindness I decided to level with the poor man.

"Look, unless you know for sure she needs a dress and unless you know her size and favorite style and unless you can be absolutely certain she won't clock you for buying her a LARGE, therefore telling her she is a LARGE, I highly recommend you go with jewelry. You can never, ever go wrong with jewelry," I said. "Or a gift card. One size fits all."

It was like seeing a man come out of a fugue state. He must have been trapped in the dresses section of the Sherman Oaks Macy's for a lifetime because the look of pure gratitude on his face was something out of coffee commercial. In that one moment you could see his brain forever abandon the gift of clothing, perhaps remembering some time in the not-so-distant past when his wife or girlfriend or concubine surprise-attacked him with a stealth does this dress make me look fat, honey?

"You're right," he said. "THIS IS NUTS."

"Jewelry is one floor down," said the helpful size-zero clerk, the one who believes a size eight is a tent dress. She handed me my return receipt and the man handed her the now-abandoned dress.

"OH! And just for the record," I said, smiling, "a size eight is a solid medium. It is definitely a MEDIUM."

Good grief, people.

Posted by laurie at 7:24 AM

December 15, 2011

Thursday, the best day of the week

There must be a scientific reason that Thursday is the best day of the week. Perhaps it's all those good TV shows programmed for Thursday nights combined with the psychological midspace between week and weekend and the proximity to the future. Thursday feels closer to the future.

Here is Frankie relaxing in a single sunbeam:

frank-if-buddha-dated.jpg

She's been doing some light reading with If The Buddha Dated by Charlotte Kasl, Ph.D. Literate cats, what can you do? Speaking of dating, I'm wrapping up the magazine article I've been writing about digital dating so if you have any last burning questions you want to see addressed in print be sure to post them in the comments. And what about you? Since we last talked have you been dating? Have your experiences been good ones, funny ones, creepy ones? Are you still too terrified of the full-body picture to even begin?

I've discovered a through line in all the research I've done for this article. Most men and women simply want to feel appreciated and happy and attractive, no secret there. Some find the only way to be happy or feel good is to see themselves reflected back in the eyes of a partner. Others are on the very opposite end of the stick, at the first feeling of closeness or intimacy they close up tight, they bolt in self-protection. Human beings are fascinating little creations, aren't they? So much mysterious stuff all swirled up in a pair of jeans or a suit jacket.

Speaking of swirled up, the hippie downstairs has a new ladyfriend. She's a musician, too, and I've bumped into them several times at the locked gate, always fumbling for his keys. He's got his wild hair and funky T-shirts on, she's small and dark-haired with delicate features and her guitar strap has flowers embroidered across it. Yesterday they sat in his living room and they must have had the sliding patio door open because when I walked past his apartment on my way to the laundry I could hear them singing. It sounded pretty. It sounded like two people falling in love.

Posted by laurie at 7:58 AM

December 13, 2011

Nineteen days

The year 2012 is just nineteen days away. Have you started pondering the fresh new year ahead or are you still mired down in traffic and giftwrap? Here in Los Angeles traffic intensifies as we crawl closer to Christmas, by Christmas Eve everyone is honking and gesturing madly at each other with the sign-language finger.

Today, however, it's beautiful in Hollyweird. The rain washed away the brown air and brought snow to the mountains and on my walk I had the perfect view of the city with mountains framing it, if I go back out later today I'll take my camera. There's a good resolution -- take more pictures. (You know you're a listmaker when you add "make new year's resolutions" to your to-do list.)

I made a special point of going to the grocery store yesterday when it was raining so that I could observe my fellow Angelenos in their rainy-day gear: plaid shirts, sweatshirts, pajama bottoms, Ugg boots. Everyone looked bedraggled and askew and sleepy.

This is such a funny place.

Posted by laurie at 1:11 PM

December 5, 2011

Uh, just the cutest thing you will ever see in your life. That is all.

My brother texted this to me:

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Puff the Christmas dog!

Posted by laurie at 1:15 PM

November 28, 2011

Operation Occupy Honeybaked Ham: Successful!

I'm back in Los Angeles after a happyhappy trip to Florida to see my family.

There were nephews:

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Andrew, cracking me UP.

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Brett, handsome as always.

There was the boat:

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My brother, the real captain.

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Me, driving backwards.

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Kelli and Brett just rolling with it.

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Notice we aren't actually going anywhere. And how happy I am.


There was kid art:

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Because honestly, what else is there but God, Mom and Xbox?

And of course there was Puff:

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And a good time was had by all! Hope your Thanksgiving was happy and fluffy.

Posted by laurie at 1:28 PM

November 13, 2011

The Process

When I was a little girl we lived in the country and I didn't go to school. I read everything and anything -- to this day I believe this is why I am terrible at math and positively enamored of words. We would make trips every few weeks to the public library and I was allowed to check out any book that interested me, no matter the appropriate age range. I read books the way people eat food, to live. I loved the smell, the feel, the escape of a book. Books were my life.

My job at age seven -- I took it quite seriously -- was to check the salt licks on the farm. A salt lick is a cinder-block sized chunk of salt and minerals used to attract the cows and wildlife. Can you believe I live in Los Angeles now, where we use Botox to attract the fawns? As a child I would walk out into the pastures through fields of cedar trees and scrub and I would walk and walk and walk and in my head I composed my stories. I was obsessed with the Little House books and I would roam the fields with thoughts of pioneer girls and create my mental scenes and I would work them in my head over and over and over until I couldn't contain it anymore. Then I would walk home and scribble it all down in neat little cursive in a dime-store notebook. My notebooks were my whole life, I kept them under my bed. I would pay anything today to have one of those notebooks.

Now I am forty years old and I write the same way I did as a small child. I get an idea and I work it in my head obsessively, walking, walking across the Valley, walking in a loop, on a path, cross here, pause there. I chew the dialogue, the ideas, the very words, all of it inside my head with comma splices included and I hear the sound of it and then one day I'm ready and I come home and sit down (usually with a glass of wine, but sometimes coffee) and it all comes out in a rush. I run it over an over inside my head as I walk and then I write, usually in a gush.

Writing essays was a natural fit, but a novel has been a test. How do you write a whole novel? I don't outline or card sort or spec out. I walk and I obsess. I have gleaned enough from other writers to know my process is infinitely weird but it works for me. And of course all that matters is what works for you, even if you are a ghost who roams the streets of the Valley to work out your dialogue issues.

There's no wrong way, that is what I'm saying. I have no idea if I'll make it. I have no idea if this risk I took will pan out. I worry, I wonder, and in the end none of us knows. But today I walked and I brought my characters with me and I had conversations in my head. What do you do with that? How do you live when your head is full of scenes? I have conversations in my head with my future, I have envisioned myself down to the shoes. Every minute and beautiful detail is measured out in words. All I want is a happy ending. But how can you know until you go through the scene?

Posted by laurie at 7:55 PM

November 10, 2011

Snapshots in the Valley

Just some Tuesday things on a Thursday.

1) Seen in the parking lot of the Galleria:
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You're a few states off, bud. But since we have no football team we'll let it stand.

2) The weeklong manicure, caught in a shadowy low-light iphone picture:

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This photo of my little pink nails is solely for the benefit of those two picky people who constantly warn me I am single-handedly ruining feminism with my love of nailpolish and mascara and smooth beaches on the ladypond. Let's be free to be you and me, people. And when I am free to be me I will have on pink nail polish (that is Opi soft shades "sweetie pie" for those of you who also get your manicure on.)

A few weeks ago I read a little piece in Newsweek (I think, correct me if I'm wrong) about nail polish being the recession splurge. It's like the lipstick splurge of the war years, that one little luxury that makes you feel pretty in lean, grey times. I would post a picture of my red toes to prove the point that you really can dress up a pair of feet as ugly as mine, but since I prefer to believe feet don't exist I will skip that.

3) Rainbow in Sherman Oaks:

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That's the view from the patio at Crave on Ventura and Van Nuys in Sherman Oaks. It was rainy and then sunny and then rainbow! People honked at it. That is how we roll around here.

4) Hat made entirely of discarded Taiyo colors:

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I've been making a zillion and one hats out of Noro Taiyo (free pattern here) and in one of the colorways there is a spontaneous weird jolt of black and green and white. It shows up in the middle of purples, blues and pinks and it's just Noro-certified weird. So I started snipping the acid green and black parts and tying them together to make a big ball of goofy, funky yarn which is turning into an excellent goofy, funky hat. And you get some wildlife in the background just for kicks.


Posted by laurie at 11:35 AM

November 6, 2011

Time Change

It's raining in Los Angeles. A rainy, lonely Sunday. It's good weather for drinking coffee, for writing, for feeling vaguely sorry for yourself.

So instead of talking about that, let's talk about good things. And there are good things: I got a manicure that lasted an entire week. I finally made it to the 900-mile mark (!) of walking on my Nike+ tracker. Bones is back on and Brennan is pregnant. My jeans fit. The Ralph's in my neighborhood started carrying my favorite kale salad.

What's on your good list?

Posted by laurie at 8:36 AM

October 17, 2011

R. Lee Ermey learns to knit

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Just got back from Washington, D.C. and on the plane to Burbank I sat next to a nice fellow who took an interest in my knitting. It took me two glasses of wine and about sixteen people gasping and asking the man for his autograph before it dawned on me he might be Someone. I did not know he was Someone, I just thought he was quite a character with his red boots and his salty language. He loved my knitting and he thought it would he high-larious for an ex-Marine such as himself to take up knitting as a hobby, proving once again that yarn unites everyone.

D.C. pics coming soon!

Posted by laurie at 9:50 AM

October 11, 2011

That's a lot of miles.

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It's hard to get out of bed sometimes.

Early last week reader Liz posted this message:

This is just a note to say how inspiring it is to hear about your exercise. Not just this post, where you are "talking about it" but other posts where you casually refer to your walk that morning, as an ordinary part of your life. You are doing what we should all do - make a change so that exercise is part of our lives. Not something we really will get around to doing some day, or some super special new thing, but a genuine life change. It's harder to do than to say, or we'd all be doing it, so congratulations Laurie.

--Liz

Sometimes a comment sticks with me for a while, and I have thought about this one on and off during the week. I keep asking myself, "Have I made a lifestyle change?" It doesn't feel that way. Instead, it feels more like I have a lifestyle -- an unhealthy one -- and I'm just choosing to do the opposite of it.

According to my Nike sports band, so far in 2011 I have walked a total of 756.02 miles. That is a lot of miles and it's only early October! Also, apparently I didn't walk any in January (is that true? I think I still had an ankle injury then.)

My goal is to walk every single day. It doesn't always pan out, I might be injured or it's a million degrees or I just want to take a yoga class that day. But I walk a lot. For someone who is a serious couch potato at heart that is a giant accomplishment.

However, I'm not certain it's the grand lifestyle change we hear about on those TV reports about healthy living. As long as I can remember, every single diet book and article and news story about health talks up "lifestyle changes" as the key to good living. Obviously my lifestyle has seriously changed, but it's not the new autopilot. I didn't suddenly become a fitness enthusiast or a traveling preacher talking about the sin of the sofa. I love sitting on the sofa and watching TV. I love potato chips with a deep passion that no man has ever rivaled. I love food and wine and general sloth and gluttony. That hasn't changed one bit.

My "lifestyle change" is that I wake up every day and decide all over again that today I should go for a walk or take a class or ride the exercise bike while watching TV. It's a daily thing. Sometimes it's a daily slog.

I'm sure there are some people who do make a lifestyle change in the spirit that the diet books suggest. Perhaps these folks were more moderate in their lifestyle to begin with, so for them it's just a matter of trimming a little bit here or there and before long they have a new normal. I was way out of whack, though, on the extreme end of things and so I had to perform a gigantic lifestyle overhaul. I couldn't just cut out a soda a day, lose the miraculous ten pounds in a year and be balanced and happy. (For one thing, I don't drink soda. And I had way more than a ten pound problem.) Overhauling my life was scary and sometimes hard. Everything changed. And it didn't take root immediately -- several months passed before I got into it for real, and started making that daily decision to lace up my shoes and walk. There were long periods of backsliding.

Walking isn't just an activity for me, it's symbolic. It's a decision that starts the day and every other decision flows from it. Today I will move around. Today I will accomplish something. Today I'll take vitamins. Today I'll write, work, read a good book, declutter a drawer, have a healthy dinner. I know there's still the hovering ever-present problem of personal sloth: it's easy enough to go one or two days without a walk and string them together into a month. It's easy to eat too much or drink too much when you have a weekend guest and let that bleed over into next week, and next weekend.

Truthfully, my lifestyle default setting is textbook unhealthy and I have to work to make it different. I wish I were one of those people who genuinely lived to exercise, who only ate for fuel and nourishment. I like to eat because I'm hungry, or sad, or happy, or tired, or anxious, or because it's Tuesday. It's been over a year now of Lifestyle Changing and I'm basically the same old me. I still want to eat when I'm upset, I still want to stay in bed and watch TV every morning -- I just choose not to most of the time. I get up and decide to walk. I decide to have a good lunch. I decide that if I'm going to slink into a TV coma I better be on the exercise bike during half of it. I make the choice because it gives me hope for the future and happier feelings during the day.

While doing this thing I'm doing I've had to accept I may never find it exciting and awesome to exercise daily. It might be a decision I have to re-make every day forever. It's more routine these days and of course the effort is easier because my body is more fit and can do more activities. But it gets boring sometimes! BORING. Losing weight and gaining fitness through incremental diet and exercise changes is a slooooooow process. SLOW.

Sometimes I get bored and want to stop. Sometimes I get tired and want to stay in bed, or knit in front of the TV, or eat nothing but fast food. On those days I worry I will careen off into a ditch and never recover. Those are the days I walk even when I'm not motivated, I just do it because I promised myself I would. Maybe that is the lifestyle change -- keeping a promise to myself.

Even though it is slow and can be a drag sometimes it's worth it. In a few days I'm going to be seeing some of my family, an event which would normally make me panic about my weight. I grew up in a family that is obsessed with weight and slimness and I have always been the "fat" one, even when I was nowhere near overweight. Usually I get so nervous before seeing my family that I go on a crash diet, or I buy new fat-hiding clothes or I start a wine IV. Sometimes I just cancel, waiting until the magic day when I am skinny to visit with them. (Oh that magic day. It never comes.)

There's still a remnant part of me that feels worried and nervous I won't measure up but more than anything I feel happy to see my family. I haven't been crash dieting or hiding under a new pair of Spanx or drowning in skinnygirl margaritas (yet, always give myself the option!) I know I'm not rail-thin and never will be and that's life. I'm healthy. Or at least I feel healthy. I just walked 756.02 miles this year, of course I feel healthy! My main motivation for exercising every day is that I don't have to put off my life anymore, I don't have to panic. And since I still have a long way to go, panic isn't really a great option anyway.

How do you stay motivated over the long haul? What gets you up each morning making healthy decisions? What do you do when you feel the deep urge to hide under the covers with a bottle of wine and a snickers chaser? How do you motivate yourself to stay the course? I'd love to hear what's working for you!

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Bob will nap while we discuss this.

Posted by laurie at 8:03 AM

October 10, 2011

That's going to be my spy name.

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Posted by laurie at 12:59 PM

October 2, 2011

Eighty-three days until Christmas!

I don't watch scary movies, but I do love the sensational fright that comes with the traditional October scare-fest known as OH CRAP THERE ARE ONLY EIGHTY-THREE DAYS UNTIL CHRISTMAS. Which there are as of today.

You're welcome, you're welcome.

This is going to be a productive month, I hereby declare it so. I'm finishing a scarf for my sister-in-law, which precipitated this conversation:

Me: I don't know if you wear scarves or even like them, but I made you one and I'm going to give it to you and you have to wear it at least long enough for me to take a picture.

Kelli: Alrighty then! Gotta run!

I'm also still walking each day, though I've broken it up with some stationary bicycling in the afternoons because it's less jarring on my poor aching back (and I can watch TV while exercising). In October I'm going to write, declutter and at least start to think about updating the database. That is my to-do list and I have it written on paper in colorful sharpies and posted in my office so I can see it yelling at me every day. Productivity, you will be mine!

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The cats are unimpressed.

Earlier this morning I called Jennifer, she was in her car listening to Christmas music.

"Are you listening to Christmas music?" I asked.

"I couldn't help it," she said. "I went to Michael's for some craft supplies and I saw all the holiday stuff and I had to. I broke out the carols."

"It's supposed to get cold here and rain later this week," I said. "I am TOTALLY going to make hot spiced tea and listen to Christmas music and freak out my neighbors!"

"It is the most wonderful time of the year," she said.

It does feel that way, here on October 2nd, when the holidays still seem far away and unreal and there's still plenty of time to finish that scarf. But it's only 83 short days from today! Frightful!

Posted by laurie at 12:25 PM

September 28, 2011

Wednesday: Winner and cat pictures

Good morning, Wednesday!

WINNER
The winner of yesterday's super-cute baby gift give-away is ... penis enlargement! OH JUST KIDDING. Though the spam is more aggressive that usual, don't you agree? The REAL WINNER is commenter Marie B. who has already been alerted by email. Congratulations! Plus, your prize is being delivered by someone other than me so it should arrive much sooner.

Thanks so much to the folks at Citrus Lane for offering up this sweet prize, and thanks to Kristy and Robin at Clever Girls Collective for getting me hooked up with it. Most of all thanks to all of you who participated! The comments were hilarious.

I set aside a whole pile of good stuff for great giveaways in October, including a ton of knitting books and scary books and yarn donated from readers and some yarn from my stash because I WILL be downsizing. (October -- I am looking at you. I see you. I will not beclutter you.)


And for the CAT PICTURE portion of the program... I am calling this series, "Frankie mourns the loss of toast."

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Posted by laurie at 11:33 AM

September 27, 2011

Tuesday Give Away: FREE Deluxe Citrus Lane prize box of baby goodies

Oh, I love giving stuff away. I recently got a whole pile of stuff ranging from books to yarn to baby goodies to give away and today we're starting with this awesome gift box from CitrusLane.com:

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In this box:

* SwaddleDesigns Marquisette Swaddle Blanket
* Pearhead Babyprints Tin
* Green Sprouts Organic Cotton Mitts
* Canopy Cards Baby Love Letter
* Cloud B Sleep Sheep Rattle
* Zoe Organics Mommy-to-be Bath Tea
* $50 Minted Gift Card

I'm always curious with these things if the box actually looks anything like the prize in the picture, so I got one in the mail and it totally rocks:

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Granted, I have no idea what a lot of this stuff is for (Marquisette Swaddle Blanket? Is that different than cheap Target blanket avec cat hair?) but this box would make an AMAZING baby shower gift. I don't know about you, but I struggle at baby showers. Usually I don't want to go to them to begin with because people sit around talking about gross things like amniotic waters and placentas and there is a CAKE present. I understand that birth is part of the circle of life and you're happy you got knocked up and a baby is cute and so on. But I still have PTSD from the baby shower of 2003 where I was made to sit around a conference table at the bank while my old boss Mark talked about his wife's mucus plug, then four minutes late everyone cut the cake. I had to leave the room on an important conference call to anyone other than you people. Then I barfed a little bit in the trashcan.

Babies come out and it's messy and I am down with that, but not while cake is in the room, people. Let's have some boundaries.

So I have a tough time with the pre-baby parties and gifts. This may explain why I have often been the only person giving the new mom a bottle of tequila and a box of condoms with a card that reads "Better luck next time!" (Much appreciated, I'm sure.) The Citrus Lane box is not only adorably packaged but has all kinds of baby and mommy goodies in there I would never be clever enough to think of buying on my own.

And the best part? You can enter to win one deluxe gift box today! One lucky winner will win a super cute prize box with an assortment of neat-o new mom and new baby stuff.

Simply post a comment on this post to be entered to win. Please include a real email address with your comment, because that's how I will contact you. I never re-use or abuse your email addresses, it's a one-time only entry for this prize. If you do not want your email address to show on your comment (people complain about that, among other things, awesome) just put a URL in the URL field and your email address will be hidden in a trick-the-innernet kind of way.

Giveaway ends tomorrow morning when I close comments.

This promotion is a sponsored giveaway for my site so that means there is all sorts of fine print:

Read the Official Rules.
Variable Promotion Terms & Conditions:
Promotion Sponsor: Citrus Lane, Inc.
Promotion Start Date: variable by blog between 9/9/2011 and 9/30/2011
Promotion End Date: variable by blog between 9/12/2011 and 10/12/2011
How to Enter: Leave an entry on the Clever Girls Network blog post stating that you are interested in winning a Citrus Lane box.
Prizes: One Citrus Lane gift box
Total approximate retail value of all prizes: $45 (actual value may vary).
Winner Selection Date variable by blog between 9/12/2011 and 10/12/2011
Prize Selection: Administrator will randomly select the winner(s) from all eligible entries

Good luck! happy Tuesday!

- - -

This sweepstakes has now closed, with a winner to be announced soon. Thanks to everyone who participated!

Posted by laurie at 11:04 AM

September 22, 2011

Reader Q &A: I would like a dating timeline, please!

Today's reader question is one I get frequently, and it comes up every time I write about dating:

I just have a question that you totally don't have to answer. I obviously read your blog, and I've got your books. I'm two years out post-divorce and still really struggling with the whole thing. He's moved on already (read: he has a new lady) and you had a post a while ago about online dating. I know it's different for everyone, but how long did it take you to feel like you were ready to date? --Julie


Here is another version:


I am SO happy -- and unhappy -- to hear that you have found a way to date again ... I know that sounds horrible, but let me explain. I have been divorced for 6 years (and separated for way longer than that) and have yet to be able to get myself back into the dating game. I do have a child, so for years I have been using that as an excuse....YES it is TOTALLY an excuse. Over the last few months a few of my other single mom friends have started dating and then I visited your site to see that you also were taking the plunge. So I hated it only because I felt like more of a loser that I haven't been able to do it. All of this on top of the fact that I think my ex-husband will be getting remarried within the next year. With all that said -- HOW DID YOU GET YOURSELF TO REENGAGE?
Love you,
B.


Ladies, as much as I would love to give you a powerpoint slide with a dating graph and bullet points, I can't be your benchmark. What you read about me in a few carefully worded paragraphs each week is not a complete picture of my life. Comparing yourself to anyone -- especially a well-edited stranger -- is a recipe for disaster. One person could read this site and believe I got divorced and sat home alone for six years while another could read and believe I'm out every night of the week with a mystery man I keep private. Using another human being as your relationship pace car is a bad idea. The only person who can set your pace is YOU.

I could tell you my timeline in great historical detail but it wouldn't help. You will be ready when you're ready. That's the short answer.

One of the trickiest things about dating is all the input you get from well-meaning folks in your life. They want you to be happy, and they may believe the definition of being happy is being paired up so they urge you to pair up. "Date!" they say. "Go out, meet men, get back in the game! You'll meet someone!"

And sure, you will meet someone. It is not hard to meet someone, anyone can meet someone.

Loss and sadness and vulnerability are normal after divorce. After a split, you may feel empty, lost, sad, jaded, worried, restless, or all of the above. If you're picking a new partner from that vantage point, you'll make mistakes, like sleeping with a man too soon. Overlooking red flags. Agreeing to things you would normally hate. Ingratiating yourself. Focusing only on being asked on a second date. Pretending to be something you're not. Not even knowing who you are or what you want. Taking on another person's life (and drama) to fill a hole in your own. Picking men who aren't respectful. Looking for something to hold onto, even if it's a sinking ship.

You already know this. I'm not telling you new, groundbreaking information here. If you haven't been interested in dating again, there is probably a reason. You might not be ready. You might be happy with the life you have right now. You might be scared. You might be worried you're too fat/old/shy/busy. You might think dating is some big, huge life altering decision and that going on a date means you're ready to re-marry and settle down and that freaks you out.

Whatever it is, here are a few things to keep in mind about dating after divorce:

• You're not legally obligated to date again.
Yeah, I know, crazy, right? But you can stay single your whole life long if that is what makes you happy.

• Just because your ex moved on doesn't mean he is living on a love rainbow.
A man may move on five minutes before the divorce is even final, but it doesn't mean he is now living in a rose-scented land of unicorns and sparkles and bliss. It might mean he just upgraded to Bad Marriage Version 2.0 really quickly.

• It's a whole new world.
Right after a divorce you're still really focused on marriage -- even if you're focused on the demise of marriage, it's still marriage marriage marriage on the brain. This is a tricky spot. It's hard to see exactly what kind of choices are available for your future. After all, your choice was marriage and it ended and you're probably hurt and disillusioned. So what else is there? Perpetual divorcedom? That doesn't sound very awe-inspiring.

It takes time to let the possibilities percolate again. There are many different lifestyles that work for people -- living together, long-term dating, long-distance love, twice-a-week love, marriage, domestic partnership, friends with benefits, anything in between. Take your time with it. You may discover that what you wanted ten years ago when you were shopping for wedding dresses is not at all what you want or need right now. Give yourself some space to figure out what this new version of you might want from her life.

• You don't have to find THE ONE on your first date.
After my divorce I was a train wreck so instead of looking for The Next Serious Relationship Of My Life, I picked hot guys who were terrible relationship material but a whole lot of superficial fun. This is a totally acceptable strategy! And no one ever tells you about it!

Instead, people say stuff like, "Oh, don't worry, one day you'll meet THE ONE..." or "Just have hope, you're such a nice girl, and after my divorce I met THE ONE and now we're happily married with 2.5 kids and a beautiful home with hardwood floors and one of those kitchens you see in Nora Ephron movies." You will hear these things and secretly want to stab the person saying them. There is a time for many divorced women when the idea of remarrying sounds like the worst thing you have ever heard since they invented butt waxing.

My advice? Go on at least one date just for the hell of it. Go out with a man you never would have dated before you got married because he wasn't perfect husband material. How do you think I ended up at dinner circa 2007 with a 24-year-old Jamaican cricket player? And it was fun. Would I want to walk down the aisle with him and share finances? Of course not. You don't have to be on a marriage mission. It is actually completely healthy to just want to have light, superficial fun when you re-emerge back into dating.

• You get to define fun.
Women get panicked at the word "fun" when combined with the word "dating" because they think it means they have to sleep around. You don't have to sleep with any dude you go out with. It is perfectly OK to go out, laugh, hold hands and not fling your panties off on the first date or on ANY date.

I don't do anything I don't want to do with anyone I don't want to do it with and neither should you. People make too much of all of this. There's no date police out there about to cite you for going too slow or too fast. So keep your head on straight and do what feels right for you. If you don't know what feels right for you, you aren't ready to date yet.

• It's OK to retreat.
You may go on a few dates and abruptly decide you need to go home and knit a sweater for every person in your immediate family before you can go out again. It's fine. There is no graph on a doctor's wall with projected dating progress timelines. You get to take breaks.

• Avoid Dating By Committee
When you start dating again your friends and family may take it on like an art project. It's up to you to manage the amount of information they get about your personal life. It is your responsibility to listen to yourself and trust yourself and not make decisions based on the input of your friend who was last single in the Reagan era. If you think your choices can't be trusted because you've made such bad ones in the past, then get to yourself to therapy. If you cannot bear the idea of going against the advice of your friends or family, then keep your mouth shut and don't ask for their advice in the first place. Dating by committee is doomed to failure. Ask for advice when you need it, share stories when you want to, that's part of the fun. But don't look to a third party to make your decisions.

• And finally...
It's not brain surgery, this dating business. No one will just die if a date goes poorly or if you talk too much or if he's four inches shorter than you. The world will keep spinning on its axis.

I have met some genuinely great guys (both during the Inappropriate Guy time post-divorce and the more Appropriate Guy time of present day). I think people are endlessly fascinating, and I love that it's so much easier to meet people now with the internet -- not just dating sites, but think of hiking meetups, social meetups, any meetups. I'm old-fashioned and still prefer to meet people in real life (airplanes, church, my old standby the grocery store!) but there's a lot to be said for technology. For example, you get to text now instead of talking on the phone! This is technology gone right. No waiting around for the phone to ring, just send a text and be done with it.

Socializing is very hard for me. I'm naturally introverted and I get all nervous and dorky and speedtalk when I'm anxious. But while my natural inclination is to pull a full Emily Dickenson, when I push myself and force myself to get out of my shell I often have a really great time. I hope you do as well. I'm not sure where any of us are going with this, but every possibility is in play. Anything good can happen when you're ready. And only you know when you are ready!

- - -

P.S. I'd like to thank reader Lesle for emailing me a link to this wonderful story in the New York Times, The Plight of American Singles. The title makes it sound more dismal than it is, read it for some interesting insight into the ways single people contribute to the health of a community.

Posted by laurie at 12:35 PM

September 19, 2011

So much TV, so little time

It's Fall TV Time! And also, eventually it will be fall, but more importantly it is the time of year when re-runs go away and TV comes back with all your best old friends and a few new ones.

Which new shows will you be tuning in to this season? Every season I pick one or two new shows which seem to almost immediately get canceled (I am still not over you, Detroit 187) but this year I'm going to try a few comedies (The New Girl, 2 Broke Girls) and then stick with my usual drama diet: Pan Am, Revenge, maybe Person of Interest, and I will probably tune into at least the first episode of Charlie's Angels. I think I'm dropping Dancing With The Stars, it's too much TV and the only "star" I really like is Carson Kressley. Plus that frees up a good four hours a week.

One of my favorite shows is now being rebroadcast on American TV, on the OWN network -- Supersize V. Superskinny. I first caught this show when I was on vacation in London several years ago and I've watched most of the episodes online. What's being shown on OWN is the same show but with an American voiceover (what, do they think we can't understand a British accent?) and with noticeably more demure title graphics. I'm actually surprised it's even on American TV, it seems like exactly the sort of show that people would complain about nonstop, since it's fairly gooby and shows a lot of people in their underwear eating weird food. And people do love to complain.

The returning shows I like are Castle, and Bones (Temperance is preggers!), and both the New York and Vegas CSIs. This morning on my walk I passed four(!) different TV shoots along the boulevard, and one had trailers labeled for CSI but I didn't see any of the stars.

So what's on your Fall TV list? (The first person to smugly announce they have better things to do than watch TV gets the Debbie Downer of the day award, which isn't an award at all but is more like a rash behind the knees.) TV is an insomniac's best friend, yo!

Posted by laurie at 11:22 AM

September 16, 2011

THE STAND

It's time.

Let's talk about it, people ... THE STAND! So, what did you think? Did you start sneezing? Did you stay up all night scared out of your mind? Did you fall in love with Stu? Could you not believe that Molly Ringwald was cast as Frannie in the movie version? Did you think the Walkin' Dude was creepy? Did the descriptions of the flu make you more or less inclined to see Contagion?

Was this your first time with THE STAND or was it an old friend from a bygone day?

The reason I picked this book for our last summertime read is that it's one of my all-time favorite books. I know the ending is, well, not exactly a bow tied up all pretty and pure, but the journey is the best part of this book. I love every creepy, unstable, disgusting moment along the way to Las Vegas. I love the way King can weave you so fully into a character that you feel like you know this person in real life. I love that he mixes real-world real-life elements with goofy, over-the-top fiction bits and makes it all work somehow.

And now, as I'm writing my first piece of fiction, I have even more respect for this book. Here's a piece that is so epic and huge (and LONG!) and full of flavor and description and activity and after all these years at the core it still holds up. That is talent, and commitment, and work.

I often think about what life would be like in Los Angeles after a disaster (an earthquake is usually the impetus for these thoughts.) I wonder if I would be clever or strong or alone -- will I be a Frannie, a Stu, or a Nadine? I wonder how we as a society will work it out. Every time I revisit THE STAND it feels like I'm talking to my old friends, and it's still just as disquieting as ever.

I'm particularly interested to hear how first-time readers got into it. Were you disappointed? Surprised? Scared out of your minds? Taking long showers with disinfecting soap?

Let's chat!

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I think the book weighs more than the calico.

Posted by laurie at 12:49 PM

September 14, 2011

Bikini Waxing 101: The way-too-much information guide to waxing the lady cabana

My brief but bright career in the magazine field was based almost entirely on writing articles about hair removal. Not many people want to claim expertise in this field, but hair removal is a subject close to my heart and hootch. I have tried almost every form of hair removal available to the women of Los Angeles, and that is saying so much, but what I am here to discuss today is waxing with particular attention to bikini waxing.

Over the past few weeks as I've talked here and on Twitter about dating and its strange little rituals, one of the questions that comes up over and over is about dating-related hair maintenance:


Hi Laurie! I'm thinking about getting back into the scary world of dating but the last real date I had was around the same time that cell phones were the size of shoes. Times have changed. I'm worried! What are the rules these days on bikini waxing and general hair removal down there?

The most important rule is that any and all grooming you do is for yourself, not for some dude you just met. There will always be dudes. Dudes may say they want a vagina sculpted out of gold and smoothness and pulsating with beams of light, but the truth is that any man getting near your ladyhouse should (and will) be happy to be in the zipcode. In the moment, it will not matter if you are rocking the full Kong or if you are waxed like a shiny apple. Lovin' is lovin'. Do only what you feel comfortable with.

Also I believe by now we have already set the tone for this essay and my dad is somewhere in the middle of Texas wishing he could un-read words from his brain. Hi family! Let's talk waxing!

Before We Get Started
The subject of hair removal -- but especially bikini waxing -- seems to draw out the ire in some women. I want it to be known right here and right now that waxing has nothing to do with your IQ, your morality, your beliefs about feminism or God or sexuality. It's just a cosmetic option for hair. That is all.

I often hear women defiantly say, "I would never wax! If God intended me to be hairless down there he would have made me that way!"

By that reasoning, God intended me to be a near-sighted, mousy-haired molechild with a vitamin-D deficiency and an inability to be in sunlight for more than six minutes. No one freaks out by my liberal use of sunscreen, or my need to take vitamins, or my desire to wear contacts and get highlights now and then. My guess is that God doesn't care what your pubes look like. God probably has other stuff going on. It's a MUCH more compelling argument to just say, "Hey, you know what? I have no desire to pay a stranger to drip hot wax on my twat and rip my hair out from the roots."

I am pretty sure a lot of people will agree with your decision.

So wax or don't wax, it's up to you. I'm just here to pass along the information that might be useful for those gals who want to experiment with ladyhair maintenance.


Baby Got Wax

While there are a majillion ways to get rid of hair -- sugaring, threading, laser -- waxing is available almost anywhere on the planet, is affordable, effective and not that weird of a concept. Even your great-grandmother knows about waxing. Each service is priced differently depending on the intricacy and the salon. An eyebrow wax will run you $8-$10. Bikini waxing starts around $25 for the most basic wax and can run up to $125.

Anything that sprouts hair on the body can be waxed. At different times in my life, I have had my legs, underarms, eyebrows and entire lower body waxed into submission. You will probably need an appointment for a good salon so call ahead. The actual waxing time depends on how much work you're having done, but usually runs anywhere from five minutes (eyebrows) to twenty minutes (full lower body.)

How does it work? What is waxing, exactly?

Wax is warmed until it's soft and spreadable. It is not boiling hot -- doesn't burn the skin and doesn't feel uncomfortably warm. Actually, it feels kind of soothing going on, it's about the same temperature as a heating pad.

Using a wooden stick that looks a lot like a tongue depressor, the warm wax is spread on a hairy part of your body. Usually the wax is applied to small portions at a time. Then a clean white cloth is pressed down on top of the warm wax and the cloth is yanked off quickly, pulling the hair out at the roots with it. It's kind of like pulling off a band-aid on a hairy arm.

Does it hurt?

Yes. It hurts like a MUTHA. But if you go to a reputable place that knows their stuff it will be QUICK. The pain is not crazy overload pain, but it is shocking the first time. The pain is quick and over in mere seconds. My waxer Cindy can get me completely hair free from navel to knees in under 10 minutes. I want to kill a human while it is happening. And she goes where no man has ever gone. But then it is over.

It's my first time! How does a bikini wax work? Am I naked? Can I leave my panties on? Is it weird having a stranger up in your business?

A simple, basic bikini wax just removes the hair that strays outside your panties (this is the bare minimum grooming you want for bathing suit season, for example.)

For a first-time bikini wax, I recommend just a basic procedure. It will be whatever is cheapest on the menu. Wear your tightest, skimpiest panties to the appointment. For the more modest ladies, you can keep your panties on this way but don't wear your old granny pants. Wear something that exposes some skin.

The waxer will generally talk to you a bit beforehand about what you want. You will still have your clothes on. Then she will leave the room and you will take off your pants. Modest ladies, if you keep your panties on the waxer will probably tuck some small pieces of paper towel or kleenex between the cloth and your skin to keep the wax from getting on your drawers. Yes, it will probably be supremely weird for you if it's your first time but like all things in life you get used to it surprisingly fast.

She will spread warm wax on the hairy bits of your body. Press down on the spot with a white cloth and then quickly rip off the cloth and the hair. Yikes! But it's over that quick. There may be some stray hairs above the panties (up to the navel) and this will be removed, too. Some ladies have hair on the upper thigh, and that gets taken off. Then you're done. Put your pants on and go home and shower!

How long does it last?

Depending on how fast your hair grows, a wax can last anywhere from three to six weeks. Some people think the hair grows back finer or softer -- this is because waxing removes hair at the root and there's no stubble. Plus, all hair grows at a different rate so when your hair grows back there appears to be less of it at once, and it seems softer.

The major upside for me is there is no itching during re-growth. I shave my legs daily and sometimes my legs just itch. And if you have ever shaved your wheelhouse you know from itch. But with waxing I find there is very little itching when the hair comes back.

Do I need to trim before I go in?

No. The hairier the better. Your body hair must be at least 1/4" long to get a great result from waxing. This is also the downside of waxing, having to let your hair grow out. I used to get my legs and underarms waxed, but the grow-out period is too much for my girly pride.

Will it hurt the next day?
A little bit. Your bikini area will just be sensitive (underarms, too, though legs seem to recover quickly.) The BEST tip I can give you is to find some Bikini Zone! I use Bikini Zone cream or gel (http://bikinizone.com/) as soon as I get my wax. I buy a tube of this stuff at Rite-Aid ahead of time and I take it with me in my purse to my waxing appointment. After Cindy is done and I have been de-furred down to my esophagus, I slather on Bikini Zone. Then I go home, shower to remove the wax residue (I have very sensitive skin, and you need to get the wax traces off your skin) I dry off and zip on the Bikini Zone again.

You will probably have little red bumps the first day -- this cream helps a lot with that -- and maybe on day two. But by day three everything should be smooth and back to perfect.


How do I find a reputable waxer?

Ask your friends. Look on the internet. The best place in Los Angeles (in my opinion) is Pink Cheeks Salon. Just ask your girlfriends who they trust and who they feel comfortable with. If you want to try someone out, go in for an underarm wax the first time. I think underarm waxing is a great way to try out waxing ... you get a smooth result, the area is less sensitive than bikini, and you don't have to get naked.

OR, call your salon and see if they will do a test strip. That's where you go in and have a little place on your arm waxed as a test. You get to see what it feels like and how your skin reacts. It's essentially a patch test and all reputable salons will do it for you. Usually for free!


Do I tip my waxer?

Yes. 10-20% or whatever you feel is appropriate.


What is a full bikini? Playboy? Brazilian?

When it comes to bikini waxing there are all flavors of intensity. The basic bikini wax I describe above is at the tamest end of the spectrum. At the other end of the rainbow is the full wax -- everything gone, everywhere, including up the butt crack. Yes, people, I said butt crack waxing. And there are variations of intensity. You can leave a triangle, a landing strip, get more or less removed here and there.

For a more vigorous wax, you remove all your clothes from the waist down. Your waxer will delve into places your last husband may never have visited. I am fairly certain that Cindy, my bikini waxer, has seen more of my anatomy than my OB-GYN. If there is hair it can and will be removed. If my lungs sprouted hair I feel certain Cindy would invent a way to remove it.

A full wax (sometimes called a Brazilian) removes all your hair from all parts. You lie on your back on the table as wax is applied to areas you haven't thought about grooming ever in your life. Then you flip over onto all fours and wax is applied to any area that has hair sprouting -- cheeks, up the butt, top of the back thighs, all gone. You can leave some hair at the top or none at all, there are many levels of coverage and removal in the bikini waxing arena. Most salons will have a menu or will be able to explain the options.

My advice here is to start small and work your way up to a waxing intensity level that suits you.

Why on earth would any human choose to get all their hair stripped off the hoohah?
Don't knock it until you try it, friend. I walk out of Pink Cheeks and feel like I lost ten pounds and got two inches taller. Different people like different things. I know many women believe (or perhaps fear) that all this cooch grooming is because of men and their weird sex preferences. I firmly disagree. I have never once been intimate with a man who expressed grooming preferences for my private areas. I don't feel social pressure about my down-there hairdo. I just like keeping myself maintained in ways that make me feel good, whatever that is at the time. I paint my toenails even in winter ... to me it's the same kind of thing. It's a fast, legal, non-permanent, inexpensive way to change it up a little.

Can I get herpes/diseases/die from waxing?
According to the CDC, no. But someone is already writing about it in the comments and they are doing it in a tone that seems full of concern but is really just excitement to tell you YOU'RE ABOUT TO DIE FROM THAT BIKINI WAX. Even though they have never had a full wax, they know. YOU WILL DIE.

Listen, it does not matter what you write about or talk about or ponder, a concerned individual somewhere thinks it will kill you or give you a disease. (Someone once wrote to tell me the yarn color I was using had a dye that would cause skin cancer. FO REALS, YO.) I am not a big fan of gloom and doom internet crap. I am, however, a Grade-A OCD germaphobe and I pick all my salon-style services very carefully.

Somewhere on the internet there is a feverish, intense declaration that bikini waxing will give you ebola of the vagina. Here is my advice: Do your own research. Be sure the salon you go to is clean and follows all the safety and sanitation procedures for the industry. Use common sense. I know ... crazy, right? Common sense! Nuts!

If you are someone who is going to freak out and need a Valium from the very idea of a bikini wax, then don't get one. If you are deeply worried you will get vaginaebola from a Brazilian then don't get a Brazilian. There are plenty of at-home waxing kits and lots of other options, including shaving or going full native or dying everything pink. Do what works for you and what you feel comfortable with.


In Conclusion...
There aren't a whole lot of topics where I can claim expertise: catbox scooping, okra frying, Jeep repair bills, hangovers. That's a list right there, my friends. But I have been fixated on hair removal for most of my life and hope my forays into smoothness can help someone out there.

It's not cold fusion or world peace. It's just some hair. Let's keep it in perspective, people.


Posted by laurie at 6:33 AM

September 13, 2011

A few Tuesday things

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1) I saw that germ movie, CONTAGION!!! I had to Purell myself repeatedly during the film. I think that every time someone sneezed I became more unhinged. I like to think of this sort of thing as exposure therapy, exposing myself to microbes both real and imagined to build up immunity. Then I needed to go to my home and disinfect the bathroom. Again.

2) In the midst of writing this thing I'm writing I figured out the plot flaw in Katie & Armando, a completely different project that has nothing to do with this one. I have made no money off either and soon will return to the world of work and commutes but until then I've been trying to pack in everything I can with the feverish need of a human being who is not really sure about the future of the future. At all.

3) In a few weeks I'm going to be visiting a different city with some family folks and for some reason it's fallen on me to pick the hotel and I am freaking out because it's a lot of pressure to pick a place other people will like. Usually I just find a hotel I think I will like, and if I hate it I get up and move the next day. But I realize other people need better decision-making from the gitgo and I am paralyzed with fear of disappointing my family. Several excellent things have emerged from this: ONE is that I decided where I am staying and that is a good start. TWO is that I'm excited about this little mini-trip in the fall, I've been so busy and crazy I had forgotten all about it. THREE is that it might be cold enough to wear a coat! If you live in Los Angeles you know how exciting that is for a local. FOUR is that my book will be done by then. And FIVE is that I have had enough therapy to realize I'm not really responsible for other people's fun and I just need to loosen up and bring out my inner hippie right now, so I have, and it is working.

4) SPEAKING of hippies. The hippie downstairs is amazing. If you don't know the story of the hippie downstairs, let me recap: He's a hippie. He gave my whole building a contact high. He favors plaid boxer shorts, patchouli and playing Bob Dylan songs on his guitar on the patio. His make-out music is old Crow Medicine Show, which seems the wrong tempo, but what do I know. He has a different goodlooking ladyfriend over every night. He once charged me $20 to use his garage clicker when mine wasn't working. That should bring you up to speed. So last night there was some crazy police action in our neighborhood and I heard the hippie downstairs tell his newest ladyfriend, "This police state is ruining my voice, man, I have to shout when I am more of a whisper man, you feel me? The whisper is my sweet spot."

And I wanted to die with happiness that I lived long enough to eavesdrop on a man saying those words. And then repeat them on the internet for your pleasure.

5) Finally, it was Sept. 11th again and this time I just didn't write anything. I was going to and then nothing felt appropriate or real so I just decided to keep it inside. Later that night I was watching the news and I saw the story of the airplane that had to be escorted to the airport by fighter jets because some of the passengers were spending too much time in the restroom. It was determined that two of the passengers were just engaging in a little mid-flight nookie. Now I am many things, but a prude is not one of them (germaphobe, yes, mon dieu people, find a cleaner place!). But I think the lesson to be learned here is that if you plan to join the mile-high club you should think twice before doing it on September 11th. Merely a suggestion.

Posted by laurie at 12:53 PM

September 1, 2011

Baby, can you dig your man?

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Her face says, "But I am so scared! I do not like this book! You keep washing your hands and disinfecting things! And playing that creepy song about the Reaper!"

- - -

Are you on the road with Frannie and Stu and the bunch? Have you made it to Colorado yet? If you're reading the uncut version you may be trapped inside the dog's brain. I don't know, but I can feel pretty sure at least one of you is now thanking the Purell corporation for existing.

What's even awesomer is that the new Matt Damon outbreak-ish movie "Contagion" comes out next Friday so you can go sit inside a movie theatre and listen to people sneeze and cough during a movie about the deadly spread of bird flu through sneezing and coughing in movie theatres.

The first time I saw the trailer I was on a date. I was sitting in the darkened movie house next to a dude who was pretty much a stranger, really, and someone behind us sneezed and I had to break out the wet wipes and do some hand germ maintenance. He asked me out again, and neither of us got the bird flu, so this story has a happy ending. But I still haven't had enough therapy to share a popcorn with another human being unless I have actually seen them wash their hands with soap for the full singing of the alphabet. Baby steps, people. baby steps.

So our book club chitchat about The Stand is scheduled for Friday, September 16th (to last all weekend) but I wanted to check in with you all and be sure that's enough time for everyone to finish the book. Let me know.

And go wash your hands!

Posted by laurie at 7:57 AM

August 29, 2011

Monday List

1) Complaining is my cardio
My general complaint is that technology has not made my life easier. I don't even like technology. Everything is so interconnected and complicated and always needs updating. I avoid plugging my iPhone into my iMac because even though all I want to do is download a few pictures instead I have to upgrade and reinstall iTunes, then there is a new software update for your iPhone, do you want to download and install it? If you don't download and install it, this icon on your desktop will just jump up and down spastically until you have a seizure anyway, so forget getting that picture of your cat on your blog, lady, you're in for two hours of updates and restarts. And iPhoto is now part of iLife One Million More dollars, want to purchase that now? My God people. Someone invent a button for "quick cat picture transfer."

2) Yet I have no desire to fix my problems or yours.
I find people utterly fascinating. No matter what I complain about -- and sometimes it's just sheer fun to complain humorously about upscale human problems that aren't the least bit dire at all -- there will be someone somewhere who NEEDS to TELL me how to FIX the problem RIGHT NOW. Sometimes of course this is hugely helpful and does actually fix a problem, which is always an unexpected treat. But usually it's useless stuff that only makes the fixer feel smug and vastly more intelligent than me, things like, "Buy a new computer with more memory, upgrade to the new phone and update your shit every day." (By the way, I would totally take that advice if you gave me your credit card number for those purchases.) What is even more fascinating is that I never have the urge to help someone fix their problems. I just assume they are complaining for the sheer joy and exercise of it and will eventually solve their own problems like a normal human being. Perhaps this points to a shallowness in my character. Perhaps it means I just like funny complaining. Perhaps I am also the last person you would ever want trying to fix your technology stuff (see: "That time I stuck a butter knife in the DVD player.")

3) I yelled something really mean to someone in traffic this morning.
No, it was really, really mean. Like I almost felt the fiery flames of hell licking at my heels. I was on Sunset Blvd. and an ambulance was coming in the opposite direction so I moved from the far left lane over to the shoulder like you are supposed to do when an ambulance is coming. Contrary to what most people in Los Angeles think, you do not actually stop in the middle of the road and block traffic when you see shiny red lights. The woman behind me in the silver Mercedes decided to use this opportunity to get ahead sixteen whole awesome inches! And she nearly clipped me in her fervor to leapfrog over traffic. As I pulled to the right I saw with horror that the ambulance had to wait for her as she breezed the intersection. SERIOUSLY.

After the emergency vehicles passed, I began to merge back onto the roadway carefully, just like you are supposed to do according to the California Driver's Handbook. And what do you know, traffic on Sunset wasn't moving and I managed to pull up just beside the horrible Mercedes driver at the next light.

So I moseyed up next to her, waved out my Jeep window until she rolled down her fancypants Mercedes window that cost more than my entire vehicle, and I said some choice words that I won't repeat because I'm sensitive to the amount of hate mail I can generate in a single day. Then I took a picture of her on my cameraphone that I will never be able to download.

4) This morning I woke up still upset about Joe Guidice being a mean drunk.
Sure, I may stop people in traffic to tell them what I think about their driving and tell them emphatically how they need to reevaluate their priorities as a HUMAN BEING, but I would never say that to my purple-fur-wearing wife in front of our kids and all our friends, and especially not after I just chipped my tooth on the marble floor of the foyer while doing drunken gymnastics.

That paragraph alone should be the TV Guide's summer recap of The Real Housewives of New Jersey.

I may not ever be able to understand all the ingredientsces that make up Teresa Guidice, and I may deeply fear for the lives of all the Real Housewives castmates once Milania is tall enough to reach the big knives on the countertops, but now I have to add in the implosion and drunken cartwheels of Joe Guidice. It was too much for my delicate sensibilities so soon on the heels of the Hurricane Irene news coverage. During the hurricane, cable news channels showed repeated interviews with New Jersey coastal residents who refused to evacuate even when their scary Governor practically begged them to go to a Sheraton and drink mai tais for the night on the state's dime.

It's pure schadenfreude. As a Southerner who grew up horrified at the continuous, nonstop TV and movie portrayals of unwashed, backwoods rednecks can I just tell you what a relief it is to see someone else in this glorious nation being demonized so thoroughly and with such vigorous bedazzling? When I was a child I never understood why people across the country thought Southerners were all stupid, slow, overall-wearing pig farmers who never owned shoes or had more than three teeth. Didn't they know TV was fake? Mork did not live with Mindy, people!! Alan Alda was not actually in a war!! Southerners do actually have teeth and manners and an excellent vocabulary!!

But now I revel in the sweet certainty that a whole generation of young people from Mississippi to Louisiana to Middle Tennessee will grow up think New Jersey is full of loud, drunk, orange people wearing glitter and clown makeup and dressed in giant fur coats made entirely of skinned psychedelic care bears.

Man, it's good to be alive.


- - -

Bob agrees.

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- - -

P.S. Thanks to reader Rachel for emailing me to let me know one of my goofy tweets made The Huffington Post! You can follow my drunken twitterings @crazyauntpurl.

Posted by laurie at 12:42 PM

August 19, 2011

Insert clever title that makes me look less like a slacker

1) Trends in the vernacular
In the past ten days I have had conversations no less than five times with different people where I interject a deeply heartfelt, "Homie don't play that!" Who knew I woke one morning in early August and became the sole blonde, female member of the 1987 Run DMC lineup? YO! Homie Raps! Two decades ago! Yet try it yourself today and you will see that for almost any conversation the interjection, "Say what! Homie don't play that!" is a true crowd pleaser.

2) Books have a lot of words.
That sentence actually had one extra word until I edited out the expletive. I am just saying is all. I'm going to finish this book I'm writing but there may be some drawings of cats in the middle.

3) Experiments in interpersonal, inter-species dinner having and movie seeing
Yeah, when you're ready you should totally date again. I faux dated back that one time during that phase, then I went on that long-ass hiatus ("Homie don't play that!") and now am real dating and ya'll, it's super fun. Yes, it's true that it's goofy and you have to tell your story and they tell their story and there are awkward parts and still -- even with all the newness and so on -- if you are in the right frame of mind it is so much goodness. We will talk more about this. You can ask me your burning questions, if I am doing it you can do it, people. I already got a few good dating questions in my email that I will answer and you know I say I hate giving advice but then I go and give advice like that shit is about to be banned by the FDA. Let's do it.

4) Why am I cussing so much? My parents will be calling later today to discuss.
I blame Corey. Sorry, C-squared, something has to be your fault.

SPEAKING OF COREY. Here we are (two weeks ago, whoops) getting out geek on at DEVO:

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Video of the band playing Whip It:

(Uh, I have to figure out how to get this on youtube and then embed it, meaning I forgot my password, so until then here is a link on yfrog: http://yfrog.com/nrebkz)

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Corey is on the beat:
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She cracks me UP.

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Us in the middle of it all, per usual.

IN CONCLUSION. Ladies, if DEVO comes to your town get thee to the venue on time. The show is amazing, the band rocks out, I thought I only knew one Devo song but I knew about 75% of the setlist (including the lyrics, how did that happen? I can't even remember my own phone number.) And the crowd is full of nothing but eligible grown-up goodlooking nerd-men with music in their souls:

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These guys were so damn cute, they knew all the words. It was like a big convention of all the guys you actually want to meet. And almost none of them brought girlfriends. Well, there was this one couple:

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I have no idea who they are but they were kind enough to let me take a picture. Flowerpot hats. Need I say more?


5) Citizen of The Month does The Valley, like, for sure.
So Neil is in town for a few more weeks and then he's going back to New York. I've already managed to drag him to Hollywood once and last week we went to an amateur stand-up night in the Valley (his idea, not mine, I'm adventurous but even I don't do stand-up.) He lets me take pictures of him because he's a photographer and also a golden god on Instagram and anyway he doesn't complain and really that's my only criteria for success. Me, easy to please!

The view from our table at dinner in LaLa's Argentine restaurant on the boulevard in Studio City:
lalas-argentine.jpg

(Yes, Los Angeles, you are beautiful and I'm back in love with you again.)

After the comedy thing we went for coffee at the Starbucks on Ventura Blvd, which is as specific a location as saying, "We were in a forest and they had some trees there."

neil-ventura-blvd.jpg

As we sat out on the sidewalk cafe, we were approached by a wild-eyed man hopped up on speed who tried to steal a Boston Terrier from the couple at the table beside us and Neil managed to get the crazy guy into a sleeper hold and the dog was saved. And then we finished our coffee.*
(* This did not happen.)

Neil also gives me dating advice, but kind of in the Socratic method. Here is an actual text conversation transcribed for your pleasure:

Neil: How was Date #5 and did he ask about u yet??

Laurie: Supposed to be Wednesday.
Ask about me how?

Neil: Show interest in your life. As weird as it is.
Also, do I want to see Captain America?

Laurie: I love that you manage to insult and compliment me all at the same time. Capt A was OK but mostly sets up Avengers.

Neil: Ha. That's why I changed the subject. I know you already.

6) And, following chronological order, Bonnie and I get mildly lost in downtown and stumble into an alternate universe two days ago.

Bonnie drove in from the depths of Orange County and met me in downtown Los Angeles for a little fun and shopping in the garment district. We went to all the great fabric vendors along 9th Street, Olympic, and Maple, including a long visit to Michael Levine. And we did a little street vendor shopping, too, where Bonnie got the cutest hat ever:

bonnie-hats.jpg

Totally ready for the Kentucky Derby, ya'll! For only five bucks!

I love Bonnie because she is funny as hell and an amazing crafter -- she sews like nobody's business, which I will write a separate post on entirely because girlfriend has inspired me to dust off my Singer and make those sofa pillows I keep saying I'm going to make. But also I love her because she is maybe the only friend I have who makes me look tan in comparison:

bonnie-me.jpg
Girl fun! (No, seriously, I AM MORE TAN.) (A little.)

And she didn't seem to mind that my sense of direction is nonexistant and we got turned around a few times and kind of sort of had to walk 21 blocks downtown in the scorching sun. BUT that is where we stumbled upon this magical dress shop right in the middle of scrummy downtown off Broadway and 6th:

quincenera-dresses.jpg

Those dresses were simply amazing. It was like walking into a fantasy, there was even a hello kitty dress which may or may not be the outfit I wear when I marry Al Gore:

hello-kitty-dress.jpg

Heartbroken that the picture turned out blurry but happy that such a dress exists. After our long day we ate hotdogs wrapped in bacon and covered in grilled onions and peppers. Can you think of a better way to end a day? No, me neither.

So that is the gap at a glance, summertime in the city, and now I promise not to go another two weeks without updating especially when we are in the midst of something as awesome and terrifying as THE STAND!! I love Stu Redman. The end.

Posted by laurie at 8:30 AM

August 18, 2011

No actor parking!!

no-actor-parking.jpg

Really. We don't want your kind here.

- - -

SO. I am alive! Hello! How are you, good looking and what have you got cooking? It probably says more about me than I care to admit that when I do not write on this here website for one week or perhaps longer I suddenly begin receiving urgent text messages, phone calls, and emails from people asking me if I am ALIVE DAMMIT. This may be a reflection of just how colorful my life is. I like to think of it that way, colorful. In psychology circles that is known as "healthy re-framing."

But I am fine and have not run off to marry Al Gore, or been kidnapped by a roaming band of Swedes, or sold my cute shoes to join a cult. I did find a great pair of jeans, though, that whole Not Your Daughter's Jeans hype is actually true. Go for a dark rinse. Mostly I am working hard to finish my book by Labor Day which is not actually at the end of September like many of us in my head thought. It is mere days away and I have many words yet to type.

Last night I had a long conversation with someone about weapons-grade tear gas because I am now at the part of the writing process known as "any old thing could happen, let's get this piece of work DONE, even if it means we tear gas some people. Maybe there are clowns."

There have been some fun adventures, and since I don't want another phone call from my Dad asking if I have expatriated to Argentina I will start posting pictures tomorrow of all my adventures from the past two weeks including the Devo concert and a fun day yesterday with Bonnie and a night of amateur stand-up comedy in the Valley with Neil (we were in the audience, not performing, as if! Also people did more book readings than acts, but what do I know?) after which he called me a snob but then bought me coffee. Friends! And also this weekend I will type up the whole long list of everything I have been meaning to tell you including how I managed to change my life in a day as ya'll know I enjoy doing every now and then. It will be very helpy.

But now, back to tear gas and clowns! And maybe there should be a steamy sex scene. That's more fun to write than a car chase.

Posted by laurie at 9:37 AM

August 2, 2011

Summer Trashy Goodness Book Club Selection

Here it is, folks, buckle up for a wild ride with Captain Tripps:

the-stand-book-club.jpg

That's right. We're reading THE STAND. You can read any version you want, the original, the expanded complete & uncut edition, audiobook, even the streaming Netflix miniseries. This is Stephen King we're talking about, though, so I'd go with the paperback version. Either one will do.

We'll be talking about it a little here and there just to keep the contagion ball rolling but the real deal book club discussion will start on Friday, September 16th, 2011 and last all weekend. I'll probably do a random reader giveaway, too, though I have no idea what yet (if you have regifting stuff you want to throw in the pot email me using the link in the sidebar on the right side of the page.)(Broke authors, such great gift givers!)

I fully expect that 50% of you have already read THE STAND and are itching to re-read it just in time for the upcoming cold and flu season. Forty percent of you will think it's too long, too scary and that King can't write and ending to save his life and the final 10% will be alone in the bathroom taking a full silkwood shower until Christmas.

Love you!

Posted by laurie at 10:59 AM

July 21, 2011

Dude, you have a problem.

Yesterday I was sorting through my pictures when I found a little gem that I snapped on my flight from Atlanta to Daytona Beach last month. I know I posted this on twitter when it happened, but I didn't post it here.

airplane-playboy.jpg

That dude on the aisle read his Playboy magazine during most of the flight. He didn't seem to mind that there were families and small children all around. He even did a full-on head tilt when he got to the centerfold.

Seriously. How bad is your addiction to porn if you can't even sit through a one-hour flight without looking at naked ladies? Mon dieu!

Posted by laurie at 10:45 AM

July 20, 2011

More walk talk

Ya'll know when I get on a topic I am like a dog with a bone so we are still walking and talking! Thanks for sharing your motivators, it's kind of a relief to see that not every human feels particularly thrilled about working out every day, but so many still do it daily and feel good after the fact.

Before I get to some of the Q&A from the comments, I have a question of my own here today:

I found a guided super-beginner level hike that I want to try and the description says to wear pants, bring water, and bring lugsoles.

Uh. I am assuming from the word "soles" that lugsoles are shoes, which made me realize that hiking might require something a little different than my Nike running shoes.

I know that some of you all are avid hikers and outdoorsy folks, and I would love your suggestions and recommendations for whatever the heck a lugsole is. Or whatever hiking shoe you like the best. Or even where to purchase a hiking shoe. I don't have a large amount of money here to spend on supplies, but I would invest in a great pair of shoes if it will help me to not die on my first ever hike.

- - -

I am not very outdoorsy. If I stop posting for a few months, send someone looking for me in the Santa Monica Mountains. Thanks!

- - -

Christi said:

I'll tell what really helps keep you motivated to exercise: having an exercise buddy. On those days when you want to stay in bed, knowing your buddy is waiting for you gets you OUT of bed. And if your exercise buddy is a dog, believe me, they won't let you rest till you've gone on your walk (or run, as the case may be).

I noticed that many of you said the same thing and I am taking this to heart. My friend Corey offered to do a Zumba class with me -- I've never tried it and I often feel ridiculous going to new exercise adventures on my own. So I am taking her up on this offer and just emailed her a whole long list of local classes, days and times we can try. I would probably cancel on my own but if I know she's driving here to meet me I definitely will not cancel.

When I was in Florida last month my sister-in-law invited me to go on her walk one morning over the intercoastal bridge. She meets up there with friends regularly. I tagged along and it was so much fun! Then the next day we went to Curves, something I would never have tried on my own, and I really had fun meeting Kelli's friends and working out with them. I'm famously uncoordinated and that still hasn't changed, but her friends were really nice and funny and laughed with me (not at me, much) as I tried not to fall of the Curves machines.

So, just wanted to thank everyone again for sharing their motivators with me. I'm taking this one to heart -- I even asked Corey and Jen to go on the beginner hike with me so that I won't cancel at the last minute. We haven't set a date yet but we will.

- - -

Allison wrote:

I'm trying to get motivated to do something about my extra 90 pounds before it's an extra 100. I went to the gym after work every day for years, quit when I got laid off and then started back when I got a job. Had to stop. Making less money, but really it was the time. Up at 5, out the door before 7, home a little after 6. Weekends are mostly for all the chores we can't get to during the week. I haven't seen the makeover show, but I have seen Biggest Loser, which ... seems to prove weight loss is only possible if you can exercise 6 to 8 hours a day and eat prepackaged foods. I can't do that, therefore there is no hope. Depressing. I know something would be better than nothing, but when? How do people with no control over their work schedules make fitness happen? I'm as short of sleep as I can go, but that's the only place I see to steal any time from. But I HAVE to figure something out.

I immediately gravitated to this comment because I absolutely know that trapped feeling of desperation when your life becomes a monotony of eat-sleep-work-drive-clean-repeat.

If you have been reading this here diary for any length of time you already know that I have been struggling with my weight and health since my divorce in the ancient year 1775. It was not getting better -- in fact, as time moved on and my schedule became more and more insane, it got worse. I worried I was becoming like one of those ladies you see on the Dr. Oz show who says they still haven't lost the baby weight... and their kid is 25 years old now. After a while I just began to worry that I was dying before I was dead.

I made some very drastic changes to my life last year. Not every person will want or need to go that far -- I live on less than half of my old income, I gave up a lot of security and safety and that can be terrifying. But I had to change. So now I focus on what I've gained instead of what I've lost: I'm alive! I have a positive feeling about the future. I'm healthier than I have been in a ridiculously long time (and I'm only halfway "there" which should give you an idea of how out of sorts I had become.)

That old self-helpy line that "Nothing changes if nothing changes..." is true. It can be a little change -- you could get an exercise bike and put it in front of the TV and commit to ten minutes a day, or buy salad in a bag every day this week instead of fast food, or splurge for one month on a housecleaner, or just decide it's more important to go for a walk each Sunday instead of cleaning the house. You can make a big change like I did and up-end your life with a new kind of working arrangement and a serious reshuffling of priorities. But you have to change your life to change your life.

Here's the best example I can think about to illustrate this:

You hate your job. You work long hours for less money, you're miserable and the only comfort is eating a big, warm meal and de-stressing in front of the TV. You gain weight and feel even worse about your situation. You desperately want to get a new job but you think the weight you've gained will hold you back in job interviews. It makes you feel less confident. You tell yourself you'll start searching for a new job when your life improves, when you lose weight. But nothing is improving. That makes you feel even less in control, and more depressed, and each day is just a tightly compressed coil winding in on itself.

SOUND FAMILIAR?

If nothing changes, then nothing changes. You can start small and build up or go big but you have to do something. I worried that making this huge change would set me back professionally and financially forever but I did it anyway -- I was willing to take that risk to get my life back. I definitely still worry about money and security and my future but you know what? I worried about all that stuff before, too. Now I am just doing it from a healthier vantage point.

All this is to say I understand the desperate, sad, depressed feeling that was so clear in your comment. I was there. The only person who could improve my life was me, I work on it every day. It is work, don't get me wrong, and it takes commitment and time and energy to get healthy when you're almost 100 pounds overweight. But I am telling you it can be done, I do it a little more every day. At least my bus is out of the ditch and going in the right direction.

There are small changes you can make without uprooting your whole life -- I have tried therapy, acupuncture, meditation (I still can't get that one at all), new foods, new ways of approaching problems, new activities. Not everything has worked but just trying different ways of living happier and healthier makes me feel good. Feeling good is the goal, right? You have to find something that makes you light up. I walk because psychologically it makes me have an improved feeling about life and physically it improves my body. I'm not going to turn into a fitness model or run a marathon next week. The goal here is improvement not perfection.

I don't have all the answers, I only wanted to give you a word-hug and let you know I have been in that place. Every change comes with some discomfort and even fear. It's a trade-off, it's part of life. Perhaps we just get to a point where change becomes preferable to staying the same. My life today isn't perfect and every day isn't rainbows and unicorns, but it is so much better than it was. I hope you can find a way to a better feeling day and string a bunch of them together.

Don't give up! It's never too late to change your life.

- - -

Chris asked:

Now that you've inspired me to get moving, do you have any suggestions for non-chaffing shorts to walk in?

Hi Chris! I saw in Target the other day that they've made the same flat-seam pants I love into knee-length capris and shorts.
Link to the pants (I wear these everyday! I started in a size XXL and now I'm in a L, thanks in part to the looong walks I can take with no seams chafing my legs!)
Link to the capri pants version
Link to the shorts

I have not worn shorts since the earth was a molten ball, but let me know if those work for you! I don't work for Target or make money off these pants, I just like to share when I find a product that actually works. There is no way I could make a 7-mile walk without chafe-free pants!

- - -

Diana asked:

Laurie, a question for you. When you walk, do you walk at a leisurely pace like you're sightseeing, a brisk pace like you're late for something, or a crazy man in spandex shorts powerwalking pace with your hips swinging back and forth? Just want to figure out what I should be aiming for.

I work full-time and have a 2 year old and it's almost impossible to find even 30 minutes to work out. Before baby I went to Jazzercise 3 days a week and loved it. But the class times are no longer convenient for me. I do have a treadmill and an Ipod and am just struggling to fit it in. Once the weather gets to a humanly bearable temperature I'd love to walk outside after the boy's in bed and the dishes are clean.

Hi Diana!

Today I walked at a pretty leisurely pace (3 miles/hour for one hour.) I was overzealous last week when it was so mild outside and I overdid it so this week I'm taking it easy.

Usually I walk at 3.5 miles/hour and do between one and a half or two hours each morning, which is between five and seven miles. At least one day a week I walk in the hills for 3 miles and on flat sidewalks for another 2-3 miles (hills are more strenuous than sidewalks, obviously.) If I am feeling really crazy I might jog (on flat surfaces) just for a tiny bit in little bursts but that almost never happens.

Sometimes I use my exercise bike, too, and I ride for a few minutes while I watch TV. Tonight I'm going to do that since I had a fairly unathletic walk today.

My goal right now is to increase my fitness level a little bit every day and lose weight so I exercise more than an average person would need for maintenance. I don't have any interest in running, but I do want to get in good enough shape to be able to take on a moderately strenuous hike and not keel over or embarrass myself. All those years stuck inside my car three hours a day commuting (and then in an office) made me forget how much I like being outside! I feel happy when I'm outdoors. It seems like hiking would be a really good goal for me and that's my little personal fitness marker.

Since I don't have kids I'm never sure how people fit anything in when they're moms -- most of my friends have kids and their lives amaze me with all they have to do! I have no idea how to incorporate a kid into working out but I'm sure that plenty of readers will have some ideas. My only suggestion would be to forget the dishes until after your walk, I think anything is more fun than doing dishes...


- - -


One last question, this one also from me:

For all you folks in the Pacific Northwest and other rainy areas, do you walk/run/exercise outdoors on rainy days? If so, do you need anything special to wear? I don't want to feel like I can never leave Los Angeles just because I might lump up and melt with some rain.

We haven't had rain in so long I forgot what it looks like!

- -

Thanks everyone for not rolling your eyes dramatically with all this walking talk. I'm sure that tomorrow we'll be back to knitting or cat poop or traffic...

Posted by laurie at 11:23 AM

July 19, 2011

Good Question

First, a little look at the weather here in The San Fernando Valley:

bob-needs-fan.jpg

Dude! It's hot!

- - -

So, Karen S. asked me a question on Twitter the other day and it really got me thinking. I mentioned something about walking and she asked:

Can you pinpoint the moment when you went from "this sucks" to "this is amazing." I can't get to the crossover point.

If we're being completely honest here, which we are, I'm not sure there is an exercise tipping point. Or if there is I haven't found it yet. Instead it's more like any activity that you have to do, it has benefits and irritations. There are days I do not want to do it. The biggest hurdle is making time for activity every single day, even for me, and I work from home. While I no longer commute three hours a day I still have to move exercise to the top of the list or else it won't happen.

There's that whole law of motion thing going on -- you know, an object that sits on its butt stays on its butt. If I miss too many days in a row I feel inertia coming on strong, so I try to keep moving even if it's just a little bit here and there. That's how I've have made the transition from sedentary to active. It was definitely a process, it did not happen overnight. It's taken me about a year to really make this my life.

The benefits are worth the trade-offs, though. All the blabby stuff everyone tells you about exercise is actually true. Stamina and fitness will improve and so will sleeping, energy levels, even blood pressure improves. But everyone already knows that stuff. Maybe it's enough to keep some people motivated every day but I need a little more.

So here's my motivation: alleviation of embarrassment. A few days ago I saw one of my neighbors in the parking lot and she was struggling with her groceries so I offered to help carry some of them up for her. We both live on the top floor of the building, up three flights of stairs. In the past I would have been huffing at the top of the stairs (and really embarrassed) but now it's no big thing at all to go up some stairs carrying heavy bags. I wasn't even out of breath. This is a major accomplishment and one I feel really happy about!

I still have a ways to go in the physical fitness arena, so when I notice improvements I hang on to them. Usually it's enough to get me out the door and on the pavement. On days when I don't feel motivated I just do it anyway and hope that motivation eventually shows up.

Has anybody else been walking and seeing improvements in your life? (Comments are open today.) I'd love to hear what keeps you going even on the days you want to stay in bed.

ALSO! Is anyone else watching Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition? If so, do you also think it is nuts to lose 150 pounds in three months? I wonder if they'll do a follow-up special later in the year to see if people are maintaining their weight. I can't imagine that would be a lifestyle anyone could sustain for long, but I guess anything is possible. The lady in last night's show looked amazing at the end. I am such a sucker for a good transformation story!

Posted by laurie at 7:42 AM

July 18, 2011

Hot pants

Today I'm nostalgic for 1980s music videos. My whole teen and pre-teen era was filled with a deep longing to be just like the girls in music videos. I remember watching Madonna sing "Dress You Up (in my love)" and desperately needing a bright paisley jacket and some purple lace leggings.

My parents did not feel the same way and I think I am still a little mad about it.

The 1980s were so colorful, especially compared to the drab head-to-toe black ensembles that have become the dress code since post-grunge. When I saw the cover of the latest Anthropologie catalog I had an immediate happy feeling about the bright green jeans.

anthropologie-jeans.jpg

In the seventh grade I owned a pair of purple jeans that I thought were the absolute ultimate in cool. Seeing the colored skinny jeans on the catalog cover reminded me of them. How I loved those purple jeans. And paisley. I was crazy for paisley and had quite the array of patterned shirts, belts and pants ("the paramecium years.") I never found a Maddonna-esque paisley jacket, though. In the 9th grade my best friend and I saved all our money for six months to buy matching jackets with a big embroidered pyramid and eyeball on the back because we thought they looked a little like Madonna's jacket in the movie Desperately Seeking Susan. I think I wore that jacket every single day the whole winter of my freshman year.

It feels like a stroke of luck that I grew up in the 1980s. For a long time I thought the return of 1980s fashion was a direct sign of mass hysteria, but now I think it's kind of cheerful and hopeful. I could definitely see myself in some purple jeans again.

Posted by laurie at 1:08 PM

July 11, 2011

Monday notes

1) Discovered this little gem at the supermarket:

arctic-zero-ice-cream.jpg

Although it tastes a lot like a carton of mashed-up fudgesicles, I love any food item that gives you the calorie count for the entire container. This is truth in advertising.

2) No matter the location or size or cost, all my Los Angeles apartments seem to go through the same boring ritual. First, the garbage disposal dies (this usually happens the first week I move in.) Shortly thereafter the A/C dies. It was really hot on Friday and my air conditioning sputtered out around 5 p.m., just in time for everyone to be closed and unavailable to fix it. By a complete stroke of luck I was heading out the door on Saturday morning to buy another fan and I saw the maintenance guy -- the same one who fixed my garbage disposal. He fixed the air conditioning, he is magic. Thank goodness, since this apartment is quite the little heatbox. If I ever decide to leave this crazy city I'm going somewhere cold.

3) Which brings me to hiberknitting. I've been on a hipster hat binge lately, and just last night completed my fourth hat while watching streaming episodes of Friday Night Lights. Jennifer got me irrevocably hooked on that show and it's perfect summer hibernation viewing.

4) The sweater, on the other hand... is stalled. I wanted a really open weave looking sweater which is a much looser gauge than the pattern and so I'm off on my row gauge (obviously) and it was too much headache for me to manipulate the math of the pattern right now. I'll figure it out some other time. Plus the yarn I picked was awfully shiny. I'm not giving up on this project but I'm not sure what I will do next on it, so for now it's on hiatus.

5) Speaking of hiatus, The Closer is back from break and starts the seventh season tonight. I didn't realize this was the final season. Oh, Brenda Leigh Johnson. I'll miss you. I have watched you in four residences at all different weird ass stages of life and you have not disappointed.

6) I think I might knit another pair of Noro gloves. I still have yarn left and I remember how much I loved that project last summer. Those gloves have probably gotten the most wear of all my handknit items, I wore them all winter long whether I needed them or not.

7) Summer also means hibernation for the bears (cats):

bob-so-exhausted.jpg

BOB NEEDS PEACE AND QUIET NOW.

Posted by laurie at 10:51 AM

July 6, 2011

Florida, part 2

Hello from sweaty Los Angeles which today feels more like Florida than I care to admit. Humidity -- you are no friend of mine. My hair loves you, though.

Today we have more pictures from my vacation to Florida where I visited with my brother and his family, chased their dog around the living room, tried new and unfamiliar things such as fried chicken sushi. I forgot to take a picture of it so you'll have to trust me on this, but one night we went out to dinner and there was sweet potato sushi (which was actually delicious) and fried chicken sushi, which was oddly confusing to my tastebuds. My brain was wondering why there was soy sauce instead of gravy. Old-fashioned brain!

But before sushi and after our drive on the beach where we DROVE A VEHICLE ON THE BEACH right next to human beings and it kind of freaked me out because it's so wrong and so right all at the same time, where was I? Oh yes, we were off to visit Ponce Inlet, Florida where we passed the beautiful Ponce De Leon Inlet Lighthouse:

fl-lighthouse.jpg
IT WAS THAT BIG.

As we were driving past the lighthouse I thought I noticed people walking around the tee-tiny-far-away top, so I asked my nephew Andrew if visitors were allowed up the lighthouse. He looked at me for half a second, then yelled, "YES!" with the excitement only ten-year-old boys and dorky aunts get about such things. My brother was a good sport, ready to see the attractions in his home turf and we were off.

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Guy and Andrew, looking cute.

The lighthouse has over 200 stairs that wind up in a tight little spiral. I'm not sure you can tell what a climb it is from this picture, but this was taken at the half-way point of the climb:

fl-lighthouse-stairs.jpg

Just for a moment in our travelogue I want to take a personal detour and tell you how excited and happy I was that I could haul my butt up 200+ stairs in a cramped little room with no air conditioning in the middle of a Florida summer day and not die. In fact I not only lived, I was perfectly fine climbing those stairs at a pretty good clip. I was a little out of breath at the top but it was the normal stuff any person should feel after climbing up a ton of stairs all at one time. I sweated like I was a human waterfall, and that was gross, but I wasn't any more winded or worked up than the average Joe and I cannot tell you how EXCITED I was about this triumph of body over couch potato nature.

It reminded me in big bold letters why I wake up every day and go for a walk no matter what: I love being able to participate in life instead of watching from the sidelines.

Waiting on the sidelines, waiting for one day, all of it becomes a habit. After a while it became my lifestyle. I don't feel sad about it or have regret or feel like I wasted time, all I feel right now is happy that I've progressed. It truly is possible to turn a sinking ship around. It doesn't happen overnight and it requires effort but it's worth every minute. There's something indescribably satisfying about saying I WANT TO CLIMB UP THAT LIGHTHOUSE AND SEE THE VIEW! and knowing that you can actually do it. And then doing it. And I appreciate it so much more now than I did before, before I started sinking.

This is personal stuff and not my most comfortable area of conversation but I tell you all this because somewhere out there someone is wondering if it is possible to get better and it is possible! As long as you are breathing there is still time. If you had seen me this time last year you would have bet cash money on my dying by stairstep #14. Sure, I still fantasize about my life "one day" and what it will be like (out of habit, mostly). I still need some work under the hood. I'm not even half way. But dammit, I am not giving up. At least I'm not a total spectator anymore.

So I figure this is why God gave me a human body, to use it to climb up a metric buttload of stairs and see the beauty of nature and feel good about being alive and then go off and eat fried chicken sushi and tell you all about it.

Back to the travelogue! Here is the view from the top of the lighthouse, so worth it:

fl-lighthouse-view1.jpg

fl-lighthouse-view2.jpg

You get rewarded for the climb -- not just with a breathtaking view -- but with a big ol' breeze that cools you off:

fl-lighthouse-top.jpg
Guy and Andrew, trying not to blow away.

"I've seen this lighthouse a hundred times from my boat," said Guy. "But I've never been inside it until just today. This is pretty darn cool, sis."

I agreed!


We stayed up there for a long while just enjoying the day. On the climb down you really notice how crazy steep the stairs are. I made the dudes pause midway so I could take a picture:

fl-lighthouse-inside.jpg

So it was a perfect vacation, a vacation full of laughing and talking and eating great food and conquering lighthouses and, just in case I didn't already mention it, driving a vehicle on a beach.

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Oh, lonely traffic cone.

Can't leave without one last look at the Puff:

fl-puff-sadface.jpg

WHY COME NOBODY LOVE PUFF ENOUGH TO GIVE PUFF BACON SANDWICH?

Posted by laurie at 4:35 PM

July 5, 2011

FOUND IT

After a week of having no idea at all where my camera had run off to with my beautiful pictures of vacation and family, I discovered it hiding in the bottom of my shoe bowl.

So many exciting things about that sentence, including "shoe bowl."

Some years ago I acquired a huge rattan bowl sculpture thingy that I originally tried to make into a cat bed with no success. Eventually it became my shoe bowl and I keep it by the front door to hold all my orangutans shoes. How my camera came to rest at the bottom of it is a mystery to all of us, even the flip flops.

And now the camera is making some weird mechanical noises when the lens opens and shuts, nice!, but nevermind all that, because I have vacation pictures to share.

For my birthday my brother Guy gave me all his frequent flier miles and I went out to visit him and his wife Kelli and their kids, Brett and Andrew. It was so much fun! Everyone scoffed at me, "Florida in June! You so crazy!" but it was a great little vacation and fun was had by all.

Many shenanigans transpired between yours truly and one Prince Andrew:

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He's ten, the perfect age. One cannot be depressed or lethargic or dumbstruck over one's momentous stupid birthday when one is clowning around and discussing Mortal Kombat with a ten year old boy. IMPOSSIBLE.

And I met Puff! This is Puff:

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Behind the scenes, Puff silently endured some beautifying for the photo shoot:

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My brother and his family live in this amazing beautiful home that would cost one bazillion dollars in Los Angeles County. Their pool has a waterfall, and it's all screened in so you don't have mosquitoes or dust or interlopers, which I think is brilliant:

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Basically it was like staying at a five-star resort without the tedious little hassle of having to pay for it. And they drove me around everywhere. By my citified "I have a view of an alley" standards, their home is out in the lush countryside. How do I know this? I present to you their intersection:

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Turtle, dude. At a crossroads. So much metaphor.

While I was there Guy took a day off work to show me the sights in Daytona Beach, which includes a beach that you can DRIVE ON. In a CAR. I don't need to tell you the forty-nine hundred reasons this is a bad idea and why it could never be legal in Los Angeles and how much traffic there would be here while people literally drove into the ocean and honked at seagulls and stuff, so I am just going to show you the pretty and also CRAZY pictures of my brother driving his enormous truck on THE BEACH.

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Tomorrow I have more pictures of beautiful coastal Florida (seriously, Florida, your beaches are pretty terrific, even though you can apparently DRIVE on them, which is nuts) and I have pictures of a lighthouse which we climbed, my first ever. It had something like seven million stairs and I was completely fine with that but did not realize until too late that very old lighthouses in Florida are not air conditioned. Whoops.

But before I go... MORE PUFF.

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Oh, the cute.


Posted by laurie at 10:15 AM

June 20, 2011

List

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Lightpost art in L.A.

So far this morning I...

1) walked 8.21 miles. Took me 2 hours, 16 minutes.

2) drank one liter of water.

3) ate 1/4 of a watermelon.

4) smelled bad.

5) showered.

6) packed up some stuff to take to the post office.

7) petted six dogs. I love walking in L.A.

8) emailed everyone I know to tell them I walked eight miles in one go and lived to tell.

9) contemplated going back to bed, having already accomplished something.

10) wrote this ditty as a placeholder.


I do have actual things to tell you about breakfasts and sweater progress and beer but all of that has to wait until I go to the post office, run some errands and buy cat litter.

Poop waits for no man, or woman.


Posted by laurie at 10:40 AM

June 8, 2011

Apparently I just woke up today and wrote a novel about walking

After I wrote all this I went back and re-read it and thought, "How do I manage to take a simple topic like sticking one foot in front of the other and turn it into a telenovela? FASCINATING."

Mad skills, ya'll. And all while wearing earplugs. More on that tomorrow, maybe, unless I kill the guy with the jackhammer first.

- - -

Reader Julie asked, "Just wondering, in terms of an exercise regimen, would you recommend just a walking regimen? And if so, about how many miles a day would you say make a real difference?"

Hi Julie! I'm probably the least qualified person in the world to be giving fitness tips -- this time last year I was a VERY out of shape, unfit, low-energy, depressed, overweight person. Then again, now I am a completely nutty but less depressed, less fat, less unfit person. So I can at least share what's worked for me.

I have been trying to get back into shape ever since my divorce. I guess I just reached a point where I knew it was now or never, and that was in June of last year. I had to make some drastic changes to my life and my schedule and I needed to get my priorities straight.

I started slow (seriously slow, like glacially slow) and plodded along from June, 2010 to August, 2010. August was just kind of a low point, no walking, nothing. I started up walking again in late September, slow at first and worked up to 30 minutes a day. In November I saw a big difference in moving from a 30 minute walk to a 45 minute walk each morning. My body changed and my mood improved dramatically and my energy level went way up. It wasn't an overnight transformation as you can see. It took five months to work up to a 45-minute walk each day and there were lots of stops and starts along the way.

Now I do about 90 minutes each morning, but I'm also trying to lose weight (not simply maintain fitness) so it works for me. This morning the weather was great (cool and cloudy) so I walked for two hours and twenty minutes! And the first three miles were uphill. CRAZY. My stamina has increased dramatically and I'm much faster. Like everyone there are days when I do less and days when I do more but I try to do something active every day, even if it's just walking to the corner and back.

Having said all that, by far the biggest change came when I added walking up and down hills! I just started that recently after my move. I have been doing this for about six weeks now and in that time my legs have become so strong that I can see a visible difference in my calves. And my fitness level has improved, too. The first few times I tried walking up the Hollywood Hills I about died. Now I do it almost every day.

Even after having one for all these years I am astonished at how well the human body works. The first day I walked uphill I could barely breathe. It gets easier and less huff-and-puff with each passing day. It's like my body has become my own personal science experiment.

The most important thing to remember is that this is a long-range thing. You don't have to walk eight miles today or ever. I started with five minutes and just kept at it.

- - -

Reader Faith wrote, "Hi Laurie! I'm so proud of you for getting all that walking in. I've been walking myself for 2 1/2 miles every day. It takes me about 45 min. So...I'm curious, how long is it taking you to walk those 8-9 miles? Sounds like lots of fun walking in the hills!"

Hi there! Oh, the hills are so beautiful. I had to move so fast I just took the first cheap place I could find that was move-in ready and I was not exactly overcome with happiness about it. But then one day I discovered how close I am to the Hollywood Hills and since that day my whole attitude has changed. It's just so darn pretty.

Right now I do the first two or three miles in the hills and it's slower going, then I switch to flat sidewalks. The current loop I'm doing is 5 1/4 to 5 1/2 miles and takes me almost exactly 90 minutes. If I add in an extra walk in the evenings it's usually just on flat sidewalks and I do about an hour (I seem to be keeping a 3.5-mile-per-hour pace on the sidewalk) so that brings a day's mileage to just over eight miles.

There was one day where I got a little turned around and walked seven miles at one time and that took me about two hours. I felt like I had just cured cancer or something. I was so excited I think I texted everyone I knew and told them about it. Then I showered and went back to bed.

Now I try to do a single long walk (about two hours) one morning a week, and it's about seven miles or just under. Today I walked just over eight miles in 2 hours 22 minutes, mixing both hills and sidewalks.

By the way -- and I know you didn't ask this -- but I completely understand that not everyone is going to be able to fit that long of a chunk into a daily routine right away. Obviously I had my own stuff going on and I personally needed to make this massive lifestyle change. I wanted to change my life and not be a morbidly obese person who was mired in depression and lived for "one day" sometime in the elusive future when I was thin and happy.

So I made changes. Therapy, walking, sleeping, cutting my expenses so I could live on less and have more time to get well. It's a process. It's absolutely working. But I'm not going to lie, it did not happen overnight. It's been almost a year and I'm still kind of in the middle of it. The difference is of course that I am now a whole lot closer to the "one day" version of me than I was this time last year.

- - -

Gaile wrote, "Laurie I am sure you told us this already, but how did you get started walking? I live in a rather hilly area, and I want to get in shape, I'm embarrassed when I am winded walking up two flights of stairs at work, but I get discouraged and honestly sometimes I get scared walking. Not of the neighborhood. Of dropping dead from being out of shape! And I'm not that overweight - maybe 20 lbs - and I work a job where I'm on my feet all the time. But I know I'm out of shape, and want to start walking and enjoying it. Would love to hear your thoughts on that. Hi to Bob and the girls!"

Good morning, Gaile! I am SO GLAD you asked this question because I have a goofy story for you. I bought the Nike sport band thing in January of 2009 and my intention was of course to get back into shape. I was still working at the bank and commuting loooong hours and I had no time to sleep or walk or do anything fun. I was very overweight and I used to get winded putting on my pantyhose. I was determined to start the new year right and do some walking before work each day.

Those New Year's resolutions. What can I tell you. I installed the Nike + thingy and the very next day I set my alarm even earlier than usual to get up and go for a walk.

I was a zombie in the morning. I laced up my new shoes and put on the wrist band and did the steps you're supposed to do to get it to track your time. Then I started my walk. Fitness! You will be mine! If I don't die on this walk!

I made it a whopping six minutes. Seriously. I walked up the sidewalk and back and after six minutes I needed to go back to bed. I was so exhausted and beaten down and out of shape. And later that day when I tried to upload my stellar walk on the computer I discovered the sensor had nothing to upload. I was so mad! I'd paid good money for that thingamajig. Plus I'd gotten up at 3:45 in the morning just to take that six-minute walk.

It took me a few days to realize that I had been walking so slow the Nike chip thought I was standing still and didn't record my walk. SO EMBARRASSING. Ah the good ole days when I was a garden slug.

I kept at it, though. After just two weeks of walking every morning I could see real improvements in my stamina and breathing and all that. Getting started was the hardest part. Staying motivated was the next hardest. For the rest of 2009 my walking went in cycles... sometimes I would get my act together and walk a lot in a month and then there would be three or four months of nothing.

As you can see it hasn't been a straight path from slug to daily walker. It took a lot of stops and starts before I got active. I had to change my whole life's structure and routine and it took time. Even right after my move in March I abandoned walking and just marinated in my own sloth for a few days. The difference now is that the periods of sloth are much fewer and shorter. MUCH shorter. What would have been a three-month spiral of doom and poor eating and depression and general couch potatoness lasted about two weeks.

During my long slow many months of start-stop I did discover two things that may be helpful to you:

1) If you walk in the mornings, a cup of coffee before the walk will make a world of difference! I usually wake up, have coffee and then go out. Just one cup of coffee makes my whole day better.

and

2) You will improve. No matter how out of shape you are the first day you will see improvements (noticeable, serious improvements) in your endurance and strength in just two weeks of walking every single day. It may be a small change but the body is sort of incredible and will surprise you.

I still think about that day when I barely made it around the block. Now I walk at least five miles every morning, half of which is uphill! And this is me we're talking about -- a former slug.


- - -

An email from reader Johnny asked, "Do you listen to music or what when you're walking?"

I'm all about the silence. And also pretty sure this makes some people cringe! No music, no tapes, no ipod, no earbuds, no audiobooks here. I use my walking time like other people use meditation. Those walks are my writing time. I compose paragraphs, work out the plot, write and re-write essays for this website all in my head while I walk. It's the closest I can get to meditating. It's also where I worked out the whole plot for my fiction book.

I've been taking two walks a day lately even when it's hot because of the LOUD CRAZYMAKING construction going on next door. Sometimes I just have to escape, so walking is my quiet time.

- - -

Canadian reader SandyB wrote, "Eight and nine miles! That is freaking awesome. Do you know that that is 12.8 and 14.5 kilometers in Canada ... isn't that the best? And then when we convert weight from lbs to kilograms my 150 lbs is 68.8 kilograms. Rock the metric it is win win!"

I LOVE THE METRIC SYSTEM! I mean listen, I'm American so I have no idea how to use it, but I love it for just the reasons you pointed out. I was on skype a while back with a friend who lives in Europe and I told him how many miles I walked then asked him to convert it to kilometers so I could sound like more of a badass. Yes, I really am that superficial.

Also, GO CANADA!

- - - -

So I love that we're all talking about and thinking about walking. There have been lots of interesting questions and chitchat and emails about walking lately. I'm certainly not an expert and Lord knows I'm not a picture of physical fitness, I'm just a regular shmoe trying to get off the couch.

Maybe that's a good perspective, though! I think if a skinny fitness instructor type told me she had just walked seven miles in one go I would not believe I could do it. But this is me we're talking about. I am carrying some good old fashioned American heft up and down those hills. I just started slow and worked up to it and didn't give up and now I can surprise even myself with my own endurance.

Walking is probably the closest I will ever get to real meditation and I like the way my brain clears out and calms down and it helps me sleep better, too. ALL that good stuff. But let's be real, I also want to lose weight and fit into my pants.

Has walking helped me lose weight? Yes. Absolutely. I saw my friend Corey a few weeks ago and she almost didn't recognize me, in a good way. But is it slow going? ALSO YES. And only now, a year later, I've started to become OK with this. I needed this time to get my mind straight and work through my stuff and I think it's been better for me in unexpected ways, going slow, adding incrementally to progress and fitness. I have had times when I've felt impatient, times when I slugged out and wanted to give up.

A few months ago I started to see how I've always associated walking (an activity I love) with weight loss (a topic I frankly hate). So that in my life walking became something I was "supposed" to do and "should" do and that sucked a lot of enjoyment out of it. In fact, I often avoided the activity all together because there is so much mental crap tied up with being fat/being a failure/not exercising enough.

Around this time I made the division between walking because it feels good and walking for weight loss. I decided that if I never lost another ounce I wanted to keep walking every day because it feels so good. And if people don't like the way I look they can stick it up their hoohah.

So yes, I have lost weight. But I am not skinny. I will probably never be skinny. People who think I need to be skinny need to find other things to worry about. I just do. not. care.

These days I walk because I like it, not because anyone is telling me to walk to lose weight. Something about that distinction has made a world of difference to my outlook.

It has been one wild year of changiness!

----


Last one, promise, about legs and pants and then some navel-gazing:

When I get back from my long walks, like this morning, I take a long, hot shower and then I rub my ankles and feet and calves with castor oil. I know it sounds like some weird old wives tale but it really works for muscle soreness and pain and stuff. And it makes your skin soft, too. I bought a bottle of castor oil at Whole Foods for about $6 and it lasts several months. If your feet or legs get sore after a long hike this may work for you. I love it.

And a few people have emailed me to say they tried the same shoes I'm using (Nike Free Run shoes) with great results. I'm so happy! I love sharing a find that works. So that got me thinking about one last thing:

Pants.

I wasn't going to write about this because it seems sort of embarrassing, but then I saw an article about some lady runner and she mentioned how important her special running shorts were (I think she called them "skins" or something) to cut down on chafing. And this lady was seriously thin and athletic, so it made me think that perhaps this is just a human body issue, not just a chub rub issue.

Last October when I really started ramping up my walking routine, I knew it was time to advance from brief 30-minute and 40-minute walks to longer walks of up to an hour or longer. But the first time I did a long walk I got some serious chafing issues halfway through the walk and had to hobble back two-plus miles home and that was a sad sight. I was just wearing regular old black track pants from Target, and the seams on my pants legs were thick double-knit bumps that rubbed and hurt.

So I went to Target and found these pants with flat seams. Now I know some of you are saying, $36 for a pair of track pants? Are you out of your mind? But hear me out.

If you pay $36 for a pair of pants that don't chafe or rub on your skin and that means you take longer and longer walks with no discomfort, then you are more likely to have better and better health from all that walking and exercising, maybe sleep better, maybe lose weight, maybe feel great. And if you keep on doing it (and don't quit because your shoes hurt or your pants rub the wrong way) you will get fitter and healthier and may even add years to your life.

Is that worth $36 to you?

This is how I've rearranged my life, and it's taken a year to get this far but it's working. I ask myself why I'm willing to spend money on Netflix or cable TV or popcorn or whatever and yet I balk at $36 for track pants. It's small things that can make a big difference.

It's been one year almost to the day that I left the bank and all those little changes have made a big turnaround. Yes, I'm poorer and I can't really afford a vacation and freelancing is uncertain. What's also true is that I'm not the same fat, sad, unhappy, lethargic, stressed-out version of me I was this time last year. I used to wake up each day already behind schedule, angry, and ashamed at what I saw in the mirror. I was depressed and I couldn't sleep and I kept breaking out in hives. Now I wake up and wonder if I should hike up the steep hill or the really steep hill, and then I think about this book I'm writing, I write, I wonder what the day will bring and I look forward to it. I have sad moments and happy moments and awkward moments, but that's normal. I'm not a broken, dispirited, gloomy woman anymore. I don't know why I'm telling you all this. Maybe I don't want you to lose hope. If I could turn the bus around I believe it's possible for anyone to do it.

It's not just about walking or eating well or doing what you love. You have to plug in, do whatever it takes to make things work harmoniously, take control of your life and body. But you already know that. I wasn't actually sure this year would work, I knew it was a risk (it still is!) but I'm here to tell you it's actually working. Somehow I managed to turn it all around. It's been slow, and it's not even over yet, but at least I am finally going in the right direction. And really, that is enough.

Posted by laurie at 12:42 PM

June 3, 2011

Question of the week

I love my reader email. Ya'll know I am pathologically opposed to giving advice until someone asks for it, and then I give them not just advice but one of my many half-cocked theories. And I have so many theories! One day I plan to write a book of all my theories. I will call it: My Head Had To Be Surgically Removed From My Own Backside!

Here is this week's email:

Hello Ma'am!

I would like to first state that this is NOT a joke. No matter how funny this may seem.

I was a born and raised southerner ( by the grace of God ) I've spend the last and only 22 years of my life in backwoods Georgia, and to be honest, I've loved every second of it. But now I find myself in a bind.

I've met this girl who happens to live in Las Vegas, and I've met her several times. Like face to face. I've been in her home and shook hands with her father.

My main question is this:

How badly does the world outside of the south suck? Is love worth moving out there to be with her? I figured you would know being a member of Dixie, then moving out west yourself.

I suppose that's it. Thank you kindly for your time and your funny knitting related stories,

Benjamin

Hi Benjamin,
I do appreciate your note. And being Southern myself I can appreciate the reason for your letter and simultaneously feel just fine being called ma'am. Even though I have a traumatizing birthday coming up in a couple of weeks. But enough about me!

Your experience moving out west will depend entirely on your attitude. I have noticed that when it comes to Southerners there are two types: hothouse flowers and kudzu. My philosophy here probably applies to all sorts of folks (New Yorkers, I am looking at you) but I only feel comfortable sharing my harebrained theories if they are based on my own experience. And I know Southerners.

Hot house flowers are fascinating, healthy, and lovely. They are also very particular about their circumstances. They like staying in the same location and dealing with a limited number of variables. They enjoy their regular meals and regular admirers. They hate being hauled out to the parched desert and shoved in a car for hours on end and dealing with pests and irritants. This does not mean there is anything wrong with them -- quite the contrary. They know exactly what they like. They know where and how they will best flourish and bloom. They very much prefer to stay in their hometown environment.

Kudzu will grow any damn where. I am kudzu. I was not the loveliest girl from my high school, or the most popular, or the most affluent. Instead, I was vigorous and determined. As soon as I could scare up the will and the way I moved out west. My life is unpredictable, and I have to clench on to any old thing sometimes. But I have seen a whole lot of this planet, beautiful, amazing things. I have met all kinds of people, I have had experiences that swerve from tremendous highs to crazyass lows but it is never boring and I never give up. Kudzo keeps creeping because it just cannot stay still very long. You can cut kudzu at the knees and next week that shit will be back on your porch.

So ask yourself, "Am I kudzo or a hot house flower?" This is not to say you are born and declared one or the other. You get to choose. I think I was born kudzu but once I landed in L.A. and acclimated (it takes a year or two) I slowly developed Hot House Flower tendencies. Now I am a prissy city person who expects everything to be just like L.A. I suck! But I sure love it here.

Now that I have gone on and on with another one of my ridiculous theories, let me break this down for you:

You are 22. Georgia will always be there. Move to Las Vegas. Throw your heart into it. Choose to be kudzu for a while. Approach it like a challenge. Get into it, visit all the amazing places in the West. Learn the lingo, eat the food, figure out how to have an open, happy attitude. You may not live there forever but while you're there you will have an adventure. And what is life without a little adventure?

Do not get this girl knocked up under any circumstances until you have been together a solid five years. I may be crazy in other areas but in this one I am spot on. Wear a condom. EVERY TIME.

Move. Be your inner kudzu. Take this on like a story you're going to tell someday back in Georgia. I have never once regretted anything I did in the name of true love. Be vigorous and determined. Best of luck to you!

xo
laurie

Posted by laurie at 2:28 PM

June 1, 2011

June first!

Just a quick list with lots of exclamation points!!:

One!
It is June first!

Two!
Vera is a miracle worker and has made lots of progress on that boho boutique sweater! You can follow all the magic here on her blog. Vera! Rocks!

Three!
Reader Dorothy said it best:

Just when you think the innernet is full of weirdos and bossy types, the good shines through in a huge flash of awesome.

AGREED!

Posted by laurie at 9:47 AM

May 28, 2011

Glamour Shots

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Perfection.

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Perfection that poops.

Posted by laurie at 9:09 AM

May 23, 2011

Book Club: The Great Gatsby

The first time I read The Great Gatsby was in high school. The next time I picked up my worn paperback copy was probably sometime in the pretentious college years when I read classics to look smart and literary but really would have preferred to be reading a grocery store paperback.

I was surprised then how little of this book I remembered when I dusted it off this go around and read it. I felt so much more connected to the story this time. Maybe it was a side effect of reading A Moveable Feast so recently, Hemingway's chapters about his relationship with Scott Fitzgerald were fascinating and after I finished that book I got caught up in a wikipedia loop reading about his life and his marriage to crazy Zelda and her life.

Jay Gatsby doesn't seem that far off to me, he's the Jazz Age precursor to the Kardashians. Or maybe it's more accurate to portray him like any number of wealthy, self-made powerful men who fall from grace in a spectacular burnout (the recent news about the IMF chief come to mind for anyone else?) I thought this novel would read like a relic but has much changed, really? Rich, bored people are the stuff of TV these days. The Real Housewives might as well be a Hamptons garden party .. OH WAIT. It kind of is one.

What stood out to me most on my re-read of this book is the way the author sculpts a scene out of words. You can feel the place. I think this is one of those books that was wasted on me as a young reader, I just didn't have the appreciation for it the first go round but I'm so happy I re-read it. It's a version of the American dream in its own underbelly kind of way.

So what did you think? Had you read the book in high school, too, and what was your impression while re-reading it? What did you think of Jay and Daisy -- sympathetic or vapid? Did the inside peek into Fitzgerald's life from A Moveable Feast enhance your impression of the story? Did you have a moment where you wished you'd been alive in the 1920s? What did you think of Nick?

And finally, did you enjoy the book? Or did it leave you feeling a little sad at the end?

Posted by laurie at 8:44 AM

May 14, 2011

A New Day

After my proclamation freeing myself, I woke up this morning feeling physically lighter. Which is not usually how I feel after a dinner of all tater tots. Lighter! Free!

Then I walked 6.94 miles this morning or so says the shoe sensor. It's all May grey and cloudy so the weather is cool and I feel like I could walk forever. While out and about I took this picture for you:

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The whole block of this sidewalk is covered in beautiful blooming bougainvillea. Before coming to Los Angeles I'd never seen this kind of flower and I still think it's one of the prettiest things about L.A.

Here is a home up in the hills with two colors of bougainvillea covering the gate:

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This morning on my walk I was thinking maybe all those people who say getting older has its benefits are right after all. Oprah says turning 40 is the best ever and all this time I suspected she was smoking a bowl or just rolling around naked in a pile of money every night. But now I see she was on to something. Perhaps this is the part of life where you decide once and for all to let your freak flag fly and you don't give a damn because you just spent 40 years playing nice and being a good girl and now you're done. DONE, I tell you.

It is so liberating! I even feel taller, people. Maybe later today I will take over a small country! I hope they have watermelon.

As promised comments will re-open in a while, probably next week (definitely for Gatsby) but with a big change, which is that we have all made a solemn pact not to tell each other how to live, who to love, where to worship, what to drive or how to be a "better" human being. There is a whole world of awesome commentation that can go on instead in that space. I am up to this challenge, I hope you are, too.

If this is any indication turning 40 is going to be EPIC. Is this what happens to women when we get older? If so I am totally into it. We will discuss this in the future, I am very interested to hear if you also just woke up one morning and discovered you'd had it up to here with being a good girl who lets people say any old thing they want at any old time. Especially Southern girls, which is a whole special flavor of repressed crazypants. Then we will write a book about it and make ONE MAGILLION DOLLARS.

Now, cat picture:

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I was born being over it, lady.

And one last flower picture. This is a rather scrummy and sketchy portion of the city and smack in the middle of it there is a wall tumbling over full of pure white roses that smell like rosewater and rain:

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I love city life.

Posted by laurie at 12:40 PM

May 13, 2011

The art project has ended. Officially.

The first online diary I started was in 1998. It was bright pink. Back then I wrote my daily essays using a pseudonym. It was a character I played, no one knew my real name. There were forums and tons of people posted messages but message boards are not quite as personal and direct as blog comments. Here there is no pseudonym, no buffer. The stuff I write on this site is personal. My name is on it. You know what I look like. The comments feel more like a conversation.

Most of the time I love that conversation. I love reading about your lives and kids and dogs and cats and shoes and what you're eating. I adore those comments because they make me feel like I have a social life! Through the blog comments I have learned about all kinds of great products and recipes and websites. I appreciate it and it makes me feel good about life and about writing. I like the way you see the world.

Then there are all the shoulds. You should do this, no you should do that, no you shouldn't clean your house so much, you have OCD and should be on medication, you're an alcoholic and should be at a meeting, you should find Christ, you should buy a new car, you should have a baby, you should leave L.A., you should you should blah blah blah.

It makes me insane. Some folks thrive on that kind of feedback. I do not. It makes me want to stab someone with a knitting needle. It makes me want to end this website and start a new website but with a fake name where I can be free to be myself and not have strangers pee on my cornflakes.

And that is absurd because I already have a great website. And most people who comment are fantastic and I love them. Why should I leave my own house because one or two or 200 people have no filter? This is nuts! So things are changing. Today. Now.

While the rational portion of my brain reminds me people are just trying to be helpful in their own way, and while I constantly remind myself not to be sensitive it isn't working. I am sensitive. The louder part of my brain says SHUT IT DOWN. It's changing the way I write and not in a good way. I self-edit in anticipation of what the naysayers and pickers and pedants will say, sometimes to the point that I give up altogether on a topic and just post a cat picture.

No more. I need to be still and quiet and real and I need to write. That's how I stay sane. In the past month and a half I lost a home, a friend, a lot of money, and now my car. That is a lot of fucking turmoil. It's perfectly normal and natural to be a little fragile when your whole life goes berserk. So listen, I have not handled the recent shoulds all that well. I'm sorry I snapped at people. I know I have been touchy. It's not your fault. This is my responsibility. I made the mistake of letting the comments stand, thinking I could will myself to be a different person that I am. And I didn't set any clear ground rules.

Most days I feel like running off to Mexico to join a cartel and wear billowly MC Hammer Pants and call myself Senorita Gatita. This is a sign that I need to settle down and clear my head. I need time spent in the pure pleasure of writing -- not worrying or defending myself or explaining myself or carefully wording things so that people don't peck at them.

I know other people are awesome at accepting all the advice of the internet. It's just not my strength. That's never going to be my movie. Let's accept it for what it is and move on.

I am no longer going to be the world's largest ongoing communal art project. It isn't working. What does work is this: you share your life, I'll share mine and let's make a pact not to tell each other what kind of car to drive or who to love or where to live or how to worship or where to volunteer. Also, let's all recognize that it's just rude to tell a woman she needs to be medicated because she likes a clean house. That is mad ridiculous, ya'll! Cleaning is great cardio!

The should chapter of this diary is officially over and done. Comments that should me will be deleted and IP addresses will be filtered. I don't need everyone to love me or agree with me or even like what I like. I do need to stop allowing crazyass finger-wagging from people I would not even ask for directions to the store. Like they say, good fences make good neighbors and this is my fence. I'm going to be in a whole new age bracket soon, this is as fine a time as any to start drawing big lines on how I allow people to talk to me.

Wow, I kind of sounded like a badass there. Go me.

And sometimes I may just want to write and not have chitchat, like now, and comments will be closed. That is not a bad thing. Not everything in life has to be a committee vote. Toni Morrison is right, she says each of us needs a place to breathe, a sacred space to cultivate and grow exactly as we wish. This is mine. I want to keep it and not have to run off and join a Mexican drug cartel and assume a new identity. Even though I do secretly think I would look awesome in some MC Hammer pants.

Posted by laurie at 10:17 PM

About comments

We need to talk.

Since everyone gets supremely interested in the comments on/off thing (and since I pretty much hate addressing it) no one ever really knows what's going on with me. So let's address it once and for all. Here is what's really going on.

I started this online diary for one reason: I love to write. I didn't write it for other people or for approval or for feedback or to start a career or a platform or to "social network" or for any reason at all other than my deep desire to blab. I love to yammer on and on about all kinds of things and I needed an outlet and that's how this particular website started. Prior to this blog, a word I still don't much like, I used to write a small, quirky online diary with no comments. That site was funny and kind of bitchy and mostly focused on how much I wanted to eat carbs and how dumb I thought the corporate dress code was. I stopped writing that website when my marriage fell apart.

Before the grumpy carb-crazed diary I wrote and managed an online magazine that was gigantic and had a huge message board community. But even with its massive size there was a buffer for me -- I wrote my daily essays using a pseudonym. It was a character I played, no one knew my real name. And message boards are not quite as personal and direct as comments. The stuff I write here is very personal. My name is on it. You know what I look like. The comments here feel more like a conversation.

Most of the time I love that conversation. I love reading about your lives and kids and dogs and cats and shoes and what you're eating. I adore those comments because they make me feel like I have a social life! Through the blog comments I have learned about all kinds of great products and recipes and websites. I appreciate it and it makes me feel good about life and about writing. I like the way you see the world.

Then there are all the shoulds. You should do this, no you should do that, no you shouldn't clean your house so much, you have OCD and should be on medication, you're an alcoholic and should be at a meeting, you should find Christ, you should buy a new car, you should have a baby, you should leave L.A., you should you should blah blah blah.

It makes me insane. Some folks thrive on that kind of feedback. I do not. It makes me want to stab Debbie Downer with a knitting needle. It makes me want to end this website and start a new website but with a fake name where I can be free to be myself and not have strangers pee on my cornflakes.

And that is absurd because I already have a great website. And most people are fantastic and I love them. Why should I leave my own house because one or two or 200 people have no filter? This is nuts! So things are changing. Today. Now.

I have tried to be graceful and accepting and shrug off the barrage of shoulds. The rational portion of my brain reminds me people are just trying to be helpful in their own way, and I remind myself not to be sensitive but it isn't working. The louder part of my brain says SHUT IT DOWN. It's changing the way I write and not in a good way. I self-edit in anticipation of what the naysayers and pickers and pedants will say, sometimes to the point that I give up altogether on a topic and just post a cat picture.

On the Friday episode of Oprah the great Toni Morrison spoke softly about her need for one sacred space that was all hers, where she was free to be herself. She said that everyone needs a small thing in life that is theirs, something they can put their whole self into. Something nobody else can dictate. And for me that's writing. Especially this website. I built it, I wrote it, I (poorly) programmed the database, I made the goofy artwork. It's imperfect and sometimes the writing is whiny or dorky or badly punctuated or way too selfhelpy but it's all mine. And I get to shape it into what works for me.

What works for me is using this online diary as an outlet, not as a forum for strangers to tell me how to live. I need to be still and quiet and real and I need to write. That's how I stay sane. In the past month and a half I lost a home, a friend and now my car. That is a lot of fucking turmoil. It's perfectly normal and natural to be a little fragile when your whole life goes beserk. I have not handled the recent shoulds all that well. I'm sorry if I snapped at people. It's not your fault. This is my responsibiliy. I made the mistake of letting the comments stand, thinking I could will myself to be a different person that I am. And I didn't set any clear ground rules. Obviously it didn't work.

I need room and quiet to settle down and clear my head so that I don't feel like running off to Mexico to join a cartel and wear billowly MC Hammer Pants and call myself Senorita Gatita.

I need time spent in the pure pleasure of writing -- not worrying or defending myself or explaining myself or carefully wording things so that people don't peck at them. I know other people are awesome at accepting all the advice of the internet but it's just not my strength. That's never going to be my movie. Let's accept it and move on.

I am no longer the world's largest ongoing communal art project. You share your life, I'll share mine and let's make a pact not to tell each other what kind of car to drive or who to love or where to live or how to worship or where to volunteer. Also, let's all recognize that it's just rude to tell a woman she needs to be medicated because she likes a clean house. That is mad ridiculous, ya'll! Cleaning is great cardio!

That should stuff is now over and done. Those comments will be deleted and IP addresses will be filtered. I don't need everyone to love me or agree with me or even like what I like. I do need to stop allowing crazyass comments from people I would not even ask for directions to the store. I'm going to be in a whole new age bracket soon, this is as fine a time as any to start drawing big lines on how I allow people to talk to me.

Wow, I kind of sounded like a badass there. Go me.

And sometimes I may just want to write and not have chitchat. That is not a bad thing. Not everything in life has to be a committee vote. Toni Morrison is right. Each of us needs to have a place to breathe, a sacred space to cultivate and grow exactly as we wish. This is mine. I want to keep it and not have to run off and join a Mexican drug cartel and assume a new identity. Even though I do secretly think I would look awesome in some MC Hammer pants.

Posted by laurie at 7:55 PM

May 12, 2011

8.72 miles

Yesterday I walked 8.72 miles. I got in a little over five miles in the morning and the rest last night. It wasn't a personal best (that happened on Sunday when I got in just over nine miles) but it's memorable because yesterday afternoon I went for a walk when what I wanted to do was melt into a wineglass. And I even broke into a little jog, which may tell you about the energy I am trying to burn off over here. Later I got to pet a big furry dog on the walk back to my apartment.

- -

Oh! A few days ago reader Lisa T. asked:

Since you mainly walk for fitness, have you tried any of the new toning kind of sneakers? I got a pair and love them. My legs are getting a work-out and they are really comfy (tho they take getting used to.) My daughter asked for a pair and she likes them too. There are a couple of places online that have them at pretty good discounts too.

Hi Lisa!
I've seen those commercials for the toning sneakers and they look so interesting. But I haven't tried them, actually when it comes to walking/running I go the opposite direction -- I wear the Nike Free Run, which is about as close as you can get to a barefoot running shoe without going all the way into Vibram five-finger territory. I am VERY happy with the Nike Free Run shoes, they give me just the right amount of structure but without the bulk of a traditional trainer. I made this switch back several months ago after I injured my ankle (at that time I was still wearing the more traditional Nike Air Max sneaker which has a thick, ultra-stable base).

My acupuncture doctor was the one who turned me on to the Nike Free shoes. I'm paraphrasing here but the theory is that a shoe with less heft and structure can work your foot in a more natural way and strengthen your ankles and tendons and stuff. I figured it was worth a try.

I can't verify scientifically that any of this is true and of course everyone has different feet and a different life and disclaimer disclaimer, but the Nike Free shoes have absolutely worked for me! My ankle is stronger and my feet are stronger. My whole stride has changed and evened out and the shoes are so LIGHT it's crazy. They weigh practically nothing. I LOVE THEM.

Another big and surprising benefit of switching to these shoes has been the total disappearance of all blisters. I used to get a weird blister right in the pad of my foot below my big toe anytime I walked over four miles at one time. I just assumed it was because my feet had to get used to walking that much but when I changed shoes all my blisters disappeared. And my feet don't get tired so quickly, I think it might be because the shoes are so light.

They take a little getting used to but now I am a total convert to the Nike Free thing. Since I do almost all my walking on uneven city streets they offer just enough protection from the road and rocks but still give the kind of workout you'd get from being (almost) barefoot. And of course I get to use my Nike+ Sport Band because I am a nerd and love to know my mileage, time and calories burned and I like to see it uploaded in a neat graph format. Honestly that sportband was the best fifty bucks I ever spent. I've had it for two years now and boy has it held up. One day when I am flush again (Dear Universe, soon, please) I might ante up and get the newer fancier GPS version (nerd alert! I love to map my walks!) but for now I am quite happy with what I have.

Also, apparently I am very passionate about my shoes. Sorry for the Novella of Nike. Thanks for the note!! I'm glad you like your shoes, too!

- -

Yesterday Frankie found The Spider. The Spider was in a box that I unpacked and when I got it out I thought, "Do I need to keep this? Do they even want to play with this weird toy anymore?" The Spider is a big uglyass Halloween decoration with long legs that you can pose. I've had it for a few years. It was in a closet at my other apartment and I kind of forgot about it.

But I guess we're keeping The Spider. Frankie was all over it yesterday, she was killing it:

franklin-spider1.jpg


Then she got some help:

franklin-spider2.jpg


But she vanquished him and later fell asleep still hugging that spider. Until I woke her up for the picture:

franklin-spider3.jpg


Cats!

Posted by laurie at 6:53 AM

May 11, 2011

Gratuitous Cat Picture Wednesday

This week has been mad unstable so instead of transcribing what I hope is the last of my run of bad luck, I have decided instead to post pictures of stuff I like. Take that, Suckadelelic Universe. Anyway what I am thinking here is that things will either make a turnaround real soon (as things do) OR I will be writing my next dispatch from the remote badlands of Sinaloa where I will have run off to to join a drug cartel and write narcocorridos that feature bad 1980s hiphop slang. Represent!

STUFF I LOVE


I love all the bougainvillea growing wild in alleys and on hillsides in Los Angeles:

bouganvilla.jpg


I love the greasy spoon breakfast and pretty much everything about Dupar's:

dupars.jpg

I love looking up for no reason at all except maybe feeling like someone is watching me and seeing a cat chilling on the second floor window ledge:

cat-in-upstairs-window.jpg

And speaking of felines, I love my fur-wearing sentries who keep all the windows here secure and well-watched at all times:

cats-on-patrol.jpg
(Notice my awesome pile of boxes in the background. Decorating. It's a modern art installation, people.)

There is a lot going on across the alley, this new nemesis has proven especially daunting:

nemesis2.jpg


Bob has it under control:

cats-on-patrol2.jpg

What do you love today?

Posted by laurie at 9:43 AM

May 6, 2011

Friday Q&A & Cat

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At ease, everyone.

A few recent reader questions:

• On the subject of decluttering, reader Connie asked, "I'm puzzled because no one has mentioned selling/yard or garage sales. Does no one do that any more?"

Hi Connie! I love yard sales. It's what I think of as Southern Recycling. I used to have yard sales from time to time when I lived in that little house in Encino-adjacent and had a yard. There are a lot of similarities between this re-adjustment and that one, like moving from a larger space to a much smaller space. But there's one big difference -- no yard! There's just no logical or appropriate place for something like that out here. And it's fine, I like the slower pace of filling up a bag or a box and putting it aside for charity. But I'm pretty sure there are still plenty of folks out there saling the yard!

- - -

• Reader Margot wrote: "I was mystified about why you were keeping either of the fondue pots or the saws. Going from 2 of each to 1 of each still seems like a giant waste of space and energy toward managing STUFF since you don't need either."

Good morning, Margot! The simplest answer I can give you is this: my goal is not to live a spartan, austere life with no decoration.

I love that cool, 1960s atomic-age fondue pot. It's awesome. It makes me laugh when I think about it and it looks fantastic displayed in my home.

The purpose of decluttering in my life is to fit better into my much smaller home, have less overall stuff to move next time and fewer piles of stuff to clean. For me, that means letting go of things that don't make me happy and letting go of things I can easily borrow elsewhere or do without to make room for the things I love.

There were a few commenters who mentioned they were able to get their entire collection of worldly possessions into two suitcases. Two suitcases! I found that astonishing, and while I was intrigued by it I know I am not someone who ever wants to carry my life in a suitcase or two. BEEN THERE. Maybe my childhood turned me into a person who wants to nest and have things, my poor shrink has her work cut out for her. All I know is that for me a two-suitcase life is not the goal. I enjoy all the worldly pleasures that God created, including decorative kitchenware.

The trick is to find a balance here in my home. My goal is no mystery piles, no stuffed closets, no duplicates, no huge unused items hulking in the corner (treadmill, I'm looking at you.) It's a far cry from austerity, but everyone works at their own pace.


- - -

Janice asked, "I wonder what your thoughts are on Kindles or ebooks? We share a great love for books... I'll never give up reading, but the thought of being able to store thousands of books on one device is very appealing. Then again, I don't know that I want to give up the paper version, or having a bookshelf full of my favorite books to display."

Janice, you and I are sharing a mind meld on this one! I love my paper books, too. This move showed me with a big blazing neon sign that I have to re-think my book strategy. I personally buy books as my way to support authors (my choice for obvious reasons.) But I can't move that many boxes of books again. So I'm still going to buy books (OK, if I ever become flush again, which I will, fingers crossed, and until then will read the massive pile of unread books from my own shelves) and when I finish a book I am going to do my very best to pass it along, either to my grandma or mom or the library.

And I'm going to embrace the eBook. I haven't figured out which reader to go with and it doesn't matter since I wouldn't be buying one right this second anyway. But I am getting on that train. This moving business is crazymaking, but if it helps prod me up the technology food chain I think it's not that bad.


- - -


• Reader Cathy in Wisconsin writes, "Just the paranoia coming out, but do you ever find it dangerous walking in the Hollywood hills? I would have a taser in one hand and a can of pepper spray in the other. This is coming from someone who lives in rural Wisconsin though!"

Hello Cathy! This question is timely as I am just about to hit "send" on this entry and lace up my shoes for a climb up into the hills.

I don't find it dangerous territory, the movie stars and labradoodles of the Hollywood Hills are fairly well-behaved. There is the occasional wild-eyed murder suspect running around but you know in advance because of the throng of helicopters hovering overhead.

The Hollywood Hills are spectacular, probably one of my favorite areas in the city. I love the houses barnacled to the hillsides, the strange architecture, winding dead-end roads and odd landscaping choices. I love the views! And the dubious human flotsam down at street level in Hollywood doesn't seem interested in making the trek uphill so it's surprisingly peaceful. When you come visit from Wisconsin be sure to spend a morning driving around the Hills.

Unless you see a throng of helicopters overhead.

- - -

Have a happy weekend filled with decorative fondue pots or similar!


catpants-friday.jpg

Cat pants crack me UP.

Posted by laurie at 8:27 AM

May 5, 2011

C'mon shake your body baby do that conga, know you can't control yourself any longer

My little offhanded mention of the TV show Extreme Couponing had so many folks talking about the show that I decided I had to watch an episode or two. Ever the TV overachiever I tuned in for a couple of episodes last night and once I got past my initial disappointment that it was not a show about people cutting coupons while skydiving, motorbiking or climbing Everest I was unable to look away. I wanted to hate the show -- the sheer overuse of the word "couponing" alone predisposed me to dislike it -- but it was oddly riveting.

The first episode I caught featured a single mom in Chicago who seemed really normal and frugal and lovely. It also followed a cute young newlywed couple who used a bazillion coupons to buy a truckload of crap for FREE and then they donated the whole load to charity. I liked them a lot. And they didn't just say they were going to donate it, you actually see them doing it. Not the case with one of the other shows where a woman vaguely mentioned the idea of donating one of her eleventeen hundred tubes of toothpaste but you got the distinct feeling she was never letting go of one item.

They may be hoarders but, wow are they organized. And I kind of admire that commitment even though I can't wrap my mind around purchasing or carrying or storing 900 bottles of liquid detergent. I can barely find space for an extra roll of toilet paper here in Apartment Of Unspecified Location. Mostly though I was shocked to learn that some of these folks spend well over thirty hours a week clipping, sorting and fussing with their coupons! This says more about me than the coupon fanatics but the first thought that popped into my brain was, "Thirty hours! You could be writing a novel, lady!"

Overall it was fascinating, though. One gal bought 93 bags of croutons for free with her coupons and nary a head of lettuce in the bunch. Listen, I love me some croutons. But even a loyal and devout crouton fan such as myself can't eat 93 bags of crunchified bread without some salad. But I couldn't hate on her, she seemed so ridiculously happy with her croutons. Whatever floats your boat. It did strike me that this whole couponing/hoarding situation seems like a distinctly North American thing. What do you think?

Yesterday it was hot as the scorching surface of the sun here in Los Angeles so while I watched my reality TV I did a little knitting. To be more accurate I did a little reknitting. When I first started down this wild road paved with so many skeins of wool I had just no idea what I was doing. Honestly. And I knew that everyone said not to knit a heavy scarf in stockinette because it would allegedly roll into a long tube. Yeah, yeah yeah. Why I thought the rules of physics and alchemy and stockinette did not apply to me is a mystery of my id. Oh the bravado of new crafters! So I knitted myself a longass stockinette scarf with big ol' pompom ends and sure enough I got myself a tube to end all tubes:

stockinettetube.jpg

The pompoms rock, though.

I carefully unfastened the big poms from the tube and started unknitting the tube and reknitting it into a perfect garter stitch scarf. I don't care how uncultured and uninteresting you think I am, I love me some garter stitch. This is a perfect project for a little afternoon knitting. It makes more sense that I would spend my winters knitting wool items that I can't wear here in my beloved city because it never really gets cold enough to require more than a windbreaker anyway. BUT I prefer to knit in the summer. It's my thing. I like hibernating in the heat of the day with sticks, strings and a furry yarn-holder-downwer:

stockinettesoba1.jpg

stockinettesoba2.jpg

stockinettesoba3.jpg

Aw, I love her.

Posted by laurie at 12:57 PM

May 4, 2011

Bits and Bobs

BITS

There has been so much going on in my TV life! There was of course the Royal Wedding and then the big international Navy SEALS Are Hot news and those crazy real housewives of New York. This is turning out to be a great May sweeps season. I love teevee.

Oh, speaking of New York... have you seen this video on youtube of a woman living in a 90 square foot apartment in Manhattan? I find New Yorkers to be utterly fascinating, like they are from another world. Apparently no one ever cooks in New York City and everyone uses the oven for storage. All I know about New York I have learned from TV and TV never lies.

And there is new Obesity TV, you know I never miss a moment of that. Have you been watching Addicted To Food on OWN? You could not pay me a bazillion dollars to get in front of a camera or sit in a group and talk about my mommy issues but it does make for oddly voyeuristic TV. Also, is it true that there is a television program called Extreme Couponing? Does it feature people with gigantic scissors cutting coupons while skydiving? This is what I imagine.

The most interesting interview I've seen in a long time was yesterday's Oprah show with Shania Twain. Half the time I was thinking, hello! She went through my divorce! Except of course I did not live in a Swiss Chalet. And I didn't personally know the other woman. And also I am not a famous country singer. But still! Such similar emotions. After I saw the interview I recorded a season pass to Shania Twain's new docu-reality-show also on OWN. Oh Oprah Winfrey, you and your network will keep me happily indoors on hot days.

LIKE TODAY.
It's going to be 97 degrees today! Summer came on early and strong! If you're not watching TV it's perfect weather to go to the beach with a book, and my book of choice is of course The Great Gatsby, our book club selection for May. Don't forget to come back on May 23rd to talk about the book! You still have time, it's a very slim little novel and you can read it in a weekend. And you'll feel smart at parties. "What did you do last weekend?" "Oh, just the usual, made spaghetti, did a little shopping, read The Great Gatsby, worked on a cure for cancer."

May 23rd! Great Gatsby Book Club Discussion!

OTHER STUFF

Reader Johann wrote: Can you do a blog post on tips for moving REALLY fast? I'll bet you learned something from your sudden move.

Well, I did learn many things and although I'm not sure how useful they will be I am happy to share.

1) When you have to move FAST -- even if you hate it and don't want to do it and have all kinds of emotional issues about it -- the priority is to move first, fall apart majestically later.

2) The essentials are: find new place, switch utilities, get your mail forwarded (you can do it online), get boxes and tape, get packed, get moving. I didn't have time to sort and file and pare down before the move and I didn't have time to be super organized and color code or label boxes and in fact I didn't even have time to clean this new apartment before moving into it. BUT I LIVED. Take care of the essentials and the rest will follow.

3) Get busy. The natural human tendency is to sit in the closet and gnaw on your arm but the process will go much easier if you just 100% commit to the move and get it done. You can even make a nice running list of stuff to complain about later, and stuff to worry about later. Resist the urge to huddle in a ball under the covers. Pack a box instead.

4) The world will keep spinning on its axis if you just throw all your stuff randomly into boxes. It won't be the easiest move but you will live.

5) Pack one suitcase or special box or bag with your underwear and REMEMBER WHICH ONE IT IS.

6) Ask the movers to move your fridge out last and in first so you can get it plugged in as quickly as possible. (I didn't have time to even clean out my fridge before the move and still, I lived!) (Of course maybe where you live apartments come with refrigerators. Not so in the city of Angels.)

I guess what I am saying here is that even if your move is unexpected and awful and afterward you have to go to therapy twice a week like some people and hide in your closet and cry into a pizza, it's OK. After the big sucking part you will, in time, manage to figure out a new normal. This is not comforting in the moment and probably not helpful during the move. But I figure if an OCD control enthusiast such as myself can do a massive throw-it-together move completely by herself in two-and-a-half days (except for the actual day of the move I hired some guys) and still be standing upright then anyone can do it.

(Wow that last sentence was crazy convoluted. Take that, editors of the world!)

A move doesn't have to be perfectly organized or plotted three months in advance or carefully coordinated. Yes, that would be ideal. But sometimes you just have to go with it and make the very best of what you've got.

I think that's what I learned from this whole experience. There was a part of me that deeply wanted to push against it and resist it and dig my heels in and complain like it was the World Olympic Complaining Marathon. But the very best course of action for me was to go with the flow, accept the reality, get it done and deal with the fallout later. It's been a few weeks now and I'm still worried about how much this cost and I still can't quite fit my sofa in my new living room in any configuration that makes sense, but I'm alive. I'm alive and I have a roof over my head and I finally got the yarn unpacked.

Hope your move goes well. Use the cheapy brown tape instead of the clear moving tape -- it's stickier and works better.

- - -


And now for BOBS:

awwwbob1.jpg

awwwbob2.jpg

Posted by laurie at 9:27 AM

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:

watermelon-breakfast.jpg

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.

hollywood-hills-view.jpg

(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.

- - -


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.

- - -

Mysterious Lump On A Friday:

mysterious-lump.jpg


Lump, Uncovered:

mysterious-lump-unmasked.jpg

Posted by laurie at 10:49 AM

April 26, 2011

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

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.

- - -

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.

- - -


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.


- - -

Comments are not available on this entry.

Posted by laurie at 5:33 AM

April 18, 2011

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.

- - -

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 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 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

March 31, 2011

Happy Birthday, Al Gore

Dear Al Gore,

Happy 63rd birthday! If we go by the Official Law Of Dating Ages, whereby one can date anyone who is at least half your age plus eight, I am inside the safety zone so we can go out. Tomorrow! Call me!

Love,
Laurie

P.S. I just bought a new catalytic converter for the Jeep so it could pass the California emissions test. And GUESS WHAT! Today when I got the (hot, sexy, RED) Jeep re-tested my studmobile not only passed smog testing but its emissions had also fallen below the state averages. I believe I am practically producing pure oxygen from the tailpipe of that sexy little ride. Just think it through. We could be so good together.

P.P.S. Plus I am already completely packed up and could move again, like tomorrow. Love!

Posted by laurie at 3:23 PM

March 23, 2011

It's raining nuts and coconuts

While I tend to suck at fulfillment -- not the hippy dippy kind of fulfillment, but the prize-in-mailbox type -- I just got back from an hourlong marathon at the post office and books have been sent, packages mailed, little notes enclosed!

The winners were:

Monday: Ami Ami Dogs: Seriously Cute Crochet
Winners: Katrina in MA, Melba in TN
Pending: Annie in Norway who needs to check her email!!!

Tuesday: A Knitting Wrapsody
Winners: Janet in NY
and commenter Denise L (at 11:52) who needs to check her email!!

Wednesday: Knitting Block by Block: 150 Blocks for Sweaters, Scarves, Bags, Toys, Afghans, and More
Winner: Rebecca in Washington

Thursday: The Art of Knitted Lace: With Complete Lace How-to and Dozens of Patterns, Warm Knits, Cool Gifts: Celebrate the Love of Knitting and Family with more than 35 Charming Designs, Cables Untangled: An Exploration of Cable Knitting
Winner: Tracy in VA

Friday Bookfest giveaway: One Ball Knits Purses: 20 Stylish Handbags Made with a Single Ball, Skein, Hank, or Spool, One Ball Knits Gifts: 20 Stylish Designs Made with a Single Ball, Skein, Hank, or Spool, Jil Eaton's Knitting School: The Complete Guide to Becoming a Confident Knitter, 60 Quick Knits: 20 Hats*20 Scarves*20 Mittens in Cascade 220, Drunk, Divorced & Covered in Cat Hair and Home Is Where the Wine Is
Winner: Ethel in California

Thanks again to all the people who played along!

- - -


It's raining again. And I have a philosophical question for you which is not weather-related but seems to fit in with the soggy forecast.

How you deal with crazy stuff? Do you run and hide or do you try to take a stand and hope that truth and sanity will prevail?

I'll be honest, I'm of the run and hide variety. It's not that I'm a coward (much) but that I don't like getting into the mud. I'm Southern at the core, just hoping people will mind their manners and be polite. But sometimes you get dragged into a thing. What do you do then? Pray? Drink? Knit a cloak of invisibility? All of the above?

I know this is sketchy on details, and one day later I will tell you the very true story of March 23rd, 2011. I've just had a hard day and right now I kind of wish I had superpowers, like a lasso of truth and some kind of justice ring. I would even settle for a jetpack to make a speedy exit. But all I have are these cats and my excellent selection of curling irons.

What a day, folks. What a day.

Posted by laurie at 2:37 PM

March 22, 2011

Catch Up

1) We had a storm and my cable and internet both went out, and that was sad, and somehow I feel behind on all things in my life, and then the sun came out, and now I have a to-do list twelve feet long. Not sure what happened!

2) There is an inspection today in my building and people are milling around all over the place and I wonder if the CIA is about to bust in and take over this Russian Spy Ring I call home.

3) Since there was no cable I watched all he Bourne DVDs last night, might explain # 2 there.

4) I have to vacuum.

5) This is just a stopgap post to fill space until I can sit down.

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Cat Pants!


Posted by laurie at 11:49 AM

March 18, 2011

Final Freebie Book Day: So many books, so little time!

I just love any headline that ends with an exclamation point. So professional. (!!!)

Today we wrap up the big week of knitting book giveaways with a big pile of knitting awesomeness (and two drunken masterpieces by yours truly.)

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All six books go to one lucky winner!

One Ball Knits Purses: 20 Stylish Handbags Made with a Single Ball, Skein, Hank, or Spool by Fatema, Khadija, and Hajera Habibur-Rahman

One Ball Knits Gifts: 20 Stylish Designs Made with a Single Ball, Skein, Hank, or Spool by Fatema, Khadija, and Hajera Habibur-Rahman

Jil Eaton's Knitting School: The Complete Guide to Becoming a Confident Knitter by Jil Eaton

60 Quick Knits: 20 Hats*20 Scarves*20 Mittens in Cascade 220

Drunk, Divorced & Covered in Cat Hair and Home Is Where the Wine Is by Ye Olde Crazypants

Quick overview and credit:
Watson-Guptill publishes such great knitting books, the one-ball series is my favorite, though, because there are so many cute ideas for using up that one last skein in your stash. The Cascade 220 book (60 Quick Knits) surprised me with how much I loved it -- there are tons of fun projects in this book and it's a keeper for any knitter. I highly recommend it! Thanks to the folks at sixth&spring for sending this copy. Potter Craft sent the Jil Eaton book, fantastic for new knitters and a good reference for anyone who likes sticks and string. Jil Eaton has a way of explaining complicated techniques in real words that make sense. And of course there are my two tomes thrown in there for good measure. It's quite a pile of books for your knitting shelf!

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Just so you do not believe all hope is lost in the world, I'm going to let you in on a secret. I still have a few other books set aside to give away later so all the giving goodness has not been depleted. Maybe we can do that next month.

RULES
To be eligible to win, post a comment in the comment section of this entry. Comments will close tomorrow. Winner(s) chosen at random and notified by email. Good luck!

NOTE
If you want to win you need to include a valid email address with your comment. IF you do not want your email address to show up beneath your comment name, you must enter some web address in the URL field. This is internet tomfoolery! I'm sorry I am bad with the code. Anyway, you can just type http://www.crazyauntpurl.com in the URL if you want.

ALSO!
If you don't want this book but still want to comment by all means please do, but let me know you aren't interested OR just leave off your email address.

- - -

I'M A CHATTERBOX

Girly topic of the day: Rimmel London Mascara
Have you seen the ads for this mascara on TV? It promises to make your eyelashes gloriously reminiscent of the swingin' sixties. It's called Lash Accelerator Mascara and cute Zooey Deschanel is the spokesmodel for the line. Have you tried it? I like the idea. I don't wear much makeup but I like mascara as it is the bane of the blonde existence to have light eyelashes. I'm curious if I buy this product will I turn into Twiggy? Or, better yet, Zooey Deschanel?

Hope springs eternal.

My wise friend Jennifer has a wonderful attitude about what we should and shouldn't splurge on in these scary recession belt-tightening times. "Don't deny yourself the nailpolish or similar," she advises. ""This is equivalent to ladies splurging on lipstick in the war days. So much impact for so little cash." And I agree!


- - -

Speaking of Jennifer, last night she emailed me a story that I now must share with you. It sparked much debate between us. You can read it here and then come back to weigh in. (Story opens in a new window.)

Jen, being the smart and glamorous lawyer that she is, was intrigued that Game Warden Travis Buttle had spoken to two people on East Street, but not McDonald, about the squirrel. I agreed with her from a legal perspective that this seems like quite a lapse in his investigation.

YET. The core of our lengthy (really lengthy) discussion was about how we both felt sorry for the squirrel. In fact I believe I very much over-identify with the animal, as I myself have felt like clawing and biting people after times in my life of deep betrayal.

The squirrel and I both need help, it seems. Loose cannons abound.

- - -

Claire Griffiths asked, "What is the next book for the bookclub?"

Hi Claire! I haven't picked it yet. Next week! Promise! Did you have something specific in mind? I'm leaning toward The Great Gatsby. It's short and it's something we've all been saying we need to re-read for a while. What do you think?


- - -

Theresa P. writes, "Those Noro gloves ... so matchy-matchy. Impressive. How come my Noro always has some wacky color from out of nowhere right in the middle of my otherwise normal color runs?! (Not to mention the knots.) Me and Noro -- not always the best of friends.

Theresa, I have become so neurotic about the Noro. It's partly my personality but also I think something about the colorways brings out the crazy. I honestly searched all the way through the skein to find a matching colorway for the second glove. AND then when it seemed the yellow was going on a bit too long, I snipped the yarn, reconnected it and started knitting again. I am NUTS. Seriously.

- - -

Mo said, "I've noticed that there are more pictures of the Himbo than the girls. Is it just because he's a total ham for the camera? Or that he's always around for the attention?"

Bob, a true Himbo if ever one existed, is most often the target of my camera because he is my constant little shadow. His favorite thing (other than eating Greenies) is helping me write:

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This is my workspace: computer, cat, keyboard. Awesome. If I could teach him to program a database we'd be in business. Below is a shot from earlier in the week. It's my current favorite picture! I love that the magical combination of lighting, focus and adorableness came together all at one time:

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- - -

Well, there you have it. A week of freebies! Thanks so much to everyone for playing along. I personally have been a little stressed out (read: sometimes in panic) about current world events and it's so nice to read all your witty comments and hear about your pets, kids, your philisophical stance on nailpolish, and your entrelac feelings. There's a calm reassurance to it all. I do read every single comment and I appreciate all the chitchat. Just brightens up the whole day!

Good luck for the win!

Posted by laurie at 9:08 AM

March 17, 2011

Thursday's Books: Knitted Lace, Warm Knits Cool Gifts, and Cables Untangled

This week of freebie books has been fun, can't believe it's already Thursday! Today I'm giving away two new titles and one tried-and-true:

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The Art of Knitted Lace: With Complete Lace How-to and Dozens of Patterns featuring patterns by Kristin Omdahl, Lisa Llloyd, Annie Modesitt, Phoenix Bess, Berta Karapetyan, and Melissa Matthay

Warm Knits, Cool Gifts: Celebrate the Love of Knitting and Family with more than 35 Charming Designs by Sally Melville

Cables Untangled: An Exploration of Cable Knitting by Melissa Leapman (NOTE: The version I'm giving away today is the hardcover original, not the paperback in the amazon.com link)

The first two books mentioned are fairly new releases. The cables book is a classic, this is the hardcover version. All three books will go to one winner. Much love to Potter Craft for the books and for the general awesomeness that is the Potter Craft world.

RULES
To be eligible to win, post a comment in the comment section of this entry. Comments will close tomorrow. Winner(s) chosen at random and notified by email. Good luck!

NOTE
If you want to win you need to include a valid email address with your comment. IF you do not want your email address to show up beneath your comment name, you must enter some web address in the URL field. This is internet tomfoolery! I'm sorry I am bad with the code. Anyway, you can just type http://www.crazyauntpurl.com in the URL if you want.

ALSO!
If you don't want this book but still want to comment by all means please do, but let me know you aren't interested OR just leave off your email address.

- - -


LET'S CHITCHAT

Polished nails
I stopped polishing my nails when I stopped getting acrylics. About four years ago I had beautiful fake Southern-girl acrylic nails, oh I loved them. One day I went for a fill and something went very, very wrong. Within days my beautiful long nails turned icky colors reminiscent of the bayou swamps of my youth. NOT GOOD.

Mostly I was terrified of my fingers falling off since typing is my life. I woke up in a panic one night wondering how on earth I would type if all my fingers rotted off and the next day I returned to the shop crying and freaking out and made them remove the acrylics (and it HURT) and I never went back. It took months for all that crap to grow out but my fingers did not fall off as you probably guessed. Drama queen that I am.

Now I just keep my nails clipped very short and plain. But last week something came over me and I painted my nails. This week I even bought new nail polish, a garish and quite awful race-car yellow color that I rather like. Something about having polished nails makes me feel girlier, in a good way. (Though not good enough to take a picture of my stubby man hands and post that on the internet, so it seems.) Where do you stand on the nail polish situation?

- - -

Pawdua says, "I know you don't like to speak in public but too bad you couldn't go to all the Stitches and have a meet the author class and get paid. Then all your blog fans could meet you."

Hi Pawdua! I am really quite terrible at public speaking, and also don't leave the house much, but if that combo is intriguing to you AND if you're local you are in luck! I am doing two back-to-back events in one weekend next month which is almost unheard of with me. The first is Friday, April 8th at the RT Convention (my friend Rachael and I are doing a panel together) and on Saturday, April 9th I'll be at Literary Orange for a memoir panel. I think my session starts at 1 p.m. and there will be some chitchat time at the end.

Hope to see you there. I'm extra-rusty from doing no publicity for over a year so Lord only knows what ridiculous things will exit from my mouth. Fun for the whole family! If the whole family is over 18...

- - -

Courtney asked, "What happens to all of your finished knitting projects? Do you wear them or give them away? I love the act of knitting but often find that after I've finished I just store it away (or give it away). Do you find the same?"

Hi Courtney. Like you, I give away most of the stuff I knit or pack it away in a drawer. I really love the activity of knitting but unless I move to Siberia I will never be able to wear most of this stuff. I enjoy giving gifts so it works out. I do keep my handknit Noro gloves in my purse, though, because sometimes my hands get cold and they are by far the best thing I've ever knit. They make me happy just to look at them.

- - -

Rebecca asked, "Have you been to Michael Levine's lately? Now that I'm not living in LA, I so miss that store!"

You know, I haven't been to the garment district in a long time but I still have some fabric here at home from my last trip to Michael Levine's! My sofa pillows are looking a little on the tragic side, so maybe I should give them new slipcovers for spring. I'll keep you posted.

- - -

Kim wrote, "I just finished a book I thought you might like: The Magician's Assistant. Have you read this? It talks a lot about L.A. You would probably be more familiar with some of the places than I was."

Kim, that book is one of the best novels I have ever read. I LOVED IT. (I wrote about it here.) I could feel the main character's love of this city, and I thought the story itself was a page-turner.

Here's a funny tidbit, your comment made me think of this. So, as most of you know I'm writing my first fiction book and fiction is a whole new world for me, nothing at all like memoir or essay writing. When I initially dreamed up the plot I didn't understand how much more difficult it is to make up a story than just put a funny spin on some real-life thing that happened. ANYWAY. My main character is Southern but she relocates midway through the book. When I first sketched out the bones of the plot I thought she should move to Boston. Boston. A city I have never even visited once in my lifetime.

It's one thing to make up a fictional realm and populate it with your creativity, but it is a whole 'nother ball of wax to write a fiction story set in a real city. One afternoon I remember thinking, "Hmmm, my Boston looks an awful lot like the Valley."

That was the moment I put down the winesack and grew some common sense and now my character relocates to Sherman Oaks. Seriously. What was I thinking?

- - -

Donna writes, "I have only been knitting for a year and love it. I was hoping your blog would be more of a knitting blog."

Well, Donna, I really hear you on this one. I was hoping my blog would be more of a Gets-Married-To-Al-Gore blog. Failing that, I would have settled for a blog about moving to Paris and becoming a taller and sexier version of me who is also a spy. As you can imagine, I am as disappointed as you are. Luckily tomorrow is a new day and anything could happen!

Like you, when I first started knitting I was just on fire with it and I wanted to read all about knitting and mostly I wanted to talk all about it. I think I have calmed down considerably in this area. I do still knit, though, and one day I plan to write a rockin' entrelac tutorial so don't give up on me altogether. Plus if I marry Al Gore you can read about our hot eco-love. And that may involve hot eco-yarns. Because I am creative that way.

- - -


Judy wrote, "I have noticed that your writing style has become wonderfully relaxed over the past few months. You no longer seem so frantic."

That is perhaps the nicest thing I have heard in ages. Thank you! I do feel less frantic and crazed and anxious. Things are different and stressful in new ways now, but in general I feel happier.

I never want to go back to that version of me, the one who can't sleep or breathe or enjoy anything. That's not living. I used to get so tied up in knots just from the smallest things, I was wound up tighter than a sprocket. The littlest thing made me feel defeated or angry -- a snarky note, missing the bus, someone cutting me off on the 101.

Now I don't really get all that riled up anymore. Yesterday I was in traffic and there was a lady next to me honking and gesturing and carrying on because I had the nerve to merge onto the freeway. In the past I was that crazy lady so I had mad compassion for her, I kind of stalled on the on-ramp shoulder so she could get ahead of me because clearly she was having a bad day. Then I turned my radio up real loud and thanked God I'm not frantic like that anymore. I still have my crazy stuff but it's a better version of crazy.

- - -

Well, that's it for today folks. You have all been really good sports with Giveaway Week and I thank you. Tomorrow is the last day! I will post a full list of the winners on Saturday because it's taking some time to hear back from everyone and also get my act together. And I know you've already donated where you can with all the stress and anxiety in the world, so I wish I had 6000 copies of everything to give to all ya'll, free books for all. I was thinking that this morning when I woke up. So! I have decided that if I ever become rich I'm just going to have a day where every single person gets a free book. Let's hope this happens and that it somehow involves Al Gore and me having eco-love in Paris. And in the fantasy I am taller. And everyone gets a free knitting book. Wouldn't that be lovely? Yay for having lofty aspirations!

Finally, a little behind-the-scenes peek:

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I AM DOING SOME DECORATING, OK?

Posted by laurie at 8:30 AM

March 16, 2011

Knitting Block By Block -- A big ol' Wednesday freebie

Today's book giveaway selection is one of my favorite new knitting books of the year. It's Nicky Epstein's Knitting Block by Block: 150 Blocks for Sweaters, Scarves, Bags, Toys, Afghans, and More.

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It's a luscious hardcover book that features my #1 most favorite thing in all of knitting: the knitted block. A block is like a swatch with attitude. You can learn amazing techniques this way and knit yourself a whole blanket. I personally use knit block patterns to expand my handwarmer repertoire ... for what is a handwarmer except a knitted block that is seamed up one side? Leave a hole for the thumb and you're golden.

This book is a tome, really packed with patterns and information. There are a lot of charts in this book, so if you abhor charts and can't bear to knit from one than this is not your giveaway. (I always think it's good to know in advance what you're trying to win, yes?) But if you're into complex and beautiful block patterns this is your book. Thank you so much to Jessica Reich from Crown Publishing Group who hooked me up with a giveaway copy.

RULES
To be eligible to win, post a comment in the comment section of this entry. Comments will close tomorrow. Winner(s) chosen at random and notified by email. Good luck!

NOTE
If you want to win you need to include a valid email address with your comment. IF you do not want your email address to show up beneath your comment name, you must enter some web address in the URL field. This is internet tomfoolery! I'm sorry I am bad with the code. Anyway, you can just type http://www.crazyauntpurl.com in the URL if you want.

ALSO!
If you don't want this book but still want to comment by all means please do, but let me know you aren't interested OR just leave off your email address.


Winners of the crochet book were alerted (still waiting confirmation on one) and yesterday's winners will be selected this morning. Need coffee!

- - -

CHITCHAT, YO

Jen asked: (About yesterday's photo) I love the print on your wall behind the Soba -- where is it from?

Jen, it's a silkscreen that I bought in the Target garden department (I know, right?) about three years ago. I'm sure it would be cooler to make up a story about buying it from some hip local gallery but yeah, I got it on sale at Target for like six bucks. It's actually one of three, all the same print but on different fabric. I have them hanging like a mini-installation above the stairs.

**

Debbie said: Seriously, Dr. Elsey's Precious Cat is the BEST cat litter with a really dumb name. In Cincinnati, the only place I can find it is at PetsMart.

Debbie, I buy it there, too! I mean the L.A. store, as a drive to Cincinnati and back would be crazy even for me. I once bought the 40-pound bag off amazon.com with a free shipping thing and the UPS man practically flipped me off as he delivered it.


**

The Cat Litter Chronicles: A New TV Show
Not really, but it would be funny to show up at a pitch meeting and do a whole spiel on a TV show just about cat litter. Especially since men in Los Angeles seem to be unnaturally terrified of cats.

Yesterday I heard from lots of folks on their favorite brands of cat litter and while the cats here at Chez Hairball love Dr. Elsey's, you will probably have to experiment to find something just right for your own home and herd. The one thing that is ALWAYS true and applies to ALL CATS is that you must keep the litter box clean! It doesn't take long. A quick scoop twice a day will do it. Clean, clean, clean!

**

Heather asked:
Wait - by corn based cat litter not sold in California you don't mean World's Best do you??! 'Cause if so, I need to get my cats used to another brand before I make the planned move West in 18 months.

Hi Heather. Don't panic. They sell WBCL here. You can read about the banned brand of corn litter in this old post where I shook my tiny fist of rage. Every other litter company in the world just added a small sticker to the bags which says, "Don't flush!" except the one brand I used to use and WILL NEVER EVER USE AGAIN. That company simply does not care about Californians. I HATE them still. Even though hate is a strong word I believe it applies in this case.

**

Jill said: About... HEAVY. I love the shows both ways and wonder why the switch? The shows had to be taped long before they started airing, so the switch can't be blamed on viewer feedback.

Jill, I think that's what I was most curious about -- why the format switch midseason? Did a bi-polar director helm the season? Or perhaps the show was split between two producers, each with their own vision? So interesting. Unless I am just dreaming up some backstage drama that never happened. But that is what I do when I'm not talking about cat litter.

**

Candice asked: Laurie, are you watching Celebrity Apprentice? The ratio of crazy to not as crazy is unbelievable. Hello, naked guy from Survivor 1, Gary Busey, LaToya Jackson... If you aren't watching it, you should because this coming Sunday they put Gary Busey in charge of it all and that's going to be a hilarious disaster, I can only imagine!

Hi Candice. I don't watch but I am just posting a reply to your comment because you made me laugh. I can only imagine what a world where Busey Is Boss would look like. Teevee brings us so much goodness.


**

Readers Diana in NYC and Zaftiguous both asked what I am knitting these days. I'm into entrelac right now, I have a scarf going. I kind of took a break from knitting from December-February. I've been writing a lot and exercising a lot but not knitting so much and now I'm back into entrelac which seems to either bore or scare my fellow knitters. Sometimes I think I am all alone in my entrelackian world.


**

Kristen said: I just picked up The Book of Awakening, based on your feedback...I like it, some days it's just what I need to hear. I confess that I have been reading ahead, I can't help myself.

Kristen -- I read ahead, too. Some of his essays don't hit me (that day) but I'll skip ahead and find one that just grabs me. I don't do any of the meditation stuff, though. I really suck at meditating and it stresses me out. Go, Team Neurotic.

**


NOW for the Investigative Photo Journalism portion of the day:

seriously-wtf.jpg

If I spoke Cat, I imagine I would have heard this:

Frankie: OM MY GOD, you guys, look, look, I am touching her!!!! I am going to sit here and inhale her sweet, Dictator smell and just be in her presence and look OMFG I am touching her! I am trying to remain CALM. YOU GUYS! I am touching The One! It's like that time when they said there was no spoon, except, like, I am so totally touching The Spoon!

Sobakowa: Do you see the crap I have to put up with?


Posted by laurie at 9:01 AM

March 15, 2011

Today's free book selection: A Knitting Wrapsody

Today's free booktastic giveaway is A Knitting Wrapsody by designer Kristin Omdahl. This is a lovely book with some intricate and detailed wrap patterns. I love knitting pattern books that show each item from a few different angles and this one does that beautifully.

A Knitting Wrapsody also comes with a free instructional DVD illustrating some of the more unusual and detailed techniques. This is the first knitting book I've seen that has a how-to DVD included and I LOVE THAT!! For people like me who love knitting but don't always feel confident in their skills an instructional DVD is invaluable. I would say this is an advanced level book, most of the projects are quite intricate, like wearable works of art.

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You can read more about the book and the author on the amazon page for A Knitting Wrapsody: Innovative Designs to Wrap, Drape, and Tie. Special thanks to Jaime Guthals at Interweave, Interweave puts out some of the most beautiful and unique knitting books in the world and Jaime sent me TWO copies for you, so there will be two winners today. Math, I am so onto you!


RULES
To be eligible to win, post a comment in the comment section of this entry. Comments will close tomorrow. Winner(s) chosen at random and notified by email. Good luck!

NOTE
If you want to win you need to include a valid email address with your comment. IF you do not want your email address to show up beneath your comment name, you must enter some web address in the URL field. This is internet tomfoolery! I'm sorry I am bad with the code. Anyway, you can just type http://www.crazyauntpurl.com in the URL if you want.


---

Chitchat:

• I am in the midst of alerting yesterday's winners, and by that I mean I have not yet gotten used to the time change and am running an hour behind on life. Thanks to everyone who participated!

• Reader Marilyn wrote: "I don't understand twitter, I hope you will keep up with your blog, I check it everyday in hope for a chuckle or two!"

Well, Marilyn, I'm not entirely sure I understand the tweeter either, though that has not stopped me from making random proclamations now and then. Having said that, I do not plan to ever stop writing online. I just like typing up my blahblahblah every day and I certainly can't do all that navel gazing in under 140 characters! I do think eventually I might start a new website that works a little better technically but I'm not in any rush.

• Lisa wrote: "I was thinking of you this weekend because I am on the quest for perfect cat litter. I'm trying to find a natural brand that works."

Hi Lisa! I have tried pretty much every cat litter on planet earth. A lot of folks swear by the wheat stuff, it never worked for me, but I did find a corn version that was great until they stopped selling to California and I am still mad about it. Now, I use Dr. Elsey's (Precious Cat) Cat Attract Litter, which has solved 100% of all box mishaps here at the house of Fussy Cats.

Recently I was in the grocery store and saw a new cat litter, Desert's Sand Cat box filler. I bought it more as an experiment than anything else, it's basically a very fine beach sand. The cats LOVED it. By that I mean they rolled around in it for hours making the kittycat version of snow angels and then they got up, covered entirely in powdery sand, and proceeded to track it all over the house. Good times!

I hope you find something that works for you.

• Now for the teevee topic of the day. I think the new episodes of Heavy that feature folks living at Hilton Head Health for half a year are so much better in tone and style than the original episodes. For one thing, the staff in these shows actually show compassion while also helping teach life skills and new ways of coping. It's also weird, though, like these shows have nothing at all in common with the first five or six episodes. Agree? Disagree? Stopped watching because the first episodes were not good?

• Yesterday Sobakowa planted herself at the top of the stairs (along with some toys, a half-chewed emery board and two hair elastics) and wouldn't let anyone pass without a fight. By "anyone" I mean Bob and Frankie.

This is a conundrum, since the food is downstairs but the catboxes and the good sunshine spots are all upstairs. At one point I saw Frankie standing midway on the stairs debating. Cats take a looong time to think things through. Finally she decided to make a run for it. I tried to encourage her by singing horrible song lyrics from the 1980s ("Don't pay the ferryman! Don't even fix a price!") but she didn't heed my calls and ended up losing a bit of fur. Ah well.

sobakowa-stairs-troll.jpg

Posted by laurie at 9:08 AM

March 14, 2011

Let's give away some BOOKS, people! Today: Ami Ami Dogs!

Perhaps I can't save the world, or adopt any more animals, or men, or both, but I can give away some free books. And that is my plan this week! Because what the world needs now is some giving.

Usually on free book days you have to post a comment to be eligible to win and that is because I am lazy and bad with technology. That has not changed. But since I am giving away books all week long I thought it might get a little boring for you to have to post Hi! Hello! Pick Me! in the comments, so here is the new format:

First I will post a picture and a description of the day's free, awesome book.

Next, I will blather on about some current events and/or TV and/or post cat pictures so we can chitchat, too, and not be bored with crass sweepstakesism.

Today's book is THE CUTEST crochet book I have seen in a long time, Ami Ami Dogs: Seriously Cute Crochet

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Ami Ami Dogs: Seriously Cute Crochet
This Amigurumi handbook is filled with adorable photographs of puppies and easy-to-follow patterns to help you create these little crochet works of art. Make an entire family of puppies to keep or give as gifts. The world needs more Ami Ami Dogs!

Thanks to Julia at Harper Collins for hooking us up with the freebies -- and there are three copies, so there will be three winners. Yay! I can do math!


RULES
To be eligible to win, post a comment in the comment section of this entry. Comments will close tomorrow. Winner(s) chosen at random and notified by email. Good luck!

NOTE
If you want to win you need to include a valid email address with your comment. IF you do not want your email address to show up beneath your comment name, you must enter some web address in the URL field. This is internet tomfoolery! I'm sorry I am bad with the code. Anyway, you can just type http://www.crazyauntpurl.com in the URL if you want.

And now for chitchat:

• I'm pretty sure half of the Valley was in the Sherman Oaks Target on Sunday afternoon buying stuff for their earthquake kits. I noticed a lot of other people with cases of bottled water and flashlights in their shopping carts. I stocked up on batteries, water and cat food but when I brought all my stuff home I accidentally left one bag of cat food sitting on the floor by the pantry and two hours later I came downstairs to find the cats lying on the living room floor in a kibble coma like little beachballs. Earthquake Preparedness Score: 6.5, Responsible Pet Owner Score: -2

• Even though I didn't have to be up and on the freeway this morning after losing an hour of my life over the weekend I still feel vaguely uneasy with Daylight Savings Time. It seems antiquated in this post-wristwatch world. I'm going to vote for the presidential candidate who campaigns to stop this madness. (Unless the candidate is awful.)

• Do you even wear a wristwatch anymore? I have never been able to wear one and now I just check my phone if I need to know the time. But I occasionally see someone wearing a watch in public and I casually ask them for the time. I think this makes wristwatch-wearers feel useful. I do what I can, folks.

Jennifer and I went to see "Battle Los Angeles" this weekend which was kind of exhausting and then I developed some odd Aaron-Eckhart-in-camouflage-fantasies.

• Yesterday I walked seven miles. Not all at one time. I have discovered that when I get stressed out about anything I need to go for a walk and then I feel better. By June I may just walk to Toronto for the afternoon.

• Are you over American Idol or just getting into it?


That's today. Good luck on the books! If today isn't your day there's always Tuesday. And Wednesday. And the rest of the week! (Oh, and if you don't craft and have no interest in these books this week just let me know in your comment. Sweepstakes are so technical around here!)

Posted by laurie at 9:30 AM

March 11, 2011

Q&A with author Pamela Schoenewaldt

Pamela Schoenewaldt, author of this month's Online Book Club selection When We Were Strangers, took some time out this week to answer your questions about the writing process, the research she put into the novel and her thoughts on what may have happened to Carlo along the way.

Sally M. asked: My only question for Pamela is ... when do we get another book from you?

Thank you Sally! I am working on another story, also historical. I'm on chapter 3, more or less. I hope this one goes more quickly - at least I've done most of the research. When I was writing When We Were Strangers, I tried not to focus at all on the end product, just kept my nose into Irma's journey, so it's especially wonderful to discover that there are people out there who connect with her story - it's like entering a new dimension of reality.

**
 
Tonya asked: I am still curious about what happened to Carlo. Did you have any thoughts on expanding his story?

I'm pretty sure that Carlo would disagree, but I think that Irma is a better judge of character and situations than he was. For one thing, she never expects something for nothing or quick solutions to difficult problems. Carlo does, and that would probably set him up for trouble. I think that all over the world there are people being protected from their own bad choices by small towns or big families, by people saying, "Let it go, it's just Carlo's way." But outside of Opi, he wouldn't have that safety net. So I think that Irma is right that somewhere along the line, his temper gets him into trouble. I saw him in big trouble in a tavern in Tripoli. What do you think?
 
**

Ginger asked: Was there any part of the book edited out that you wish could have stayed in and if so what was it?

 
Neither my agent, Courtney nor my editor Amanda ever said, "Take this out." There was some feeling that the first Cleveland sections were slow so I trimmed some scenes of Irma hanging out with her friends, taking a streetcar to the edge of town, walking out into the country. In the short story that became the first story, I made more of the fact of great grandfather's boots - generations of women protecting the boots. I think it's true though, that for a first chapter rather than a short story, the focus is better kept on Irma. And of course, it's always tempting when you're researching this or that obscure fact and finally find it to make it too big at first in the novel, almost to say: "Reader, I worked really really hard to get this, so now you have to read all about it." You have to look at the needs and flow of the whole story and be a little ruthless with your own work. So I had to pull back on a complicated story I had in mind about the fortunes of Niko's family in Greece and how problems in the Mediterranean wine markets ruined them.

**
 
Tania M. writes: I would love to find out what you are working on for your next book-- I definitely want to check it out.

I'm working on a medieval novel involving an emperor, empress, lute player and chess piece.
 
**

Heather asks: I was also happy Irma got a happy ending, did the author ever think about not having her end up with a happy life?
 
Hum, I guess no. Irma suffers a good deal, but she hold on to fairly basic values: she wants to do work that calls on her skills and best self; she wants a community around her; she wants to live near mountains, and she is willing to work and sacrifice to get these things. Maybe that's one difference between Carlo and Irma: he has ambitions larger than the work he is willing to devote to reach them.
 
**

Tinare asks: How did you go about researching the time period to get sense of what Irma's life might be like?

 There is a lot of material available about the Victorian age. I do read Italian, so I was able to read about economic and social situations in Italy at the time, medical issues of the day, diet, transportation, prices, and so forth. Then I used a university library, public library and Internet sources. You have to love the research process - but not so much that a novel becomes a dumping ground for all the little factoids you uncover. It's Irma's story and that story determines the background material you need. For the feelings of being a stranger - I think most of us have experienced that. I certainly did when I moved from Northern California to Southern Italy. I felt like I had landed on a new planet. So for some of Irma's emotional life, I drew on my own experience or tried to go into myself to create that reality. That wasn't always easy and was often painful, but you can't - or I think you can't - have your character experience what you can't profoundly imagine.
 
**

Alison G. asks: Would you write a sequel to the book covering more of Irma's later life? And I would also like to know what happened to Assunta's daughter after her father died.

I played around with that idea and maybe - who knows - will come back to Irma, but basically I felt that she had achieved what she wanted to and it was time to go. Sometimes I wonder how the San Francisco earthquake would affect her. For Assunta's daughter, her half-sister, Irma will send her money so she can go to school. Perhaps she might come to visit in San Francisco, or to live there. Assunta's story is a bit more tragic, actually. She loses two husbands, and yet carries on. I always liked Assunta.
 
**

Ann asks: Clearly women traveled alone to America, as you pointed out in the afterward that your own relative (grandmother?) came over for an arranged marriage. But I guess I was still surprised at how independent Irma and her friends were. Was this a typical life for a young woman at that time?

It was my great-grandmother, actually, and just as an aside, it was a pretty unfulfilling marriage, but he died when she was 60 or so and she had another happy 40 years of widowhood and didn't miss him much. But that wasn't your question. There were quite a few single women, then as now, and there probably wasn't much alternative to independence. I read that in the late 1800s an amazingly large percentage of American adults were living in boarding houses. Maybe more than twenty percent. There were factory girls of all sorts. Even if the options for young women weren't as broad as they are today, there was far, far more freedom than they would have had in "the old countries" and that must have been a heady experience.
 
**

Lisa in TX asks: Why did you feel it necessary for Irma to transform from a seamstress to nurse? In your mind, is Molly married or still single at the end of the book?

Today we might say that Irma became politicized. The art and craft of making fine dresses just couldn't compensate for the fact of serving the vanity of a few very rich women who treated her as a servant. And of course she has a traumatic consequence of the dressmaker's art. The medical field was more rewarding and the inspiration and mentoring of Sofia was compelling.

About Molly, I didn't see her married at the end. She probably has male friends, and maybe she'd find someone, but I think she's pretty pleased with her life. I'd played around with having her meet Tom, the Irishman from the train, but that was seeming too obvious. I do see her being wound into Irma's life for a long time. They almost complete each other.
 
**

Susan Q asks: How long did it take you to do the research for the book? Was the research completed before you began writing the novel, or did it continue as you wrote the book?

I was researching as I wrote. I did a good deal about 19th Century life in Italy and then moved into research on the ships and the immigration process. I'd be writing one chapter, revising the earlier ones and also researching for coming chapters and then finding out more material that needed to be worked in or perhaps required changes of material I had already done. I guess it would be way more efficient to research everything all at once, but the story was developing as I was writing and sometimes the research itself suggested new scenes or even characters. Researching the train lines to California and the dangers to the trainmen gave me the idea for the death of Bill, for instance.
  
**

Dani B asked: I know Irma's favorite hobby was sewing, and that this hobby saved her in many situations. But did Irma wish she could afford to dress a bit more stylish? Did she sometimes resent sewing custom-made fashions for others? She seemed to be very grateful, and highly impressed with the fitted dress that Madame Helene sewed for her, but yet I sensed mixed emotions.

I agree about the mixed emotions, Dani. Irma appreciated fine workmanship and good fabrics - she's an artist and craftswoman, after all. And the green dress makes her feel attractive for practically the first time in her life. That is a powerful experience. But in the end neither sewing nor fashion are enough for her; they simply aren't fulfilling enough to be her life's work. She has great talent, but sewing is not her calling. 


*****


I love an author who takes time out to chat with readers and answer their questions. Thank you to everyone who participated in this month's Online Book Club and special thanks to Julia O'Halloran at Harper Collins and of course the author herself, Pamela Schoenewaldt.

The next book club pick will be announced at the end of March. I know that when the world feels like a wild and unstable place, the one thing that always reassures me is diving into a wonderful book. Feel free to comment with your book club selection wishlist.

Thanks again!

Posted by laurie at 9:54 AM

March 8, 2011

Winners and winners-to-be and cat pictures, because that is how I roll

I am so happy you all (mostly) enjoyed our Book Club selection, When We Were Strangers. The comment winner is ... dah dah dum... Margaret at March 7, 2011 08:42 AM. Please check your email. Congrats! And thanks again to Harper Collins for sending us advance copies to give away for the book club. That was an all-around win-win.

And since I know book giveaways are just as fun as random boxes of knitting stuff, I am hosting an entire week of freebie book giveaways next week!

It has been pointed out to me (kindly and gently) that most of the books I offer in sweepstakes are knitting books and where is the love for the men and women of crochet? WELL. You think I do not listen but LO, I LISTEN, and the first book giveaway on Monday is a crochet book so cute it even made me want to work up a chain in a frenzy.

Next week I am also offering up several luscious knitting books and maybe at the end of the week I will cap it off with a big pile o' books just for fun. The best part about having this here website is that I have no editor and can post endless cat pictures. The second best part is that I get preview copies of delicious books from publishers and I get to share them with you.

- - -

People often ask me why I don't urge all my readers to get books only from their local lending library. This weird topic seemed to come up over and over again this past month (especially as we talked about eReaders.) I know I have addressed it before but here it goes ... again. Like we don't have more pressing things to talk about such as the time I made Ed Begley, Jr. think I was stalking him accidentally.

So I love the public library. Really, I love it. I support my library with events and donations and often with my ridiculous late fees.

But I also BUY books!

I buy books because I write books and I love books and I believe in supporting an author and paying them for their work. It is that simple. It's important to me to use whatever money I have to buy books and support the publishing industry. I'm thrilled when publishers send me free sample books so I can help promote new books on this site, if a little exposure helps an author get paid it makes me feel glad to be a part of that loop. It's a happy karmic wheel for the author and for the reader.

But mostly I buy books. When I find an author I love, I BUY THEIR BOOK. I buy books for friends (I must have bought ten copies of Winter's Bone, I really loved that book. Recently I went on a Mark Nepo binge and bought five copies of The Book of Awakening to give as gifts.)

I buy books to support authors. It is not easy to make a living off publishing these days. A few years ago I made a decision to buy less shoes and more books. Even these days when I don't have money pouring in through the window, I still buy books. It's a trade-off -- yes, I could buy that nice bottle of wine OR I could buy a book and some two-buck-Chuck. Done!

Here's the most important thing, though: I am only telling you this since so many people took me to task and I don't like having a finger wagging at me about something like this. Paint me as anything people, but not a librarian contrarian! Not that! This is my thing and I don't expect it to be yours. I don't expect people to do what I do or like what I like or eat the messed-up food combinations I find pleasing. It's a better world when everyone just does what feels right to them and we all smile and act nice and no one comments that I squeeze lemon juice on rice.

I'm happy to my toes when someone talks with love about their library. Libraries basically raised me as a small child. I love libraries! And you know what, also I BUY BOOKS.

So the next time you wag your finger at some grown-up who buys books rather than borrows only from the library, stop pre-wag and ask yourself if that's really your Waterloo. Is this your final stand, Custer? Will you go down in that Alamo? Can I use any more bad metaphors here?

I LOVE BOOKS. I support people who write, illustrate, bind and publish books. Long live that old-fashioned thing, the paper brick on my shelf. I love you, I love your smell, I drink cheap wine for you. I raise a glass of two-buck-Chuck to you. The end.


- - -

And now cat pictures!

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bob-furrybutt-window2.jpg


That is such a tough angle, Buddy. Or should I say "Big Buddy."

Posted by laurie at 10:17 AM

March 7, 2011

Book Chat: When We Were Strangers

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This month's Online Book Club & Therapy Session featured the debut novel from Pamela Schoenewaldt, When We Were Strangers. In one of the happy accidents created by an online book club, the author herself has agreed to answer many of your reader questions so when you are commenting on the book let me know if you have a question for her. I'll assemble them all in an email tonight and post her replies when I hear back. Fancy, no?

I started reading this book during jury duty. I didn't really think any novel could completely take me out of the smelly feet drudgery that is the Burbank jury holding tank. Imagine my surprise when I looked up from the book and already two hours had passed! It was a bittersweet combination -- the sadness that is Irma's bumpy ride to America and the sweetness that was losing myself in a story and getting out of that smelly room and onto the smelly boat. At least metaphorically.

The writing is just lovely. This author wraps you in the story and doesn't lose you with too much description or drip adjectives all over the page yet she still paints such a clear picture of the scene that you feel like you are on that boat in steerage. You can taste the bread from Opi and feel the fabric of the dresses between your fingers. That's talent with words.

I have to say there were many times during the book when I thought, "Damn. Can't Irma catch a freakin' break already?" but perhaps that is more a critique of my fragile little state of mind than the story itself. I wanted happy things to happen for Irma. What can I say? I'm a sappy sucker for a happy ending. I wish there had been more of the ending -- perhaps stretched out longer. But it's a small complaint. I loved Molly, too, and appreciated the contrast of her energy and bravado against Irma's quieter character.

While reading this book I spent a fair amount of time feeling blessed to be born in this era. My rule of thumb when I get a time machine is that I will never go back to any year without penicillin. It's a good rule. You should think it through.

What did you think of When We Were Strangers? Did you get wrapped into the story or find some of Irma's trials and terrors too much? What did you think of the writing style, the way the author painted the scenery for us? Did you relate to Irma? Did you like the ending? Did you feel connected to the story?

I was pleasantly surprised by the novel. It sucked me in and kept me turning the pages fast so I could find out what happens next -- my benchmark for a great read. I can't wait to hear your feedback!

- - -

Every one who participates in the book chitchat (by posting in the comments below) will be entered into a random drawing for an equally random assortment of knitting doodads from my stash. If you aren't a knitter (and therefore have no use for a pile of Patons Up Country or similar) be sure to mention that in your comment so I can scare up something unusual and less knitterly for you. Let the commenting begin!


Posted by laurie at 1:12 AM

March 4, 2011

New Moon in Uranus

Today is March 4th, the new moon is new though probably not in Uranus. It just never gets old saying Uranus.

Some Very Important Things:

1) Consider That Gauntlet Thrown
So you probably already know this if you're on The Twitter with me (recently I've been abducted by Twitter. I've had The Twitter for a while now but sort of forgot about it for long periods of time. In the past few weeks I've been absconded by the madness. I think it's the combination of all the #winning and #mcLobster. Plus I love the sweet, rich taste of irony I get when I hear stuffy news anchors reading crazy celebrity Twitter feeds as if they are real news.)

SO what I was saying about me throwing down the gauntlet. I decided yesterday that I am no longer going to politely step all the way around those bulldozer people who are walking in the crosswalk or on the sidewalk or at the store or in the mall while their eyes are glued to their smartphones.

On my walk yesterday I had to flatten myself against a palm tree so that I didn't run into a man who was walking forward on the sidewalk quickly and aggressively while typing on his Blackberry. That is when I decided GAME OVER PEOPLE. At the next crosswalk I found myself squared off against an oncoming lady whose eyes were glued to her phone. I braced myself and stayed on my course and Thwap! When we collided she barely looked up.

"Is that your seeing eye phone?" I asked. She didn't even hear me. Nonetheless, I felt victorious. Bruised, but victorious.

I don't think this is a lasting strategy because I don't actually like people touching me. So I'm thinking maybe one of those loud noise maker thingies may do the trick. Or printing myself a bunch of stickers that say "Hang up and walk!" and slapping them on the backs of passing phonebots. What do you think?


2) Or Maybe I'm Just Grumpy
It's been cold in the early mornings so I've been walking midday when more phonebots are clogging the sidewalks. Perhaps when summer is back and I'm walking again at the crack of dawn I will forget all about them.

3) Why I Can't Get Enough Crazy
I've been captivated by Charlie Sheen's antics because he has completely raised the bar for all future meltdowns. If you're going to catch on fire with crazy my philosophy is that you better do it with gusto. Mission Accomplished! I love it. I love good crazy especially when I am not married to it or working for it.

4) More Stuff I Learned From The Innernet

I follow Martha Beck on Twitter, because she's smart and I learn things. Her blog today is all about sleep and how sleep helps your brain get its act together. (You can read it here.) I've been sleeping a lot the past few months -- more than in the past five years. Which isn't all that unusual considering the ridiculous insomnia I had for so long, but I wasn't sure it would ever end (insomnia feels like a bad soundtrack playing constantly over the movie of your life) and now that I can sleep again I started to worry. Am I sleeping too much? Am I wasting my life? How much sleep can one person need? Am I a slacker for not waking up at 4 a.m. every day like clockwork? Is it lame to go to bed before 10 p.m.? I can drive myself batty with this stuff.

But Martha Beck says it's good for the brain. So I am now officially giving myself a break. Thank you, Life Coach From Afar.

5) While we're at it, let's just give ourselves a break all over the place
I'm starting to understand that in my life there are my little problems and then there is all the big, swirly judgment I heap on myself about my little problems. People, it is exhausting. For the rest of March I am going to live my life and hold off on the ladle of extra-juicy judgy that comes with every bite. I feel better already.

6) I'm Running Up That Hill!
Now it's time to untether from the innernet, put down the twittermachine and go for a walk. I've tried many things in my time to get my mojo unwrinkled. I have sampled many fine wines and many bad ones, too. I have eaten, smoked, juiced, fasted, read self-help, written self-help (hah!) and tried to get my hands on that Secret. On my Quest For Calm I have found activities that I enjoy (knitting, reading, TV binges) and activities that make me feel virtuous (yoga, church, going to Whole Foods).

But after all this time the thing I love most is still a good old fashioned walk. No music, no headphones, just me and my shoes and the sidewalk, thinking and walking and breathing until the tension melts out and the only thing I can feel are my legs moving and my lungs filling with crispy, fortified L.A. air.

It's free. It doesn't take any particular skill, it's as close to meditation as I may ever get. And I'm fast, so if you're on your phone and not paying attention I may just meditate right over you. If you know what I mean and I think you do.

- - -

P.S. Book Club On Monday!
Our online book club meets on Monday to talk about When We Were Strangers: A Novel. I'm finding this book a very fast read, so you still have time to slurp it up and join us on Monday!

Posted by laurie at 8:20 AM

February 25, 2011

Yesterday, when my troubles seemed so far away

1) I'm going to the courthouse and I'm gonna' get unmarried...

My stint in jury duty was supposed to take place this week at the Van Nuys Courthouse like a normal Valleyite. Valleyer? Valleykrie? Like, whatever! Totally!

I don't mind Van Nuys. Sure, I blame it for losing us Valleytos the critical 2002 vote on Valley secession (who had the bright idea to make Van Nuys the downtown of the Valley? It should be Sherman Oaks or Studio City ALL THE WAY, people!) but other than that I have only fond memories of the many good tacos I have had in Van Nuys and Van Nuys Adjacent. I find that tacos always taste better when they're in close proximity to a bail bonds shop and brother, you can find both in abundance in beautiful Van Nuys, California.

Much to my dismay and alarm my jury duty service was unceremoniously reassigned to Burbank. There are so many things about this decision that were against nature. For one thing the population/taco shop ratio in Burbank is just pitifully askew and not in favor of the carne asada. Also, the one and only time that I have ever been to the Burbank courthouse was on the day of my divorce hearing which was a very dark day indeed. There were expensive lawyers in short-sleeved dress shirts (oh, the humanity!), there were tears, there were recriminations, there was my angry self in so many pairs of spanx that the oxygen level in my brain dropped precipitously.

That was also the same day I tried to eat a whole lemon icebox pie by myself.

Lemon icebox pie was the pastry I chose for divorcing, as I thought it was appropriately sweet and sour. And I didn't take the pie to court, I left it at home to wait for me until my tearful return. It was not disappointed. My day in court did not go well. That evening I discovered that I could not in fact eat an entire pie on my own but it wasn't for lack of trying.

Oh, those were the days, when I was crazy and didn't mind who knew about it, like when I shook my tiny fist of rage at the bailiff. I was all, "Yeah! Well I'm going to call 1-800-SCREW-YOU but only replace SCREW with a stronger word that is less family friendly!" And the judge who wasn't even a real judge -- he was a commissioner, what the hell kind of lawyer did I hire again? -- said "You are going to be held in contempt!" and I shook my tiny fist of rage and was buoyed out of court on my spanx legs and the arms of my friends and I was taken home to be alone with the waiting pie.

I know with deep certainty that I'm not even close to the same wacky, unhinged version of myself I was on Divorce Court Day but still, just the thought of it kind of made me want a slice of lemon icebox pie. For old times sake.


2) American Idol took four hours of my life, minus all the time I fast-forwarded

Thank God for Tivo, the only way I can live to love American Idol. I tuned in this year on a day-by-day basis, since last year was an incontinent snooze my expectations were low.

What I have discovered so far is this: Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler are kind of awesome. Goofy Southern Belle pageant party dresses from 1987 seem to be making a comeback. Hobbity looking men who play upright bass are kind of sexy. And Colton Dixon was robbed!

I like it. Oh the drama, the tears, the awkward let's-all-hold-hands scenes featuring three boys whose ages when added together equal my own.

3) They say it may snow, say it ain't so

Oh I don't know, some weird rumor is going around that it might snow somewhere. Dallas Raines said the snow levels will drop down to 1500 feet but since none of us living in this city can understand anything other than traffic math, we have no idea where that means the snow will fall.

Freeway distance x hour (rain to the fourth power) - weekends = snow?

A few years ago there were flurries in the Malibu Hills and that was exciting. It was still hot and sunny in the Valley, though, probably because I was still living in Reseda at the time where it stays 118 year round. I'm not worried about the impending weatherageddon, since the newscasters assure us all that everything should clear for The Big Day. The Big Day is coming!!!

4) The Big Day!!
Oscar Sunday is almost here. I have been training for it for months, watching all the best-picture nominees except one, which I have to go see today (Damn you, King's Speech! Making me sprint at the end!)

This is my SuperBowl. I'll be making little nibbly hors d'oeuvre bites and serving sparkling wine and there will be ballots and even a prize for best balloting. There will be fashion commentary and a pre-show and hopefully no snow to mar the red carpet.

Oh, and maybe a lemon icebox pie for dessert. Just for the symmetry of it all.

Posted by laurie at 10:41 AM

February 23, 2011

Perhaps I have a 28.8 brain in a T1 world

Every now and then I write a lot, spilling out words all over the place. It's been like this forever -- it's not like I just recently started being loquacious -- so I'm surprised to see recent comments from people who say things like, "I don't usually read that much in a blog..." or "I usually can only read a paragraph then I get fidgety." Our attention spans have dwindled down to bullet points and 15-second blurbs.

• Here's a bullet point to break up the monotony of sentences and comma splices!

I don't take it personally. I notice my attention span has rapidly diminished, too. I blame it entirely on the smart phone and the increase in fast internet service. Sometimes I catch myself playing scrabble or solitaire on my phone while I watch TV as if one time-wasting activity were not enough. Nope, I have to double time my laziness. I try to stop myself when I notice I'm doing it because I'm not paying full attention to either activity and I feel scattered and restless. This is usually when I put on my tennis shoes and go for a walk. That flighty and restless feeling almost always means I'm anxious or I need to physically burn some energy.

Everything just moves so fast now, our poor little brains have all gone haywire.

• Haywire brain! Needs bullet points! Likes bold a lot!

Remember when we used to have to wait patiently while AOL made its hissing, scrapping, wheezing, dialup sounds? And remember how long it used to take to load a web page? And remember when people could actually read six or eight entire paragraphs without feeling antsy and needing to click over to something new and fresh? Are you still there? Have you clicked over already?

We so crazy.

Oh wait.

• We so crazy!

One night Jennifer and I were leaving my apartment, out on our way to dinner. The restaurant was in close walking distance, so I took only my keys and my wallet. She was shocked and a little horrified that I didn't plan to bring my phone, too.

"You're not bringing your phone with you?" she asked.

"Nope," I said.

"You're just going to go out... without your phone?" The shock! The horror!

"I like to untether," I said. "Keeps me focused."

She looked at me like I had just announced I was donating all my fingers and toes to science.

"You are crazy," she declared.


• Those people in the crosswalks who are hypnotized by their phones better watch out!

Last week I yelled at someone in a crosswalk. Instead of actually paying attention and walking with purpose across a very busy Los Angeles intersection, she was glued to the mysterious device in her hand and was at an almost complete standstill in the intersection as she typed. The world had ceased to spin on its axis, her entire universe had been reduced to an iphone.

I had the windows zipped down so I hollered at her. Real loud.

"Hey! Stop staring at your phone and pay attention! You! You there! WAKE UP!!!!!! The earth is on FIRE!!!!"

She never heard me or heard the people behind me honking. It was amazing. She was just typing away, clicking on her little cellphone while the world swirled around her.

But I guess I should have just been happy she was able to concentrate on any one thing for that long. Maybe it was a rollicking game of Scrabble. Or a really longass wordy blog with comma splices.

Posted by laurie at 1:28 PM

February 22, 2011

The trite stuff

Thank you for the abundant suggestions and input about both the masthead and the eReader dilemma. As far as the masthead goes, I personally love the mysterious be-knitted brunette. Next time I'm procrastinating on something else I might add in one of her equally minxlike model friends and update the text but overall I think the design is just dippy enough for the important content of cat poo and navel gazing.

The eReader comments were fascinating! Even just a few years ago that conversation would have been about a minute and a half long. I'm impressed with all the early adopters out there and I was happy to hear from the folks who admitted they didn't want to like an eReading device but had fallen in love with one. All of this helped me make an immediate decision to not decide. I already have an iphone that I love (I call it "my Scrabble machine") and a netbook that I adore so I think I can hold off on an ipad until the money fairy arrives. I still want an eReader but when I start to get wrapped up in a decision and stall usually one of two things is happening: I am either trapped in a morass of weird rules I made up for myself (like the cauliflower incident) or I am focusing intently on something I don't really need as a way of avoiding other stuff in my life (eReader paralysis).

In a rare moment of clarity I realized that the answer is not to buy some new gadget, at least not today. I'm not traveling a lot, I don't commute and I have way more time on my hands than money. So I'm going to take some of that time and re-arrange all my books, pulling aside all the unread books -- and there are a LOT of unread books in my collection -- and creating one whole section of the shelves just for unread titles. When I get the urge to go buy something new to read I'm going to check out my own personal bookstore. Ideally there will also be some culling and paring down going on along with the re-arranging.

That is one of the selfhelpiest decisions I have made in a long while. Yay me.

- - -

Self-help has all kinds of relatives. There is its close cousin called The Happiness Movement, led by folks like Dr. Richard Carlson and Dan Buettner (though my favorite is probably Gretchen Rubin, whose book The Happiness Project is fantastic.) There's also the Declutter branch of the self-help family, a movement that started under the vague umbrella of "Simple Living" which has grown into TV shows and newsletters and websites and a whole arm of publishing. My favorite in this area is my friend Erin Doland. Her website Unclutterer is just addictive and her book, Unclutter Your Life in One Week, is actually inspiring. I'll have to remember to re-read it when I am going through all my books, a little motivation may be in order.

Self Help's brunette twin sister is the world of sports psychology. Until this morning I hadn't thought about fitness-flavored self help in a LONG time, years probably. Perhaps I've been too busy navel-gazing and recluttering and carrying on. But sporty spice selfhelpyness was once my favorite kind, and it helped keep me sane during the Los Angeles assimilation process.

When I first moved to L.A. I had a job working at the Daily News. There were about five or six other people in the newsroom who were close to my age (I was the youngest, I think) and we all started hanging out together in a sort of misery-loves-company arrangement. The newsroom was brutal, and we formed into a small pack of very well-groomed wolves. During that time my friend Patty got assigned a story about a local athlete who started the Tae Bo fitness craze. She didn't want to go to the Tae Bo class by herself so few of us volunteered to go with her. Since the classes were held in Sherman Oaks (The Billy Blanks World Training Center! Yo!) we all convened in my awesome 500-square-foot Sherman Oaks apartment that literally looked out over the 101 freeway and we carpooled to the gym (a very un-L.A. thing to do, I now realize. But there was NO parking at the Billy Blanks World Training Center and Strip Mall with Dry Cleaners).

That first class completely kicked my butt. It wasn't the exercise as much as the heat. It was an unbearable sweatbox. The workout room of the gym stayed heated like a Bikram yoga class and the sheer amount of people working out in such a small, hot room caused a moist, dense blanket of condensation to hug the walls and drip down the plate-glass windows. I didn't develop my full-blown germaphobia until years later but I hated the heat. It was like working out at noon on a Louisiana summer day.

I didn't die. I did, however, discover that the high I got from surviving class and not actually collapsing and dying of cardiac arrest was amazing.

My friend Patty filed her story and never went back. She and a couple of the other girls made fun of the big, colorful posters that lined every inch of the gym's non-mirrored spaces. The posters were full of the sporty inspirational stuff we used to decorate my sorority dorm with, sayings like "Goals are just dreams with deadlines!" and "Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the prize!" The big posters by the front door said, "There will always be obstacles! They are called learning opportunities!" and "Don't leave your towels on the gym floor!"

At that time I thought the other reporters in the newsroom were much cooler than I was, after all they had lived in L.A. longer and they still made fun of my accent and my deep fear of the freeway. So when they laughed at the selfhelpyness of the gym, I laughed along with them even though secretly I liked the posters. My friend Alicia and I were the only two who kept going to Tae Bo and it wasn't long before I discovered she secretly liked all that sporty-selfhelpy stuff, too. After a few months of Tae Bo we were both in amazing shape. Alicia later left journalism to become a female boxer (!!) and I eventually left to become married and half crazy. Whoops.

I wasn't very introspective back then (and I was incredibly immature) but even in my unenlightened state I understood that physical fitness enthusiasts are almost religious about the mind-body connection. The language of athletes is very much like the language of the self help movement -- there's a lot of focus on positive outcomes, thinking patterns and behavior modification for optimum results. I liked the attitude and the washed-out, calm feeling you got after pushing your body to its limits. Most of all I liked feeling good.

Fast forward fifteen years, one marriage and divorce and about eleventeen different hair colors to this morning. I was outside on a long walk, and I started up a hill in my neighborhood. It was cold this morning and I was pushing hard to get up the hill in long strides. As I got toward the top I had a moment where I felt that little rush you get from exercise, that split second of fully inhabiting your own muscles and skin. I could feel my blood moving and my heart beating.

It was just a split second but it was exquisite.

When I got to the top of the hill I paused to look back and see how far I'd come. That glorious in-my-body feeling reminded me of way back when, back in 1995 when I used to go with Alicia to a cramped, sweaty Tae Bo class every night after work. My life then was not all that great on paper -- I was broke almost all the time, I had no furniture, I was self-conscious about my accent, my education and my writing skills. Oh, and don't forget the tiny apartment on the freeway overpass. But in many ways I was very happy. I was young and relatively ignorant about the logistics of adult life. I just figured things would eventually work out, whatever that meant. I got a lot of pleasure from simple stuff like my kickboxing class and I really liked the platitudes on those posters.

This morning felt like a flashback, the good kind, remembering a version of myself that I haven't been in a while. Back then I didn't have the ability to put words to it but my body knew the spiritual feeling that comes from sheer physical exertion and the calmness that comes when -- for just a moment -- you unplug from your chattering brain and connect fully to your physical self.

I'm not sure when in my life I started to get in my own way. I don't think there's a singular moment when I left my body and started to live totally in my head, it happened gradually, maybe over years. But somewhere along my path I got lost. I suspect this happens to a lot of people. I suspect I am not the only one.

All this time later what is surprising is that the essential stuff is still true: There will always be obstacles, and you will always move forward. Goals are your dreams on a timeline. Keep your eyes on the prize. Walk it off! Push yourself to know yourself.

And it's always a good idea to pick your towels up off the floor.

Posted by laurie at 12:49 PM

February 14, 2011

"Oh yeah, and Happy Valentine's Day..."

After texting back and forth in a fit of panic this morning, I just left an eleventy minute voicemail for Jennifer. It went something like this:

Hi! I'm home already. Yes, it's 10:02. I went to the class, just like I said I would. Because I follow through! I am a followthrougher! I drove my car to the campus, I parked my car, I got out and walked across campus to the aquatic center.

What I failed to realize when I signed up for this swimming class was that community college is a lot like high school. It is high school with ashtrays. There are teenage boys everywhere. The pool is open, outdoors, set right in the middle of campus and there were clumps of teenage boys wearing hoodies and baseball caps and baggy jeans slouching around watching the people in the pool. One of them had his cell phone out and was taking pictures of the hot lifeguard girl cleaning the pool.

I turned around and ran away like the wind. I could hear the voice in my head saying, "Run, Forrest, run!" Think of the calories I burned by NOT GOING TO THIS SWIM CLASS.

We have known each other a long time. There are many things in life I am afraid of. Like dying in an airplane crash. Or dying in a fiery inferno. Or perhaps a fiery airplane crash inferno. But right after that the thing I most fear is having my lardy ass photographed in my swimsuit by teenage boys and having it posted on the internet for laughs and internet captions.

Oprah says you will never see swimsuit pictures of her in the tabloids because she does not even own a swimsuit. Oprah is a wise woman! Why did I deviate from the Oprah? WHY? I am going to continue on my path to health and awesomeness by doing activities that require me to be fully clothed. Until I meet someone I may want to know Biblically and in that case we will do it with the lights off LIKE NORMAL PEOPLE.

So I'm going to forget this ever happened.

Oh, yeah, Happy Valentine's Day.

So that is my Monday so far. I am fully clothed and happy with it.

And oh yeah, Happy Valentine's Day!

Posted by laurie at 10:05 AM

February 10, 2011

A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow!

My little personal mantra is "A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow." I'm sure I heard it first from someone smarter and wiser, or maybe the TV. I've been using it for a while.

Sometimes I have to remind myself that a good-enough choice is really good enough.

Today at the grocery store I found myself incapacitated by total indecision in the vegetable aisle. The organic cauliflower was not on sale (as usual) and seemed yuckier looking than normal. The non-organic cauliflower was on sale for only 88 cents a pound. That is a good deal on cauliflower, people. I tried to remember if cauliflower was on the Least 12 List and I just stood there in the produce area like a moron for a ridiculously long amount of time while I went back and forth between organic and non-organic.

OK, this is so not a big life problem. In the scheme of things it's somewhere between "that time my hands were cold" and "the day I learned the real words to that song I was singing wrong." But for perfectionists and crazy people (we look very similar! we are so very hard to tell apart!) the minute daily dilemmas are just an illustration of the way you live life. Your mind tells you to stick to the rules, whatever those rules may be. Of course the rules are often flawed and impossible to keep and arbitrary. Perfection is a myth.

I know all this but I am still hardwired a certain way. Which is why I was standing there at Ralph's until the perplexed produce guy asked me (again) if I needed help.

I grabbed the sale cauliflower and quickly exited the vegetable area. Good grief.

Obviously this little drama wasn't the stuff of novels and headlines, I'm not marching for freedom or solving the world's problems. Not everything in life is a grand moment. Most of living is small, daily life, chores and routines and little choices.

It's the smallest things that show you to yourself.

Posted by laurie at 11:36 AM

February 9, 2011

That's so funky

About a week ago the biggest headline here in Los Angeles was the lawsuit filed against Taco Bell claiming its beef tacos and burritos were not beefy enough to be called beef. Now Lindsay Lohan is the breaking news, because here in Los Angeles we have our priorities: celebrities, traffic, traffic caused by celebrities, awards season, and awards season traffic.

I didn't pay much attention to last week's Fast Foodgate because I don't normally think of Taco Bell as being a purveyor of fine quality protein anyway. The lawsuit reportedly claims that only 35% of the taco meat filling is actual beef. Thirty-five percent, eh? That leaves a whole lot of room for the crack cocaine they add to make the food addictive. Yet still I wasn't that freaked out. I don't eat at Taco Bell often enough for it to really set me off in a panic. I have a few million other things above it on my list of stuff to worry about.

But if you read carefully at the very bottom of this story from the Los Angeles Times (opens in a new window) according to the USDA, the term "beef" can be only be used on products containing at least 40% beef.

Now that gave me pause. Shouldn't something called "beef" be required to contain at least 50% of its namesake? And ideally, 100%? I can give you some leeway on spices, but when I make tacos at home it's still 99% meat and 1% spices.

I am not a scientist or a lawyer or even an ardent fan of Taco Bell. But as a normal(ish) American even I can see that there is something really wrong in a world where the government says it's OK to call something "beef" if it is 60% plastic and heroin and salt. That is like saying I am "tall" because I am at least 40% of the height of a supermodel. Or you could say I am "thin" because I am at least 40% made up of thinness.

Actually, now that I think about it, this new Taco Bell math could work for me! I have a scary birthday coming up eventually and I might not have to face it at all. I am, after all, at least 40% still a baby.

Well, done, Taco Bell math. Thank you.

Posted by laurie at 8:42 AM

February 7, 2011

The smell! Can you smell that smell!

Last week I went to the acupuncture doctor as I have been doing and he worked on my ankle. As he has been doing.

I have sprained and fractured and broken my ankles more times than you can say Toe Touch Jump! So I rehabbed it like you do and the acupuncture seemed to help. One day the goodlooking acupuncture doc even massaged my ankle which led me to proposition him accidentally.

After that he only stuck needles in my foot. No more massage for you!

Last week he came in after our session with a huge, wide piece of white adhesive medical tape. In the middle was a brown schmear the size of a postcard.

"I put this on your ankle, leave on for two days," he said.

"Uh, OK," I said. Because have I mentioned the acupuncture doctor is very goodlooking? I don't talk much around the hotness.

Later that day I was back at home, working at my desk. I noticed an odor and I wondered if the cats had made an extremely generous contribution to the box recently. It happens.

I cleaned the box, no abatement. As I worked the odor grew stronger. Since I am not a fast learner it took a while to realize the smell was coming from me. My ankle, to be exact. Whatever powerful herbal remedy was brewing on the bandage was stinking up my whole office with a vengeance. Was it possible I was sitting in my chair with extruded iguana feces on my ankle? It smelled possible.

I thought about the repercussions of being stinkified. Pros and cons were weighed, mental lists happened, stuff was considered. In the end, I stayed stunk up. AND GLORIOUSLY SO! Why not? I filed this away under Reason 519 that I am happy to be single and not living with another human.

And my ankle feels good today! Bring on the extruded iguana poo!

Posted by laurie at 7:46 PM

February 4, 2011

Winners and thanks and the rest of you get started on the book!

Thank you to everyone who participated in the book club giveaway! The five winners chosen at random were Lacy S., Julia, Trisha R., Ginger and Vikki. I alerted the readers who won by email so if your name is on this short list please check your email for a note. Selection is very scientific. Usually I filter out the duplicates then call my mom and ask her to pick numbers at random. Apparently she had better things to do on a Friday night, so I used random.org to pick today's winners. Isn't the internet a weird and wonderful thing? You can order anything to be shipped to you from just about anywhere, you can get the news, watch cats play piano and have random numbers calculated for you at the click of a button.

How did we live without it all those years? What did we used to do? Have actual conversations with live humans in the flesh? So vintage!

I hope you'll find your way to a copy of When We Were Strangers and check back in on Monday, March 7, 2011 to chitchat about the book. The author, Pamela Schoenewaldt, will be stopping by later that week and answering your questions ... all from the secluded, cozy comfort of your own private internet.

Have a great weekend!

Posted by laurie at 4:40 PM

February 3, 2011

New Book Club Selection: When We Were Strangers

book-whenstrangers.jpg

This month's book club selection is When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewaldt. You can get it at amazon.com in paperback format or on your kindle (and also as a Nookbook).

OR, as you can see in the picture, you can win one of five copies right here! Harper Collins was generous enough to send me these copies (plus one for me to read, too) and five lucky readers will win a freebie book.

To enter, just post a hello in the comments section. You do need to include your email address and if you do not want that email address visible (it's only visible as you hover over your name with a mouse) then fill in the field just below email address that says "URL." You can just type in crazyauntpurl.com there if you want. People seem to freak about their email, and I am not a super code machine that can fix much of anything on this website, so I embrace the Buddhist fudge it philosophy.

Anyone of any age on planet earth is eligible to win. I do ask that you restrain yourself, though, if you aren't actually planning to read this book in the next four weeks.

And the best part about this month's book club is that the author has agreed to do a question & answer with all of us. So, on Monday, March 7, 2011 we'll meet back here to talk about the book and you all can ask any questions you might have and later that week (or so, give her some time) the author will chime in with answers to your questions.

Here is the Publisher's Weekly description of the book:

Schoenewaldt's heartbreaking debut is the late 19th century immigrant coming-of-age story of poor, plain Irma Vitale. When Irma's mother dies, she warns her 16-year-old daughter that leaving their little Italian village dooms her to die among strangers. A few years later, Irma, frightened of her increasingly lustful father, leaves her village and, armed only with her sewing skills and a small dowry, secures passage on the Servia, where she meets the first in a series of helpful strangers who will color, shape, and add the occasional zest of danger (her face is scarred by the time she disembarks) to her journeys. In America, her friendships with a few determined women--Lula, an African-American cook; Molly, an Irish maid; and Sofia, an Italian nurse--help keep her afloat and moving from a Cleveland sweatshop, through misery and rejuvenation in Chicago, and, finally, to the lush hills in San Francisco. Though some plot turns are played too melodramatically, Irma's adventures and redeeming evolution make this a serious book club contender.


Well, I personally am into melodramatic (have you heard me tell the story of how I got my first Brazilian bikini wax? It's practically a soap opera!) so I am all in to this book. I will be reading it for the first time along with you and have no idea what to expect. It just seemed like the perfect fiction escape from February.

Pamela, the author, has also offered to share some of her stories about her time living in Italy and so if you have questions about that as you read the book, be sure to ask on book chat day.

So that's this month's Book Club with a twist -- five free books up for grabs! The comments will close tomorrow night so I can email the winners and get the books shipped out on Saturday. Good luck!

Posted by laurie at 10:22 AM

January 25, 2011

Me so Tuesday, oh me so Tuesday

Approximately 56% of my readers will not know that the title today is derived from a crude, unimaginative 1980s song that I loved and spent most of 11th grade gyrating to while I applied unhealthy amounts of black eyeliner and blue eyeshadow to my face.

My bangs were four inches tall and even then I was a mere weakling amongst my hair overachiever peers. Oh, the 1980s. Best decade ever.


- - -

Did you watch HEAVY last night? Or am I the only one on Obesity TV Watch? I find this show less horrifying than HOARDERS, yet more unsettling than most obesity TV. Oh come on, you know what I mean: The Biggest Loser, National Body Challenge, True Life, Brookhaven, I Used To Be Fat, etc.

This show is unsettling because you don't really have a sense that the participants will succeed long term, as a viewer you don't really learn anything from it (since none of us will be spending the next six months in a special hermetically sealed facility with a hot trainer, it's not very applicable to real life) and the show feels like it is produced entirely from the perspective of people who have never been overweight. The latter isn't an overt part of the show, it's not like the network is doing a man-on-the street interview about fat people. Something about the show is just off.

Yet I watch.

- - -

Oscar nominations are out! The Oscars are my Super Bowl. How exciting to see that Winter's Bone was nominated for best picture! And Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Ree Dolly, was nominated for a leading actress award. Now aren't you glad we read the book?

When we were talking about Winter's Bone I was surprised by how many readers commented that they disliked the book because of the (gritty/sad/scary) world of meth addiction, something I thought was used rather lightly in the book only to sketch a background. The story (to me) never seemed focused on meth use at all, I thought it was a character study of a teenage girl. The book seemed far less scary or sad or gritty than an episode of CSI or Bones or even the nightly news, all those shows on network TV that show dead bodies and autopsies freak me out.

Anyway, I was really happy to see Winter's Bone get a Best Picture nomination. The book is one of my all-time favorites and I thought the movie was true to the feeling of the characters.

- - -

Yesterday after watching Oprah's show (she announced she had a long-lost sister) I called up my parents to ask if I had any sibling surprises.

"Did you ever have a baby named George Clooney and give him up for adoption?" I asked.

"No," said my mom. "Also, what you're thinking there is illegal, not to mention a little gross."

"OK, did you have a son named Vlad Putin and put him up for adoption?" I asked.

"Just how old do you think I am?" she said. "I'm hanging up on you now."

- - -

soba-lightbulb-moment.jpg

Doesn't Soba look like she's having an a-ha moment?

Posted by laurie at 9:55 AM

January 21, 2011

More bullet points

A formal apology for the bleeping bullet points. This online diary is accidentally turning into a poorly designed powerpoint slide. Oh powerpoint, what would the executives of America do without your bulleted lists and flying pie chart animations?

• Fat fingers

Every now and then I will be typing -- you should see me type, it's like watching a raccoon play piano -- and I will use one of my three typing fingers to press a button and a weird combination of return and shift and perhaps backspace deletes the open essay from the database. It's surprising because I couldn't replicate the keystrokes if I tried (I've tried.) It's happened maybe four times in six (seven?) years of writing this here website, so I usually take it as a sign from the Universe to write something better or different. So I do. I figure if even a soulless computer database hates the essay, it's time for a do-over. And how handy of the Universe to provide a newly empty screen in which to start over. Thanks, Universe!

ANYWAY. Hopefully that will address any lingering concerns anyone had about my mysterious, deep, dark secrets and the shady underbelly of a disappearing doodad. The secret is out: I have sausage hands. And, apparently, I also sort of believe the database is a person who occasionally hates what I write.

• More updates on doing nothing

Yeah, still no clutter management happening in the apartment. My idea was to de-stuffify the office so that when I have a houseguest stay with me that room would be open and inviting. I think some people refer to it as a "guest room." Fascinating. What I have is a yarn and books room.

My first-ever houseguest is arriving in just ten days or so. If I fail in clutter removal, I have a backup plan -- either make the houseguest a cozy bed downstairs and let go of the guest room concept entirely OR go ahead and use the yarn room as a guest room but keep the guest totally intoxicated for the entire visit so that the clutter is less memorable. Always have a backup plan!

• Breaking News: Large Pack of Real Housewives in Beverly Hills Try To Eat The Injured Housewife
Last's night's finale (not true -- the reunion show is always the finale, yes?) featured Sad Kim being encircled and taken down by the other botoxed gazelles. It made me sad. One of my favorite movies from the 1980s was Tuff Turf, and I kept expecting Frankie's scary Adam-Ant lookalike boyfriend to come save her. Life is so much better in the movies. Even if you're a celebrity.


And, finally, no powerpoint diary is complete without some visual aids:

Summertime!
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Dapper Dallas says, "Use extra-hold spray this week, folks, we've got a light 45 mph breeze...."


Cats!
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Bob making biscuits. So damn cute it offsets all the world's ugliness.

Posted by laurie at 9:19 AM

January 19, 2011

Wednesday List

Because when all else fails you can 1) start a sentence with "because" and 2) write a list. Even a sentence can be a list!

• Happy Making Tasks
Last night I made a list of things I could do that would make me happy. I'm starting to wonder if the state of happiness, which I can only seem to maintain in small bursts, might be amplified by simply doing small things that alleviate anxiety. For example, I have a pile of large items that are too big to be washed in my tiny urban-dweller washing machine, so I have been meaning to take them to the laundromat for eleventy nine days. If I just got up, loaded them in my Jeep and actually went to the laundromat and finished this task, I believe it would contribute to happiness by eliminating the low grade dissatisfaction that comes with being a big old pile of loose ends.

I will not even pretend to you that my list was a short one. But even just writing down the few things that were nagging at me in the background seemed to help. I am going to try out my laundromat theory and get back to you.

• A drought, then a deluge
I have done no publicity events in forever and now with 2011 already here and trucking onward I have two back-to-back events in mere weeks. The first is April 8th at the RT Booklovers Convention and the next day, April 9th, I am at Literary Orange. If you're able to come I'd sure love to see you! All this time to ponder my navel alone has apparently made me more happy about visiting with total strangers. Who knows what dumbass stuff will come out of my mouth! Like the time I told a group of women at an empowerment conference that I had a PhD in Drunkenology. AWESOME.

• Still can't get rid of anything, send Peter Walsh
Really.

• Teevee scares me
Not sure why I watch "Jersey Shore" but it has that trainwreck factor. Do young women really act like that? Do young women really go home with random men they meet in bars and have drunken sex in front of a camera crew and other strangers? If so, we have failed you. We, the people who are the wave just before you, have failed you profoundly. We didn't want you to face the same bad-girl stigma we were imprinted with, but we also didn't want you to lose your damn minds and give away your cookie to every hungry, anonymous stranger that looked sideways at you. We failed you.

• And Teevee burns calories
I started Tivo-ing shows I could watch while riding the exercise bike and my Tivo list has changed a bit. They have to fit a certain criteria -- the show must keep me engaged enough to keep pedaling and the show must be fast-paced enough to keep me pedaling like a hamster. I've been watching Detroit 1-8-7 since it started, and it is so good, and Hawaii 5-0, but now I have added Southland, Off The Map and a few CSIs. Do you have any actiony show suggestions?

• Knitless
I haven't been knitting much at all lately, I think I got slight burnout from the hat-making factory I became back in November. And of course it's been sunny and eighty degrees every day so it feels very un-scarflike. I love winter in Los Angeles. And when summer comes and it's time to hibernate inside a cool air conditioned room I am sure to become a sweatshop of one again.

Posted by laurie at 11:40 AM

January 18, 2011

When in doubt, make a list

• Regis is what?
Regis Philbin announced today that he's retiring from his TV show. I didn't realize I had strong feelings one way or the other about Regis until he decided to up and leave. Apparently, my deep dislike of change extends even to things I pretend to care nothing about!

• So what if I want to change -- I would like everything else to stay the same

Just yesterday I was driving down Magnolia Blvd. in the valley and saw that a garden shop and pottery place that has been there for a million years is going out of business. The first thing that popped into my head was, "No! I don't want my Valley to change!" I felt the exact same pang of personal loss when The Ivy on Ventura Blvd. posted a going out of business sign. Even if I don't shop there. Apparently I want to live in the Barbie Dream House where everything stays the exact same and only Barbie changes her clothes and accidentally gets her hair cut off with manicure scissors.

• Heavy
Did you watch A&E's premiere of the new TV show HEAVY last night? Part of me was thinking that I really want to go spend a month locked in a room with that male personal trainer. And part of me was thinking you could not pay me enough money to get in a bathing suit on national television. Ever.

• I bought a bathing suit
Hey, that could be the opening line for my future horror novel!
Yes, last night I sat in a darkened room and scoured the internet for a bathing suit that would cover all my parts. Apparently those are called "wet suits." Why, you may wonder, would this woman who gets hives just thinking about spandex be contemplating bathing gear?

In early December I sprained my ankle and I haven't been able to walk obsessively every day all day (gosh, I wonder how I sprained my ankle?) so I thought I might visit the local gym which has a pool. Sounds good, yes? Except to get in a pool you need all kinds of mental preparation. If you are me, which I am. There's the bathing suit, for one thing. And there's the Everest-like task of removing all body hair from all parts near and wide, and wider, and then there is the fear that each person at the pool will be a Hollywood actress slash model slash rockstar because this is Los Angeles and I am more of a Mississippi magnolia. If you know what I mean. And I think you do.

• Summer
Our weather has been spectacular, like the best parts of summer all rolled into one week. Yesterday I thought I should do some spring cleaning and I tried, I tried to declutter a bit and de-stash but all I did was rearrange my stuff. Why is it that sometimes you just want to cling?

Posted by laurie at 10:12 AM

January 1, 2011

2011: Prime Year Resolutions

The resolutions I made for 2010 were kind of heavy duty so this year I'm lightening up and resolving the following:

• Lighten up!

• Write write write! I will write here on this diary and in my paper one and write books and my first screenplay and maybe I will even write you a letter. And haiku and limericks and everything in between! I will write because I love it and because it is so much easier than dating.

• I will try to say Hey, hey, hey in a Fat Albert voice!

• I will shake my maracas! I do not care if I am large as a country ham as long as I am able to bump and grind. And anyway, I already bought myself a new pair of tennis shoes.

• I will try out a CSA! It's like some kind of communist vegetable proletariat thing and I am all for it, because I think Vladimir Putin is sexy, which my Uncle Truman says makes me a Total Communist. I found a vegetable CSA that has a drop-off site near me and I signed up for a two-week trial run and I will let you know how it goes (see bullet #1, write a lot!) I've gotten pretty good with the cooking and I love vegetables and I support small farms and I worship at the altar of organic so this seems like a good idea.

• I will plant a miniature garden on my rooftop patio! Something small and inexpensive, probably just herbs and peppers and maybe a squash. Because I long to be the proletariat farmer, too! And Vladimir Putin will think this is sexy and ask me on a date, but I will be too busy writing! And waiting for Al Gore to call!

• In 2011 I will either sh*t or get off the pot! Metaphorically! (Also, probably realistically, too.)

• I'm going to try Zumba! Because I like the name, and because it sounds hilarious and because one day when I am famous and married to the leader of mother Russia and/or Al Gore I will probably not be allowed to Zumba in public!

• I'm going to go to the movies a lot and eat popcorn!

• And I picked a word for 2011, because I thought that was a neat idea and could still be a bullet point, so all things considered it's pure listy joy. My word for 2011 is POSSIBILITIES! I will be open to possibilities and have the guts to take them on.

- - -

In my vast wisdom and nosepicking from 2010, I have learned that the universe is mysterious and kind of slapstick. Thanks, Universe. Really appreciated that you sent me a Bill Lumbergh last year. HAVE YOU FILED YOUR TPS REPORTS, UNIVERSE? Also the Universe has a sense of humor because not two hours after I made my whole "Lighten up!" resolution to encompass the whole year my drunken next door neighbors had a party that went from loud revelry to crazyass shouting and police and people being pulled out on stretchers and when that even did not make them stop hollering I went to knock on the landlord's door at 3 a.m. (he was gone of course) and the horrible next door woman saw me and cornered me in her drunken, fuming haze. She was skeery. She was so mad at me. Because clearly I was in the wrong to desire sleep. So thanks Universe for testing me so soon in the new year to lighten up. Really appreciate that! (I failed that test but now the bar has been set low and I have nowhere to go but up. See me lightening up Universe? DO YOU SEE?)

I am glad the Universe has a sense of humor because that goes a long way toward explaining things that cannot exist unless the Creator was having a field day of hilarity, things like gonads and farts and slugs. Seriously. Someone was either drunk or laughing when the testicles got put on the outside.

Thank God I was born a female!

Anyway, those are my resolutions, plus I said TESTICLES and TPS REPORTS. Oh, the innernet, where there is no editor and words are free.

Hello, 2011! Hey, hey, hey! I will be making your acquaintance now. Also, I will be making many vegetable stews thanks to the communist gardening I have signed up for! May we all Zumba and be open to possibilities and get off the pot in a timely fashion!

Posted by laurie at 9:47 PM

December 30, 2010

Little bit of this, little bit of that

Hello and Thursday! Also, even though it is crazypants early, I still have a cat trying to sit on my keyboard. It is Bob. Bob is like the TSA of this little home-based operation. He believes his job here at the shop is to make sure there are no weapons of mass destruction hiding behind the monitor, also he checks for edibles. During his thorough inspections, plenty of cat hair sticks to the monitor. That way we know the monitor is working.

- - -

Reader Marlena asked:

So this Nike band... it looks like there's a piece that needs to attach to your shoe. Have you ever managed to do that on a shoe that doesn't lace up? Or do you just use it with sneakers?

The Nike + shoes have a hidden compartment for the chip, that's the short answer.

The longer answer is this: I think I am one of the rare few who use the Nike+ Sport Band. From what I can tell from people I know who also use the Nike + chip, most run it through their ipods or iphones (here's a link to the Apple Nike + iPod Sport Kit). Those folks listen to music while they work out and the chip coordinates with software running in their iDevice.

I don't listen to music while I walk, that's purely my meditation time. So I got the sportband.

Basically, to get on this bandwagon you need three things:

1) A pair of Nike+ shoes (the plus sign means there is a little pocket inside the shoe to hold the chip) AND/OR you can buy an aftermarket thingamajig to hold the chip on your shoes, like the shoe lace sensor pouch. OR! OR! You could knit one, like my friend Rachael Herron.
2) The chip itself, which is about the size of a plastic fava bean.
3) Some device to read the data off the chip, either an ipod or iphone or a sportsband.

Nike sells the SportBand (which comes with the chip) as a package if you want to go that route. There is also the much more popular Nike+ ipod starter kit. And you can buy replacement chips for about twenty bucks if your chip starts to run out of juice in time. I have heard from other readers that if you wear your athletic shoes (with the chip inside) for doing daily errands and stuff it will dramatically decrease the chip's life.

I wear mostly flipflops in my daily life, so your mileage may vary.

You will also need to download some free software on your computer, or at least I did. It's how I upload my "runs" (which for me are all "walks") and track my progress. I'm just a consumer (not a paid advocate for running products) and I was skeptical if I could even get this thing to work but it was easy enough to get started and I really like it. It can display runs (again for me these are all walks) in a graph or by month, week, or day. You can set goals and the software will track it. The software is free, you do have to register a username with it, though.

Through my years of aggressively optimistic new starts (Hello, New Years Resolutions long past!) I managed to acquire both a treadmill and a recumbent bike and yet still the only exercise I really love is walking outdoors. Thank goodness I live in L.A. where we can walk outdoors just about year round.

Since we're on the subject, though, for those of you doing your own new start who are deciding between the bike and the treadmill, I would say go for the bike. Yes, the treadmill is probably a better workout in theory but I use the recumbent bike much more. It doesn't require electricity, it's easier to move around, less bulky and it's super quiet. And relatively cheap -- less than a quarter the price of a good treadmill! I was even able to put it together myself (I have this bike which was $160: Phoenix 99608 Magnetic Recumbent Exercise Bike).

I use it when I watch TV. It's so quiet and easy to do that I can make it through a whole episode of Hawaii 5-0 just pedaling away.

Honestly, I've never been a huge fan of exercise no matter what the device or machine or the cute new outfit I bought just to do said exercise. I'm no expert but I figure the only exercise that really works is the one you stick with on a pretty regular basis. I like walking best but the stationary bike is a good second.

I exercise because I can tell that it dramatically helps improve my sleep and it's decreased my depression. And one day I may be able to actually walk all the way up to my laundry area on the third floor without huffing and puffing.

- - -

Reader Sheila asked:

How is your dad? Much better I hope!

Yes! And thank you for asking. He is better. He's a tough cookie, and my folks are back on the road adventuring across America. And I saw Grandma on Christmas and she is doing well, too. We decided to go to the movies with Aunt Pam and Uncle Arnie and Grandma picked the movie -- she decided she wanted to see True Grit. Got to love my Grandma wanting to see a Coen Brothers film. It was good, we liked it. I complained about the poor movie horses, but we had a good day.

- - -

Reader Chris asked:

I would love it if you ever felt like posting about your acupuncture experience and if you feel it has helped.

Hello, Chris! You would think a crunchy granola such as myself would be all over acupuncture but I was extremely nervous about it at first. My doctor (read: shrink) suggested it because one of her clients had good results using acupuncture to treat his very intense depression and my doctor thought it may be something I'd want to investigate.

I did not care to investigate. Screw that. You want to put needles in my head you're gonna have to pay me! Or so I said.

Surprisingly enough in all of this my biggest pro-acupuncture cheerleader was my Dad. He had gone years ago and had great results and my Dad kept urging me to go, so finally I decided that if my very conservative un-granola Dad could do it, I could at least try.

It took me a few weeks to get up the nerve, but one day I called the acupuncture doctor and I made an appointment. I decided ahead of time that no matter what I would go at least three times before deciding to quit (I know how I can be.)

The first appointment was just a big ball of crazy. I was so nervous I was literally shaking. Physically. I have not ever once voluntarily asked someone to stick needles in my body. Plus, my acupuncture doctor is kind of hot, and that was a little disconcerting. The doctor will ask you very detailed questions about your health, stuff my own primary care doc never asks. And I was honest, and I told him I was there for depression, hopefully for help with weight issues and also with general health and well-being. I did not have high hopes for this needle thing but whatever. I figured I would try it.

On the first visit I was so incredibly anxious that I'm not sure I got much out of the session. I was just wound up so tight. Plus, lying in a darkened room alone for twenty minutes with needles sticking out of my hands and forehead while trying not to sneeze was just about enough. When he came in to take them out the only thing I felt was relief to have gotten through without bolting.

But I had promised myself to try it three times, so I went back the following week.

The next session was day and night's difference. Since I now knew the drill -- I had already met the doctor, been in the room, had already experienced the slightly odd sensation of having needles placed in your hands and ears -- it was less unknown and that itself made it less anxiety-producing. This time he added a few more needles and I think the session was longer, maybe 30 minutes. By the time it was over I knew I felt calm but as I sat up and reached for my shoes I realized I felt like I had been drugged. The good kind of drugged.

What I mean is that I had a calm, softened, still feeling inside me that I almost never feel. In fact, to feel that still and calm I usually have to numb out with a combination of food, TV and wine. You know that calm feeling I mean? The one where you stop feeling coiled up for just a little bit?

So anyway, that's what acupuncture does for me and now I am hooked. Totally hooked. I think it's a good thing. The obvious question for many people is ... is it worth it? For me, yes. I can't tell you the acupuncture itself is a golden bullet but I love and look forward to it and I think it's part of an overall strategy for good living. When it comes down to the money, I have decided I would rather spend money on my physical wellness and calm and find other ways to cut back on spending. Since I almost never drive anywhere, I'm probably saving so much gas money that it pays for itself.

Also it reminds me how good we are in general at rationalizing spending money on all kinds of crap like DVDs and gadgets and stuff from ebay and cars and handbags and shoes but when it comes to paying a shrink or a massage therapist or an acupuncturist or paying for a service that is not exactly tangible but could lead to long-term happiness, we balk.

Because we humans are funny little people.

- - -

Other Stuff:

• I have a printer still here in a box that I have got to set up today. I have had this printer for months, just there in its box sneering at me. I find tasks like this daunting and require a cocktail. So I have to wait until cocktail hour to get started on it. I have actually managed to exist without a working printer for well over two years but now I have to print something out and that means I got to git 'er done. Oh, technology. Why are we sometimes so hateful of each other?

• Something I wrote the other day got picked up for syndication on BlogHer and here is the link. Also, while I was registering for the site I found what looks like a delicious recipe for jalapeno creamed corn, doesn't that look good? Anyway, I'm sharing because I like what BlogHer is about. It reminds me of back in the day, what we were trying to do with ChickClick even though that sort of fell apart with a thud.

• I have one knitting project that has to get done and shipped by tomorrow and then I have to finish a couple of hats for my nephews oh, and I still need to post that newest hat pattern. What is everyone knitting these days?

• Does anyone have a good recipe that contains butternut squash? I'm not sure I love butternut squash all that much, even though I know it's good for you. But I have one here in the fridge and I want to do something with it other than just roast it. Worst case scenario I guess I could peel it, cut it in cubes and freeze it for later. I wonder if I could shred it and eat it raw in a salad, like you can with beets?

• When the clock strikes midnight tomorrow night and I am not 100% totally done with the manuscript I will look back at this blog and the eleventeen hundred words I have dumped on all you hearty souls lately and think, ah well. Typing is my cardio. And won't it be nice to say, in 2011 I finished my first fiction novel? Oh yeah.

• One of my goals for 2011 may be to learn how to say Hey! Hey! Hey! in a Fat Albert voice.

• It is wacky windy outside! Apparently there were tumbleweeds on the freeway this morning and everything. Very exciting!


And finally, are ya'll getting excited about a new, fresh year coming? I am. I'm ready to be done with 2010 and go on to Prime Year 2011.

Posted by laurie at 5:50 AM

December 29, 2010

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes (and the last roundup of the year)

When I started this wonky little idea, to post a monthly check-in on my 2010 New Year's Resolutions, I thought it would be fairly easy. You know, blah blah blah, life is grand, etcetera. That's what New Year's resolutions do to you, they lure you into easy hope and optimism. I blame it on those little bubbles in the champagne.

My 2010 Resolutions were:

1) Get really healthy
2) Come from a place of yes (later redefined as "Happy!")

January
The first month of 2010 was a big fresh start, two-thousand-ten! It seemed momentous. Like something might happen this year. Oh, how right I was. When I read back on that first roundup, January was a blur.

By far the best thing I bought for myself all year came that month, though -- I purchased the Nike + SportBand to track all my walking. I LOVE this thing. I have used it all year with no glitches or issues, and the battery on the chip is still going strong. I love that I can see how many miles I walked this year and it's a visible chart of my improvement. There were some months where I logged exactly zero miles, but by year's end I was hoofing it 20 miles a week. That and a great pair of shoes were my big investments in exercise and were absolutely the least expensive, most useful wellness-related things I have ever purchased.

By the end of the January 2010, I had the "loosen up/get happy" resolution fresh in my mind but I wasn't exactly the picture of cool, calm zen.

February
In February I did the best I could. The book signing was fun and I got to see lots of old friends. I didn't eat my vegetables and I think chocolate became a food group, whoops.

March
I tried to get it together, a lot, and mostly succeeded in re-arranging my bookshelves and knitting.

April
The slow trajectory of the new year became a wacky train ride.

May
One of the best things I've ever done happened in May -- my mom and I went to Bermuda together for her birthday. It was one of the best trips I have ever taken in my life. We traveled so well together, and the island is spectacular and the hotel was like a dream and room service was amazing and I even got on a boat and was not attacked by Jaws! It was relaxing at a time when what I needed most in the world was the get the hell out of Dodge.

But there were also a few days in May when I wondered, Is it possible to join the circus at my age? Lots of changes on the horizon!

June
My last day at the bank was June 4th. It was so hard and to this day I still miss all the good folks there but I had a great opportunity for change and I took it. It's funny how once you wrap your mind around something, even a huge change like this, you start to make it work. In other news my parents got into town, finally, and my dad was so ill, and my grandmother had another stroke. These are stressful events. So I tried to smile a lot and Stay Positive! and Be Happy! I was thankful that I got to spend time with my family and I went to the mountains for a week with my folks and I made my first pair of handknit gloves(!) and I had the completely new and novel experience of going to the grocery store at 10 a.m. on a weekday, something I can't really ever remember doing. I was completely freaked out seeing my dad so sick, but I pretended I wasn't. Not sure I fooled anyone.

July
I spent a lot of time with my family, and I woke up each day continually astonished that I didn't have to sit in traffic. Also, working from home is a big adjustment! You're near the fridge ... a lot...

August
In August something happened that was nothing short of divine intervention: I got the idea for this book I'm writing. I scrapped the hugely over-ambitious fiction project I had been fixated on and spent the month working out a new plot in my head, over and over, until I knew this character so well I could picture her every nuance. I did it to the exclusion of all other things, well, except chocolate. Yeah. August.

September
In September I wrote, and I wrote and I wrote. My brother came to visit. I didn't see it at the time, but I think things turned a corner for me in the fall, in a good way.

October
October was a fresh month, we have amazing weather in October, sometimes it's so hot you think your brain will melt and sometimes it's so clear and blue you want to snort the sky. It was a month of bittersweet endings and beginnings, my parents left the state and my Grandmother sold her house and moved permanently into a care facility and I don't really love change all that much but something was different with me because I wasn't all puddled up and crazy like I can be. Prelude to good.

November

The month I wanted to have all year long. Beautiful autumn weather, delicious Los Angeles with the Boulevard full of holiday lights and shoppers and people out walking their dogs with little jackets and sweaters on their canine friends. One day I was in my apartment and the cats were stretched out by the fake fireplace and my tree was already up and I was stretching my sore legs after an especially long walk and I knew with absolute certainty that I was happy. Most astonishingly, I was happy on the inside. Not from some achievement or success or money or a hot guy or a new purchase or even a book contract. It wasn't just one contented moment, a fleeting thing. It was the total belief that tomorrow I could have another happy day just like this one if I wanted. And I wanted!

December

Well, here we are.

Goofy, sparkly, finish-what-you started month. It started with the Kansas City surprise party for my Uncle Truman, a mini-family reunion. It's still December right now and I have almost-very-close-to finished my first-ever fiction novel (!!) and I've already plotted the sequel(!!!). I don't know if I will actually completely finish the manuscript by the time it hits midnight in three days, but I will have given it a very good try. I thought I would be really let down if I didn't finish, but I know what I have so far is good, almost 40,000 words and I could hand it over right now and not be embarrassed by it. So that in itself is an accomplishment.

My favorite part of each day is all of it, but especially writing and cooking for friends and waking and sleeping and all the spaces in between. I still have my moments, my dark corners, but in general I feel hopeful and ready.


- - -

So there you have it. On the eve of 2010, I made my two little resolutions -- get happy, get healthy -- because I was so desperately unhappy and unhealthy and I wanted to be better. As each month passed I began to feel more and more desperate, because I seemed to be going in the wrong direction! If you had seen me in August you would have suspected I was two shakes from the rubber room.

But the very lowest point of my year also gave me the most surprise gift, a book idea that lit a fire under me for months. I maybe overdosed on research for a while but I finally plugged into a project and into my real life, this life, the only one I have. My days changed because I changed. And I invested in myself. I did things that were scary and annoying: I went to the doctor, I started acupuncture, I walked, I learned to cook, I learned to breathe instead of taking mallomar infusion. (Well, most of the time. Rome, not built in a day.)

What a weird, freakadelic, unpredictable, unexpected year.

Thanks for hanging in there and living it with me.

Posted by laurie at 2:06 PM

December 27, 2010

My favorite week of the year

This is my favorite week of the year, that little gap between Christmas and the new year. It's calm and the weather is usually lovely and traffic is at a year-end low. For one thing people have calmed the hell down and you don't see so much of the angry GET OUT OF MY WAY I HAVE IMPORTANT ERRANDS tailgating. People are less aggressive and ridiculous in general, after all the rush and stress of the holiday are past and now everyone can sit back, drink the wine and eat all the carbs they want because in just a few days they'll make a New Year's Resolution to get it all together.

I've been thinking about my New Year's Resolutions. I love a list, my tombstone will probably be a bullet-point list. I love lists! They make me feel in control of the world, if I just write it on my list it is possible that I can change around my whole life.

This year I did actually change around my whole life. Not in the way I expected, but still. No complaining from my end.

The cats are happy, too, they've been enjoying their new Christmas present, one furry blanket that they take turns burrowing in until comfortable:

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You will notice la Soba is not in these pictures, she can't be bothered with any of this, she is stretched out before the fireplace reading The Art Of War.

Are you making resolutions? I've heard some readers say they're using a single word as a resolution, like a concept for the year. You'd think I'd be all over that like a navel-gazer is all over a mountaintop but I'm more into my bullet points. My favorite resolution was from reader Susie who said a year or so ago she resolved to "Eat more bacon!" which cracked me right up. Anyway, for those of you who hate resolutions with the burning fire of a thousand boiling suns you can just go over to your corner and eat worms and wave your fingers of doom, but I'd love to hear from everyone else on what you hope to accomplish in 2011, or what your word is, or what it is that you want to bring into your life (or get rid of, as the case may be.)

I love resolutions because they're hopeful and speak to what kind of life we want to live. For some of us that hope that tomorrow can be full of some new possibility is the crack cocaine that keeps us living another day.

And anyway, I am living proof that deciding you want to be in a different (better) place in 365 days can actually work. Though not at all in any way I could have ever pictured, plotted or imagined. The universe has a funny sense of humor.

Maybe I too, should vow to eat more bacon.

Posted by laurie at 9:55 AM

December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas! (And Merry Christmas Eve)

The entire staff here at Crazy Aunt Purl wishes you a happy holiday!

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There is a lot of help on that desk.

Posted by laurie at 1:25 PM

December 19, 2010

Food criminals part 2

Every time I write something ancillary about my issues with food someone sends me a diet plan.

I eliminated high-fat foods for the most part. I had what I called the White Breakfast, oatmeal with no sugars, a hard-boiled egg and a cup of yogurt, plus coffee. Lunch was a piece of roasted chicken breast and a salad, supper was chicken or fish, a vegetable and a salad, with wine to make it luxurious. Fruit midmorning for a snack, midafternoon for another snack (which helps with the sugar cravings) and a hunk of cheese with wine at bedtime.
You should try the clean-eating diet...
Buying a steamer will change your life. It changed mine. If you steam your veggies you will get more health benefits with less calories.

It always surprises me, though it shouldn't. The intention behind it is kind and good-hearted and I think after all the money I have spent on therapy I am happy to see I can understand these notes are sent with good intentions and well-meaning ideas.

Here's the thing. Have you ever seen the show Hoarders? It's a reality TV show about people who are hoarders and live in terribly cluttered or refuse-filled homes. It boggles the mind. The mind is boggled! You think, My God, people, just clean your house. Get thee to a Swiffer! Of course if they could do that they would not be hoarders. Duh.

What about alcoholics? Would you tell an alcoholic, "Look, there are other things to drink besides alcohol. Next time you are thirsty, drink water or milk or juice. And that will solve your problems!"

Of course not, because alcoholism isn't about thirst. Just like eating disorders are not about food.

Giving a weight-loss diet plan to a person with food issues is like telling an alcoholic to just drink grape juice the next time they get parched. Alcoholics don't have a problem with alcohol because they are terribly confused about what else to drink. Folks who have food issues aren't simply lacking knowledge about steamed vegetables and lean proteins. My belief is that people who have food issues probably know more about food, fat, calories, consumption, and loss than any other people on the planet.

Trust me, another diet won't fix that psychic perplexity.

- - -


Reader Jennifer asked:

I'm right there with you. At this point, I'm not even sure what a balanced meal is or what is or isn't healthy. I've been dieting and restricting what I eat and have heard so much -- that I've lost all track of that. What a relief it must be to "undiet." Good for you! If I took a similar approach, I'd be nervous that I might go crazy and eat whatever I want. Does that make sense? Like I actually might lose all control?

Were you ever afraid of this? and how did you handle it?

It is not a relief to swear off dieting. It is terrifying, it is crazy-making and it's disorienting. Because if you are like me you have spent an entire lifetime eating from someone else's list so you have no idea what to eat if you aren't on plan (those off-plan times you think of as simply anomalies.) I have been trying this for over five years now and it's been up and down. I even went back to low-carbing again just before my second book expo, I think I needed the feeling of control and constraint that comes with restrictive eating.

We're most afraid that without a plan we will never, ever stop eating. I feared I would become unhinged, wild, lost with hunger. I definitely had times of absolute abandon where I worried I would never stop eating (and there were times when I did not).

I think that perhaps you have to be willing to fail. There are days now when I am OK -- I am not crazy restricting or alone in shamed overeating. To get there I think you have to be willing to treat yourself with care and put your own well-being above the approval of others. It is almost bone crushing. For those of us who just want to be lovely, pretty, appealing or accepted... it feels a little like dying to give up the hope you'll ever be just perfect enough.

But it is really, really worth trying.


- - -

Reader India says,

You are right and I so totally agree with everything you said. I'm trying to learn this myself, rather than be disgusted and angry with myself all the time because I don't look the way I want (yes I am overweight, but since when is size 10 or 12 such an awful thing?), or I fall of the wagon and eat something I shouldn't... But I have an appointment with my (skinny) doctor in six weeks and I KNOW she will look at me disapprovingly when she sees that I haven't lost any weight, have in fact maybe gained some. She will blame me for my blood pressure being slightly high, for not exercising enough. I know this because it has already happened before.

I am not a doctor, I am a person with issues. Also I hate giving advice so take this as you will:

CHANGE DOCTORS.

I firmly believe that I have good, sturdy, robust health today because I have a doctor who does not make me feel bad to visit him. I am not denied healthcare because of my weight. (If one avoids a doctor because of weight ... well, you see my logic.)

Several years ago when I started down this path of yanking myself out of disordered eating I asked the nurse at my primary care physician's office to not weigh me. They put a notation in my chart so that it now never comes up. For me, this is good. For people like me, that weigh-in is a barrier to getting actual healthcare. (And let's be honest, it's not like I don't know my weight down to the ounce every day, thank you bathroom scale. Like I said, I got me some issues.)

My doctor never chastises me or makes me feel bad about myself. He cares. I see him regularly for check-ups and routine exams. I have good health care because my doctor does not harass me. He knows that if harassing worked to get people out of food issues then, wow, we'd already be cured.

So if your doctor is not helpful, kind, and respectful of you then JUST CHANGE DOCTORS. NOW.

Some people will think I am giving you bad advice because they believe a doctor's role is to chastise you into better health. In reality all that does is make you avoid the doctor. Find a doctor you like who respects you and doesn't make you want to eat a chocolate Volkswagen after every visit and your life will begin to change as well. It's up to you. You hold the answers, not some third-party who looks at you in deep disapproval.


- - -


About the beet salad, Lenna asks:

I have a question about your salad: do you use the olive oil and red wine vinegar in equal amounts also?

I think I just sprinkle on a little of both. It's not a salad that need a whole lot of dressing, it's pretty darn tasty as-is!


- - - -
Lynn wrote:

I have been thinking about which "diet" to start on January 1st and had decided on Atkins. All my inner alarm bells were clanging at the thought of carrots, potatoes, fruit and my husband's homemade sourdough bread being "dealbreakers". But, I had read about someone who had lost 100lbs and still feels great after 3 yrs. So, I was ready to dive in even though all common sense said don't do it.

Every January 1st since I was eight years old I have resolved to go on a diet. For those of you counting, that is thirty-one years of dieting. Each new year I resolved to be less of myself.

Even my "get healthy" goal for 2010 started out very secretly carved as a weight goal.

So, Atkins. I lost a lot of weight on Atkins. When I went off it I gained at a rate that astonishes me to this day. There are many people for whom a low-carb lifestyle is really appealing. It certainly appealed to my obsessive, crazypants qualities -- it brought out my OCD around food like nothing before or since. Not everyone who goes on a low-carb diet turns into a food-aholic but perhaps it was my wiring, the timing, some underlying unbalance in me. Who knows? All I can say is that to this very day, knowing what I know, I still lean toward restricting carbs when I get stressed out. Four and a half years of hardcore Atkins did me in. I evangelized Atkins, I lived it and breathed it like a religion and to this day I am still trying to unravel it in my brain.


- - -


So that's it. Just a few things today as a follow up. I don't have a lot of answers about food. Most every person I know has qualifiers around eating, a little secret math formula known only to them that decides if they eat this or that or how much. What a complicated equation.

I know I have gotten better because I don't get squalling angry at the strangers who send me diet plans these days. But I also know I still have a long way to go because the new year is approaching and in my head it means a fresh start, a new regime, and I have to really talk myself down from that ledge.

At least now I can see it's a ledge.

Posted by laurie at 12:35 AM

December 15, 2010

Post-Book chat; books, movies and other assorted doodads

What interesting comments on last month's book club selection, Olive Kitteridge. I think I enjoyed reading the comments more than reading the book! (Oh, just kidding. But still.) Our winner was Jennifer (how many Jennifers are there in my life??) who said,

I like the book club idea Laurie, let's keep it up! How about The Portrait of a Lady for next time? I've never read it, and feel like I could use some book club support when I attempt it. :)

Congrats on winning! I don't know what the next book will be, as much as I love Henry James I'm not sure anyone else does. I worry about making people hate me with desperate abandon. But I am taking any and all suggestions for the next classic, although I want a book that meets the following criteria: FREE to all from the internet and have a free audiobook version. I'm open to any suggestions!

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My editor inspects my work.


In other news:

• I saw Black Swan and much to my surprise it really was a ballet horror movie. This is something I knew going in and yet still, a ballet horror flick! I'm not going to say what I thought of the film since I don't want to sway you one way or the other but I will say that Natalie Portman's body was like its own character in the story. I think the movie opens nationwide on Christmas.

• Neil at Citizen of the Month is having his Fifth Annual Blogger Christmalhijrahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert today. If you scroll long enough you may see one very famous cat just sitting there staring at people. And Neil, why are all your cabinets open in your video? Why? Why?

• Every time I mention I have gone off traveling somewhere I get lots of questions about the most important part of traveling: Who takes care of the cats? I have a lovely house sitter who is certified pet sitter and to me it is worth every penny. She's been part of my travels for over five years now! I couldn't travel if I didn't think they feline posse were in good hands. If you are looking for a qualified pet sitter, I suggest heading to the website http://www.petsit.com/ to find a professional near you. You may also be able to find someone by contacting your vet's office and asking for a recommendation. The most important thing is to go with your gut. Don't talk yourself into taking on someone you don't trust just because you think it will be hard to find a pet sitter. There are plenty of people in this world who love animals and will respect your home and once you find a good sitter it really frees up your worry space for other important anxieties, like which shoes to pack and which pants make your butt look best.

• As I type this I have a cat in my lap. Sobakowa likes it when I type in the mornings because she fits right into the nook between my body and the desk. She purrs and I type and we do this until my leg falls asleep. Several people have asked me about my keyboard (which has nothing to do with the cat, by the way) and how it looks so different from their mac keyboards. I like apple computers but I hate apple keyboards. I use The Matias Tactile Pro Keyboard, which is much more like an old fashioned keyboard, it clacks as loud as a typewriter. The loudness and springyness of it are its main points of awesomeness for me but I think people who are used to the quiet keyboarding experience of most modern computers will find it too old fashioned. BUT if you miss your old IBM Selectric daily, this is they keyboard for you. I type a lot so I need a perfect typing situation and for me this is it.

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• Finally, How did it get to be December 15, 2010? Next year, 2011, is a prime number year. I hope it's a good omen. I think we could all use a good year.

Posted by laurie at 10:31 AM

December 13, 2010

Olive Kitteridge

Good morning! This month (and a half) of online bookishness was spent with Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.

I first read Elizabeth Strout when Amy and Isabelle was published, and I thought she had a lovely writing style, so crisp at times you could close your eyes and just smell the scene.

I didn't realize at first that this book was a collection of short stories. Once I realized it wasn't a traditional novel I could appreciate the way it was arranged (I tend to like short stories, Alice Munro is a favorite.) I will say I didn't like this book nearly as much as I liked Amy and Isabelle. I'm very curious what you thought about the story collection format. Did you like it? Or do you prefer a solid, singular novel with a more traditional story arc? I often felt that I wanted a little more, but the format itself kind of painted Olive as much as the words: complex, seen in different lights as a different person, incomplete.

And what did you think of the book? Satisfying? Left you wanting? Loved it? couldn't get into it?

No matter what you think of Olive it's hard to deny that Strout is a beautiful writer. I think what I liked most about Olive Kitteridge was the underlying idea that you never really know another person. Of course there are folks who believe you can know someone else fully and completely but I just don't think it's possible. Every person has their secrets, their quiet omissions, their spaces that are unknowable even to themselves. Someone you've known a lifetime may surprise you tomorrow. And that underlying tone of the character makes the book both unsettling and interesting (to me). But then again I like the idea that every human being is a little puzzle of impulses and desires.

- - -

Let me know what you thought of the book and if you have a particular classic in mind you may want to read soon. I think we'll wait until after the new year to get all bookish again, perhaps because some of you are encased in snow and ice and perhaps because some of us have spring fever already with 80-degree sunny days. Or perhaps because neither of us can knit and read at the same time! (You all who can knit and read simultaneously boggle my mind. Boggle!) And I will pick someone from the comments to win a mystery box of goodies, including some Patons Up Country that is rarer than the most priceless gem...

Posted by laurie at 4:55 AM

December 8, 2010

Dude, where's my pat-down?

So I've been off gallivanting and I was sure I would come back with lascivious tales of pat downs and someone (me) making inappropriate sexual remarks to someone (random TSA dude) just doing their job but alas, there was nary an x-ray machine nor a rambunctious pat-down in sight. I had even carefully checked out the TSA attendants while I was standing in line, trying to figure out which one would become my post-pat-down babydaddy. What a surprise to discover that flying is the same old shoeless bore as always.

So yes, I headed off to the airport on Friday for a very early morning flight out to Kansas City. My family was gathering from the far-flung ends of the map to show up for my Uncle Truman's surprise 70th birthday party. (It is a very long story of how an avowed Southerner came to live in Kansas, a story for another time.) My brother flew in from Florida the same day and I timed my flights with his to cut down on the chauffeuring my family had to do. You can guess who got the better end of that deal. Why my vacations always seem to start at 3 a.m. is a constant mystery to me ... can someone please tell my why vacation cannot start at 10 a.m.?

Aside from my departure time, which was still the middle of the night, the flight was just fine. I am one of the few people I know who really loves airports but even I can't find anything good to say about the TSA's full body x-ray scanners so I was going to opt for one of those gynecological pat downs. The only downside is that I deeply believe if you want to get that up-close and personal with my coochie I need a glass of wine first, so I planned to make the TSA buy me a drink. HOWEVER, even I do not drink wine at 5 o'clock in the morning (yet). You can see how flying is very stressful for someone like me. Lots of stress. What with all the neuroses and all.

My cousin Melissa picked up me and my brother at the airport (different states, different airlines, yet still so coordinated! we are a marvel of ingenuity!) and we were off on Mission: Birthday Surprise.

Here are my brother Guy and cousin Melissa at the party:

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They were best friends when we were kids. After all this time they are still like peas and carrots.

The three brothers, that's my Uncle Truman, my dad and my Uncle Skipper:

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Uncle Truman, Carol (family friend) and Dad checking out the photos:

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Paparazzi got you!


Me and my Dad having a self-portrait moment:

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You KNOW my parents brought their favorite child along for the family reunion! Here is my mom and the baby:

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I LOVE THIS PICTURE.

No family travelogue would be complete without some Corgi butt:

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Now, the picture below will not make my Dad happy, since I caught him mid-conversation, but it is the sole image I have of any of the handknits I hauled across the country for my family:

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Sorry, Dad. But I have been knitting like a small factory sweatshop of one for weeks now and did I take a single picture of all the handknitted items I made? NO. I completed seven hats, one scarf and one pair of armwarmers. Also in addition to forgetting to take snapshots of the handknits I neglected to take pictures of the scenery, most of the people and most of the events of the long weekend, probably because it was 12 degrees outside. People. I am not used to degrees in the lower end of the 100s. For example, "freezing." I love all ya'll who live in the frozen Arctic tundra but I will not be visiting you again in December because although I thought I was prepared for the cold what with my raincoat and all, as it turns out I do not know from cold. In December here in Los Angeles we have dapper Dallas Raines and our difficult winter weather:

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Yeah, that's right, 84 downtown on Sunday. Read it and weep.

After a long and happy and wine-drenched weekend I was so excited to come home to my little family of shorties and my weird city and my bed. Home is a beautiful thing. One of the shorties especially missed me, so much that even when typing this he was all into helping me and making sure I got it right, especially the spell-check:

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Bob says, "No pat downs here, but we got all purring at half price!"

Posted by laurie at 6:25 PM

December 1, 2010

Next-to-last monthly recap

Yes, here it is, the almost-last monthly roundup and also the first day of the last month of this year. Yikesamighty. Is 2010 really almost over?

- - -

November was the one I have been waiting for all year, the sort of month I think I had in mind when I first created this little resolution of mine to get happy and get healthy. Back in January OH SO LONG AGO I wasn't entirely sure what those goals really meant or how to measure them or what it entailed, realistically, to achieve such goals but November was when it finally all came together for me.

Hey, it only took me 11 months. Word up.

November was: perfect weather, feeling hopeful and content, listening to music, writing, cooking, walking in my neighborhood, not just every day but sometimes twice a day (I clocked just under 85 miles on my Nike + SportBand, which is crazypants.)

This whole year has been a rollercoaster, and not the cool, thrilling Magic Mountain sort of rollercoaster. It's been more like the scary, rickety rides you see at carnivals that spring up overnight in a parking lot in Reseda run by ex-cons and very short men with shaved heads.

I spent several months trying to power through it, which didn't work that well but I SMILED and STAYED POSITIVE BY GOD and EVERYTHING WILL WORK OUT ONE DAY. In August I kind of split open majestically and then as the year closed in, all my pieces somehow managed to fit back together, this time even better than they were before. What I am telling you is that it is mysterious and goofy and illogical, but November was not just the best month I have had all year it was the best month I have had in years.

Nothing stupendous happened, I did not go on any dates with Al Gore or take any lush European vacations or get a fabulous haircut or even go to the movies. The source of my happiness didn't come from something I bought or ate or watched on TV. Something changed on the inside. It's been improving steadily these past few months but only recently do I wake up each day feeling good about living. It's not something you can buy or wear or show off (and I ought to know, I spent a lot of years trying to buy me some happiness.) It's not tangible. It didn't cost anything. I am as surprised as you are.

And I feel hopeful and optimistic but not in that vigilant wild-eyed way you get when you're about to fall over. It's more subtle. I think it's ironic and funny that it came to me this way. I've spent most of my adult life hoping I would finally be happy when conditions were right -- when I had enough money or lived in just the right place or had just the right amount of accomplishment. On paper, current conditions are not just right and still I wake up feeling better than I did the day before. Perhaps all that hooey about harmony coming from the inside out might be true. Who knew! What I can say for sure is that I've been away from the bank for five months now and I'm finally exhaling, sleeping, plugging in to my life. It's not perfect and that makes it all the more surprising.

So that was November. In November I just lived my new life and it was good. That's all I wanted. That's all any of us want, right? To have a good day and string several together for a good life.

And now it's December, the last month of this wacky year. Hopefully now I'm at that part of the ride where you step off and thank the good Lord that your rollercoaster didn't get stuck upside-down and you can leave the amusement park and go have a cocktail.

- - -

December Goals: Just do more of the same. And finish the book.

(Comments are not available today.)

Posted by laurie at 9:20 AM

Congrats to the sock book winners!

The winners of the sock books giveaways were reader Victoria (who shares my love of Fitch from Detroit 1-8-7) and reader Michelle in Colorado, who has made a sock-only pact with a friend, so I do hope these books help you with that. Though I may try to persuade you to try a hat now and then...

Thank you to all the (0ver 800!!) people who participated! In December I have LOTS of knitting books to give away, so stay tuned for more.

Posted by laurie at 9:00 AM

November 29, 2010

"Olive" postponed; Sock knitting books giveaway

Over the past week I started getting letters asking when we were supposed to talk about Olive Kitteridge and could we please add a few days to this month? So, since I wasn't planning to pick a December book anyway, why don't we add a few weeks to our online book club timeline? That way more people can join in! Let's meet back here on Monday, December 13th (which gives you two extra weeks) and we'll chitchat about ol' Olive.

- - -

Today, instead let's have a free book raffle!

TWO lucky winners will each win The Sock Knitter's Workshop and The Enchanted Sole; Legendary Socks for Adventurous Knitters by Janel Laidman. The latter book is even signed by the author!

They are basking beneath my tinsel tree on my desk...

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To be eligible to win, just post a hello today in the comments. Good luck! Word to the sock knitters!

Posted by laurie at 8:33 AM

November 24, 2010

Oh, Teevee, How I love Thee

I love that this year's biggest most life-threatening issue in America has been the final three lineup on Dancing With The Stars. Personally I wasn't invested in the outcome, but that is probably because I am still holding a grudge from the season many years ago when Cheetah Girl Sabrina Bryan was voted off. Fester much?

Mostly I was impressed that Jennifer Grey wasn't just the winner, she was a 50-year old gal who could outrun me twice over. Did you see also-50-year-old Robin Roberts shimmy away on this morning's Good Morning America? I love seeing women in their 50s looking smoking hot, it's awesome. What did you think about the season ... were you morally outraged, slightly bemused or just wondering why all the sudden you wished Kyle would win?

By far my newest TV guilty pleasure is The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, even though this is really The Real Housewives of Los Angeles, trust me when I assure you that level of insanity is not particular to the 90210 but is in fact alive and well all over this freakydeaky place. Those fishlips on Taylor and that weird, Frankensteiny blonde twig thing that makes all women of a certain income level look suspiciously alike happens all the way from the 818 to the 714.

The dueling birthday parties episode was high art (Taylor's weird husband, the scene of their kid hanging out alone with the nanny, the terrible despair of getting a new puppy, so tragic!) My favorites are Lisa and her husband and that goofy dog which I believe is half the size of Bob's last hairball.

But it's the former Mrs. Kelsey Grammer that makes this show fascinating and surreal. When she was in her big, hallucinated fight with Kyle (who is truly stop-traffic beautiful) and Camille went on and on and on about how much better her husband was than Kyle's husband I was having fits. My husband won an Emmy and is a celebrity and since I sleep with him I am SO MUCH BETTER than you, you with the beautiful husband and the happy marriage and the cute kids. You don't even have four nannies or eighteen houses or a paid entourage of people to kiss your butt, you are nothing! (smug giggle)

Juicy. Trashy. Teevee!!

As for the new shows, I still watch Hawaii 5-0, mostly for Scott Caan, and sometimes Nikita, along with Detroit 1-8-7 (I have a crush on Fitch), and Hellcats, which I love and don't care what you think of me for admitting it. What are you watching? Have you also been abducted by the Beverly Hills Housewives? Say I'm not the only one...

Posted by laurie at 9:17 AM

November 12, 2010

Name This Movie

My Uncle Truman doesn't use computers. He has never been on the internet and furthermore he is still upset that Walker, Texas Ranger isn't on the TV anymore. He's hilarious. He makes me laugh.

When he needs research, he calls me, because I have "the innernet on a lot." That was how we started talking about this old movie he'd seen this one time and he cannot for the life of him remember the name or who starred in it.

I researched and looked up every keyword combination I could think of but I came up empty-handed. So I'm turning this over to you, Readers Who Mysteriously Know All Kinds Of Crazy Stuff. I can only assume you have more innernets on where you live.

In 1963, my Uncle Truman was a soldier living overseas when he and some Army buddies got sent to West Berlin. He was a 22-year-old kid from South Texas and he said that the most amazing thing he'd ever run across was right there in West Berlin ... not the Brandenburg Gate or Checkpoint Charlie, but a very elegant little nightclub/cafe that he and his friends visited. Inside the club, the tables each had a phone and if you wanted to dance with one of the beautiful women seated there you would call them and ask on the telephone.

Now here's the mystery as-yet unsolved by my home innernets: According to my Uncle there is a black and white movie out there somewhere that has a scene like this, with the bar/club/restaurant that has the phones at the tables.

Have you ever seen this movie? I want to find it for him for his upcoming 70th birthday but I have no idea what the movie is. I asked him if he was thinking of a scene from "Cabaret" but he said no, he'd seen that movie but it wasn't the movie. The movie he's remembering is an old black and white film.

So please post if you have ever seen this movie and know the name. I really do appreciate your help! Besides, I figure that finding this movie for him is the least we can do if we're not going to start a letter writing campaign to get new episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger for him. And we are not doing that. Nosiree.

Posted by laurie at 8:01 AM

November 9, 2010

Is this thing on?

As far as I can tell, my internet service provider has three levels of technical support.

Tier One Help is phone support. "My internet service has stopped working," I tell the nice girl on the phone. We go through the normal routine of unplugging, powering down, reconnecting, rebooting.

"Hmmm," she says. "Looks like your internet isn't working."

Tier Two Help is a nice cable repairman who shows up in person and goes through the same routine from the phone call: unplugging, powering down, reconnecting, rebooting.

"Well," he says. "Looks like your internet isn't working."

Tier Three Help is the person who actually fixes things. That person showed up this afternoon with a big toolkit and fancy devices and took wires out of my walls.

"You have noise on the line," he said.

"It's the CIA reading my email," I said.

"Uh, I'm going to check the outside line," he said. And quickly exited.

Now my service seems to be back online but just in case a special Third Tier To The Second Power team is coming tomorrow to check the neighborhood for special internet blahblah stuff. I'm just letting you know, Government, if you're reading. You may want to clear the line tomorrow.

Posted by laurie at 3:44 PM

November 5, 2010

Mysteries (doors)

I'm in the seated position, in a place that is supposed to be sort of pleasant, and that's when I hear the scratching on the door.

Soon I see a small paw insistently waving underneath it, poking in through the crack between the floor and the door. The paw is saying, "Hey, it's me! It's me over here! Open up! Let me in! Did you forget about me?"

I wonder to myself what it's like to go to the bathroom alone without a cat pawing relentlessly at the bathroom door.

Is it peaceful? Is it lonely? How would I know?

- - -

One of my neighbors has door-related OCD. I'm not sure if she even realizes it, and of course I have never met her or spoken to her so I can't be sure either way, but I know her habits. She's quite loud.

This apartment building is long and narrow and all the apartments open up to a long, tiled outdoor lobby that is also narrow. The apartments aren't spread out one on top of the other like some buildings. Instead, each unit is narrow as well, and goes up vertically, with the kitchen and living area on the main floor, bedrooms up a flight of stairs, and a third flight of stairs leads to a small laundry room and patio.

Since the building is tall, the little tiled courtyard amplifies every noise. Most of the neighbors are quiet and you don't notice the echo chamber very often. But one of my neighbors a few doors down has a doorknob issue. She exits her apartment, shuts the door, locks it, then obsessively pulls the door loudly back and forth seven times (to be sure it's locked, I assume.) Sometimes she has to go back inside and repeat the whole ritual. Shut door, jangle keys, lock door, loudly yank it back and forth seven times. It echoes in the courtyard.

Fascinating.

- - -

The weirdest neighbor of all has to be the woman who recently took her cat into the courtyard on a pink leash, with a matching pink collar.

I never intended to be the lady who walked her cat on a pink leash. One doesn't always choose their crazy. Sometimes it chooses them.

Sobakowa started sitting at the front door and meowing. She isn't a meower, so it startled me. After a while I could tell she thought the front door must lead to something fantastic, like a bathroom.

She's getting older, you know. And I like to make all God's creatures happy in their old age. What could be the harm in letting her walk on the courtyard tile for a minute or two?

But if the lady with the loud doorknob ritual came out, she might scare the cat, who might bolt for cover and so I decided to buy the cat a little leash. The cheapest small leash at the store was pink with a matching pink collar. I assumed the indignity of the vomitous colored leash and collar would embarrass the cat enough to give up this mad yearning for the front door to open.

She was undeterred by the humiliating leash. We walked outside, onto the tile, and she looked at me as if to say, "I have trained you well. I meowed. You went to the store and bought me this leash so I could take you on a walk. And now here we are. This is even better than the bathroom."

And, just like that, I became the weirdest neighbor.

Posted by laurie at 8:01 AM

November 1, 2010

Another month, another roundup

The first day of a new week and the first day of a new month. The freshest of fresh starts.

It used to be that the start of a new month (and then later, every new week) was the beginning of my new diet. I've always liked the possibility of a brand new month, it meant you could start a path to a whole new you. Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if people had thought I was good enough exactly as I was when I was a little kid. Would I have ever gone on a single diet or had any problems with my weight at all? But you can't go back in time. Only forward. Work with what you have, not what you wish you had.

Even though I'm done starting a new diet every week (or month) I still like the feeling that each new calendar page could contain something better or healthier or happier. It's optimistic.

October was fine. It seemed to go by awfully fast, blink and you missed it. In October I had a few friends over for dinner and made my very first roasted chicken (it was good but took much longer to cook than I anticipated), I visited with my parents and with Grandma, I did some other stuff, blah blah blah.

How have I been doing this far into the year 2010 with my two resolutions? With my "Get Happy" resolution I'm not sure where I am. I'm certainly less stressed out about some things. I don't feel like every day is a chore to be endured like I did when I was commuting, and I take a lot more enjoyment in small tasks like grocery shopping and making the bed.

I have discovered there is a direct relationship between how happy I am and how much I'm writing. For the past two or three weeks I've been doing mostly research and it's less satisfying than the real writing, I start feeling like I'm squandering my time. I want to have my first fiction book completed by the end of this year. I thought I would be done two weeks ago! But I'm starting to understand that I can't power through 80,000 words in a weekend or two if I want even 12 of those words to be good ones.

Anyway, this is the first time I've written anything even remotely like this so it's all new and I like setting a deadline for myself. December 31st, 2010. I need that sense of completion, of being able to say, "In 2010 I wrote my first fiction novel."

My "Get Healthy" goal is chugging along. Sometimes (like with writing) I get frustrated that it's not all happening fast enough. I try to remind myself that real progress can take time. Every time I catch myself berating myself for not being where and who and how I want to be I try to soften it and find something more positive to say. It's dorky but it seems to help.

My goals for November are pretty straightforward. Walk and write. Two things I love to do and both make me feel better about myself and about the future. I moved my treadmill in front of the TV so now in the afternoons I can watch Oprah and walk, the ultimate in multitasking. I'm also going to decorate this month and make my apartment a glittering tomb to the holidays. They're coming whether I like it or not, so I figure I might as well put sparkly lights on everything and enjoy. Every day is what you make it.

- - -

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November centerfold model Frankie.

Posted by laurie at 10:57 AM

October 27, 2010

The things she carried

This is a picture of my grandma with Uncle Arnie. It's Christmas, surely those sweaters can only be worn at Christmas. It was probably a moment captured on film somewhere in the late 1990s, at least 15 years ago or so. Grandma is raising her glass in a "prost!"

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That painting hanging above Grandma's loveseat is now hanging here in my Los Angeles apartment. She gave it to me yesterday and best of all gave me the story of it. The story of how Grandpa had done some work with a few Japanese businessmen and became friends with them (Grandpa was a man who became your lifelong friend if you met him even once, he was that lovely) and at the end of the job they'd gifted him this beautiful painting of 1st Street in downtown Los Angeles.

How it came to be living in my Studio City apartment is still skewered up in anxiety and sadness inside me. Yesterday in the morning I got into my Jeep for a ride down to Orange County to visit the fam. My parents have been staying with Grandma as they tried to transition her back home, and now her house has sold and she's going to live full-time in the nursing home and all her things, her lifetime of things, all with a story and a memory are still in her home and before she leaves she wants to be sure they find good, loving homes.

I've never lied to any of you about my relationship with stuff, and how much I struggle with my emotional attachments to things. And that's just my struggle, my own private crazy. So add in the emotional weight of Grandma leaving her home for good and seeing her truest desire, which is that her beloved, treasured mementos of her life find good homes. Then add me and stir.

Midday my parents left for a few hours and while I was alone with Grandma she asked me to take some things, more things, and I cried. I didn't mean to, it just happened. I felt this big sea change coming and all of it just leaked out of my eyes. But she was good with me, she always is. She didn't well up with tears, just handed me a napkin and asked about me taking the painting, told me how Grandpa came to have it, told me the story of it.

I find this place -- this stage of life -- almost unbearable. I know my parents need my help and I am a reluctant helper, a reluctant participant. I don't handle change well, I want there to always be a Grandma House, I am someone who had no physical roots at all (moving once, twice, sometimes four times a a year when I was a little girl) and so when I see stability I want it to be frozen in time, encased in concrete and remain there forever, for me, because I need it.

But it isn't about me, it's about Grandma and what's best and safest for her. So her home has been sold and things are boxed up and soon my parents will be back on the road and even when I type those words I feel the tears start and my vision get cloudy and I think it was good planning to put a box of kleenex on my desk tonight before I sat down to type.

Grandma and I spent most of the afternoon together, alone, and I got to hear more stories about her and Grandpa (these are my favorites) and we talked about my Mr. X and how she had liked him and he made her laugh, and I agreed I had liked him, too, back then and he made me laugh as well. And how lucky it was I got married to someone who made us both laugh even if it only lasted so long. And we talked about dancing (she loved dancing) and all the plans she and Grandpa still had when he passed away unexpectedly. I realized talking to Grandma yesterday that I have no animosity in my heart for my Mr X. and hope he is well and happy. And Grandma never makes me feel bad for liking my freedom, so there's no pressure. She's a really good Grandma.

I hate this feeling, though, of missing someone yet they're still here. I miss Grandma but she isn't gone. I can't explain it.

Things I love about Grandma:
• She speaks Spanish with wild abandon, and no concern if she's saying anything correctly
• She has always appreciated people who work their way up and make something of themselves. You know, some people are threatened by success but Grandma has always been self-composed enough to know all lights are prettier when they shine brightest. She loves when others shine bright.
• She never once treated me as anything but her truest (and only!) granddaughter, even though I'm her step-granddaughter, technically. I honestly believe she has never said the word "step-granddaughter."
• She taught me how to open a bottle of champagne correctly. I was seven. It was a good life lesson.
• She makes the world's best macaroni and cheese.
• She is always happy to see me.

Yesterday I spent a few hours sitting on the freeway on my ride back up to the Valley and I thought a lot about Grandma, and my parents, and how in some ways they are both leaving me. Because I am five, and that's how I feel things, like they are all leaving me. I don't handle these grown-up conversations about death and dying and funereal wishes well at all, I walk away or tune out or go off and antagonize the dog.

But my parents will soon be moving on, out of California and back to the road, and Grandma will be in the nursing home. The timing of my job ending and my parents arriving fit together so well that I couldn't imagine what a brace it would be. Now of course they're leaving and again it's me alone at the holidays. Yes, of course there are a thousand ways to volunteer and blah blah blah and all that and still at the end of the day you go home alone and it's Christmas Eve. (People who give unsolicited advice about solo holidays haven't done it much, I find.) (In other words, more plainly said, I appreciate that you have lots of thoughts on how I should spend my holidays but that's about you and not me, and I'm not asking.) (I shouldn't have to add that disclaimer, but there it is nonetheless.)

Anyway, I rather like the comfort of knowing I am not alone in feeling blue and empty on a holiday. Why always try so hard to make a blue thing change colors?

And the talk in the house is maudlin to the extreme. They talk about cremation and I walk away. They need a home for the painting and I promise just to keep it for now, until she needs it again.

"Grandma, I will take it for you and give it a good home until you want it back again..." I tell her.

"But I'm not ever going to need it again," she says.

I'm not well-suited to handling ends. I am the person you most want on your side when you need travel advice or you need a bio written in three seconds flat or if there is a huge natural disaster and you need food, water and shelter. I have water, human food and cat food, bubble-wrapped wine, battery-operated lights, crank chargers for cellphones, even a weather-band radio. I am so incredibly prepared for living, but I am ill-equipped for dying.

I wish all this were easier.

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Me, Grandma, my mom around 1979.


Posted by laurie at 12:28 AM

October 26, 2010

Brain malfunction

Honestly, I would have sworn good money that our book chat was slated for Monday (yesterday) but when I looked back at my own writing here on this website I clearly said it would be on Friday the 29th. What has happened in my brain? Anyway, many apologies to those of you who thought that the lead bozo set the date for Friday and then showed up on a Monday. Whoops. So perhaps this Friday I'll do a book giveaway in atonement -- knitting books, of course! Book giveaways are just as fun, yes?

Thanks to everyone who chatted yesterday about A Moveable Feast. Our November book is Olive Kitteridge, which I haven't read either so we'll all be surprised. That chat will be on Monday, November 29th. I swear, really I do.

Our winner this month was Anita who wrote:

I absolutely loved this book - I thought the writing was easy to follow and his descriptions so pure that you could lose yourself in Paris (if you would let yourself). My very favorite part was his conversation with Gertrude Stein (pompous?...just a little?)is a segment where she discusses the disgusting life of gay men - but of course gay women are perfectly happy and suited to that lifestyle. I was stunned - then I giggled. Yeow - in 2010 Gertrude, that attitude just wouldn't cut it! Also, she told Hemingway he wasn't good enough to be published in the Atlantic Monthly or the Saturday evening post - her goals. She kept saying his writing was "inaccrochable." What a laugh!

I wanted to mention for those of you who read this book and were concerned for Hadley, his wife, there's a great little piece in Julia Child's memoir My Life in France that describes her impressions of Hadley and also talks about Bumby's wedding. It's another delicious, amazing book about Paris if you're in the mood for more. And of course Julia talks all about the food!

Now here's some pensive, brooding Bob with his little head on his little paws, surely wondering why Hemingway's cats got to be so famous when he is just as litter-ary:

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Posted by laurie at 9:50 AM

October 25, 2010

A Moveable Feast

October's read was A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. I preferred that version to the updated, revised edition, though I bought it as well to compare. (There is also a Kindle version if you decide you want to download it today after reading about it.)

I love this book, it contains what I think is the best last sentence of any book:

But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.

My main quibble with the "restored" edition is that it no longer ends with that beautiful sentence. Though that edition does have some additional detail about Scott Fitzgerald. The whole section on the Fitzgeralds was really interesting to me, and after reading I searched online for all the biographical data I could find on Zelda. Mad as a hatter but truly a fascinating person.

But the main reason I love this book and picked it for October was that the location is a leading character in the book. Paris in the 1920s, so perfectly described, the wine they drank, the steaks they ate, the butter sauces and the bars where the poor, smelly drunks congregated became not just a backdrop but another point of the narrative.

The passages where he talks about writing were interesting to me in a way that didn't grab me the first time I read this book about a decade ago. On page 12 he says that when he doesn't know what to write he reminds himself:

"Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know."

I think this is probably the best advice anyone could give a writer.

Heminway has always seemed larger than life to me, an icon, an adventurer. But even though I have read up on him, I didn't know until reading A Moveable Feast that he let the cat be his kid Bumby's babysitter. I'm about as crazy as cat ladies come and even I wouldn't do that. Well, maybe Roy could have been up to the task ...

So what did you think of A Moveable Feast? And which version did you read? Did you enjoy reading about Paris? Were you surprised to read about other famous writers through Hemingway's lens? Did you expect to hate this book? (I know there are some avowed Heminway avoiders out there, but to me this book is nothing like any of his fiction work.)

And later I'll pick one commenter out of the comments to win a surprise prize, yarn and books and a mixed CD I made and who knows what-all goodies may be inside. Oh! And a copy of next month's book -- Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. And to weigh it all down I am including the big hardbook book Martha Stewart's Encyclopedia of Sewing and Fabric Crafts: Basic Techniques for Sewing, Applique, Embroidery, Quilting, Dyeing, and Printing, plus 150 Inspired Projects from A to Z. It's awesome and I wanted to keep it for myself but I got it as a promotional item and promised I would give it away to one of my readers. It weighs about ten tons, so you know it's packed with Martha-y goodness!

Finally, here's a Moveable Bob:

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Posted by laurie at 7:29 AM

October 22, 2010

Jingle Dog

When my parents came up for a visit earlier in the week, they brought Wonder Dog and we all went to Petco, which is of course the dog's favorite store. He gets to sniff all the toys and bones and scents of dogs who have come before him.

Well, usually it's his favorite place. This time my mom spotted a little doggie decoration which she promptly bought and put on him so that he jingled and jangled and everyone who saw him laughed uncontrollably. Oh, the doggie indignity!

But so, so funny.


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Posted by laurie at 9:36 AM

October 19, 2010

Catch-up Tuesday

Catching up on email...

Hello Crazy Aunt Purl, I have a problem I'm hoping you can help me with. I am not a great knitter but I do like to knit the odd teacup cosy or hat, however I am in the process of becoming vegan and vegans tend not to wear or use wool. Do you know of a non animal derived alternative that I could use instead please? Any advice would be most welcome! Many thanks and happy knitting, Lisa in the UK

Hello, Lisa! I can hear your accent as you type and it is charming. Why is it that an English accent makes everything sound posh? Even the word posh sounds posh and English.

As for your question, you can always go with good old cotton for a natural fiber, or bamboo (which I love) or silk or any of the new soy-derived yarns. And unless you suffer from acrylaphobia, there are plenty of beautiful and affordable acrylic yarns on the market that are excellent alternatives to wool. I myself am not acrylic-phobic but I know many knitters who suffer from this debilitating condition.

But -- and listen, I'm not vegan and I'm from the South so I was practically born at a barbecue -- I guess I'm not sure why vegans avoid wool. As I understand it, the woolgathering process just gives the sheep a haircut. Of course, my entire knowledge of sheep-shearing is taken entirely from The Thorn Birds. So again, consider the source. I understand avoiding leather if you're a vegan, but I don't really get the wool aversion.

Having said that, I firmly believe everyone should do what they want and not get pecked at by ducks. I, for example, avoid sushi and don't want to hear anything about it from anyone. So if you want to avoid wool, more power to you.

Happy knitting! Stay posh!

[Note: I have been corrected! Apparently you cannot use silk if you're vegan because it's from a worm. I just spent about twenty minutes reasoning to myself that if you can't use silk because it comes from worms then surely you can't use cotton because it grows from it dirt enriched with worm casings. And the pesticides used on plants kill bugs. Even organic farms use animal manure to fertilize, and they use pathogens to kill bugs, so can you eat plants? And I kept going, then my head hurt. When I read the comment that vegans aren't allowed to have honey -- which comes from insects -- my little mind melted.

Personally I adore wool, and while I love my animals like an insane person I also eat steak and I kill bugs with great vigor and determination, so I was probably not qualified to answer this question. But the Thorn Birds is a really great book. And an excellent mini-series.]

- - -


Hi! I've read your blog since the beginning and I love it! I have a
question: I'm starting the cheetos scarf and I noticed in your photos that the needle tips are very thin. One of my frustrations with knitting on large size needles is that the tips are so thick I can't get them into the stitch (I have tight knitting issues, too). Can you remember the needles you used on the cheetos scarf?
Thank you so much!
Rhonda in Alabama

Hi Rhonda in Alabama! I can hear your accent too and it is equally as charming. Those needles were a special find that I got here at a local yarn shop. For years and years there was no way to get them online but recently I found out the folks who make these needles (hand made!) have a website: http://www.uncleronnie-penmaker.com/

[Edited to add: I just checked out their site and realized they are no longer making needles. What is up with today? This column started out so well this morning. Well, maybe if you email them something will work out. What a bummer! Those are great needles! I have also heard that KnitPicks needles have pointier tips. Maybe other readers here can chime in and help.]


- - -

Here's a good one from reader Michele:

I'm still a relative beginner and not a good one mind you and I have a question. Does one knit direct from a hank as they would a skein or must you buy a winder contraption to make them into balls and if so, why the heck don't they make them that way in the first place? Okay that became multiple questions.

All very good questions! I have no idea about why the hank exists, though I am sure someone can comment here and let us all know, but I can tell you that knitting from a hank is an adventure into the mindsplittingly awful realm of uber-tangles.

You do need to wind up a hank into a ball or yarn cake before you knit with it. I have one of those winder/spinny things that makes yarn cakes but have never even used it. Seems I prefer to make my own yarn balls. Yarn balls! Hah.

I prefer to make a pretty little center-pull yarn ball, though just winding a hank into a regular old ball o' yarn will do. I have long wanted to make a photo tutorial here for creating a center-pull ball, making hanks into picturesque balls is one of my favorite TV time activities, but it's impossible to take pictures of your own hands while simultaneously making a center-pull ball. So, here is a video tutorial of the process on KnittingHelp.com. (Scroll down on that page to find it.) Hope that helps!

- - -


Finally, this is not yarn-related, but is about one of my favorite subjects -- travel!

I wanted to let you know I am taking a trip to Rome for my 40th birthday over Thanksgiving week and I have actually decided to go it alone. You inspired me! Three times in the past I went with a friend, and just don't really feel like it this time! I've loved reading your posts about your adventures and merits of solo travel.

I'm no stranger to work travel (in fact I'm Sales Road Warrior two nights a week.) I even lived in Europe for three years, but the "comments" from people about my solo trip are making me feel like a lunatic.

I've even started fibbing, saying "Well, I am actually meeting a friend from Italy," or "It's a work trip and I am just staying an extra day or two..." Jeez! What is up with that?
--M

I lied to people when I went to Rome for my first ever solo trip.

I didn't lie about meeting anyone there but I did lie about being scared. I pretended I was totally relaxed about it (inside I was churning about going alone!)

I also didn't tell many people about my trip. I shared the details of my solo vacation with maybe six people and I got furious at one of my friends who I told about the trip and swore her to secrecy... only later to find she told another few people on the side. I was so angry with her because I thought the fewer people who knew about my trip, the fewer people would comment and tell me things to increase my anxiety, nervousness and total terror about going to Italy alone. She just thought I was psychotic.

But traveling alone the first time -- real travel, not work travel -- can be truly scary! I firmly believe that this is one of those things in life we should NOT do by committee. That means don't ask a bazillion different people for their opinions on your solo travel status before you go. You're going anyway, right? No need to ask for committee opinions. And definitely don't share your trip details (before you go) with people who are Debbie Downers. You know these people. They are the ones who have a horror story or tragic ending to every. single. thing. Ever. They're not bad people. They just aren't the ones you want to chat with about your trip before you go. They will have you in fits. Share your travel details with them after your trip.

Do talk to other women who have traveled alone and loved it. Do prepare for your trip by reading a little on the destination beforehand and booking a safe hotel. Do take normal precautions like you would in any big city (in other words, don't wander around alone at night half-drunk and full of cash. Simple stuff.) Do trust that you are able to handle all the adventures of traveling alone. Then do go on your trip!

Next summer I turn 40 and I've been wondering if I'll go on a solo trip for that birthday. I don't know where I'll be in my life. I'm thrilled for you and your upcoming vacation to Italy. Rome is a beautiful, delicious, vibrant city. I loved it and I hope you do, too! Happy birthday!


- - -


Finally, the cutest Bobby socks:

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Posted by laurie at 10:29 AM

October 13, 2010

Captivated

I have been completely awed by the mine rescue going on in Chile. I stayed up late last night watching them pull the first miners to safety and I was one of the many people sitting safe at home watching in complete happy astonishment. Leaking from the eyeballs.

I think it's amazing what good things humans are capable of.

Frankie says, "Me, too!"

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Posted by laurie at 9:30 AM

October 12, 2010

You so crazy

In the September issue of Travel + Leisure magazine I found this page:

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It's a little jaunty fashion layout with some items for fall and winter dressing. For when you travel, I assume. Anyway, notice the hat below:

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Yes, that's a terrible picture, cropped from a picture I took of a magazine but anyway, it's a hat. A little brown knit hat. I have a better view of it here in the real magazine image, it's a ribbed brim hat with a stockinette body.

Now look at this price:

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Yes. $280 for a wool hat. If you want me to pay $280 for a knit hat, it better be created from silky strands of angel hair gathered after a heavenly harp convention. And it would have to function as a cloak of invisibility when needed. And make my ass smaller. And come with a free massage.

Do people really pay $280 for a plain old brown wool knit hat? Because if so I have a LOT of hats to sell.

- - -

Speaking of hats, I have an error in my hat pattern so I haven't posted it yet. I figure that preemptively fixing the error prior to posting the written pattern will make everyone much happier. And I do aim to make happy this world of ours, the one where people buy $280 hats.

- - -

It's been hot here, really hot. This is the time of year when I start getting tired of the weather and want to teleport myself to somewhere cold and brisk. My friend is in Paris right now and I know she's having a wonderful time, because even a bad time in Paris is a wonderful time. I might vacation to Van Nuys, I hear they have an awesome DMV wait line.

Actually, I do have a vacation dilemma. Not a dilemma so much as a decision to make. Last winter (while still employed) I bought a ticket for a trip that I was supposed to take in June but for all sorts of reasons I needed to postpone the trip, so I rescheduled it for later this year. Eventually "later this year" is going to come around and I haven't decided if I will go on the trip or not. I'm not highly motivated to travel right now, at least not to the general destination of my plane ticket. And of course while the ticket is paid for, there is the expense of a hotel and all that vacationy stuff, plus a house sitter for the kitty posse. I haven't decided what to do. I find that I am ambivalent about it.

Ambivalence isn't uncomfortable, I don't mind not knowing what I plan to do. There are plenty of options. I could go on the trip and just stay very frugal. I could cancel the trip and get a voucher for the balance (minus a fee). I could re-do the ticket again to take me somewhere else altogether. I could stay home, enjoy Los Angeles and leave the traveling to 2011.

It's interesting to me that when I was working go-go-go I was desperate to travel and escape. And even then I did power trips, packing a whole European vacation into a weekend (something I still like the idea of but don't feel propelled into just now.) And now I'm content with the idea of going to the beach or going to the movie one afternoon.

Anyway, I haven't decided what I will do. But if I go anywhere I'll send you a postcard. And I will not be wearing some $280 hat. I mean really!

- - -


Finally, Bob. He likes to shop online:

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Posted by laurie at 8:26 AM

October 8, 2010

Hot Dog, very amusing

The Halloween costume I got for the dog amused everyone (except perhaps the wearer of said costume).

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Honestly if there is anything funnier than a pissed off Corgi wearing a hotdog suit, I do not know what it is.

Have a great weekend!

- - -
Edited to add that I got it at Target. Here is a link to the costume on amazon.

Posted by laurie at 9:50 AM

October 6, 2010

Rainy Day Q&A

Yes, it is raining today in Los Angeles! It's a perfect day. I woke up to the sound of Frankie whining about the Meow Mix situation, but after that little problem was rectified I got to lay in bed and listen to the rain pattering down on the sidewalks and rooftops.

There are days when I feel triple-decker-happy to be free from commuting into downtown and this is definitely one of those days. When it rains the freeways all become parking lots. Today I am happy at home in my pajamas and some Hemingway.

Reader Debby wrote in to ask which version of the book I'm reading for the book club:

Hi there, Laurie =-) I am wondering if the edition you are reading is the revised one Hemingway's grandson put out or the original, unrevised edition? I have the original in hand that I got from the library today and will probably read that, since most of the recent reviews I've read of the revised edition are not all that favorable, and the original is the one that all the many, many years of reviews have come from. I was just curious which one you are reading as it was hard to tell from the Amazon link whether that edition was the original or not. I'm looking forward to the discussion on the 29th. What a great idea this book talk thing is! Have a good weekend! Debby


Thanks for the note! I am reading the original version of A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. If you click on the link above, that's even the exact cover that my copy has and the same version I bought for last month's chat winner.

However, while I was in the store I also picked up a copy of the revised version, which is called A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition. I haven't read it through yet (I figured I should read both since some folks will have read this version) and the one thing I can say is that the ending, in my opinion, was perfect the way it was and shouldn't have been tinkered with. If you have the "restored" version the real ending of the book (to me) is on page 220. I believe everything after that should have been appended or clearly delineated as an addition, not stitched together as a new ending.

But I'm not a Hemingway scholar, just a fan of the original book's beautiful last line.

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The version I'm reading.

No matter which one you choose, don't forget to chat with us about this book on Friday, October 29th!

- - -

November Book Selection

I know some folks aren't Hemingway fans or are busy or don't have time to get through a book in three weeks, so I thought I would tell everyone in advance about November's book club pick:

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

I have not read this novel so I'll be experiencing it for the first time with you but I've heard it's really a good read. I have read Elizabeth Strout's novel Amy and Isabelle, and it's one of my favorite books. I'm looking forward to reading Olive Kitteridge and we'll chat about it on November 30th. I figure that gives people plenty of time to recover from the Thanksgiving turkey hangovers.

- - -

Beverly asked:


Who IS that woman at the top of your blogsite, if I may ask? I don't
think it's you, is it? Just curious. I really enjoy your postings.

That is not me, although I do think she is rockin' a swanky getup. That is a model from a vintage Bernat knitwear catalog. The pictures in some of those vintage pattern books are HEE-larious. I liked her look and her many poses in a sweater.

I also get about one email a week informing me to update the wording in my header but I kind of like it, even though it's no longer exactly perfectly descriptive of this exact day in my life it still makes me laugh and I am a nostalgic, maudlin person by nature. I guess part of me still wants Roy back, he was cat #4. Or cat #1 depending on your way of looking at it.

Eventually I do want to figure out how to get a leaderboard ad in the header without it looking like an adfest but for now, for today, it is what it is.

- - -

Carol asks:

I am writing from Ottawa, Canada. Just wondering if you have any advice for me. I own two cats and just recently one of them is not using his litter box. Has that ever happened you? What did you do. Also I know that you don't use harsh chemicals, what do you use to get rid of the urine smell? Thanks if you can help me out! Carol


Hi Carol!
I have indeed experienced this issue, the Queen Sobakowa had some rather challenging litterbox issues on and off for almost two years of her kittenhood.

The first thing anyone will tell you about litterbox challenges is that you should have the cat checked by a vet. Sometimes infection can be the cause of potty troubles.

I can tell you what worked in my house, though every cat is different!

Soba did not have health issues, she was just being Picky and Regal and needed the litterbox to smell like rainbows and unicorns. if not, she would find alternate places to go. Here's what worked for me:

• The first thing I did was to get rid of the Booda Dome I had been using as a box. The shape and size was not working for our house.

• In fact, I got rid of the enclosed box concept altogether. I have heard from more readers who say doing this one thing alone has eliminated litterbox issues! Here at Chez Poopsalot we have three open litterboxes with plenty of room for lots of cat sand and no cover over them.

• I switched to Dr. Elsey's Precious Cat ''Cat Attract'' Cat Litter which solved the primary problem of getting Soba back into the habit of choosing the litterbox first.

• To get rid of the out-of-box "accidents" I used Nature's Miracle Stain and Odor Remover. There is also a Dr. Elsey's Urine Removal treatment which I hear is great. After you very thoroughly clean the area you may need to cover it with tin foil. Sounds weird but cats hate foil and won't walk on it. If your cat has one spot he just loves, this may be your best bet for re-training him away from it.

• Finally, and most importantly, you must keep the box clean, clean, clean. I scoop twice a day (once in the morning, once in the evening) and change the litter anytime it gets a little ripe. I wouldn't want to do my business in a stinky box and neither do they.

Hope this helps. Knock on wood, but we haven't had any accidents here since making these changes several years ago.

- - -

Nancy writes:

I just finished a hat that I made for my 6 month old granddaughter and even though I measured, it is way too big around. Is there some way to fix it without tearing it all out? Please help!

Ah, the mushrooming hat, it happens to the best of us. Luckily in your situation your recipient will grow into it! So you have the best possible scenario.

There are other ways to fix a too-large hat but they have varying results. You could felt it if it's wool, or try your hand at sewing in some pin tucks and try to make them look decorative, or undo the whole thing and cast on fewer stitches.

But since this is a baby and their heads do grow I'd just say you did it this way on purpose, because you heard it was supposed to be a long winter and the kid will need it in February.


- - -


Speaking of hats, I do plan to post the newest hat patterns this week. With company in town and then my Grandma getting out of the hospital it's been a little busy here and my knitting/TV time has been sorely neglected. I'm going to finish the beanie tonight while catching up on my Tivo and watching the cats jockey for position in front of the fireplace:


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Soba wins.

Have a good day!

Posted by laurie at 7:40 AM

October 5, 2010

And the CIA still has not gotten back to me.

I wrote an email to the CIA. They haven't bothered to write back.

Well, it was the right thing to do, since surely they were already monitoring my phone calls and emails. I'm writing this silly little novel and my trashy heroine has a brush with the CIA. And I want it to be as factual as possible. Except... have you ever Googled the org chart for the Covert Ops? No can do. I imagine as soon as I typed the search words in the box some light went off in a basement in Langley and men in dark suits began listening to my phone calls.

Hopefully one of them is cute.

I am sure they were dulled to death when me and Drew spent two hours on the phone discussing everything from his new dishwasher to my deep desire to become skinny and wear pleather. Or when I waxed rhapsodic about the new fall TV lineup.

The phone conversations with me and my mom where we talk about the dog's newest chew toy and the tamale situation are surely government wiretapping dollars well spent.

All I wanted was a little info on some of the Agency colloquialisms. I went through the right channels, emailing their entertainment liaison and even refraining from signing my email with "xxoo, laurie." Apparently I didn't rate high enough for a response. Don't blame me when my trashy fiction book features undercover agents in pleather who knit.

I know you're reading, Very Important CIA Employee. Hit me back with an email. I have booze and yarn. Will trade for lingo. xoxo laurie

Posted by laurie at 10:30 PM

October 1, 2010

New month (end-of-September check in)

Sitting down to write an end-of-September check in means the obvious, that it is October already and soon we'll blink and 2010 will be over. I need one of those cryogenic chambers to sleep in so the passage of time seems less fraught with droop.

September was an improvement over August, which I suppose is apparent since I'm not hiding from my update and waiting until half the month has gone by, dashing off a one-liner on a Sunday night.

I had three big lightbulbs go off in September. I'm not sure how exactly they fit into my get happy/get healthy goals for 2010 but all three seemed important enough that I wanted to take note.

Significant Realization Numero Uno
Life moves in waves, with troughs and crests and the spaces in between. Peaks and valleys for the landlocked. Not every day will be a peak day and not every day will be a valley, most of the time I'm on the way up or on the way down or somewhere in all of that. Of course different people have higher highs and lower lows but in general no one person stays in exact balance and evenness and harmony every single day.

So I had a valley this summer. I was telling Drew about it one day on the phone and he said, "Yes, the valleys. I just wish that when I'm in a valley I could see it's only a valley, only temporary."

Exactly! I need to remind myself to have faith, that things improve and change and rise and fall and it's all natural. I'm not very accepting of my low points, I tend to judge them harshly and find myself lacking on every level. But if I could see that it's only temporary -- especially when it's happening -- I think I would roll with it a little more.

Significant Realization Two
It's a process. I'm not the sort of person who indulges in hokey feel-good stuff like "it's a process." Or at least I didn't used to think that way, but I get it now. It makes sense.

Changing your whole lifestyle in a single day is one thing, but adapting to that change is a process. Losing weight is a process. Writing a novel is a process. Learning new software is a process.

Instead of berating myself for not being THERE, done, finished, accomplished, I am looking at it all with a wider lens. Or at least I am trying to, it's a big change for me. I am the sort of person who wants to wake up and be THERE already! But it's a process. And when I get there, God only knows I will already have moved on from the goal and have a new THERE to be at, pronto.

So, wide lens. Embrace the process.

Significant Realization Three
Honestly, I'm not sure how this fits into anything, but this idea surprised me. And I'm the one who thought of it! It's about stuff.

When I was working full-time and commuting hours a day and trying to squeeze in writing in between, my relationship with my stuff was very stressful. I knew I had a lot of stuff, but I didn't want to let any of it go. I worked hard, you know. And so sometimes I added to my stuff.

I justified it by saying, "I work hard, I'm never home, I don't have a social life... so I deserve this purse/yarn/trip to Timbuktu/pair of expensive shoes that look exactly like two other pairs I already own because I work hard."

It took a while of being at home -- being near all my stuff all day long -- to realize I had been holding on so tightly all that time because I was just visiting my stuff on nights and weekends.

I would buy picture frames but never have time to fill them or hang them. I bought yarn I never had time to use. I bought books I never had time to read. I bought party shoes I didn't wear because I was too tired to party. But I justified it by telling myself I deserved it for working so hard. I deserved to have and to hold my stuff.

Now I'm with my stuff all the time and I still like it but I don't have this whole crazy lady thing happening with it. I am de-stashing books and yarn, putting them aside to give away here online or to send to friends. I haven't bought anything except food and wine and consumables for months (and a Halloween costume for my mom and dad's dog of course) and I don't feel deprived or poor, even though money is not pouring in. I'm listening to the music I bought but never had time for, reading the unread books I've owned for years, making my Christmas presents with the beautiful yarn in my stash. I'm finally cooking that great roast I had in the freezer and hanging pictures. You see where I'm going with this.

It's a trade off. I definitely don't have as much money but I have time and space and I can sleep. And now that I have full-time custody of my stuff, not just visitation, I'm OK with letting a little bit of it go.

- - -

So I'm not sure what all this means for October and for the remaining three months of 2010, a year I knew would somehow change my life forever. I still don't know if it's good change or horrifying ruin-my-credit change, but at least I am changing. I have decided to think that's a good thing, since I don't know what will end up happening either way.

The stress and anxiety I still have about the vast unknowns of my future are softened around the edges. It helps that I finally have time to sleep, that I am finally writing a fiction book (!!) and it has a sequel (!!) and that I may or may not have named the most abhorrent character in the story after my old boss. Like a tribute, yes? Or an effigy. Tomato, tomahto!

Last week I had lunch with a friend and she turned to me in the middle of the conversation and said, "I don't know how to say this without it sounding odd so I'm just going to say it. Everything about you seems happier. When you talk about your book, your day, your sandwich, you just seem like a different person. So much happier."

I'll take it.

Posted by laurie at 1:52 PM

September 28, 2010

Yesterday's winner, next month's book club and the hottest day of our lives.

Thank you to all who participated in our book chat yesterday! I thought the conversation about Winter's Bone was illuminating and I was glad to see there were opinions all over the place, it kept the ideas burbling along. It was interesting to see how much the book drew out each person's private feelings about violence and drugs and parenting and even skirt wearing.

It also reminds me that it's healthy and normal and natural for a book to be loved and hated and everything in between, that no one book will light a fire inside every person. (I say this more as a writer than a reader.) It's a very good thing to keep in mind, it's reassuring.

The randomly-selected winner of our chat yesterday was reader Judy, who will be happy to know the random number picker does not care if you liked the book, only that you read it! Judy wrote:

Sorry sorry sorry! I know this is not going to make me the winner of the great prizes, but so be it. I hated this book. I'm not a book hating person I really love books. When I got to the end all I could think was "that's it? That's all there is?" I like the end of a novel to be neat and tidy, not like this. I really like reading and truthfully at the end, wished I used my time reading something else. But the silver lining is that I read something I probably would not have picked up anyway. I tried really hard to be open to this book and stuck with it to the bitter (for me) end. So using that line of reasoning I'm proud that I stayed with it. Not something that's easy for me, especially when I lose interest. Unfinished knitting projects anyone?

You had me laughing at the last line! Congratulations on your win, and as soon as it is no longer 500 degrees outside I plan to drive to the bookshop on the corner and include in your prize a copy of next month's Book Club selection, too, which is A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway.

But before we move on from Winter's Bone, I wanted to share this quote with you from reader Dawnie:


I loved the descriptive language used in the book it really painted a picture of the bleak, cold, raw, days. The setting matched the tone of the story, bleak, cold lives eaked out amongst drug use and violence. It was just a way of life that they all understood but no outsider ever would. Funny thing is I didn't feel sorry for Ree, she new what her life was all about and carried on in spite of it all.

Yes, I felt the same way about Ree and about the rawness and chill of the language. I thank you all again for reading with me, I knew that book was a bit of a risk to recommend. Thanks for going with me on it.

I love this idea of having a book club without having to leave the house. Introverts of the world unite!

- - -


So, October's Book Club selection is A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway.

I am reading the exact version I linked to above, there is also a Kindle Version here.

The publisher's description of this book says:

Published posthumously in 1964, A Moveable Feast remains one of Ernest Hemingway's most beloved works. It is his classic memoir of Paris in the 1920s, filled with irreverent portraits of other expatriate luminaries such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein; tender memories of his first wife, Hadley; and insightful recollections of his own early experiments with his craft. It is a literary feast, brilliantly evoking the exuberant mood of Paris after World War I and the youthful spirit, unbridled creativity, and unquenchable enthusiasm that Hemingway himself epitomized.

If you haven't read Hemingway or didn't like his fiction novels, you may be pleasantly surprised by this book. At just around 200 pages it's a fairly quick read and surprisingly full of amusing gossip about some literary greats. The whole section on F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda is fascinating. I haven't read this book in well over a decade, but I can tell you it has what I think is the best final sentence of any book I have ever read.

Let's meet back here (same bat time, same bat place) on Friday, October 29th to chat about it. And we'll keep doing the prize drawing again until I run out of money or yarn.

- - -

Finally, according to the wisdom and wit of Dallas Raines, "We made history here in Los Angeles" yesterday with our record-breaking melt-your-boobs-off heatwave:

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Summer came late, all in one week and baked our noodles.

Posted by laurie at 3:02 PM

September 27, 2010

Winter's Bone Book Chat

Today's book club chitchat is Winter's Bone, by Daniel Woodrell.

Usually I loathe books with colloquial dialogue. In my prejudiced and irritable opinion, I think colloquialisms are most often used to paint Southern characters and I hate it, Southerners don't talk that way. I'm extremely defensive on this point because although I took years of voice and diction classes to get rid of my twang, I am still country and can still speak Southern. But we don't talk like most authors portray us. You'd be surprised.

So all of that is to explain that I am not disposed to liking books with slang and colloquialisms, and this one is full of them. I bought Winter's Bone on the recommendation of one of the folks at the Mystery Bookstore in Santa Monica a few years back and it sat on my shelf until June when I found myself in need of a good read. I almost put it down after a few pages of slangy regional dialogue but I'm glad I kept reading -- since first reading this book I have recommended or given it out to everyone I know. I LOVE THIS BOOK. I want everyone I know to read this book.

What almost put me off this book happens right on page 5:


"I'm cold," he said. He rubbed his smarting ear. "Is grits all we got?"

"Butter 'em more. There's still a tat of butter."

I never heard anyone have a "tat" of butter.

Luckily I kept reading. This book made me think about my personal ideas of regional dialogue, too. For example, I'd guess not many Missouri Ozark schoolchildren grow up saying Laissez les bons temps rouler. But that was the phrase splashed across the cover of my 8th grade yearbook. Cajun is one thing, Southern is another, and perhaps Ozark is a different world. Maybe I am not as knowledgeable of Ozark lingo as I imagine. It took me down a needed peg.

Once I backed off the slang thing I saw the genuine love this writer has for his characters. That speaks to me in any dialect. I can't help falling for a writer who feels true affection and empathy for his characters. Woodrell's care for his characters made me feel like I knew them, grew up with them, lived next door to them.

Ree felt very alive to me. Young women carry the burden sometimes in families, it's not unusual to be the full-time babysitter when you're 10 or 11 or 12. And I know this book is cast as a mystery but it's also a character study. Ree is a new American girl, sturdy and determined and not above taking a joint when offered. Doing what has to be done the best you can. All you can do is your best.

I could not put this book down! The moment it ended I wanted to read it again but I had loaned it out -- so I saw the movie version in an art-house theater in the Valley. Usually a movie version of a book I love just lets me down but this one was true to the feeling of the novel, especially the scene where Uncle Teardrop and Ree met up with the policeman.

Ree slid her fingers toward the shotgun, thinking, This was how sudden things happened that haunted forever.

I loved this book because I understand that girl, the one who will do anything it takes to keep it together. By the end of the book I couldn't even see the colloquialisms anymore, the whole countryside had been painted so clearly that I was right there in the mud, in the cold, in the damp. The story stayed with me long after I put the book down.

It also has what I think is a perfect ending. To me, the best ending solves the central mystery but leaves enough of the story open-ended so that the characters can live on in your imagination after the book ends. In Winter's Bone you learn the fate of Ree's father, though not so tidy that you have it all wrapped with a bow (I liked that Teardrop had a moment of recognition and didn't say who exactly he recognized). And the character of Ree lives on past the last page. To write a good book is one thing, to write a great ending is another. I was not disappointed. Were you?

So what did you think? (Hey, if you hated it I want to know. And why.) Did the language put you off or make you feel more drawn to the characters? Do you think Ree is realistic or unbelievable? Were you surprised that meth was so prominent in the storyline? Was it weird that the family was so clannish and closed-off? (My main critique of the story is that I thought the family barriers were odd an unrealistic, in the South at least we don't do things that way. Blood is blood. I can't imagine Ozark families being that much different but perhaps they are.)

What did you think of the relationship between Ree and Uncle Teardrop? Ree and Gail? When Ree is back home after the beating, were you surprised how the family showed up, all with little prescription bottles? What about the scene in the woods with Ree and her mom? What did you think of the ending?

Good or bad or indifferent I am so excited to hear what you have to say. Let's chat!

OH! And one lucky commenter will be chosen at random to win an awesome little prize with some yarn from my stash (it's a funemployment prize!) plus a copy of Drew's new book Crochet It. Love It. Wear It!.

AND if all that werten't grand enough, the winner will also receive a FIFTY DOLLAR gift certificate to use at The Fiber Cooperative. Check out their website, thefibercooperative.com. It's a monthly curated online market with the goal of connecting indie fiber shops too small to do major advertising with avid knitters, spinners and fiber fans who are looking for the fresh, unique products that indie shops offer (without having to sort through millions of pages on etsy to find the gems that stand out). The Fiber Cooperative generously gifted our book club with this prize, so I hope you'll check out the site and think of them next time you make a yarn purchase!

Posted by laurie at 8:32 AM

September 22, 2010

hat & cat

My latest ribbed hat pattern will come, eventually, but I decided I should work the pattern out one more time since I think I wrote down a couple of these decrease rows when I was chardonnay. You understand. Now I'm making a beanie version:

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Noro Taiyo in color #6

I'll be done soon, especially with all this good new fall TV! Plenty to watch and knit (they voted off The Hoff? Say it isn't so!). Today was the first official day of fall and felt like it, nice and cool and overcast this morning but by the weekend Dapper Dallas Raines says it's going to be a billion and two degrees out there. My older brother is coming for a visit this weekend from Florida and I'm excited to see him but bummed that he'll be here during one of our September scorchers. We're going to ride over the hill to Malibu one day, it's always nice at the beach.

Recently a reader asked if I ever think of moving back to the South. I think about it sometimes, but more in a nostalgic way than anything. Just this morning I was out taking a walk and my street was lined up and down with Star Wagons and studio services trucks for some movie or TV show they're filming, and I thought about how Jerry's Deli used to have phones at all the booths in case you needed to make a call to CAA during lunch with a fatcat veep. This is a wacky place but I do love it. There are a few other cities I think I would love living in but most of them are across an ocean.

I like the way anything is possible out here. You can walk along a single block on the Boulevard and pass three sushi bars all specializing in different things, a consignment shop where are the clothes come from TV shows, a marijuana store, a gay karaoke bar and a doggie daycare. I don't eat sushi, I don't have a dog, I'm not gay but I love that there is something for everyone here, it's inclusive. I like that all my neighbors speak different languages and you can order anything delivered right to your door, from Korean barbecue to a carwash (they have guys in vans who will show up at your house and detail your car. Seriously!)

Over the years I've written a lot about my codependent relationship with this place and every time I get mushy and love-addled about L.A. there are some people who take this to mean I'm denigrating wherever it is they live. That's not true, of course -- saying you like apples does not mean you hate watermelon. And sometimes Los Angeles can suck the life out of you, just trying to get from one place to another can be torture. There are people who have lived in this city for decades who hate it more with each passing day.

Me? I figure this freaky stretch of metropolis is the closest thing I have to a boyfriend so I might as well enjoy it when he's pretty and feeling slutty. And I try to ignore it when he drives like crap. We work it out.

It's a hopeful city, full of optimism and honking. People come here and dream about making it big and some really do.

Ok, enough about Hollyweird. Here's the real star of this town:

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No one gets up or down these stairs without paying a fine!

Posted by laurie at 3:30 PM

September 20, 2010

The Town & The Hat

Yesterday afternoon Jennifer and I went to see a midday showing of The Town, a movie so good I came home and called my mom and told her she and my dad have to go see it this week! Now! But it was like a full cardio workout watching that movie. I felt sweaty from clenching all my muscles in anticipation during every scene. Two thumbs up. Also, when did Ben Affleck become so hot?

As soon as Jen met me at the movie theater I barraged her with requests for advice (yes, advice) about my hair. One of the delights of not having to arrive at an office with coworkers in suits and pantyhose and with well-coiffed hair is that one can speculate seriously about all-the-sudden getting an entirely new haircolor. Like by this time tomorrow I could be a raven-winged brunette or some color of red that doesn't occur in nature. It could happen!

And with all the hand-knit hats I have in a drawer in my closet I can safely hide my hair all the way to the salon if it goes poorly. No matter, I still haven't decided. I now have roots that have roots.

Speaking of hats, I finished my Dad's hat and gave it to him this weekend:

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I finished the top decreases differently than on my brother's hat. I think this little experiment turned out pretty well but probably will only work in a crazy nubby yarn like this Noro Taiyo. Here is a picture of the decrease rows on the top of my Dad's hat:

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In contrast, below is a picture of the crown decrease on my brother's hat -- well, it's the inside-out view, anyway, as he had the hat on inside-out:

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With this hat I sort of got to the crown and when I needed to decrease I just went to stockinette. In the picture above what you see is reverse stockinette since he has it on inside out. It turned out fine, I guess. I mean it's a hat, not cold fusion. It works. He likes it.

So with that glowing endorsement and six paragraphs of caveats let me know if you still want the pattern. I can post it both ways, one with the easy k2tog decreases and one that attempts to keep the ribbing all the way to the bitter end, with semi-success, if hidden in a textural colorful or dark yarn. Heh.

Finally:
CUTEST DOG EVER ALERT

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Puppy is so tired his toys attack him!

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Toys attack puppy while puppy gives up and plays frog dog!

Posted by laurie at 9:24 AM

September 19, 2010

Weather Theory

I am full of theories.

I left advice behind a few years ago, I can't bear unsolicited advice and so I stopped giving it, too, almost full stop. Or at least I try. For someone who used to be overflowing with advice and how-to's I managed to zip it up, put a cork in it, shut the hell up. Like many people I had gone from being a friend to channeling Dr. Phil, always at the ready with my words of completely unasked-for advice. Thank God I finally shut my mouth and stopped with all my finger-wagging counsel, I must have been a real pain in the ass.

Unsolicited advice puts the giver of advice in a position of all-knowing, all-powerful Unfuckedupedness. Meanwhile the poor recipient of the advice is left holding all your shoulds and do this and do that and here's where you went wrong, see. I like plain old listening. And anyway I'm not any wiser or smarter or finer than my friends, so why should I tell them how to live? Sometimes someone is just having a bad day, a challenging issue, a moment. They don't need a to-do list from me, unasked giver of advice. They need to just sit where they are and be. Yet for a while there my first inclination was to break out the bullet points.

But people do exactly what they want to do in the end. If it happens to go against the grain of your unsolicited advice, then you have opened up a can of awkward. When I am not specifically asked for help I figure it's best to just listen, love, be kind, be polite. I forget sometimes how good it feels simply to be polite. I don't have to figure out and solve everyone else's problems.

So I left most of my unwanted advice in the dust (I catch myself sometimes, spouting nonsense) but I have theories up the yinyang. I love my theories! I have a theory about everything. Some aren't truly full-formed theories, just observations, like:

• A feline will sit on the one piece of paper you most need it not to sit upon.

• When you are most worried about the state of your house you will get an unexpected guest/building maintenance call/dishwasher malfunction.

• You will run into your ex/old boss/horrid acquaintance while at the grocery store looking your grungy worst. However, when you look fine as a high-class call girl you will only run into underage busboys and soccer moms.

• Bullet points are kind of awesome and awfully hard to resist.


But I have other theories, real theories, more fleshed out and evolved. There's my condiment theory, for one. One day I'll share my Bumper Guy Theory, it will have to be a no-comments day since it will irritate 99.99% of all readers. Today I'm on Weather Theory, something I developed back in college one million years ago.

In my Weather Theory, people are both drawn to and reflect their environments. I loved the lushness, the dense thick kudzu-covered South when I was a kid. I loved all the humidity, the rainy days, the storms, the lightening. I was all tangled up in it. I used to write gushy poems with big words and drive on the farm roads in the rain and smoke cigarettes while listening to rainy day music. Lots of Nina Simone, Jim Croce, Ella Fitzgerald, that old Hank Williams with the scratch sound in the background. I would sing along, driving on some muddy bayou road, "... yeah, I want some sugar in my bowl..."

By the way, I sound like a dying cat when I sing. No one believes this until they hear me sing. People think I am being hard on myself, surely I can sing a little bit. Upon hearing me sing, however, my audience will immediately agree that I should stick to car and shower singing, preferably with no one in a ten-mile radius. I don't mind. It's good to know your limits.

I moved to Los Angeles unexpectedly. It was different out here, unlike the South it is bright and hot and clear and sunny and a little bit brittle. Hard, but also shiny. Like a never-ending spotlight. There is no sun like a Southwest sun, all that space across the map between here and Laredo is just sun and heat and dry and dust. I once dated a guy from Guatemala and he loved the heat, loved it when the Valley got to 110, 115 degrees. He was hot blooded all the way through. People are their climates. That was the theory, anyway.

Lately I've amended my theory to contain a new anomaly: people can rebel against their climate. I love the clarity of Los Angeles, the way the heat and the sunshine just flatten everyone out, toughen them up like leather. But I miss stormy nights and overcast days. I miss the lushness, the solitude of winter. Well, let me rephrase that. I think I miss winter. Having not lived in a real winter for at least sixteen years I can't say for sure what winter is. I do remember being in college in Middle Tennessee and hating all the rain (in the Southeast it can rain for weeks, months it seems) and I would drive around in my little Volkswagen Fox and smoke menthol cigarettes and look at all the houses with their shutters closed and curtains drawn and wonder who was inside, snuggled up, laughing, kissing, living life.

In L.A. you never feel lonely from the weather. You never bundle up against the winter. You only have to escape from the sun.

It's always bright, it's always flat and reflective and shimmery. Except those few days a year when you get the June gloom, the May grey, the anomaly overcast that makes the 6 o'clock news. We're not used to being introspective out here, we're not used to the blanket of fog or the softness of the air (actually, if you live right at the beach maybe you're more used to fog. But beach life out here is another world altogether). A drastic change in our weather makes you feel vulnerable. It makes you cook elaborate chili and read something besides Variety. Out here we only get introspective weather a few days a year.

I can't tell where I am in my theory. I still love the irradiated charm of Los Angeles, spray-tanned and be-flip-flopped and full of weathermen who get excited about a little cloudy sky. But I like my theory better when I don't apply myself to it. I can't imagine actually living in a place where you need four seasons of clothing and a working umbrella and something called a "coat." It makes me laugh when I think of how goofy we get over a few clouds.

Oh, one last theory, laundry theory: The amount of extra coat hangers you have is directly proportional to the number of orphaned socks in your drawer. It has something to do with laundry mojo. Very mysterious, that one.


- - -

Edited to add: Well, I thought the goofiness of giving advice about giving advice would be, you know, sort of obviously tongue-in-cheek, but I can see in the comments I may not have worded it quite so well because I think a few people felt icky about my advice on unsolicited advice. I'm sorry! This is not supposed to be the feel-bad place, this is the feel funky fresh dressed to impress ready to party place. (And apparently the place where old rap lyrics go to die.)

As always, all of this nonsense I type is just a bunch of internet blahblahblah from a charming nobody who just navel gazes and drunk-types. Kind of like it says on the side of the Ouija board, "For entertainment purposes only." And you know I still give advice whether I try to shut my mouth or not. Especially about giving advice!

Oh, remind me to tell you the story about the time my friend and I got all freaked out in high school over a Ouija board, with screaming and running and much carrying on. It will FREAK your panties off. Funky fresh dressed no more!

Posted by laurie at 11:37 AM

September 11, 2010

Wanna get drunk and fool around?

The title is from Jaws, one of my favorite movies. I love crusty old Quint and his big speech, "Y'all know me. Know how I earn a livin'. I'll catch this bird for you, but it ain't gonna be easy. Bad fish. Not like going down the pond chasin' bluegills and tommycods. This shark, swallow you whole..."

And of course the most famous line from Jaws, Brody saying, "You're gonna need a bigger boat."

I watched Jaws tonight. I had it on Tivo and after I watched all the network specials on 9/11 I guess I needed a big mechanical shark and some Richard Dreyfuss.

After that first year I really wanted the guv'ment to make September 11th a national day of silence or mourning or remembering or something. When I was a little girl Pearl Harbor Day was always remarked upon and talked about because my grandfather had served in the Navy during the war and his ship had just left the harbor when the attack happened. (He was on the famous USS Lexington). He survived, but that day remained very important to him and he shared it with us every year. I'm not sure I quite understood it, not viscerally, until September 11th.

I mentioned the whole National Day of Mourning idea once -- might have been on this website, even -- and I was taken to task over it. Someone complained it would just become a holiday like Memorial Day where we have mattress sales.

I was really happy when this day was named a National Day of Service and Remembrance. It's so much better than my day of mourning idea. Much better to live forward than backward, yes?

- - -

Midday I was driving to Trader Joe's and the road was really crowded, must have been road construction or something. A big orange MTA bus stopped right in front of me, I was just under the 101 overpass. I looked in my side mirror and quickly moved into the next lane. I'm not a slowpoke driver and I don't cut people off, so I knew the big silver SUV behind me didn't even have to tap his brakes when I got over in the lane in front of him. But he honked at me anyway, made a fist. I flipped him off. It's summer, windows zipped off the Jeep, he saw me.

He made a big show of running up on my bumper, then trying to pull along beside me. Worst thing about me is that I don't scare. It's sounds fine on paper but it's not a great quality. You honk at me, I will flip you off, and I don't pretend it wasn't me, I'll take you on. There is no scare in me. Thank God I don't have kids.

So this asshole and his friend they try to pull in the lane right beside me to my left and they're yelling and I could give a shit. We're in Hollywood, you can't escape if you try, traffic sucks, you can be acting the fool and hollering and carrying on and while you carry on you're caught on film in 27 traffic cameras and fourteen minutes of red lights. And I did nothing wrong. They just want to intimidate, yell, get off on making someone scared and I don't do that. I can cuss in three languages.

Then we pass this intersection and there are fire trucks and at least ten police cars and American flags and the two guys in the silver SUV are all the sudden not yelling anymore. Afraid of getting pulled over.

They screeched tires right on my bumper and pulled past me and sped off.

I pulled into a parking lot.

I hate road rage. When I was really stressed about my life, especially times at work or when I was married, I had a lot of road rage and I was so shamed by it. I'm a good driver and now I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. My life is so much less pinched and compressed, my road rage has evaporated along with my commute. But I still don't flinch when some joker starts riding my bumper, pissed off because I had the audacity to change lanes. Maybe I should be a little less f*ck-you. Some of these idiots have guns.

- - -

I sat there in the parking lot, my Jeep idling, watching the little procession of firetrucks and police cars, thinking about that day back in September. A few days after 9/11 my ex-husband and I got in my car and we drove around the whole city, watching in awe as people lit candles on street corners and waved flags and honked at each other in a show on friendship and togetherness.

More than one of us knew someone on a plane. I did. And there was the general feeling of outrage, astonishment, unity. Bigger than all of it was this feeling of Americanness, all of us multi-colored, multi-ethnic, freakyass Los Angelenos taking to the streets and honking and waving and crying together. We do everything in our dumb cars. That is how we did September 11th, and 12th and 13th. We drove around waving flags and crying and honking, but the good honking. It was insane.

We weren't flipping each other off after 9/11. We lit candles and waved our flags and for weeks the streets were the politest you have ever seen. No one honked out of rage. We let each other merge for goodness sakes. We let people go ahead. We put traffic into perspective.

And now here I am nine years later on the same day, embarrassed because I flipped off the roadrager who honked at me. Maybe instead of a National Day of Anything we could just be forgiving for one day. Not burn any books or yell or preach or cuss off anyone. Just be nice. Me included.

No flipping off. No honking for merging. No being irritated in the checkout line. Simply be polite and gracious for 24 hours once a year.

Posted by laurie at 10:09 PM

September 10, 2010

The most pressing issue of our time

The happiest part about Fall (aside from the feelings of crispness and fresh starts and clean notebooks) is of course the change you see in my best friend, TeeVee. All the old shows are back with new episodes and then there are entirely new shows to choose from. This last bit is tricky for me because I seem to be the curse for new TV. Don't blame me but I tuned in for Life on Mars, The Unusuals, Women's Murder Club, The Forgotten, Flash Forward. Ah, so little time, so much TV to kill.

Obviously I'll be tuning in for my favorites -- the final season of Oprah, my regular shows like Dancing With The Stars (a program that for some reason I only watch when I am on the treadmill), Glee, The Office, 30 Rock, Bones, Hoarders, Castle and I am shocked that Human Target will be back, since I started watching it from the first episode and it was actually renewed. It's breezy fun. Christopher Chance always gets his man. Or woman.

What are you watching? And more importantly, what new shows will you be tuning in to? The Undercovers? Nikita? Detroit 1-8-7? I haven't decided. Maybe Hawaii 5-0.

And was anyone else a little disappointed by this season of The Closer? The whole storyline about Brenda becoming Chief of Police is silly because I don't think even the most medically-marijuanad of writers would write in a blonde, Southern, female chief of police for L.A. And as much as I have tried to like Rizzoli & Isles I have decided I kind of hate that show. I love Angie Harmon, she's so appealing, but the scary serial killer who never dies or goes on trial but manages to kill from behind bars? That's been done a million times and in better shows. It's like the writers want to make Maura Isles into Temperance Brennan but it falls flat. And I get tired of all cop shows being (mostly) about horrible crimes to women. I think that's why I stopped watching all the CSIs. I watch the nightly news and sometimes that's enough.

I am embarrassed to admit my guilty pleasures, but will do so anyway. Reality crap. I'm watching Thintervention, The Real Housewives of DC (an addiction I blame firmly on my friend Christine G. who got my hooked one morning over coffee) and Jersey Shore. That last one I only watch when I feel bad about my life or need to expose my TV to genital warts to see if its inoculation took. That show reminds me that no matter how icky I may feel, I am at least not wearing spandex and white pumps and fretting over my clip-in hair extensions. But it makes for oddly compelling TV.

You? What are you watching?

Posted by laurie at 10:36 AM

September 6, 2010

Labor Day

Everyone says Labor Day marks the end of summer. Or, where I am from, the end of wearing white. Not that I wear much white but old sayings die hard.

The best thing about August was that I started writing again, this time in a fever, spilling out 7,000 words a day and holing up in my house which is not a bad way to live. I'm not sure if this little story I'm writing is any good and I don't care, the point is to finish one fiction book beginning to end and I'm thisclose. Worrying about being good just gets in the way.

So anyway, that was summer. And now it's September and I'm going to clean my whole apartment. Put some good music on, make a pitcher of iced tea, vacuum like nobody's business. I love to vacuum. You get immediate results, everything feels renewed and fresh and you can see your progress as you go. And I'm going to put away everything that happened in August and just be happy that no matter how bad some pages of the calendar may be we do have the luxury of a whole new month ahead where something good could happen.

Posted by laurie at 9:07 AM

August 31, 2010

Winner... and Winter's Bone

It's been fun reading all the comments today from fans and non-fans of Jane Austen. Hopefully we can all say we know ourselves better after having given P&P a try. --Anna

I could not agree more. Thanks to everyone who commented yesterday, I think our little book club was a success! I sat down last night with a glass of merlot the size of my head and re-read all the comments, it was like listening in on the best conversation at the party. What struck me most was how careful everyone was to say their opinion but not be a jerk (there was no, "You're wrong and stupid! This book is a masterpiece/suckfest!") In this age of sex tapes and "Sorry, officer, that's not my cocaine, I was holding it for a friend..." I think our book club was a rarity and a gem. Jane would be proud.

The comments helped me see the book in new ways (more on that in a bit) and I wish you could all come to my house and chat about books every weekend. It would keep me reading more and we could drink while gabbing.

The randomly chosen winner of book-club-comment-day is Linda who commented:

However, rereading Pride and Prejudice in the new annotated edition was really a revelation to me. Taking time to read the annotations forced me to slow down and really look at the world Austen was describing--and it was almost like visiting another universe. Previously, I had glossed over all of the humor, especially with Mr. Collins, and was clueless about the implications of one's choice of carriage.

She will be receiving an equally random assortment of goodies from my unemployed stash, including some 100% pure Norwegian wool in a golden orange hue, a few skeins of my favorite wool Noro, a few knitting books, some knitting markers and a mixed CD I made myself. I am also including a copy of a book I bought just for this winner:

Winter's Bone, by Daniel Woodrell.

I thought we could all read it in September for another book club chitchat. It's a fast read, you'll zip through it in a day or two, and it's a contemporary novel. It was recently made into an amazing indie film which I hope gets nominated for an Oscar this year. I've already read it, which is why I'm recommending it. I am selfish, you see, I want to re-read this book and talk to people about it. And I want to share it with everyone. Are you in?


So, make a date. Winter's Bone Book Chat on Monday, September 27th!!!

And I still want to re-read Gatsby. Any takers on that one? Can we fit it in September, too, or should we wait until October?

- - -

The comments yesterday had my brain bubbling, so I wanted to jot down a few things:


1) It's Colin Firth, yo

Thank you so much to everyone who subtly pointed out the difference between enjoying the BBC mini-series version of Pride and Prejudice versus enjoying the book itself. I feel the same way about the movie Emma! I love the film but can't get past twenty pages in the book.

I have never seen the Colin Firth mini-series or any of the P&P movies but it's now in my Netflix queue. After I finished the book on Sunday I tried watching the one version of Pride and Prejudice offered streaming on Netflix and I couldn't get through it. That 1980s Mr. Darcy was too creepy for me, he looked like he'd just escaped from a mental institution and would at any moment break into song OR murder Elizabeth OR become a gay porn star. Weird.

My favorite comment about the movie/book gap was from reader Donna:


I didn't mind watching the movies while knitting as I am assuming the producers are displaying the correct period housing, clothing etc....but reading her book, Jane does not get into any detail of her environment, just the gossip! It would of been nice to hear about the decor of the rooms, the gardens, the food, what they were doing to keep themselves busy (beside gossiping).

There were several points in the book where I wanted someone to describe the food or the wallpaper or even the weather. Please, Lord, send us a stormy day and deliver us from the drawing room, amen. But after reading the comments I can see where the lack of in-depth description is almost part of the draw for some readers. If you love the conversation and observation, you want more. If you're able to sink into the conversation, then descriptive leaps into dinner or weather might be a distraction. Inneresting!



2) Happily Ever After

The discussions I thought were most intriguing in the comments were all about the ideas of marriage and the "happy ending" to the story. Is being married a happy ending? I certainly grew up thinking that it was, a notion which probably added to My Bigass Mental Breakdown of 2005.

Some comments pointed out that there are women in 2010 still quite focused on getting a husband and marrying well just like Jane Austen's characters. There was a time in my life when all I wanted was to get married. I was so sure that marriage would open the door to happiness. (There was also a time when I really wanted an Epilady. Times change.)

I thought reader Jennifer said it best:

I think the happy ending part is not that they get married, but that they both cause each other to change in ways that make them better people (and bonus that those people they change into are so well suited to one another).

I wonder if I would have had a completely different feeling for this book had I read it when I was 19, instead of now at 39? I know the way I feel about marriage has completely changed in the past few years. There was a point while reading P&P when I realized my feelings about marriage probably colored how I related to the book.

The author's life, on the other hand, is better than the best page-turner on the shelves. I read something online about her sister and other siblings burning all (or most) of Jane's letters after her death. I loved that they had such a fierce protection for her privacy even after she was gone. Fascinating stuff, no?

3) Happily Ever After addendum
For those of you who do like happy endings but also like a little thievery and piracy and some good old fashioned revenge fantasies, read or re-read The Count of Monte Cristo. I picked it up several months ago when my job was taking a Sylvia Plath-like turn for the worst and it got me through several weeks in the cubicle farm. I LOVE the Count. For one thing, it is not the depressing downer most folks think -- the ending is so happy that people are literally sailing off into a sunset. And even though it was also written in the 1800s, the writing is fairly accessible and the plot just grabs you. It has some overly complicated scheming toward the end but it's a great story. I think someone should do a movie re-make with a modern update setting it in the present. Javier Bardem as Dantes... what do you think? Green light all the way?

4) Cracked me right up

You know, I'd take a long day in a drawing room over the courtship rituals of Jersey Shore any day.-- RB


- - -

Reading is a uniquely personal experience. I love sinking into a book, getting lost in it, I don't care if it's smutty V.C. Andrews or highbrow Henry James, if you get sucked into a book it's a decadent, pleasurable thing. I feel obligated to read classic lit because it's the foundation for all reading and writing (and reading and writing are my two favorite things to do in life!) Pride and Prejudice reminded me that it's OK not to like a book, even a beloved classic. Not everything will speak to every person. But it's good to try it out to see if it will fit. Every palate is different.


Don't forget! Monday, September 27, 2010--
Winter's Bone, by Daniel Woodrell. I cannot wait to hear your take on this book. Oh, and if you saw the movie I want to hear your review of that, too.

Posted by laurie at 2:04 PM

August 30, 2010

Nerdy Monday: Book chat!

August got away from me, so I passed the weekend reading Pride And Prejudice, it felt like I was cramming for finals again. I will admit that I spent the first 85 pages or so bemoaning all you Jane Austen fans who voted so vociferously for this book over The Great Gatsby. Then I spent the next 100 pages or so remembering why I had never read a full Jane Austen book cover to cover until now. When forced to pick from a list of female writers from the 19th century, I always reached for Kate Chopin, Mary Shelley, Emily Dickinson. But when I had a choice in school I always sided with the men in this era-- Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, Henry James, Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson.

I took a break midway through reading P&P and did a little research online about Jane Austen's life (hey, it's been a while since I was in school and I'm not one of those people who goes around pretending to know everything, nothing irritates me more than pedantic pedantics, I fully admit I have to wikipedia shit all day long) and once I brushed up on my Austen facts I was much more interested in finishing the book. She died when she was so young, just a few years older than I am now. And I kept thinking how she never got to see what an impact her books had on the world ... here we are almost 200 years after the book was first published we're still talking about it!

I'm not a book critic, I can only say if a book spoke to me or not. I'm also deeply aware of the hate mail and criticism which would happen if open season were declared on me for not loving your favorite book. So I will not say I hated it. I didn't hate it at all, actually. While it was not a lifetime favorite for me, I'm certainly glad I read it. My main irritation was that the characters don't do anything except sit in drawing rooms and talk -- perhaps I would have enjoyed the Zombies version better -- maybe you'll assume I'm not subtle and literary enough to get the social commentary. I do see it, I mean that's all the book is, social observation, but I guess my appetite for marriage chitchat isn't 400 pages long.

I have to say, this book did make me feel grateful I didn't grow up in turn-of-the-century England. I can't imagine spending your childhood waiting to be married and then spending your adult life waiting to marry off your kids while gossiping about marriage all day long. (During one long scene where everyone sits around in the drawing room, I wrote in my diary, "These are people who could have seriously benefited from a TV.") In the end, though, it was pleasing to close the book and feel a sense of accomplishment. I'm glad we all read this book because now I can say I've read it and cross that off my list.

What did you think? I'm especially interested in folks who also read this book for the first time like un-subtle, un-literary me. Did you like the characters? Did you like the style of writing? The tone? The setting? The ending? Did you wish for zombies, too?

Posted by laurie at 9:06 AM

August 27, 2010

Weekend plans: Read Pride & Prejudice

Don't forget, on Monday we'll be chitchatting about Pride And Prejudice, and to make it fun everyone who comments on the book will be entered into a random drawing for a random gift. I've been remiss in my reading so I need to get on the ball ... guess I will be spending Friday night with Jane Austen. I'd prefer an evening with George Clooney but they weren't selling him at the local bookstore. Ah well.

Frankie is still mad we didn't decide to read Cat's Cradle.

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Have a great weekend! See you Monday!

Posted by laurie at 11:44 AM

August 5, 2010

Livin' in a world of "get a life!" ...Everyone seems so uptight. Nothing's wrong and nothing's right...

That title is from one of my favorite songs by En Vogue-- Giving Him Something He Can Feel. You go online for the lyrics and it says "...livin' in a world of ghetto life..." but in the first liner notes on the first tape I got it said, "livin' in a world of 'get a life'" ...and that made sense to me so you know that is how I sing it loud and proud in my Jeep.

Everyone says "Get a life, man!" and what does that mean anyway?

What is a life? Get a life! I think what people mean when they say it to you is, "Be more like me!" "Get a life I approve of!" "Be less freaky to me, because anything different makes me question myself and I don't do that navel-gazing bullshit!"

Whatever, it's a song.

So the very first piece of existential philosophy I ever applied to real life came from the movie Top Gun. Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer at the hotness, and personally my favorite ever Meg Ryan role. I was twelve.

See, in the movie Jester gives Maverick flight-school hell for flying below the hard deck. No one goes below the hard deck! You get penalized for flying below the hard deck like that crazy Maverick! And I realized in my family -- and at school, to a lesser degree, and in all relationships -- it seemed there was an invisible emotional hard deck inside all social groups and we are not allowed to go beneath it. We all join in on an implicit agreement never to go below the hard deck in polite conversation.

Before you get the idea I was special and gifted at age twelve please recall I spent an hour every morning applying so much blue eyeshadow I could have passed for Papa Smurf.

But it was an apt philosophy. Families and relationships and even whole companies develop an emotional hard deck which no one is permitted to fly below. People have personal hard decks, I have mine. Above the hard deck I'll share and give, below is a different story. You start making low-flying recon missions below my hard deck and I shut it down faster than a block party in a swine flu epidemic.

If I ever had the desire to return to college I could freak out the professors with my life lessons and social anthropological mores learned from 1980s films. This is just the tip of the crazyberg.

Do you have an emotional hard deck? Does your family have one? Have you ever dared venture below it, dared to fly low and dangerous?

And what do you think, are we livin' in a world of ghetto life get a life where everyone seems so uptight?

- - -

Edited to add in what surely must be irony considering the last sentence, above, that yes thank you to commenter who pointed out I must have been older than 12 if the movie came out in 1986. I looked online to be super accurate because all that matters clearly is the exact age I was when I saw Top Gun and I was 14. Also, Meg Ryan is in the movie and she plays Goose's wife. It's a small part that I personally liked.

Now I am closing comments and taking a nice long break. Goodbye!

Posted by laurie at 7:31 PM

August 4, 2010

Pride and Prejudice it is, then

So let's meet back here on Monday August 30th to chat about the book. You can order it online (here's The Annotated Pride and Prejudice) or of course at your local library or mug a high school student for their copy. You can also get it free on the kindle, cool, no? (Here's that link: Pride and Prejudice Kindle Edition).

Edited to add: There are apparently a number of ways to get this book free, thanks to all the folks who commented to let us know. I bought the version in Target that looks all Twilight-ish, well, I just thought it was hilarious that it says "Bella's favorite book!" or something right on the cover. But here are other options:

http://www.online-literature.com/austen/prideprejudice/

Free from Project Gutenberg

Free Audio Book from LibriVox

And on August 30th, everyone who comments in our little virtual bookclub will be entered to win a drawing for some goofy prize. Being on the thrifty side of finances these days, it will likely be an odd assortment of yarn and books from my stash and who knows what else. Can't send Bob after all, besides my missing him terribly he would break the bank in shipping weight charges...

Get reading!

Posted by laurie at 11:22 AM

August 2, 2010

Summer reading

Last night I stayed up way too late with my nose stuck in a book, I'm reading The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir. It's not a biography, it's a novel but the author is fairly close to facts in her timeline and it's a good read. I love anything about Queen Elizabeth -- one of my favorite movies of all time is Elizabeth with Cate Blanchett. It's a little loose with the facts but it's a great movie. I think part of my fascination with her is that I can't imagine what it must have been like to live in the 1500s and (seemingly deliberately) choose to not marry. Let's be honest, I live in the year 2010 and some people still think it's weird and wrong that I didn't remarry. Imagine living in the 1500s and being single! And Queen at that. Fascinating.

I bought two other books recently as well -- Pride And Prejudice and The Great Gatsby. I've read Gatsby several times but the last time I read it was probably over a decade ago (maybe two?). But I have never read a single Jane Austen book. Can you believe that? Can you believe I am admitting that?

So what do you think about us having a goofyass virtual bookclub this month and you all pick the book you want to read most -- pick one, Gatsby or Pride and Prejudice, post today in the comments and majority rules -- and we'll meet back here maybe on Monday, August 30th (so you have that weekend to cram, hah) and we can chat about the book? And everyone who decides to participate in that chitchat in the comments will be entered to win some fun gift, like some yarn and maybe a signed copy of the Drunk book (I still have copies of that but am out of the new one, go figure) and who knows what else I may throw in. You may get a cat if Blob doesn't stop eating my size 8 circulars.

You in? You have to cast your vote today for which book, though. If ya'll think this is a stupid idea just let me know and we'll pretend I was stoned on paint fumes or something. Happy Monday!

Posted by laurie at 9:03 AM

July 31, 2010

End-of-July check in

Over half the year has passed already and finally I'm making some progress. I'm glad I started the year with my two goals -- get healthy and get happy -- and decided to keep myself accountable with these monthly check-ins. I was not cheering the concept of public accountability back in April and May but things have evened out. So, here it is:

1) Goal: Get Healthy

With more time at home I no longer have to worry about cooking ahead for a whole workweek. It's AWESOME. Just eat what you want when you want. It took me a while to get into a rhythm with it, but now I am so there. If it's 8 a.m. and I just had a long walk and want chicken and rice for breakfast that's what I cook.

My physical fitness goal for July was the same as it has been all year -- walk every day for the whole month. In July I got close to my goal. I walked 21 days out of 31. And these weren't your quickie 15-minute strolls, on 19 days I walked over 3 miles each time.

Just a word here about my walk-every-day-in-a-month goal. Over the past few months as I have continued to make and re-make this goal (and continued to not meet it) I have gotten hundreds of comments and emails and suggestions from folks online. "Just shoot for three days out of every five." "Five days out of seven..." "Every other day." "Aim for 10,00 steps a day, and buy a pedometer!" "8,000 steps..." "5,000 steps!" "Take the stairs!" "Just park far away and walk and count that..." "Go for mileage not days!" "Speed not mileage..." "Instead of walking try yoga!" "...swimming." "... biking."

Now this stuff is always interesting and funny to me. I love trying to see what clicks with people or makes them tick. But sometimes I can be kind of slow on the uptake! So I didn't at first understand why so many strangers had an interest in modifying my personal goal. It took all this time for it to finally sink in. People look at goals differently and for some folks, watching me miss my goal month after month must be like Chinese water torture, slow and painful. They simply wanted to give me tips to help me move along already.

The whole purpose of goal-setting for many folks is to achieve it as quickly as possible, check it off and declare victory so they can move on to the next goal. That does make sense now that I think on it. Continual plodding failure must feel like, well, failure. And failure becomes a problem to solve. So it came out as, "Here, just do this and then you won't fail!"

It's very sensible. But my brain works differently. Sure, I have to-do lists of little items that need checking off quickly: go to the post office, buy milk and cat litter, drop off this bag of stuff at the goodwill, mop. But my personal goals are very different from to-do list items. They are my landmarks along a path, my hopes, my optimism for what I want to be like in the future. For me, the real success in a goal comes from working toward it each day. For example, one of my goals is to declutter my home. The success isn't achieved on the one day I wake up and look around and think, "There! I've done it! Check! Now what do I do next?" The achievement in my mind is spending ten minutes every day or so to declutter a drawer or sort through old paperwork. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Anyway, my goal of walking each day in a calendar month isn't a particularly difficult goal. It's not very physically demanding ("walk" is loosely defined, no set time or mileage) and it's certainly not financially unachievable. It's a good, do-able goal. The actual victory of knocking this goal off a list will pale in comparison to the days spent working toward it. Let's be honest, nothing dramatic is going to change in my life just because I walk 30 or 31 days in a row. The real success is derived from working toward it and getting incrementally better.

There is no way I would change the goal and dial it downward to meet me halfway. The whole point of my personal goal setting is to rise up and meet the challenge. Tomato, tomahto.

Don't get me wrong -- this isn't to say my way of looking at goals is better or worse than any other way. It's just different. Thank God we're all different, yes? My way would drive some people insane, but to my little brain it's simply another whole month stretching ahead of days that I can possibly achieve a goal. The goal is arbitrary. The exercise is the point. The only reason I am yammering on and on about this is that I think it's fascinating we're all so different! I personally love it. And if it weren't for my future husband Al inventing this innernets I would never have had you all share this with me. Thank goodness for Al.

So of course in August my ideal is to go on a walk each day in the month. One day I'll get there. See, it's like a mystery. Gives you something to look forward to!


2) Goal: Get Happy
Another vaguely defined goal, but you get the idea. And things are good. I've been able to spend time with my family and the cutest dog ever, it's great having them on the west coast and especially now when I can actually visit with them. The rest of the time is my own. I'm well-suited to being alone most of the days and I keep myself busy and industrious. My stress level now is so different I can't even explain it without adding in some effusively bad 1980s breakdancing.

I definitely miss the office environment, having friends and coworkers nearby. But I'm loving the work I'm doing and the change is good for me.

No matter what happens in the future, I want to keep this calm feeling of not always being in a rush. I have my moments of panic about money and finances but it passes. Everything will work out. Somehow. I truly believe this down in my cells.


- - -

So that was July. In August my goals are to walk (for the whole month!), write more (which will make me happier and keep me feeling productive), and cook a few new recipes. I want to try some new stir-fry meals and maybe make something with Indian spices. I am actually even starting August by inviting a friend over for dinner next Friday (I don't entertain much, so this is a nice little change for me.)

It seems to be working so far.

Posted by laurie at 6:36 PM

July 30, 2010

Breaking News: Cat Ladies Set to Take Over World, team coverage at eleven

1) Al Gore why haven't you called me?
I am waiting. I even started spending more time upstairs in my apartment because I get better phone reception there. Bob needs a new daddy. Get a move on. I'm not going to wait forever you know! (Totally lying. Will absolutely wait forever.)

2) Speaking of Blob Bob

I've had to cut off the Meow Mix because he's getting so... fluffy. Now he has this healthy holistic blahblahblah food and he hates it. Yesterday he chewed through half of my latest issue of Entertainment Weekly in what I believe was a well-planned retribution attack.

3) Oh-kay, here's the situation, my parents went away on a week's vacation...
(Song lyrics from when Will Smith was a rapper. Oh ye of youngness who do not remember the good old days.) So my folks may be staying in Orange County for a while, maybe even a month or two! Very exciting, because the OC is LA-adjacent and I can see them more regularly. My Dad is slowly improving and that's a relief, though he's not all the way better. I think it is very surprising how things work out. If I were still at the bank I would never get to spend time with them even though they're in my time zone and just a car ride away. But now I get to see them really frequently and we can have dinner together and just visit. Time isn't merely a luxury, it's the only luxury, isn't it? Time to breathe, time to just hang out with someone, time to do grand experiments with deodorant.

4) I ponder not just the navel but the underarms as well

You can't really experiment with deodorants when you're working full time. If you get a product dud you could find yourself five minutes before the afternoon staff meeting trying to de-stink with wet wipes or mask with perfume. Don't act like you don't know. So I have taken this opportunity -- this grand life change -- to do awesome things with my time like experiment with deodorants. Yeah, I know, because my life is about science, people. Practically a modern day Marie Curie. I plan to report on the Stink Mitigating Study of 2010 very soon in an essay so detailed it is sure to win me a Pulitzer.

5) The Summer of my Knitcontent
Summer knitting continues in full force, I'm now on the first of many hats. This one was originally planned for my Dad but even though I measured carefully and swatched it still may be too large -- I hadn't counted on the high cotton content of the yarn being so darn stretchy. I'm used to using wool which holds its shape so well. But all is not lost! My little brother Eric who has a ginormous Sputnik-style cranium loved the looks of this hat and so if it's too big I'll give it to Eric and use the other skein of yarn for another hat for Dad.

I'm using Noro Taiyo in color #5 (gorgeous, amazing) and unlike most Noro this yarn is very soft, probably thanks to the 40% cotton content and 30% silk. It's also 15% wool and 15% nylon. I almost always buy my Noro on sale but even at a discount this was a pricier skein (I don't remember what I paid, but I only ordered two skeins because of the price). But I was surprised what you get for the money -- a good size skein, 100 grams/200 meters and it's unbelievably gorgeous yarn! Each skein is more than plenty for a big, cushy hat. I think this yarn would also make an excellent bag (it feels durable) or mittens.

I'm making a 2x2 ribbed hat of my own creation. There's a nifty little trick for getting the brim to fold just right -- you knit 2, purl 2 for the length of the hat brim (I like it just around 2 inches) then when you're at a place you want the hat to fold you mix up the pattern -- on the next round you start with purl 2, knit 2 and keep working in that pattern the rest of the hat. The offset row where the two different ribbed pattern meets makes a natural fold.

When I'm done I'll write up the whole pattern and post it. My big challenge will come with decreases since I like to decrease totally in pattern and retain the ribbing. It will be fun working it out.

Also, I'm not sure why my iphone camera got all fuzzy and romantic this morning for a dang hat but here it is:

taiyohat1.jpg


Here is all the help I had behind the scenes styling this photo shoot:

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- - -

Oh! And yesterday I saw the movie "SALT" with Angelina Jolie. It wasn't bad for a summer afternoon popcorn flick. I'm still not a huge Angelina fan but I love me some Liev Schrieber. And it was good to see a female action star movie. After listening to the female leads in both Killers and Knight & Day do nothing but whine and hyperventilate and scream and run in circles while people shoot at them, it was kind of nice to see a woman scaling buildings and doing insane Tom-Cruise style traffic jumps with nary a whine or cutesy comeback. Have you seen the movie? What did you think?

Posted by laurie at 8:44 AM

July 29, 2010

Bow-wow-yippie-yo-yippie-yeah

My folks have been staying out near San Diego and I got to see them this week when they came in to Orange County. I spent a lot of time following the dog around with my iphone, taking his picture:

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Sleepy dog on Grandma's bed. (That's a picture of my Grandma & Grandpa on the bedside table.)

Here he is finally getting some attention from my mom because he is so neglected. Yeah. So not the center of all attention of the universe...

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And here he is watching all the neighborhood dogs walk by:
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Yesterday as I was driving home along the twisted, congested freeways of Los Angeles I was reminded that it's summer tourist season. Lots of cars from out of town, lots of folks with GPS units and maps and still puzzled looks and mad gesturing at missed exits.

As I drove through downtown there were some crowds on the overpasses holding big banners and waving signs about the immigration stuff going on in Arizona. And of course this is Los Angeles so there's lots of honking and fists raised out of car windows in support, all of us carrying a little Cesar Chavez down in our souls. But it's not just this day or this issue, we always have people running around civic buildings and big intersections and movie studios holding placards and carrying banners protesting something or another. And I wondered what the visitors to our fine city think when they see the residents running around protesting stuff, all the cars honking just because it's traffic, and why not honk.

Or what do I know, maybe nonstop daily picketing is a way of life everywhere? Maybe in Des Moines and Kansas City and Boise and Charleston it's a regular old Wednesday to see people hanging bedsheets off the overpass with spray-painted slogans, just like in Los Angeles. What do you think?

Of course when I finally traversed the traffic and got back home my kittens were happy to see me and they got plenty of lap time and also a little paparazzi time. Here's Soba, exuding tortiness:

soba-iphone-closeup.jpg

Later she plans to take over a small country. Something with ample Greenies distribution and no picketing allowed.


Posted by laurie at 9:35 AM

July 23, 2010

Fryday Five

1) Shocking Developments
It has taken six full weeks but something has finally clicked. It happened this week. Suddenly my walks went from being an obligation (something I knew I should do) to what I most look forward to all day. That is insane in the membrane. I'm not sure what happened. I think it's taken this long just to get past the physical acclimation (going from desk jockey and top-notch couch holder-downer to daily exerciser was not an easy transition.)

For those of you who love and enjoy exercise you can skip the rest of this. I myself haven't really enjoyed exercise in years. For one thing, when you have a tight schedule it feels like one more item you have to fit in your limited free time and add to the growing to-do list. And that's irritating. The other issue was that I had gotten so out of shape even a short walk was a huff-n-puff affair and all it did was reconfirm the bad feelings I had about my weight and health.

But for the past five-almost-six weeks I've really stuck to it, plodding through the first weeks with short one-mile walks that took almost forty minutes. Even now I'm not going to win any races, I still clock about an 18-minute mile, but I'm edging past three and a half miles each morning and I've gone from feeling like a wounded blob afterward to feeling more energetic than before I started. Can you believe that?

So, if you too are completely out of shape and hate the very idea of slogging up the block and back I think it will get easier. It took me six long weeks. But something turned over inside me. Crazypants.

2) Which is how I found myself in the sand yesterday
After I walked yesterday morning I showered and got dressed and had breakfast and did some writing and this and that I sat at my desk and looked outside where the sun was just starting to break through. It was just so pretty. And when I thought about the day ahead the one thing I wanted to do more than anything else in the entire world was to walk along the beach. So I did! I threw a few things into a beach bag, slipped on my flip-flops and I was off to Malibu Lagoon.

It was a spectacular day, with plenty of lovely wildlife in the bird sanctuary:

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And plenty of other goodlooking wildlife, too:

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I walked the whole length of the shore to the pier and back and then sat in the sand and read a book for a while. Sometimes I just sat and did nothing at all. I loved watching the surfers paddling and bobbing in the ocean. I loved listening to the waves crashing and foaming on shore.

One of the perks of walking so long in the sand is that your feet get all smoothed and buffed, it's nature's best pedicure.

My flintstone feet love the sand:

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Yes, yoga pants at the beach. It was 68 degrees!


3) This book I'm reading is pretty good
I took Women Food and God with me to the beach. (What a load to carry! Thank you, I'll be here all week, tip your waitress.)

I've read just about every book Geneen Roth has written (I even went to one of her workshops back about 15 years ago) and I like this book, though I don't think it's going to resonate with everyone. Well, not that anything ever does.

The one thing inside this book that jumped out at me the most was a quote that's not even from Geneen Roth, it's from the writer Annie Dillard:


"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."

Ain't that the truth.


4) Maybe I should re-evaluate all that teevee time?

I got some very excellent emails yesterday, this one made me feel relieved to see that it's not me, it's Design Star's fault:

I'm mostly a lurker on your site, but I just wanted to tell you that you are SO right about HGTV Design Star. My husband and I have watched every season of that show, and we really thing it has gone down hill this season. They got a new producer, the guy from Survivor, and we think that's the cause. The whole dynamic of the show seems really different now - it seems like Survivor with some paint thrown in! I wish it was more like last season. Anyway, it was nice to see that we aren't alone in being disappointed in this season. --Melissa

AHA! So they changed producers, and now that you mention the Survivor thing it does seem like Survivor with paint chips. How annoying. It used to be such a good show and I still love David Bromstad. But maybe I should take back that one hour of my life and let go of Design Star. Maybe.

Also thank you to everyone who assured me I am not alone in my Real Housewives of New Jersey trance. Why is it so compelling? Why?

5) And for your weekend, I leave you with these...
Just want to share some of the beautiful beach with you! I only live about 30 miles from the coastline (up the 101 and across Topanga Canyon) but I'm embarrassed to admit I rarely go to the beach, maybe just two or three times a year if that. If you park on PCH it's free, and that fresh air and sunshine and sand are so good for you, it's a great way to spend an afternoon.

I think the very best thing that has happened to me in the past six weeks -- well aside from not feeling like I'm about to die when I walk a block and a half -- is that I have actually relaxed. Intellectualy I realize that you make a choice each day how to react, to live, to be and all that. But in reality when you're spread thin and full to the very limit with anxiety and worry and exhaustion it's hard to choose good feelings. This little break has given me my life back. There's a purely Puritanical streak inside me that feels guilty for enjoying a day off work but I'm successfully ignoring it. Why feel guilty about enjoying a day? After all, like the lady says, how you spend your days is how you spend your life.

I'm sure I could wake up each morning in a panic over money and the future and all that (oh trust me, I know how to do that REALLY WELL) but instead I'm actively choosing to look at all the good stuff. There's even some great stuff. It was there all along but I was so tired and worn out I couldn't see it. The anxiety has diminished and I just wake up loving the luxury of time, knowing nothing lasts forever, I might as well enjoy it while I can. I don't think I am explaining it very well. All I can say for sure is that I don't feel like a tightly coiled spring that's about to explode anymore. When I talk to my friends they say, "Even your voice is different." Nothing is perfect -- I feel obligated to add that -- but still. It is actually possible to be in an imperfect, unsure, not-perfectly-stable place and still feel OK. Who would have thunk it.

I hope you enjoy the this little trip to the beach as much as I did!

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Posted by laurie at 9:25 AM

July 22, 2010

Some stuff and some TeeVee

The weather is so nice, it finally cooled down and the scorching hot temperatures backed off a little. When I go for a walk in the morning it's actually cool outside! I love it.

I know summer's going to return but it makes these little breaks even better. The best days are when we have the marine layer and it's cloudy in the morning. My Jeep doesn't have A/C so on really hot days I don't get out much, it's just excruciating in the heat of the day. When it's cool like this I can run errands, sit in traffic and not baste in my own sweat.

- - -

On this website I write about the things I enjoy chatting about. If I don't want to talk about something in detail, I simply don't go into the details. This is the same advice I give people who ask me about personal blogging: it's a good idea to have clear boundaries and share carefully in a public forum. I'm happy to be candid about many things but not everything. Without boundaries you feel stripped and deconstructed. And trust me when I say no one wants to see me strip.

I realize some people reading today feel cheated out of the good dirt about how it is I came to be self-employed after so long in the corporate world. I got your emails. And I understand your natural curiosity and certainly I would be curious, too. But this is not a website about my day job and never has been. I don't think that's ethical, for one thing, and it's certainly never been the focus of my stories. I left my job at the bank (and left with some great friends and memories) for a new little adventure. That's all I have to say about it. Think of it as an uninteresting plot device in a bigger, more furry and yarn-covered story.

For several weeks in June I chewed over the best way to even mention it here in my online diary. I didn't want to pretend it hadn't happened since obviously it's a big change in my personal life but I also have no desire to chat with the world at large about all the intimate details of my employment. In general I just think it's a good idea to keep a good boundary there.

I hoped that treating this change in my life as a fact, a part of the timeline and brief logistical narrative of June, would be sufficient for this website. I apologize to the people who just think this isn't good enough. I don't know what to tell you. I guess you'll have to find a TV show with a much better plot than this old poopy blog. I highly recommend the new season of The Closer. That Brenda Leigh is the best woman on TV! And a Southerner at that.

Ok, so yes there have been changes in my life but they are all good changes! Now let's move on.

- - -

Speaking of TV, my best friend, I cannot believe I tune in every week and watch The Real Housewives of New Jersey. Even when I am watching it I wonder why I am transfixed, if I am losing IQ points, why they pronounce things the way they do. I vacillate between wanting to adopt Danielle's children the whole episode or wanting to get my TV set vaccinated for gonorrhea. Or both. But I love watching Bethenny Getting Married. Even at nineteen months pregnant and with big cankles she was still hotter in a bathing suit than I will ever be and yet I do not hold this against her.

The Closer has been really good so far this season, though I sure didn't see the twist coming Monday night with Captain Rayder's investigation. The show that follows The Closer is a new cop program Rizzoli & Isles and I wanted it to be good -- I love Angie Harmon, I think she's a really appealing actress -- but the whole setup seems a little fake and weird to me, and not in the good-fake Castle way. I'm still going to give it a chance though, because that's how I am with TV, slutty and fairly undemanding.

I watch two reality/contest shows -- HGTV's Design Star and Next Food Network Star. I was thisclose to bailing out of Design Star because they kept sending home contestants other than Nina. I'm sure she's talented and all that, but I would rather eat a bowl of cold cow brains for an hour than watch 30 seconds of Nina hosting her own show. Finally finally they sent her home this week and the whole show gave a collective sigh of relief. Doesn't it seem like they're too focused this season on the team dynamics instead of the design? Not sure I'll keep watching this show after all.

The Food Network competition is more interesting, though. I think my favorites are Aartie, Brad and Tom. I like Herb a lot, too, he's got such a great personality. I can't imagine how hard it must be to live and compete with a housefull of strangers and do it all in front of the cameras.

The best thing about trashy summer TV is that it feels productive when I'm knitting. With the air conditioning on, of course, and a big mug of hot tea.

- - -

Best thing about working at my own keyboard is all the help I get:
laptopsoba.jpg

She's sitting on my lap as I type. Makes for some furry shui.

- - -
no comments today

Posted by laurie at 10:32 AM

July 12, 2010

Well, it's a marvelous night for a moondance.

The title is from the song I've had stuck in my head since last Thursday. I love you, Van Morrison, but please make it stop. I was even singing it in my head last night as I slept, or tried to sleep.

I've been re-reading one of my favorite books, Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. He writes nonfiction that reads as smoothly as a novel (my other favorite in this genre is Sebastian Junger, author of another all-time favorite book, The Perfect Storm.) Into Thin Air is a first-person view into the now-infamous Mt. Everest expedition of 1996 where two very well-known mountain guides and many others died in a single day. I'm fascinated with people who climb mountains and I love reading stories about extreme climbing and watching all those documentaries about it, though I myself plan to climb no higher than the top of the stairs here in the apartment to do some laundry. I've watched both seasons of that reality show about people wanting to climb the mountain and just the trek to base camp itself seems daunting. I go through phases where I read a lot of mountain climbing stuff. Is this odd for an avowed couch potato? Maybe it's like armchair traveling?

Last night I read a few chapters before I went to bed. Even though I have read this book twice and already know how it ends, duh, it's still a page-turner. Finally, I put the book down and went to bed and then had a very detailed dream about me, my mom and my dad climbing Mt. Everest. Apparently I am sporty in my subconscious. We made it all the way to camp four and then all the sudden I had to turn around and go back. And in the dream my parents were like, "Ok! See you later!" and I was really mad that they kept going. It was dramatic. Apparently my head is combining all the time I've spent reading about Mt. Everest with all the time I've spent with my family recently and is spitting it out reality-show style in a dream. Freaky. And it was all played over a Van Morrison soundtrack.

- - -

My parents drove their house-on-wheels from Idyllwild to Orange County to be closer to Grandma. I went down last week to visit and on Saturday we were at the nursing home chatting with Grandma, she seemed really good. We got on the topic of traveling -- she and Grandpa traveled all over the world before he passed away -- and I asked her what her favorite travel destination was in all that time.

"Well, I found something to enjoy about every place we visited," she said. And she went on to tell me about some of her favorite places, like seeing the Crazy Horse monument in South Dakota.

"You know, Grandma, I've never been there. Or to Mount Rushmore. Or most of the middle," I said. "Sometimes I feel embarrassed that I've seen so many far-off places and I've only seen part of the United States."

"Oh, I think you're doing it just right," said Grandma. "Travel now and see the world while you're young and can stand those long plane rides. Later when you're older you can stay here and see the whole country."

All this time I felt a little guilty for always wanting to go off somewhere else and see the world and in just a five-minute conversation she changed my whole outlook. That's one of the things I've always liked about Grandma. She never really makes excuses or has regrets.

- - -

Finally:

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Like watching paint dry. The progress of glove #2, now at the thumb gusset.


- - -


Finally, finally:

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Sobakowa enjoying a little early morning contemplation time.

Posted by laurie at 10:01 AM

July 6, 2010

The Cabin in the Woods

Although I didn't spend my time up in the cabin writing a manifesto and wearing a hoodie and growing a beard while plotting thermonuclear destruction, I did enjoy the little break away from the city. I love Los Angeles and its assorted chaos, but you know you've been in it too long when you need a tape recording of car alarms and doors slamming and airplanes and honking cars to get a good sleep at night.

My parents let me borrow their white noise machine. It did in a pinch.

When I heard "cabin," I was expecting something rustic and possibly dorm-like with no bathrooms. I wasn't specifically looking forward to the camping aspect, I've never been a fan of rustic, but all in the spirit of adventure, etc. etc. What a surprise to discover that the cabin was practically brand new with a full kitchen, sparkling clean appliances, a perfect (private) bath with a full shower and tub and a bedroom all to myself!

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(The cabin from outside.)

There was a little living room with a small sofa that pulls out into a bed and a comfy chair in one corner. A drop-leaf table and two kitchen chairs sat by the sunny window and led right into the kitchen. There was a small hallway with a pantry, and a storage nook and the bathroom off to one side. At the end of the small hallway is the bedroom with a large closet and a bedside table with a lamp.

There were narrow stairs right outside the bedroom leading up to a small loft. You'd have to kneel down to move around up there, though it would be perfect for kids (or for storage). Actually, this tiny cabin was both cleaner and more efficient than the old house I was renting and it somehow managed to have more storage than this big ol' apartment I'm in now. Explain to me how a newish gigantic apartment can have nary a single pantry, linen closet or towel cupboard? How? Seriously. I have to keep my towels in a bin in my bedroom closet.

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(Table, hallway leading to bedroom, loft above.)

Being inside the cabin was like sleeping in the den of efficiency. It was peaceful and clean and tiny, but outfitted with everything you need. It had a TV with satellite and a DVD player in the living room, it had a full-size fridge and freezer, the kitchen sink faced a window which looked out over a field of pines so you could watch the squirrels climbing trees as you did the dishes.

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(Making a cup of tea at night.)

From the first day I was in the cabin I was astonished at how little and perfect it was -- all a person needs in one compact, well-ordered package. Isn't that what I am always hoping for in life? A well-ordered home? And I kept telling my mom over and over again, "This is the amount of stuff a person should have, it's just enough to be happy and not heavy." I spent a lot of time while I was up there in the mountain air thinking about stuff and my accumulation of it. Inside the cabin there was a place for everything, and just enough of the right things (and plenty of spaces that hadn't been filled up, too, which felt expansive.)

For example, in the towel cupboard in the bathroom, you could find four clean white facecloths, four clean white handcloths and four clean white fluffy towels. That was it. No hodgepodge assortment of towels collected over fifteen years, no mismatched bargain buys and impulse on-sale linens squashed into the shelves. Nothing spilled out when you opened the door. Everything you needed was right there, neatly lined up, just what you need and nothing extraneous.

Same with the linen closet (the cabin had a linen closet and my three-story condo has nary a hutch. Go figure.) Inside the small linen closet was an extra blanket, an extra set of sheets and pillowcases and two extra pillows. I have ferreted away two comforters, six duvet covers and the assorted sheets of the apocalypse in every coat closet in my house.

The kitchen in the little cabin held just enough thick, creamy stoneware plates and bowls to feed four people. Same with mugs and drinking glasses. We'd stopped at a grocery store before climbing up the mountain (I was serious when I said I wouldn't be going up and down the winding mountain roads until the day I left) and I bought food and a few basic kitchen supplies: olive oil, salt and pepper, garlic powder, lemons, garlic cloves, foil, clorox wipes, paper towels, soap. I thought I would miss my huge spice selection and cooking gadgets from home but you'd be surprised how little you need, really. Or maybe it was just me that was surprised. The simplicity of the cabin made it manageable, easy, enjoyable.

It was an immediate and absolute contrast to my real life. I have seven beaten-up cookie sheets in various stages of rusting and disappointment. The cabin had a single, perfect, clean cookie sheet. You know what I mean?

Don't misunderstand, I am really glad I moved into this apartment because I needed a change and I wanted to live in one of these pretty Mediterranean-meets-LA-style condo places at least once in my life. But it feels like a job in itself, keeping the place clean and tidy. It's a lot of space to manage and instead of feeling more organized and spacious it's the exact opposite! And it was the same at the little house I rented in Encino-adjacent. I just have a whole lot of stuff. And I take myself with me, it seems, wherever I move.

My relationship with my stuff is tricky. It feels comforting and cozy sometimes, and I love my stuff. And then sometimes it makes me nervous, the idea of cleaning and caring for this stuff, packing it, moving it, unpacking it, re-arranging it, the very idea is exhausting.

Spending all those days in the cabin is just what I needed, I needed to feel the spaciousness of a completely clutter-free home, even if it was just temporary. I think I brought some of that feeling home with me. It's not easy for me to pare down. I have a hard time letting go of things. It's an emotional connection: people leave, places change, everything moves so fast but your stuff stays right where you last left it. So I understand the lure. But it's a false sort of security and for as often as stuff feels comforting it also feels smothering and heavy and impossible to ever be free of it. There was something expansive, liberating about living (even for a few days) in a perfectly appointed space with just what one person really needs.

No grand conclusion at the end of this. Just planning to spend a little time each day this week cleaning out my closets, getting rid of a few things here and there. I just bought a new skillet and the temptation to keep the old one ("as a backup," I told myself) was loud but I cleaned the old skillet carefully and placed it in a bag for Goodwill. I do not need a backup skillet. Good grief.

And anyway, there was one thing crucially missing at the cabin. Three things really. The cats!

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Two out of three cats agree.

Posted by laurie at 11:58 AM

July 5, 2010

Idyllwild

My parents have been staying in the family truckster at a campground near Idyllwild, California and I spent the last part of June with them. I stayed in a cabin, equipped with satellite TV and indoor plumbing just as the pilgrims intended.

Idyllwild itself is a picture-perfect mountain town set high up in the San Jacinto Mountains in Riverside County. The town sits about a mile up the mountain and the campground climbs up further, about another 1,000 feet. I think that's the highest I've ever traveled upward without being in an airplane! I was on a very high mountain once in Iceland but I think it was still only about 5,000 feet (of course it was in meters so I don't remember the height exactly, and I had my eyes closed for most of the drive.) (Good thing I was the passenger.)

I'm woozy-panicky afraid of heights and mountain roads so once my mom drove me up to the campground I had no intention of going back down the mountain until it was time for me to come home. There was plenty to do, of course, like finish my first hand-knit glove and admire the spectacular scenery and visit with my parents and play with the dog for hours on end:


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Dog helping me knit.


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Dad taking pictures in Idyllwild.


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Entrance to the pretty campground.


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The guard dog in action, keeping the RV free from invading squirrels!


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The guard dog's fluffy butt.

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Everywhere! Huge pines.

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RV life.

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View from the truckster's campsite. Pure blue sky! I almost choked. Very used to my brown and crunchy air.

- - -


Tomorrow I have more pictures from my little vacation, including the cute cabin I stayed in. But today I'll end with a mystery, since I know you all are smart and someone in the internet will have the answer.

WHAT on earth kind of tree is this? They're all over up there on the mountain, with very smooth red bark (almost like a eucalyptus right after it sheds its bark) but the trunk is very red. They have smallish grey-green leaves and tiny pink flowers that attract bees. Any ideas?

crazy-red-tree.jpg

Comments are briefly open, you crazy nature lovers!

Posted by laurie at 10:22 AM

July 4, 2010

Monthly check in (Independence Day edition)

At the beginning of 2010 I set two resolutions for myself and then resolved a third thing, which was to post a little check-in with myself each month, mostly just for me. To keep me accountable.

In the beginning it was fine and well and I was happy with my progress and then somewhere in mid-April I was wondering what the hell I had been drinking to come up with THAT idea, that whole accountability thing is for suckers who don't know you can change your name and move far far away! Or go off the grid and talk into your bra and direct traffic in your nightgown!

But then June happened and I made so many changes all at once that I was really glad I kept some accountability around, so I could stay focused and organized. And I got up each and every day and reached for better.

Best of all, I went for a lot of walks. It's so simple, it's such a little thing we all take for granted, just walking, but it's pretty effing great. It doesn't cost anything, it's relaxing, you feel victorious. I dialed down the whine and wine, since both tend to bring me down. I cooked A LOT. It felt comforting and happy to measure and season and taste and roast. I cleaned my house so that it felt good to walk into each room.

Every time I started to have doubts or worries, I did one of the following:
• Went for a walk.
• Cleaned house.
• Listened to selfhelpy upbeat stuff on my ipod.
• Listened to great music.
• Moisturized.
• Flossed. My teeth were in shock. They did not know what this "floss" invention was.
• Read a good book.
• Watched a great movie.

And I worked. Instead of freaking out about the instability I'm just focusing on the sheer pleasure of long, uninterrupted blocks of typing. I've been working at a job or in school (or both) since I was 14 and this is a whole new kind of day, making my own structure. And I slept. I didn't think I would, I figured the insomnia would continue but by mid-June I was actually sleeping. Maybe it was the walking or just the fact that I move more all day. Or maybe I was simply exhausted, but I slept. It's a whole new day when you've had some sleep.

In June I left my position at the bank (eight and a half years is such a long time in one job!) and it was so funny, I knew it was a great move for me but I also cried because I knew how many great friends I had made there and how many lovely memories I have with my goofy teammates.

Later in June my grandmother had another stroke and went back to the nursing home. Not too long after that I finally got to see my dad, who has been sick since early May and I just got back from a nice long visit with them where they were staying up in the mountains in Idyllwild. And of course I got to visit with their dog, who is decidedly their favorite child.

And that was June!


Posted by laurie at 11:20 AM

June 22, 2010

The father, the car and the neverending road

My parents and the dog and the Family Truckster have finally crossed into California, they're staying in a mountain resort just north of Palm Springs. I needed to get myself up that mountain.

My mom had to park The Rig (that's what they call the big motorhome) and drive down to Orange County to see Grandma, who'd taken to bed. Dad and the dog stayed behind, up on a mountain. I told my mom she was vying for Sainthood.

"More like The Betty," she told me.

Dad's been on the iffy side of well for more than a month now so it was exciting for me just to be able to see his face. And they're in my time zone! I rented a car because I didn't want to burn out my clutch driving in the mountains. My mom warned me it was a slippery road, full of hairpin turns and sharp drop-offs. But I didn't listen because had I listened I would never have attempted the ride.

Here's something you may not know about me. I am full-on crazy afraid of heights. I don't think about it very often, since I am rarely driving myself 7,000 feet up the side of a mountain. I stay firmly planted on the Valley, and when necessary I take pharmaceutical help to sit on a cushy airplane and have a well-trained pilot escort me to some destination that comes with wine in mid-flight service. So when I found myself on the very living edge of a DAMN MOUNTAIN CLIFF, with nothing but clear blue sky on the side of the road, I had to refrain from ralphing into my own handbag (it was a rental car, after all.) I stopped at one of the turnouts only long enough to tell myself that I was a wussy and a wimp and my mom had driven a whole motorhome up this sheer suicide cliff and here I was peeing myself in a rented Nissan Versa while the soundtrack of Hair blasted on the CD player.

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I made myself sing Manchester, England seven times while I drove up that mountain so slow I honestly could have walked it faster and I am a fat chick with the aerobic fitness of a ham.


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This angle makes it look like an easy drive. But it was impossible to photograph the scary parts because I had my eyes closed. Hah.


It was worth it though, to see my dad and the dog.

I love my dad. Not knowing, not being able to see his face, that's been the worst part. When you see someone you see them smile, grimace, frown, cough, laugh and you can judge for yourself how they are that day. I can know how he is when I see him. My dad has been the very center of my universe, the only steady and constant person in my whole chaotic life. I moved in with him just before I turned 12 and it was like reaching shore after churning in the sea for eleven years. Every day he's been the singular thing I could count on. I brought him ginger snaps and Lotto tickets and chocolate milk. It seemed like a poor thankyou for a lifetime of anchoring.

I brought the dog a bone:

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That dog gets cuter every time I see him!

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And he smiles:

chivasface-smiley.jpg

I stayed through Father's Day and my mom came back to the mountain just in time to drive me down it herself. She sighed because I had to take half a Xanax and go to my safe and happy place while she drove because I have no balls and I am a pathetic excuse of a family member. I sweated so bad coming down that mountain my flip-flops started to slide off! How is it that I can sit on the cramped and angry freeways of Los Angeles all day and zen out with no problem, or how is it you can drop me in the middle of Turkmenistan and in an hour I'll have you in a hotel and drinking a cocktail ... but try to get me on a boat or a high cliff and I panic. Panic. The kind that's almost paralyzing. I fool myself into thinking I am brave but a little drive up a mountain to see the one person I love best in the whole world and I start sweating so bad I may have lost a bra size. My hands were sweating! My ears even sweated.

When I got closer to home and my city greeted me with crawling traffic I sighed with relief. I said, "I love you, traffic! I love you and your slow-n-go predictableness! Let us now relax and sing all the words to Age of Aquarius!" Which I did, with gusto.

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Others in traffic were more aloof:

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- - -

Oh, and it's my birthday. I'm old! My girlfriends are converging tonight at a restaurant with plenty of wine and we'll all pretend I don't have wrinkles. God love 'em.

Posted by laurie at 10:54 AM

June 17, 2010

At the Movies

A couple of weeks ago, Jennifer and I went to See "Sex and the City 2." After just ten minutes, we walked out. I don't think I have ever walked out of a movie before, but definitely not after just ten minutes.

I have asked for my money back on a movie, though. (Not for Sex and the City, sadly. We used passes. Still a waste.) The movie I got my money back for seeing was "Sommersby." I must have been in college already, and my friend Stefanie and I went to see this movie at the mall. We were both on very lean budgets so going to the movies was a treat. We both got sucked into the story and from what I remember the performances were good (this was over 15 years ago, yikes, I am old, moving on.)

So I did what audiences are expected to do in a movie -- suspend reality, sink into it. And now I am going to tell you how it ends, so if your whole life you wanted to see Somersby and still want a surprise you should stop reading.

This movie strings you along into a deepening fantasy and romantic love story for 112 minutes of your life and then in the last two minutes they suddenly wake up, decide to inject REALITY into the plot and kill the romantic hero. Kill him off, just like that. The end, roll the effing credits, screw you, audience! You thought it was a Cinderella tale set in the Reconstruction? Ha! Fooled you! Suckers!

I have never hated a movie as much as I hated that movie. So I marched over to the ticket booth and demanded our money back and got it. It was also the night I developed my "Somersby Theory of Moviegoing" which has now been expanded to books and TV shows. I will not spend my time or money on a movie (or show or book, usually, though sometimes I give books more of a pass) that asks me to suspend disbelief for a portion of my life and then at the end injects some flawed reality just for the hell of it and kills off the person you're invested in. Won't do it. It's FANTASY, people. Unless I am watching an autobiography, I do not want your reality. I want costumes, hair, makeup, and a script that doesn't cop out with a sad tearjerker cemetery scene just because the writer had no idea how to craft a decent ending.

So now I ask. I ask ahead of time, "Does the dragon/dog/ogre/hot leading actor die in the end?" It drives some people crazy. They cannot fathom wanting to know the end before it happens. For them, the whole movie is about the twist at the end. But I can't relax if I think I'm about to get Somersbied. Some people refuse to tell me so I have to google it instead.

The most recent example was "The Hurt Locker." (By the way, I LOVED this movie. LOVED.) Before I saw it I was talking with my friend Cindi, who'd just seen it, and I asked her if Jeremy Renner dies at the end. I was on the fence about seeing it, since I can't imagine spending two hours watching Jeremy Renner be a hero then have to sit through his death. In my Somersby Theory of Moviegoing, I know I would prefer to know ahead of time if he's croaking at the end. That way I can make an informed decision, you see. And if he does croak, by knowing ahead of time I'm not stressed out the whole time. Knowing the character's fate ahead of time doesn't keep me from seeing a movie, but I need to know. I need to manage my expectations.

"Cindi," I asked, "does the cute guy die at the end?"

"I'm not telling you that!" said Cindi. She was aghast. Offended, even.

"No, I really want to know. I have to know before I see it," I said.

"No way," she said. "That ruins the whole movie."

"Oh really?" I asked. "Maybe it ruins the movie for you, but for some of us who spent over two hours worrying about the fate of the freaking teddy bear in 'A.I.,' I can assure you that knowing the outcome is the only way to enjoy the movie. All I remember about AI is the anxiety about the freaking teddy bear."

She just stared. Apparently she did not see AI, or if she did, she managed to move past the perils of the teddy bear and see the actual movie happening around it. She refused to tell me if Jeremy Renner's character died or not so I had to google it. The internet has made my Somersby Theory much more enforceable.

I saw The Hurt Locker and it was tense, even knowing the outcome, but the good kind of tense. Enjoyable. There are some movies my Somersby Theory has saved me from, though. "Phenomenon" comes to mind. "Powder." Some movie years ago with a dragon. There was a time in the 1990s when every other movie had some horrible "let's kill the protagonist" ending. It was like an entire generation of screenwriters wrote themselves into a box and at the end the only way they could wrap it up was to kill the main character and roll the credits. "City of Angels" was outstandingly awful (HATED HATED that movie. You want me to buy Nicholas Cage as an angel and then two hours later you want to turn your movie into some stupid nightly news show about a senseless car wreck? Maybe it worked in the original German version in the 1980s but a 1990s hollywood blockbuster remake with an almost insultingly bad ending? COME ON. Like a surgeon would ride a bike on a blind curve on an unfamiliar mountain road with her EYES SHUT.) (Come to think of it, I got my money back on that movie, too.)

I know that everyone is not like me and some will find this insane. Some people like being jerked into reality, some people like jagged endings, some people like horror movies and being scared and surprised. Me, I like knowing ahead of time. I flip to the last page in a particularly engaging mystery book. Yep, you heard me. I like to know how it ends because then I can go back and enjoy the unraveling of the story. After all, it's fiction, it's fantasy. Maybe it's because in real life I never know what will happen next. Or maybe I'm just wound too tightly. It doesn't bother me one bit but Lord it seems to freak other people out. The idea of the surprise ending is sacrosanct.

I just like to know ahead, is all. Preparation is the key to success!

- - -

Comments are still off because I have not managed to fix or break anything with great success.

Posted by laurie at 6:40 AM

June 7, 2010

I'm Free Fallin' ... and yet that is not the song I will embed in your head for later.

Last week was so ... uncharted. It was the first time in eight and a half years -- normal weekdays, not vacation or holiday -- that I didn't wake up and get dressed in my work clothes and get on the road for my commute into downtown Los Angeles. June 4th was my last day at the bank. There were tears and fond farewells and promises to stay in touch. Almost a decade of service to the bank, that is a long time! I made some true friends there-- Jen, Amber, Corey, Work Jen, Michael, it's a long list that could fill paragraphs. Oh Lord we need a new name for Work Jen.

So my job ended, I am fine, I am not sure what the future holds but things always seem to work out.

And for now that's all I have to say about it.

The cats like it. They are plotting together to make me give them treats every two hours, I can just feel it. Today instead of getting on the road and crawling in bumper to bumper traffic, I am going to go for a walk. I will walk, and then come home and shower and make coffee and have breakfast and write a chapter. Then I will probably use a magic eraser to clean something to death. I absolutely, positively will not miss the commute. And I can finally go visit my dad, who I have missed to no end and worried about and I just need to see his face, hug him. In every panic-ridden change is this built-in flipside -- for me, here I have this time to visit with my parents, it's a luxury! I can write without keeping one eye on the clock, I am not sitting in traffic, I can do all the laundry. I have been wanting to fix some of the database issues with this site for five years and just cracked the surface last week, but it's a start. I built a website for my brother. I drove out to the beach and it was cold there and overcast and I walked up and down the sand until I was exhausted and then I just watched the waves come in. I haven't done that in years. I needed to just be in the presence of something big and vast, and the Pacific Ocean fits the bill. I love the ocean. I never went to the coast anymore because my weekends were full of laundry and prepping for the week ahead and making all my lunches and doing all the errands and life was so compact and tight and there was no time to sit on the sand.

It was a little gift. I breathed. Ocean air is good, even in Los Angles.

Actually this new change in my life is a little present in disguise because it offers me the great opportunity to get you hooked on some Wilson Phillips before 6 a.m.!

You know -- you hold on for one more day! You can thank me later for getting that gem stuck on replay in your noggin.

- - -

[Comments are closed today.]

Posted by laurie at 7:47 PM

Cat Week begins! Like Shark Week with 100% less sharks!

Hi! I'm going to be doing a much needed overhaul to the software of this website and working on the database which makes me sound very technical but I am giving you this disclaimer because:

1) At any time this website and any of its eleventynine million pages will probably all break, often, and if the site disappears for a while you know it was just that button I pushed that time. Whoops!

2) Do not fear, I have a backup.

3) But comments will be off as I try to make major updates to how they function, like having your name look like it's part of the comment. HUH. GOOD IDEA.

4) Also I'm going to try adding normal size ad spaces and when I get it working I may need you to help me test it all out. And if I manage to do most of that without completely breaking the whole server I will even try to PDF some of the lengthy patterns, like the loop stitch tutorial, but don't hold your breath on that one. At least not in a week. But maybe!

So thank you for your patience as I muck around and try to imitate a person who knows what she is doing. If you are a person who knows MT fairly well and want to offer me advice I am 100% open to that! I also accept prayer in time of database reassessment.

It is so much easier to get work done with the good help I have:

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He is not transparent.

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But he is very helpy.

Posted by laurie at 8:14 AM

June 2, 2010

Is it tacky for me to wear white? Should we do an evite since it's better for the environment? Am I going to hell for writing this?

When the news broke yesterday that Al and Tipper Gore were separating I wouldn't say I was happy because having endured the end of a marriage myself obviously I feel deep compassion for them and then I wrote my new name, Mrs. Al Gore, twenty times in my notebook. Or should I hyphenate? I had a hard time picking out a china pattern that was produced in an eco-friendly factory. We may have to go with vintage Fiestaware. And I guess we'll have to split our time between L.A. and Tennessee, which is so convenient because I LOVE Tennessee! I worked on his first campaign for President you know. Back when he was wearing the red plaid shirt, I was still in high school. Not that I stalked at an early age. I was just very civic minded.

Seriously, though ... I was shocked to hear they're ending their marriage. I thought those two would be together forever and it makes me a little sad.

Also, it will be harder for us to have a private ceremony with all the paparazzi hanging around.

bob-perry-gore.jpg

Will Bob like his new daddy? Will I be able to dial down my addiction to paper towels? Will my bridesmaids have to wear dresses made out of recycled tea bags? So many questions.

By the way, you are all TOTALLY invited to the wedding.

Posted by laurie at 5:03 AM

June 1, 2010

May wrap-up ... welcome June, New Start # 276

The very best part of a brand-new month is that it's a fresh start. I'm almost halfway through the year and this is as good a time as any to have stumbled and get up again, reboot. After all, in general people don't change their whole life in a day (or 151 days). You try, you fail, you try more, eventually you get better ... or you move and change your name. Actually I'm glad these are my challenges. If I didn't have this stuff to work on I'm sure I'd find some other messes to get in and muck around with and they'd probably cost more.

So I did accomplish one goal in May -- I ate more vegetables than I did in April. Largely because April was the nutritional equivalent of a deep-fried snickers bar. Set the bar low enough and you are bound to succeed.

Actually in May I crossed a major veggie barrier. I have never in the past purchased fresh, pre-cut, pre-washed vegetables (for example, baggies of broccoli, baby carrots and cauliflower.) When you grow up poor you grow up with a thrift mentality about some things, you know? For some folks it's re-using baggie ties, others cannot let go of a gift bag, or order the more expensive entree on the menu during a group lunch (even though you know in advance everyone will split the check evenly and you will feel cheated.) I'm not judging -- everyone has their stuff. For me, it was buying the broccoli and cauliflower whole and then cutting and chopping and cleaning it at home because to me those pre-cut vegetables just smacked of wasted money. Interestingly enough, my monetary moral high horse stops at the crudites, because I have no problem buying bagged salad and pre-shredded cheese.

Like I said, everyone has their stuff.

This month I crossed over that line. One night mid-month I wanted roasted broccoli and cauliflower for dinner which in itself is a minor miracle. It was a work night, however, so I had no time to stand in the kitchen and cut and pare and clean and soak and so on. Traffic had been more heinous than usual, the day was long, the commute was long, everything had been a drain. I contemplated my fast food options and realized no matter where I went or what I bought it would still cost me more than the $2.39 for a baggie of chopped and washed broccoli and cauliflower. That's right -- I ran the numbers on McDonald's value meal versus a baggie of pre-chopped vegetables!

So I stopped at the market on the way home and grabbed a few bags of pre-cut vegetables and loaded up on some two-buck-chuck.

I got home that night and dumped the pre-cut vegetables in a big bowl. Preheated the oven to 400F, added lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to the vegetables, a little garlic salt, a sprinkle of cayenne. It was so fast! Spread them on a baking sheet and put them in the oven. I roasted them while I was upstairs changing clothes and washing my face. Dinner was a huge helping of delicious goodness and it took me less than three minutes to prepare and just 30 minutes to cook. Topped with Parmesan cheese it was comfort in a bowl.

That was my major May accomplishment.

The rest of May is a blur of wine and stress and cheetos. I walked twice in May. Two days out of 31. No es bueno, senor.

May was... metaphorical tremors in one life.

It's all right. June is all about change and I am right there with it. YES. Most every night in May I had a minor freak out but talked myself off the ledge. Isn't that what the Year of Yes is all about? Talking yourself off the window ledge?

There is nothing but the open expanse of June ahead. I have no idea what will happen, but I'm here. That is where I am. And I have several bags of pre-cut vegetables in the fridge and more two-buck Chuck than you can shake a stick at.

(Ends with a preposition)


- - -

My goals for June are:

1) Think of three things each day to relish and appreciate (My three today are: Dad, cats, Jeep.)
2) Eat vegetables
3) Believe there is another possibility that I just haven't considered yet.


I once heard Marianne Williamson say, "I asked for a miracle. And I considered the possibility of another possibility."

That's my favorite quote right now, I put it on a post-it note on my bathroom mirror.

Oh don't forget to stir the veggies halfway through roasting. Gets them all evenly brown.

Posted by laurie at 7:07 AM

May 27, 2010

Thankyouthankyou

For the times you took out of your day to comment or email, I thank you.

For just reading or checking in, thank you.

For laughing at my dumbaii jokes... THANK YOU!

There have been times, especially in the past six weeks, when you have made me laugh and given me things to research and think about and it has been a Godsend. It kept me breathing.

I don't get to thank you often enough. So thank you.
Also, you've lost weight and I love what you did with your hair.

Posted by laurie at 12:52 AM

May 24, 2010

Good morning!

There's nothing quite like waking on a Monday morning to the sound of multiple helicopters hovering over your rooftop. But more on that later.

First! What a great day on Saturday. The San Juan Capistrano library is really pretty and the whole town is so charming. They even have a little reflecting pool at the library in a lovely courtyard:

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They made a special parking space just for The Red Jeep:
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Here are Lori and Ada, two ladies who invited me down to speak:
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Lori introducing me and also showing the knitted pieces she'd made from patterns I've posted (which was very exciting for me, I never think anyone ever makes this stuff!)
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I was a little nervous so some of my crowd shots were a bit shaky, I only got one clear pic of half the room:
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Some folks who visited with me:

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Dee brought her dad!

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I met this gal once before, in Mission Viejo. Nice to see you again!

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Sisters! One came all the way from Sacramento!!

It was a really lovely day and there were even refreshments-- delicious cookies and fresh coffee and iced tea. I loved meeting everyone. Oh, one of the ladies asked to see a picture of my finished socks, so here is a picture for Linda:

socks

That is the one and only time they have been on my feet. I took the picture of my be-socked feet, took the socks off, carefully folded them and put them away in a drawer lest I ruin them by wearing them. Yup. Linda was also concerned about how fast I talk and my general lack of public speaking aptitude and suggested I do Toastmasters, which she said had helped her tremendously. On the loooong drive home I thought about her comments for a good stretch of the 5 freeway, and while I appreciated the feedback I have finally had a Come To Jesus moment ... I have decided it's OK not to be great at everything. What a relief!

It was a revelation. One does not have to be great at all things! You don't even have to be good at all things. Or competent. For example, I will never rock at synchronized swimming, or tennis, or calculus. I know with absolute clarity I will never be great at submarine driving or performing heart surgery or playing the clarinet. And I will never be smooth at public speaking. I will talk too fast and shake and sound twangy and sweat a lot and overshare. The fact that I no longer barf after each event and the very notion that I leave my house and do something that terrifies me is fine enough progress for me. I'll take it.

I am sure Toastmasters is great for so many people but I have made the executive decision to be happy with being less than mediocre at talking in public. And instead of focusing more energy on something I don't love, I would rather put all that time and energy into becoming better at stuff I truly enjoy like writing and knitting and learning to cook and gardening and cat herding. I never wanted to be a public speaker and I know I'm goofy which is why I appreciate all the more every person who comes to these events and doesn't expect anything other than just a silly, sweaty fun time. Tony Robbins I am not. I can make coffee nervous.

So that was Saturday. It was fun to meet you all! I loved seeing what everyone was knitting and the coffee was delicious and the KnitLits and Knitsters were a pure delight to meet. Connie, thank you for the tea, I already made a cup yesterday morning and it was delicious. OH-- and I met a friend of Ellen Bloom's! Adding more fuel to my theory that Ellen is the Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon of the yarn world. And Lori gave me a guided tour of the library which is beautiful and peaceful. Plus I got the opportunity to decide for myself that I am OK with being not great at something. And there were cookies. A very good day.

- - -

This morning I woke to the sounds of multiple helicopters hovering over my rooftop. As I lay there in the bed I pondered the possibilities:

1) Overnight tsunami made the new shoreline of Southern California somewhere around Ventura Blvd.
2) Lindsey Lohan passed out in car outside Valley sushi restaurant
3) Hostage situation near the Marc Jacobs bags in Bloomies
4) Alien Invasion
5) Traffic

I turned on the TV and discovered it was not aliens but was instead traffic. The 101 Freeway is totally shut down westbound in Sherman Oaks.

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High speed chase, crash, officer-involved shooting, helicopters. Hello, Monday!

Posted by laurie at 6:42 AM

May 21, 2010

Mañana

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Der Frankieschnitzel, the decoration of the family. In the light from the capiz lamps she looks partially pink.


Yesterday Reader Kate wrote:

If I'm not a knitter... will it be awkward at your book reading on Saturday? I have no patience for it myself - although I enjoy the results from my mom & others. I just didn't know how the whole knitting section usually goes and I didn't want to feel awkward or un-cool with the group.

No knitting needed or required! In fact, most people will not have yarny delights on hand, so I always add in that it's OK to bring them since it's usually the other way around, with people feeling awkward to whip out a knitted work in progress in a bookstore or library.

Perhaps awkwardness, or the fear of being awkward, is the real human condition?

Hmmmm, too much to ponder so early!

See you tomorrow!

May 22 at 2 p.m.
San Juan Capistrano Regional Library
31495 El Camino Real
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
[ MAP ]

Posted by laurie at 6:51 AM

May 19, 2010

See you on Saturday!

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Bob helps me write.

I really hope you can make it Saturday, it will be fun!

May 22 at 2 p.m. San Juan Capistrano Regional Library 31495 El Camino Real San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675

We're going to have a great day in a beautiful city! I'll read a bit from the book or some other who knows what, and then you can ask any old question you want and I'll answer and blather onward and upward and will sign books. Oh, and bring your knitting! I'll bring mine. It's now two centimeters long and will be completed in 2019.

Yesterday I got an email from the gal organizing this shindig, her name is Lori A. She wrote:

Also, we have a fax machine here that just will not die, so if you feel like bringing your machine-breaking talents with you, it would be greatly appreciated. The Mission is having the all-day Battle of the Mariachis on Saturday, but we don't think it will affect the parking - there are lots of lots around this area. Besides, knitters can take Mariachis any day.

How do you not love a place that A) wants to employ my magical breaking powers and B) is already throwing gauntlets to the mariachis?


LOVE LOVE LOVE


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The brains behind it all. Totally ready to eat a mariachi for breakfast, with a side of fancy feast.


Posted by laurie at 8:34 PM

May 14, 2010

Don't be a drag, participate. Clams on the half shell and roller-skates ... roller-skates!

'Cause these are the good times... leave your cares behind...

Hello, Friday.
You know once you get into thinking about three good things for the day it gets easier to think of one more and one more. Sometimes they're small, and that is A-Ok. Like today mine are:

1) Two-buck Chuck (it's a whole line of wines from Trader Joe's that are just $1.99 a bottle and not bad at all.) We have a date later tonight. I'll be looking hot, he'll be wearing a label and nothing else.

2) The smell of an old book.

3) Romantic comedies. Tonight I'm going to re-watch Sweet Home Alabama, I just have the urge to hear Reese Witherspoon say, "You have a baby! In a bar."

What are your favorite romantic comedies? Working Girl? Pretty Woman? Bridget Jones? Cats & Dogs? You know there is something sort of liberating about admitting to the universe at large that your big Friday night plans involve cheap wine, a good DVD and a gourmet dinner of microwave popcorn ... and you're really excited about it. I love microwave popcorn (good thing #4) and I desperately look forward to that feeling I get on Friday nights after work when I walk in the door and put down the gigantopurse and take off my shoes and the whole house just sighs in relief around me. (Good thing #5.)

Maybe I'll make it a rom-com weekend. What do you recommend ... Romancing the Stone? 9-to-5? The Princess Bride? Under the Tuscan Sun? Say Anything? High Fidelity? I always love your book and movie suggestions. I'm convinced you are the most hilarious and interesting audience online (Good thing #6, a million times over.) You always have excellent taste. And while I'm at it, I swear you look like you've lost weight.

Oh! One last thing (good thing #7). In just a little over a week I'm doing my very first ever speaking engagement at a public library! I am SO excited, which if you knew me would shock you since I generally have to be very medicated to speak in public. But libraries are where I grew up, it's like second church for me. To be asked to speak at one is just beyond great. Here's the details:

May 22 at 2 p.m.
San Juan Capistrano Regional Library
31495 El Camino Real
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675

I hope you can make it. We'll have a great day, I'll read a bit from the book (or maybe one of the essays that never made my editor's cut, who knows!) and then you can ask any old question you want and I'll answer and sweat nervously. Oh, and bring your knitting! The ladies organizing this event have a book and knitting group called The Knit Lits. BEST NAME EVER. (Good thing #8.)

Well, having said all that, let us now go forth and participate in Friday. Clams on the halfshell and roller skates, roller skates!

Posted by laurie at 12:04 AM

May 12, 2010

Wednnnnesddaye

First, thank you to everyone who didn't send me a note yesterday taking me to task for the one word in my headline that was a typo. While I have done many things in life, I have never contacted a stranger to point out their crappy typing. But hey, I'm no angel. For one thing, I look terrible in white. In the sixth grade I knowingly kissed a boy I knew my other sixth-grade friend luuurved. And I once reported an aggressive tailgating driver to the CHP as a possible drunken crazypants. To me my typos are just a given, not like that time I hauled off and beat up a guy with an umbrella in the middle of Paris.

Then again, if you ever saw me type you'd be amazed I spell anything correctly. I type with three fingers and one thumb, like a monkey on a bender. And I'm fast. It's a sight to behold. I guess I don't care about typos all that much since I'm usually typing at 4 a.m. in bed on a laptop with half a cat butt on the keyboard. But I get it. For some people, it's all about the spellcheck. I don't spellcheck. I don't sleep. Is there a connection? I'll take Possible Correlations for $200, Alex!

Most of the time I teeter between relaxed and pinched but lately it's all pinched. This has been a very inneresting time, so much so that I called Drew up two weeks ago and asked, "What the hell is in Uranus?" and he said, "Mars is in Uranus and my Uranus and make it go away!"

(This is probably only funny if you are a big dweeb who laughs every time someone says Uranus, which is just not often enough.)

Sometimes when something's up Uranus, I self-medicate with wine and chicken tacos. The taco is truly a perfect food, much like a cheeseburger. When things go poorly and a taco isn't enough, I like to fantasize about stapling things to people. I am often not a very nice person. Jennifer used to say they were reserving a special little room in hell for catty wenches such as ourselves, but I figure the company down there will probably be more fun anyway. And you won't need a coat.

Whenever I question the blackness of my shriveled soul, I try to remember the one time I was faced with a great temptation to become even more morally bankrupt and I chose to pass on the opportunity. Which is not exactly irrefutable proof of being a good person, but it is a step in the right direction.

It was a few years ago -- 2004 to be exact. My then-husband had just all-the-sudden up and moved out and on the same day he was packing up all the good DVDs and moving off to his new life, my job was transferring all of us to a new building downtown so I went into work on a Saturday and pretended everything was hunky dorey and unpacked all my stupid design books and stupid sharpies and pasted a smile on my face and acted like a normal person whose life wasn't unraveling at the seams.

The new building had all kinds of safety features the old one didn't have -- it's like the pentagon around here. You need a badge to get into the hallway where the elevators are, a badge to punch any button in the elevator and then you swipe in again on your floor to get into the office. We were all getting used to this and the security guys in the building were helpful, and nice, and not nearly as cheesy and mackdaddified as the security dudes in the old building.

That whole period of time is a big hazy ring of smoke. Mostly from despair and also a LOT of smoking. I was smoking at least a pack a day easy, and I would go out on breaks to the smoker's annex behind the building and sit alone and stare at the ground and smoke.

One of the security guards at that time was a friendly older guy, we'll call him Robie [not his real name!] Robie was from West Africa, and he had that lilting accent which is kind of soothing, and he was in his late 60s, and he would walk the back of the building and he was kind and grandfatherly and never lectured me about smoking, because he was a smoker too. Ah, I miss smoking. Anyway, before long he would offer me a light for the ever-present Capri cigarette in my hand and one day out of the blue he gently asked me why I was so sad.

"What...?" I asked. Because surely I was holding it together SO WELL.

"You just seem a little sad is all," said Robie.

And as the weeks and months passed it was nice to have someone to say hello to on my smoke breaks and I did eventually tell Robie that I'd been dumped unceremoniously and I wasn't taking it too well. Which was sort of obvious to everyone but people are kind and keep up appearances for you sometimes. He was a good listener and a nice smoking companion for ten minutes a day.

One day I was working late and it was dark outside and I was leaving the building and Robie asked me if I wanted an escort to the garage. The garage is a few blocks away from the building and it's a creepy walk alone at night, so I said yes and thank you.

As we walked he asked me how I was and it was just bad timing, I think, but I did that horrible thing where I burst out into tears (it happened a lot around that time) and told him I was pretty sure my husband was seeing someone else and wanted a divorce and I told him about the awful financial mess and the DVDs ("He took Billy Jack! He hated Billy Jack! Why didn't he just leave Billy Jack with me?") and finally I stopped crying and we had a smoke on the benches outside the garage then I thanked him and apologized profusely and went home, ashamed and feeling stupid for always embarrassing myself with the crying.

A few days passed and Robie found me out back, smoking behind the building.

"I have been thinking of your dilemma," he said. "I think I have a solution for you."

"You do?" I asked. Because I'd racked my mind for months and no solution had come. I was definitely open to solutions.

He looked around discreetly to be sure we couldn't be heard by the other smokers covertly cowering away from prying corporate eyes.

"I know a woman," he said, in his lilting accent. "She is a Nigerian .... doctor. Sort of doctor. She can make cures and she can help you, if you want. I can put you in touch with her. She is a very special person. I think she can make your problem disappear."

And maybe it was the way he said it. She can make your problem disappear. Or perhaps it was some of the stories I'd read about voodoo and I don't even know if that's what he was talking about, really, except I kind of did, because I had goosebumps and not the good kind. It was the way he said it. And for just a minute I thought about it -- I have a wild imagination and it only took a second -- and then I sighed. I was too much of a wuss. I'd be lying if I told you the idea of pulling an Angel Heart and going all voodoo on the ex wasn't enticing, but I couldn't do it. I just couldn't.

"Robie, thank you, I really do appreciate it, but I'm going to do it the old-fashioned way," I said. "You know, with an incompetent, overpriced lawyer and a lot of wine."

And he never brought it up again, and eventually I stopped smoking and then a few months later he stopped working at our building and I haven't seen him in years. I actually I forgot about it for a long while, that whole conversation, Robie's offer of help. It wasn't until much later when I met a woman at one of my booksignings who had recently gone through a horrible, long, expensive divorce herself and she said, joking of course, "It would have been cheaper if I'd just offed him!" and I remembered Robie and the witch doctor. Because I feel very certain that's what she was, just from his tone of voice, the way he described her.

And while it isn't proof exactly of being a good person, it is at least proof that when faced with temptation I do try to tread on the side of the not-entirely-heinous. Sometimes.

But Lord I do miss smoking. And I am a really really crappy typist.

Posted by laurie at 12:06 AM

May 6, 2010

Airnarium and aquarium

Traveling is always an adventure, sometimes the most trepidatious part is just sitting beside a stranger for so many hours. On the way from L.A. to JFK, I sat next to a guy who was completely addicted to his cellphone. He wasn't the only one, so was the lady in the seat in front of me. They both talked on their phones as they boarded the plane, they were talking as we waited for the plane to fill and eventually they were holding up the plane because neither would hang up so we could take off.

The lady in front of me was on an urgent call that went like this, "Yeah, I'm just sitting on the plane now. Huh? Yeah, I got a coke before but forgot to buy something to eat. Well there was one place but everything else was still closed. Yeah, I liked that bagel shop we went to that time..." and so on. Clearly too enthralling to hang up when the announcement was made for the third time to please turn off all cell phones. Now. Please.

The guy beside me was funny. He was obviously addicted to his cell phone, too, and antsy about being unable to use it for a few hours. You see people like this all over the city, they can't stand to sit still and be silent for even a second. He was talking when he was walking down the aisle of the plane and as soon as that conversation ended, he immediately called another person and another and another until the flight attendant had to stand over him and take his phone away as if he were a naughty six-year-old. He was probably in his mid-forties. All his conversations were as urgent and compelling as the gal in the seat ahead of us: "Hey, you talk to Mike yet? Did he see that movie I told him about? I knew if he liked poker he'd like it. You eat breakfast yet? Yeah, well, we were late for the plane so I haven't even had a coffee. Oh right, Ok, talk to you later." (click) (dials phone) "Hey! Mike, it's Sy. You see that movie I told you about? Yeah, well I knew if you liked poker you'd like it. Man, I am dying for a coffee..." and on and on and on.

When the flight attendant took away his phone he fidgeted until we were in the air and then promptly fell asleep with his mouth open.

My mom and I flew together from JFK to Bermuda, so that was nice. Then on the flight back I was in a row by myself from Bermuda to JFK, and from JFK to LAX I sat next to a guy with a bad case of IPS -- Imaginary Package Syndrome. You know the guys who have an imaginary package so large they have to spread their legs really wide and encroach into your personal space to accommodate that enormously huge imaginary schlong? Yep, I sat next to that guy.

I'm really glad they don't allow people to make cell phone calls in flight. I hope they never change that rule. Even with my headphones on I could hear my seatmates talking, and I have those fancy schmancy noise-canceling headphones. The idea of sitting next to someone for six hours and listening to them natter on and on would surely increase the passenger air rage quotient, no? Of course it does nothing to address the prevalence of dudes with Imaginary Package Syndrome. Some things you just have to make jokes about.

- - -


One of the highlights of our sightseeing on vacation was visiting the local aquarium. I love aquariums, there's something so peaceful and beautiful about watching the fish and reading all the information about each display. It appeals to my dorky science-geek self as well as the "I want to view nature in air-conditioned comfort" side of my personality.

My favorite is always the octopus (they're so smart!) and I love all the wacky sea plant-animals, like anemones and coral and urchins. Sea horses and jellyfish are big favorites, too, though there weren't any of those at this particular aquarium. There was a giant living reef display that stretched along a wall and had some very big fish. And sharks! They're so fascinating. I've known some sharks, actually. Except the ones I knew were dressed in people clothes.

Most of my pictures turned out great, so I'm going to bore you with a ton of them! (The key is to never use flash. I love my little Canon point-and-shoot, it's a great camera!)

Some of the fish had people faces. I find aquatic life endlessly fascinating. Do they get bored with swimming? Are they uncomfortable in the aquarium? Or is it all the same when you're a fish? If there are any fish reading, let me know. After all on the internet, no one knows you're an octopus...

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Posted by laurie at 6:33 AM

May 5, 2010

In Bermuda, they're just called "shorts"

The other options for the title were, "I survived the Bermuda Triangle and all I got was this silly hangover" or "Bermuda, Bahama, come on pretty Mama..."

So, hi! Guess who went to Bermuda over the weekend?

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Me and my mom. It was her birthday. Happy Birthday!

Bermuda is breathtakingly beautiful. It is someplace I never really had a hankering to visit and I sort of learned my lesson visiting Hawaii alone that island resort destinations are not the best places for me to travel solo (whereas in a big city or a European trek you can travel alone without drawing attention to your single status.) Alone on an island in a place full of tourists undocking two-by-two from giant cruise ships... well, it's like shining a spotlight on yourself, Hello! I am alone in paradise! So Bermuda was not on my current list of places to see. Then one day several months ago I got an email alert from American Airlines with an insane sale on all sorts of beachy places and they had tickets to Bermuda for $117 each way.

At first I thought it was a typo, because that was cheaper than a ticket to San Jose. But it was for real and I called my mom and said, "Hey, want to go off to Bermuda for your birthday?" And just like that we were booked and ready to go. And the trip couldn't have come at a more perfect time for both of us, who needed to get away and relax and we realized on this trip we've never done anything like this before, never traveled alone together for a weekend or ever. I got to have her all to myself for a whole weekend!

And we were truly in paradise:

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There's my mom, also named Laurie, checking out the sunset from the patio of our hotel room.

It was so much fun! We got in on Friday night and I think I slept more soundly than I have in months, and we got up the next morning to the most beautiful view out our patio doors. And we took a water taxi into Hamilton (and you know you're on vacation when A) you're on a boat taxi and B) the boat driver has his dog along.)

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Boat-loving dog.

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Lauries on a boat

In Hamilton we went to lunch at a pub that caught on fire (listen, it's not vacation with me unless something is on fire!) and we had just placed our order and taken a sip of iced tea when the fire alarm sounded so we all filed outside and waited a bit and nothing seemed to be happening, except all the waiters decided to sit on the stoop and smoke, so my mom and I moseyed down to the next pub and had a delicious meal.

Afterward, we wandered around Hamilton a bit and made it to the bus station where we bought a two-day transportation pass (only $20 each) and boarded a big pink bus for a trip to the Aquarium and St. George.

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The pink buses were comfortable, safe and very economical with the pass, which you can also use to get on board the water ferries.

Midway to St. George, we stopped off at the Aquarium. I love aquariums! Luckily my mom does, too. And she actually read the guidebook instead of just looking at the pictures like some people we know, so she knew how to get us there. Tomorrow I'll post all the pictures we took there, but here's one for today:

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Hmmm, which one of us is the exhibit and which one of us is the observer?

The next day we saw Dockyard and then took a bus all the way back to get a view of the interior a bit more. It was great. Here's Laurie waiting for the big ferry to Dockyard:

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View from the maritime museum.

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Cheesy and tipsy self-portrait

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We talked to Dad on Skype and showed him the view of the balcony and the room! (That's my newer ASUS Eee PC, I upgraded while back. This model has amazing battery life, I didn't have to plug it in once!)

When you're looking for your next off-season deal to somewhere new, Bermuda would be an excellent choice for anyone. I might even go back solo, who knows. It's incredibly clean and the people we met were hands-down the friendliest of any place I have ever visited. The food is great, the public transportation is easy, the island is so beautiful it's just breathtaking and it's so painless to get there and back. They even have a US Customs post right in the Bermuda airport so you go through customs in-island (instead of most foreign travel, where you deplane on your first stop on the U.S. and go through border control in a giant line.)

I will always think of it as the spot where I had the most relaxing time with my mom and laughed more in one weekend than I have laughed in ages.

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Sunset view from the room.

Posted by laurie at 6:02 AM

May 1, 2010

May Check in

A brief one. April was the sands of the hourglass, so are the days of our lives, cue dramatic music, wear too much makeup, sigh dramatically.

So here it is:

Goal One: Get Healthy (Actions)
Well, OK. So that happened.

The mere fact that I did not spend last month sleeping on the floor of a Jack-in-the-Box so I could absorb deep-fried items 24/7 is a miracle. There was one day when I was driving home from work, blubbering but trying not to be too obvious about it, and I looked over and saw a woman in a Volkswagon Jetta lighting up a cigarette and I thought, "I MUST HAVE ONE NOW." And yet I just drove myself home. I didn't stop at 7-11 and buy a carton of Marlboro lights and I am counting that as a major victory.

Granted, I did go into my earthquake kit and dig out the boxed wine I have on hand in case of emergencies (it was an emergency of sorts) but I haven't smoked now in what... three? four? years and I saw her light up and I was thisclose to just giving up entirely on health and well-being, which tells you all you need to know about my April without me going into the sordid details.

Awesome month! So happy it is over!

I did not walk every day. Or any day, except all that walking to and from the bus stops when my Jeep was in the shop. I did spend several days during the month cleaning obsessively which I count as exercise. My neighbors are probably all plotting to break my Dyson under cover of darkness. I actually Magic Erasered some of the paint off the walls. Oops.

Also, I ate junk food. Into every life some junk food will fall. It happens. In the long run, getting an order of drive-thru french fries was probably better than starting smoking again so I am cutting myself some slack. But I did manage some good meals including making myself tuna salad which does not have any lettuce in it but does have the word "salad" in the name!

So for the month I just sort of maintained. I was not super healthy but not completely in the ditch. As Scarlett would say, tomorrow is another day!


Goal Two: Yes (Attitude)
This Year of Yes thing has been like that old proverb where you ask God for patience and he sends you a traffic jam.

Yeah, HEE-larious.

But you know what? I'm still making jokes and I have my cats and my friends and family and my avalanche of yarn and it's good. There have been all sorts of changes happening in the mechanics of my life (and listen, I don't always embrace rocky changes that well) (you think?) and I think I am handling it not too badly. Etc. etc. Also I am right now doing something very fun which I will tell you about later and so May is already looking better than all of April and here it's only been May for like an hour.


May Goals
In May I want to try again to walk every day for the month (eventually I will make this goal) and I want to eat more vegetables. I also want to remember not to spend energy defending my unhappiness and instead to put that energy into writing, knitting, cleaning house, hanging out with friends, cooking, anything else. That is what the Yes Year is all about, deciding deliberately to let go of festering and embrace something, anything else.

And now it's May. May, two-thousand-ten. Crazypants.

- - -

[Comments are not available today.]

Posted by laurie at 4:24 AM

April 30, 2010

Good ole Rocky Top! Rocky Top, Tennessee!

Yesterday I got myself (and some of the commenters, whoops) stuck singing Rocky Top all afternoon. I had not thought of that song in forever and all the sudden I was singing it and remembered every single word. How is it possible that I do not remember my own phone number yet I know that once two strangers climbed ol' Rocky Top looking for a moonshine still?

Strangers ain't come down from Rocky Top, reckon they never will.

I don't even remember when I first learned that song but I know we used to sing it obsessively at 4-H camp in the summers. I LOVED 4-H camp. It was out at a campground somewhere in the sticks and we stayed in cabins and sang songs and got lice and all that great country kid summer stuff. I loved running with my pack of friends and making braided keychains and using a router to burn my name in a piece of 2x4, something I'm guessing today's sheltered nine-year-olds don't get to do lest they burn a finger off.

The other song we sang over and over and over was the Cider song:

Sipping Cider Through A Straw

The prettiest girl [Echo.], I ever saw, [Echo.]
Was sipping cider through a straw.
[Repeat previous two lines.]
I asked her if, [Echo.] she'd show me how, [Echo.]
To sip that cider through a straw.
[Repeat previous two lines.]

(except we would sing it like this: I asked her if -- I asked her if -- she'd show me how -- she'd show me how -- to sip some ciiiiider through a straw -- der through a straw!)


Then cheek to cheek, and jaw to jaw,
We sipped that cider through a straw.
Every now and then, the straw would slip,
And we'd sip cider lip to lip (lip to lip!)

The parson came to her backyard,
A sipping cider from a straw.
And now I have a mother-in-law,
And fourteen kids to call me Pa.
The moral of this story is,
To sip your cider from a pail!

Actually, I am surprised our bus driver didn't go mentally insane after listening to two hours of cy-dee-eye-dee-eye-der from a straw! We also sang a rather rousing rendition of "On Top of Spaghetti." I still sing it sometimes in my car. I am an excellent singer when no one is listening.

So, there you go, happy Friday. You can thank me later for the therapy bills incurred from not being able to shake camp songs. Wild as a mink and sweet as a soda pop, I still dream about that!

Posted by laurie at 3:50 AM

April 29, 2010

A Good Day

Last night was the first night in two weeks I've had a good night's sleep. I even slept in (until almost five, wow, livin' dangerously!) I felt like a different person. I woke up feeling good.

Going without sleep makes you crazypants. The worst part is waking up at 1:30 and again at 2:45 and 3:15 because your body drifted off to sleep and your brain wants you to WAKE UP UP RIGHTNOW and remember this other thing your forgot to worry about earlier. Thanks, brain. Thanks for the memories.

But last night I slept all the way through. I didn't even set my alarm clock, and I only woke up when Soba stretched out and pressed her tiny little feet into my back and yawned her kittycat yawn. And now I've made a cup of coffee and I have my notebook and I'm going to make a list because every good day starts with a good list.

- - -

Were you shocked Siobhan got the boot on American Idol? I was really surprised. I still want Crystal to win it all and I still want to get trapped in a Casey/Lee sandwich soon, but I was a little sad to see Siobhan go.

- - -

Thanks to all who entered the giveaways lately, I was waiting on email back from one of the winners but now everyone is in. Congrats to:

Leslie in AZ -- Hannah's List + $50
Mary in TN -- Hannah's List
Kate in Ohio -- Hannah's List
Seanna from MA -- Men Knits/Comfort Afghans/Wine book

Congratulations! In May, which is ridiculously just a few days away, I have several sock knitting books to give away and wine books and one big fat hardback Martha Stewart book that is so pretty. I'm really happy you all like doing this stuff because I still can't believe people want to send me books to giveaway, how cool is that? And I love doing it!

- - -

Finally, I am SO EXCITED about an event coming up in May. I'll be speaking at the San Juan Capistrano Regional Library on May 22nd at 2 p.m. I'll do a reading in which I will probably sound twangy and then I'll take all your questions and we may even knit a little, too. San Juan Capistrano is BEAUTIFUL, and this is the first time I've been invited to speak at a library which, for a kid who practically grew up in a library, is a dream come true. Wow, I like commas. Like, commas.

San Juan Capistrano Regional Library
31495 El Camino Real
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
May 22 at 2 p.m.

I'll post more details as I get them.

- - -

OH! Edited to add in a comment that Susan in Illinois left yesterday:


Can I throw something out there, knitting-like? A question. I have a stash, not a room, but a stash that is kind of hefty. Recently I am feeling the need to purge of excess clutter. Couple that with the weird part of me that requires me to buy new yarn for new projects, not shopping the stash, I am thinking maybe I should sell, donate, purge? Does this happen to anyone else? I. Must. Have. New. For any craft project I embark upon. It makes me think it would be nice to have a lending library of yarn, sewing, embroidery and other things I like to collect, just like books. I'm fine to borrow books from the library - if I really like them I put them on my Amazon wish list. Maybe if there was a lending library of yarn, that I could borrow, store for a bit, dream about the projects I might make, and then return it when I realize that if I make that cowl I will buy N.E.W. Am I crazy?

I'm sure lots of folks here can give you great ideas on where to donate yarn but I wanted to tell you that your craft lending library idea is BRILLIANT and I hope when I am a gazallionaire (as I hope to be one day) I can open up the world's first Craft Lending Library and Wine Bar. We'll have big comfy couches and chairs, plenty of books, yarn, hooks and needles and a shop cat who will be one of those rare felines that loves everyone and sits everywhere. And I'll have a poolboy.

(What a difference a good night's sleep makes! No Kafkatalk!)

Posted by laurie at 5:24 AM

April 28, 2010

Wednesday

Hello, Wednesday!

Are you watching DWTS? I never saw The Bachelor (but of course have seen Clean House a bazillion times) so I was glad Niecey got to stay. She's funny.

So, I may have to pause re-reading The Trial and move directly to a big glossy pile of Us Weekly. Based on my day yesterday, it seems Josef K. and Fräulein Laürie work at the same bank. Whoops. It could have been worse, though... I could have woken up today to discover I was a big bug. As I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth this morning, I noticed with relief that I hadn't transformed into a giant roach. I brushed, I double-checked the mirror for stray antennae, fed the cats and sat finally to write and all I could think was, "Today is a good day because I woke up and I'm not an insect."

Then I thought, "Oh, what do I know? It's not even quarter 'til five in the morning. This day hasn't even turned on for most people. I could still be a bug by day's end." We'll see how it turns out... everyone loves a mystery!

Kafka is weird and tangled and I enjoy him but maybe this one was way too close to home. I have him in my purse just in case. Maybe we'll hang out at lunch and spin conspiracy theories. Or maybe I'll catch up on my Entertainment Weekly instead.

So, when I was in the shower (where I do my best thinking) I was wondering why TV seems less scary/real to some folks than books. (I'm the exact opposite -- too much CSI or Dexter gives me nightmares and keeps me awake all night hearing imaginary scary noises.) (Even though I like those shows.) (Parenthetical, parenthetical.)

Do you think it's because books feel more intimate than TV? More persuasive? Do books make more of an impression because they take more time to get through? I read a study once that said your body burns more calories reading a book than watching TV. Maybe you get more wrapped up in a book, mentally and physically. Maybe I am way too curious about this subject and need to move on.

Here's another question: When it comes to entertainment are you a re-visitor or always a first-timer? I got a comment from a reader last week (I can't find the actual comment because it's been commentageddon around here lately with the book giveaways and stuff) but it said something like:

I never go back and re-read books or watch movies again, life is too short to waste time on something I've already read or seen when there is more out there to experience.

That is a whole new way of approaching the world, and I honestly had never thought of it, not with my beloved books and favorite movies. (Sure I'll happily never revisit many epochs of my fashion sense or 98.99999% of the stupid stuff I have done while dating) but never re-read a book? It almost made me sad! It's the exact opposite of my nature ... I want to hold on to things I've loved, they're comforting to me.

But it's an interesting take on life, the idea that re-visiting is wasting time you could spend doing something new. So -- what do you think? Do you think life is all about moving on to the next new thing? Is re-reading time wasted or time well-spent? (Obviously there is no right answer, it's all opinion and personal preference. I'm just curious about you.)

Maybe I am hopelessly antiquated, but I love the feeling of revisiting an old book or movie. I reach for my well-worn favorites a lot -- The Stand, Gone with the Wind, anything by Michael Crichton (especially Timeline), The Awakening, Le Divorce, Rage of Angels (I love me some Sidney Sheldon!) Picking up an old favorite is like visiting with an old friend. I do this with movies, too. There's very little in my life that can't be remedied by watching The Princess Bride in my pajamas. Other movies I watch over and over are The Bourne movies, Wag the Dog, French Kiss, Under the Tuscan Sun, Volver, The Sound of Music, anything by John Hughes.

I can't imagine my life without many happy years of The Sound of Music ahead! Then again, I can eat the same thing for lunch every day for a week. And I park my car in the same spot most days. And I still have books from the 9th grade. I am a creature of habit, definitely. The good part is I know every word to every song in The Sound of Music. The downside is maybe I do not embrace all changes as quickly as I'd like.


- - -

Best email I got all week:

From: Samantha D. Tuesday, April, 27, 2010 at 11:49:19

message:
I don't know how to leave a comment but I wanted to say if you ever get a copy of the book "Men Who Want Women Who Knit" - well I'll take one of those!!! :)


That had me cracking up all day long.


- - -

Best comment yesterday:

time4mercy wrote: And now for something completely different: on your recommendation, I ordered some Dr. Bronner's soap. Haven't tried it yet, but it smells lovely. I was just wondering -- does it always come with Free Bonus Crazytalk on every bottle?? :)

It does! All the astrocrazy is completely free, actually I saw a great documentary once on the whole Dr. Bronner's family and it was FASCINATING. I'm pretty sure the documentary I saw was this one: Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox. It went into all the tales of how he escaped a mental asylum and went on to create this really cool soap world.

I loved it because it reminded me that even when life is nuts and you're in a mental institution it is possible to escape and create something so smellgood and feelgood that it can clean both your hair and your floors. Amen to the promise of possibility! Or so says Fräulein Laürie.

Posted by laurie at 6:38 AM

April 27, 2010

Breakfast with Kafka

Having finished up with The Count of Monte Cristo, I went into the yarn-room-office and ran my fingers along the bookshelves looking for my next good read. I like the comforting feeling of being able to shop from your own library (books or yarn!) I landed on this one:

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The Trial by Franz Kafka

Like The Count of Monte Cristo, this book is the same one I bought when first assigned to read this story in a literature class. So I calculate that The Trial has been with me since my first year of college, and traveled from Mississippi to Tennessee to Florida and to California with me and seen me through one marriage and divorce and twenty different shades of blonde.

It even has notes from the first time I read it, which made me laugh out loud when I saw them:

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I think I was trying to be smart and Existentialist, but my notes are like a mental patient's manifesto...

clean air stifles
normal life
duplicity murky
dehumanized
rhetoric!!!!!

Seriously ya'll.

And even though I would never have admitted it back then, I didn't really get Kafka when I first had to read The Trial and later The Metamorphosis. It was only after I had a professor who was really into authors that I got into Kafka, because we talked just as much -- if not more -- about his life and his diaries than the books. For me, The Diaries of Franz Kafka was so much more intriguing than anything we were assigned to read because he was full of crazypants and ennui:

August 29, 1914 The end of one chapter a failure; another chapter, which began beautifully, I shall hardly -- or rather certainly not -- be able to continue as beautifully, while at the time, during the night, I should certainly have succeeded with it. But I must not forsake myself, I am entirely alone.

And:

September 1, 1914
In complete helplessness barely wrote two pages. I fell back a great deal today, though I slept well. ... My old apathy hasn't completely deserted me yet, as I can see, and my coldness of heart perhaps never. That I recoil from no ignominy can as well indicate hopelessness as give hope.


Dude, get thee to a romantic comedy, STAT!

No, what I love about Kafka is that even if I don't all the way get every aspect of his writing, if I let go of trying to be cerebral and analytical and stuff I can just feel his tension and stress from the words. You know this person feels imprisoned, you can feel the muddiness of it, you can sense the panic just below the surface at all times. It's weird but good.

So that's what I'm re-reading today. Let's see -- first Edmond Dantès, now Joseph K. Well, you don't exactly need to dig up Freud and buy a couch to see that I'm in a place. What's next? Plath? A history of the black plague? Maybe some lighthearted Edgar Allen Poe? Actually, I think my next read will be a thick stack of trashy tabloid magazines. For balance.

Speaking of balance, how does she manage with all those whiskers?

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And traffic on the 101 was insane in the membrane, saw this on a big grey pickup truck under big grey skies:

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I know that the driver probably hangs drywall, but for some reason I felt a little dirty after reading this. The drrrrty kind of dirty.


Posted by laurie at 8:50 AM

April 26, 2010

Another book giveaway: Knits Men Want & Comfort Knitting and Crochet Afghans

Thanks everyone! Comments for the giveaway are closed now. Thank you to everyone who participated!

- - - -

Yes, another giveaway!

Edited: Apparently I was half asleep this morning and did not realize that the publisher of the cute book Knits Men Want has their own sweepstakes and I neglected to tell you about it. Whoops! So in addition to the book giveaway here today, I also want to make sure you see the Cringe Or Crush sweepstakes here.

Also, I was bummed about giving away my review copies of the books which should in itself be a review to how cute they are and how much I wanted to keep them, and then Leslie at Abrams books said she would send me a copy of my own which proves two things: 1) Complaining totally does pay off! And 2) Knitting book people are awesome.

So here are the books in today's give-away:

knits-men-want.jpg
Knits Men Want: The 10 Rules Every Woman Should Know Before Knitting for a Man~ Plus the Only 10 Patterns She'll Ever Need

Although who am I kidding? Like I will be knitting a sweater for a guy any day soon. Hah. I asked my mom if she thought Dad would wear a hand-knit sweater and she laughed.

And there's this one:

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Comfort Knitting and Crochet: Afghans


So one winner will get a copy of each book and I'll include a copy of my book, Home Is Where the Wine Is.

Just post a comment to be entered. This giveaway will close sometime tonight. Good luck!

Edited to add: This is open to everyone on all of planet earth since I'm doing the shipping, I'll mail anywhere :) Well, anywhere on this planet. Let's keep it earth-based, folks. Those FedEx rates to Uranus are a killer.

- - -

Oh, I finished my weekend with Edmond Dantès. After reading the book I watched the movie last night and it was kind of a letdown. It should have been called "A Movie Loosely Based On The Count of Monte Cristo." I kept thinking about those poor schmucks in 9th grade classrooms across the country who skipped reading the book this year and just watched the movie. Suckers!

Posted by laurie at 9:27 AM

April 23, 2010

Win Debbie Macomber's newest book -- Hannah's List!

Edited to add: Sunday, 6:41 p.m. comments and giveaway are now closed, thanks so much to all who participated and I'll have winners tomorrow!

- - -

You might think the best part of having this website is the unusually large amount of fans I have in prisons across America. While that is certainly awesome, I have to say the best perk is having publishers who want to send you free books! I love books and love giveaways and this one is so good. This week, Debbie Macomber's publicity folks sent me a review copy of Hannah's List and it's a beautiful big hardback book and like Madonna said... Papa don't preach, I'm keeping my baby. Luckily the publisher is offering all you Crazy Aunt Catlady readers a giveaway of their own with three winners!

GIVEAWAY DETAILS:

There is one Grand Prize winner who receives a copy of Hannah's List PLUS a $50 VISA gift card so you can stock up on yarn and wine and more Debbie Macomber books or rent a poolboy for an hour. Depending on poolboy rates these days.

Two additional winners will receive a copy of the book!

To enter, just post a comment, it doesn't have to be anything elaborate. Also, if you don't want your email address to visible on the comment, then enter something in the URL field. It will show instead of your email address, but I will still be able to email you through magic. You can just enter crazyauntpurl.com in the URL field if you want. If I wasn't such a techno-dunce I might be able to figure out how to change it in the code of this here website but last time I tried that. I broke comments for about a year. Whoops!

Edited to add: For those of you new to my comments section, your name shows up underneath your comment.

If you want to get more information about the book you can visit the book’s official website at www.hannahslist.com (isn't Debbie Macomber adorable? I think she is so darn cute) or you can read about Hannah's List on amazon.com.


One last thing...

Since the fulfillment of this give away is being handled by the publisher, this prize is only open to participants with a United States mailing address (international readers can enter if they have a friend in the States who can accept their prizes by mail.) I am guessing a prison counts as a U.S. address, heh.

Have fun and good luck! This giveaway will be open for the weekend and/or until we max at at 1,000 comments or whatever breaks the server. One entry per person.

- - -

As you can see, La Soba is already enjoying my copy of this book as she basks by the fire:

soba-sees-macomber.jpg

soba-reads-macomber.jpg


Have a great weekend!!!

Posted by laurie at 9:26 AM

April 22, 2010

Thursday

Last night The Count of Monte Cristo and I spent some quality time together, I am SO GLAD I picked up this book. I had just gotten a few pages in when I read:

"What's the matter, father? You don't look well." "It's nothing; it will pass," said the old man; but his strength failed and he fell backward. "You need a glass of wine," said Edmond. "That will make you feel better. Where do you keep your wine?"

Oh hell yeah. I am so reincarnated from someone previously French. I, too, believe in the medicinal and healing properties of wine. And love and intrigue and carefully honed revenge fantasies.

count-of-monte-cristo.jpg
Got a little reading in before work, too.

When I'm writing I try not to read anything contemporary because I'm paranoid about absorbing that author's voice even in the smallest detail. So I'm loving reading the very not-contemporary voice of Dumas (classics are good anyway, because imitating that style just doesn't happen in my brain). The writing is still deeply engaging and the subject matter is also timely for me. Yes, that's right, I too am imprisoned in the Château d'If. Yeah yeah mine is a little more metaphorical ... though it is pretty iffy! hah. Cracked myself up.

- - -

I've been knitting, though I'm still knitting for other people (I seem to be taking orders these days: Hey can you knit me some handwarmers? Hey, can you knit a hat for so-and-so?) and I just finished these colorful handwarmers for one of the gals in the office:

handwarmers-autumncolors2.jpg

Cast on 40 stitches, I think I used a size 5 needle but normal humans who don't knit teflon-tight could use a size 4, then work in K4, P4 ribbing, finish the last inch with some seed stitch. Sew up the sides leaving a hole for the thumb. SO easy!

For these cozy handwarmers I used TLC essentials yarn in a variegated color called "fall leaves" and I love how the colors turned out! I know some people are yarnsnobby about acrylic but I often find exactly the perfect texture and color in a nice skein of good old-fashioned TLC or Red Heart. And it's very durable.

handwarmers-autumncolors1.jpg
Happy customer.

- - -

OH! I am officially giving you the heads up that tomorrow I am doing an awesome book giveaway content thingy and the prize is really good! So tune in. I will try to post it early and leave it up late enough for everyone to get a comment in.

- - -

The weather has been cold and wintry lately, very unusual for April. The furballs enjoyed having the fireplace on and me all tangled up in the sofa with a fluffy blanket and a book last night. I love it when they follow me into whatever room I'm hanging out in and find their own spots to relax. My little four-legged roommates.

april22-10-bobsits.jpg

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april22-10-sobafire.jpg


Posted by laurie at 8:06 AM

April 20, 2010

Reading (or re-reading) the classics

Summer reading weather is almost here. I love spending a beautiful hot sunny summer day indoors, safely away from nature and curled up in manufactured indoor air with a good book and a cold adult beverage. Usually I go for contemporary fiction, cheese-laden self-help or biography. But this season I have a hankering to up my classic reading IQ and read (or re-read) a few pieces of classic literature. Or, where I am from, litterchure.

So, what are your top five favorite classic books? I'm making up my summer reading list. I'm thinking maybe some Dorothy Parker, some Colette, perhaps a Henry James. I definitely want to re-read The Count of Monte Cristo. What do you recommend? What are your top five MUST-read classics?

And are there any classic authors you've never gotten around to reading but are embarrassed to admit it? For me it's a serious lack of Jane Austen. I read what was assigned to me in school of course, but that was in high school when I was deep in teenage angst and tortured be-pimpled darkness. None of that chaste Austen stuff for me and my side-part mohawk!

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(More of my awesomely bad hair is here: Read My Hairstory.)

We had just moved from Louisiana to Columbia, Tennessee and I was full of rebellion and my own super coolness, so of course all I wanted to read were the books children my age were not supposed to read -- I started with a little E. M. Forster, and moved right into Henry Miller (warning: if you're at work some of those book covers have nekkid ladies on them. That is not what the covers looked like in the 1980s!), Anais Nin, all that Lost Generation stuff with Gertrude Stein, and somehow one day I stumbled onto Charles Bukowski. I'm pretty sure at age 14 I had no idea what 90% of any of those books were really about but I certainly thought I did. Also, can I just point out that back in the 1980s it was not exactly easy for a teenager living in Columbia, Tennessee, home of the Mule Day Parade, to get her hands on some Henry Miller. There was no internet and we lived right in the buckle of the Bible Belt in a dry county with no major bookstore and the public library didn't gravitate toward gritty Parisian stories about vagabonds and drunks and ladies of the night.

Luckily, I had parents who encouraged my love of books and secretly hoped that no matter what I was reading perhaps if I kept my nose stuck in a book I would stop hiding boys in my closet (hah, good try, Dad.) So my mom would take me to Nashville every few months and we'd go to a big mall and spend hours in the bookstore. Thank goodness for the internet so angsty teens in small towns across America can now buy their gritty rebellious books online. And thank the Lord for my enlightened parents who let me read anything I wanted. They wouldn't let me listen to Prince records, mind you, but if it was a book and I could save up enough allowance to buy it it was all mine. I love this about them.

College was a buffet-- the bookstore on campus and the library were filled with crazy great stuff, the weird and fabulous Alain Robbe-Grillet, and Kafka, who I think invented this place I work at. One day two weeks ago I wondered if I was suddenly a giant cockroach with an apple in my back. Then I went home and drank wine. Who knew Kafka would prepare me so well for corporate life? Anyway, it was so exhilarating to be 18 or 19 and discovering all those new words, new ways of making a sentence fizz. I loved our college faux-snobbery, our pretense of literary greatness (this from someone who read every single Sweet Valley High book ever written. Twice.) But I have long since outgrown any book-related snootiness and I'll read anything, I'll read the back of the cereal box if it's interesting. Usually when I get a chance to sink into a book I like to grab something off the bestseller list because it helps me understand what people are reading right now, what's current and engaging. And I like an escape. Right now I need an escape and I want a classic, a pile of classics, I think I need to feel rooted, grounded in a book.

So, I'd love to hear your Top 5 Classic Reads suggestions. Besides, eventually we're going to hit re-run season and my brain might enjoy being stimulated by something other than reality TV. Or it may go into shock. Or I may actually be a cockroach, who knows!

angstybob.jpg
Cat angst.

Posted by laurie at 8:07 AM

April 8, 2010

The Festival of Broken Things

Sure, I suspected it might be major when I barely -- just barely-- coasted into the mechanic station in the underground garage and turned off the ignition and heard my Jeep audibly gasp with mechanical dramatics. When the mechanic called me late in the day yesterday with the tense voice, using words like "drive train" and "differential" and "thousands" and "surprised you made it here without the transmission falling out on the 101" I sighed with my own audible dramatics. It's that time in my life when things break. It happens. And yet I am not hiding in the ladies room sipping from a flask. An accomplishment!

That was the scariest thing when my ex-husband unceremoniously dumped me, that worry about who would I turn to when I needed help? How would I do all this living alone, the money, the details, the backup ride to the subway? Who can pick you up from the dentist, who can listen when you need it? You figure it out though. It takes time. Work Jen saw me heading over to the garage in the afternoon to clean out my few belongings from my Jeep and she said, "How will you get home?" And she was genuinely worried about me (and lives nowhere near me, and knows I wouldn't ask her anyway though she is the sort of friend who would offer) but I knew I would figure something out. It's a skill I'm sort of proud of. I am the person you want to be near when a natural disaster strikes because I know, I KNOW, I can get us out and get us situated and get us drunk as skunks. I am resourceful, resilient and have a 20-pound handbag with all sorts of magic in it.

But secretly there is something about car trouble that renders me all belle-like and soft and needy and wanting someone else to be there. I have absolutely no safety net in life and most of the time I choose to feel challenged and independent about that whole scary no-safety-net thing. When my Jeep falls apart majestically (with actual metal falling from below) and all my other stuff is breaking and racking up expenses I start to get a little nervous, that's all. I guess. I go soft. Stupid car trouble.

By the way, comments are closed today because there are some subjects that no one, not even one with a full supply of independence and self-help books, wants more helpful advice about. For you perhaps that subject is your children, your weight, your hair, or maybe it's your love of the Kardashians. For me it's the subject of my Jeep and my weird relationship to car breakdown emotions.

It's a thing with me.

So I am Jeepless for now, for maybe weeks, who knows. Mass transportation I see you and raise you a token (hah) in appreciation. Well, anyway, I did say I wanted to walk more in April, yes?

- - -

As for the dead workstation that has all my project files and everything set up just-so-the-way-I-like-it, well, it was wheeled off yesterday by the IT Magic Man and I still have faith in him, we'll see what verdict he returns. Here's hoping PCs don't have a drive train. Don't worry, I didn't propose to him. I hear some women are desperate for children, I seem to be desperate for a man who can fix stuff. I'd love to trade my powers of mass breakage for the power to fix something.

I did back up all my data of course, because I know how I am with technology. But last week my backup drive stopped working. It just happened a few days ago so I haven't had time to buy a new one and now have no files and no backup. Oh and no car. (And while we are at it no clean socks.) So Magic IT Man took pity on me and is looking at my backup drive today, too. Fingers crossed that by end of day we won't be tipping out a forty to my ol' homie the PC.

- - -

Last night after accepting that I was Jeepless and knight-in-shining-armnorless, I took the subway home to the Valley and walked from the metro to the bus and then got off at the stop by the grocery store and bought as much wine as I could safely carry home. You would be surprised how much I can carry. I like solving my problems with a glass of cabernet, a bag of chips and some dumb TV. The Tivo seems operational. Life is good.

I'm glad my engine didn't fall out on the 101. I'm pleased that I can figure out how to get home and back with no car. I'm glad we have someone here at work so capable that I truly do have hope about my PC. And my backup. I'm glad they have a mechanic in the parking garage here so that I don't have to get my Jeep pulled out of the garage by a chain tow then onto a waiting flatbed in the middle of downtown then 40 miles to my other mechanic who may or may not be back in the pokey. I'm really glad I moved because now I can actually walk to a grocery store and honestly, that's the only place I go other than work, so as long as my legs keep working we're in business at Chez Merlot Meow Mix.

Now that I have listed all the happy glad bits and all, and said kumbaya and walked in a circle and burned sage and counted blessings and tried not to touch things I want to keep working, like my camera and my netbook, and also honestly copped to my dumb emotional weakness that comes with car trouble, well... Universe, can you move on to torturing some other person with breakitis? And I know just the person! May I suggest my Evil Arch Nemesis? I'm just saying is all.

But this is still working:
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Cat cuteness. Pic taken with my cellphone as I am slightly afraid to touch my new awesome camera for obvious reasons.

Posted by laurie at 7:01 AM

April 7, 2010

The good, the bad, the ugly and expensive. But then the whatever.

So! The good news is they got my workstation running for just long enough to make me insanely happy, thinking I was past the cloud of anti-tech vibes I'm under right now, and then once I was lulled into that false sense of security it died again. And may never be recovered, we do not know. That is actually bad news, but the good news is the tech they have assigned to my situation is the world's best and is magic and can fix all sorts of things. Including maybe I will not have to call upon lovely reader Wendy's tech friend she put me in touch with to fix my external backup since A) I will be working until midnight trying to catch up on all my projects since I am working on an unfamiliar computer now with none of my original files and do not even have the energy to open my door when I get home, even for a fix-it man and 2) the magic IT guy at work said he would look at it for me. Maybe out of pity, or maybe because I promised I would stop humping his leg.

Also, as my anti-tech vibe continues, I just went down to the ATM to get cash and it was out of order. And my car is making a suddenly new and expensive noise which started about ten minutes before I pulled into the garage so the mechanics there who keep selling me radiators are looking at my Jeep. That was the bad news, in case you were wondering. Also, the ugly and expensive, most likely.

But whatever. These things they happen. I am glad really, just get all the breaking out of the way at one time. (Ok, I'm not "glad" but I can't fix any of this myself and the universe is mysterious and this is just how my life rolls so I now roll with it instead of crying in a corner eating my hair.)

Speaking of eating thanks for all the funny and interesting comments about chicken nugget lovin' kids yesterday. I have lots of friends my age who have kids (oh who are we kidding, I am about the only one I know with no children) and I am endlessly fascinated by how well they all navigate the tricky waters of parenting. I'm not a parent, but I know the avalanche of unsolicited advice I get on even the smallest things, like cat litter or my aversion to breakfast, so I can't imagine what parents today go through fielding advice, finger-wagging and the information overload bombarded at all of us on every topic. It was really entertaining to me to hear everyone's picky eater stories and eats-everything stories and all in between.

I can certainly be picky in my own right. I don't love mushrooms, I prefer vegetables to fruit, I need my steaks cooked well done. We all have our stuff. Reader Dee pointed out that McDonald's didn't introduce the nugget until the '80s (and our small town didn't even have a McDonald's) so I think that explains why nugget-only palates mystify me since I wasn't exposed to it myself very early on. I was never a kid who got to be picky about food, we didn't have that kind of set-up in our house, but I was insane about other stuff, like I had to carry Sam (my stuffed animal) everywhere and sleep with him every night or the world would END. END, I tell you. I was a weird kid anyway, always writing my little stories in my little notebooks and having imaginary friends and being secretive and wanting to be called a different name. Usually plant names -- Jasmine, Clover, etc. All our battles at the dinner table revolved around someone hollering at me to get my nose out of that book and eat already.

And I guess I am an equally weird adult because it doesn't surprise me at all when I have a week or two where everything I touch breaks -- except the big old blocky downstairs TV which I even hugged last night and still it soldiers ever onward.

Posted by laurie at 10:31 AM

April 6, 2010

Ah, the best intentions

I had every intention today of showing you pictures of traffic and glamour shots of Frankie and maybe some other cats wearing fur like runway models and yet today I am having computer issues, again, and there will be no pictures.

In the past eight days I have broken an external hard drive which may or may not ever be fixable and houses all my photos and assorted stuffage, I have broken a USB thumb drive (really broken, like in half) and now a whole PC. My magical powers of breaking stuff are in full form! Later tonight I plan to do a laying on of my own hands upon the huge old boxy TV in my living room that refuses to die so it can be replaced by one of those sleek new flat things. Who knows. I could maybe blow the power grid later today. If you live in L.A. and the lights go out, I'm just saying, maybe soon I'll get a new TV.

Anyway! In the meantime let us talk about TeeVee, my friend, my current deepest relationship, my one gadget that still works. First there is the untimely leaving of Didi from American Idol, she has such a pretty voice. Why her and not the interchangeable tweeny guys? And Fox, can you please get with the program and understand that an hour has only 60 minutes and so when you go over that those of us who Tivo your shows miss the very end? And frankly not all of us want to clip our next programs by three minutes because you are too dumb to understand how to plan six minutes of programming to fit inside a 60-minute slot. Get the memo!

Next, Dancing With The Stars. Yes, I watch. Judge silently to yourself. On the first night when Pam Anderson did the chacha (or whatever that was) it was so sleazy I think my TV got herpes. However she has really surprised me these last two times, so why was she in the bottom two and not Buzz? Mystery. Also I was surprised by both how good and how flat-out gorgeous Erin Andrews is. The new co-host also takes Awkward to new heights which is kind of funny.

Did anyone start watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution? I Tivoed it out of curiosity and got kind of sucked in. Who knew the U.S. schools had such weird food guidelines? Two breads per meal? I did know that whole thing about ketchup counting as a vegetable and all but I think I don't pay much attention to this sort of stuff since I don't have kids. And maybe it's because I don't have kids but I have never really understood chicken nugget syndrome, something painfully illustrated in this show. I have friends around my age and they have small children who will eat nothing but chicken nuggets and I hear this from all sorts of people, "That's all my kid will eat!" and I just don't get it. Kids aren't born genetically craving chicken nuggets. They eat what you feed them. Or am I completely insane and in the past 20 years children have mutated and now spring forth fully-formed into chicken nugget cravers?

I don't think I ever saw or heard of a nugget until I was a teenager. Sure, I ate fried chicken growing up, I'm Southern, but we didn't have this whole picky eater nugget thing going on. The luxury of pitching a hissy about food wasn't normal or tolerated. You ate what was served or you didn't eat but it wasn't a big deal. I know parenting has changed and all that, and hey you should feed your kid whatever you want, it's not my place to judge. So I'm not taking some moral waterloo stance here, I'm just very curious about it. When I travel I see kids all over the world eating real food like the grownups do. So is it just American kids who have chicken nugget syndrome? I've always wanted to know. It's very interesting to me.

How did this become a nugget thing? And please don't send me hate mail, I'm not judging parenting/mothering/child-rearing or that time you stalked your ex on Facebook. We all know I am crackass addicted to fast food so it's not like I'm going to point a finger, but my addiction was entirely self-inflicted. Merely curious about the nugget situation. Back to TeeVee!

Finally, I still watch and love Castle. Nathan Fillion is so cute and I love the chemistry with Castle and Beckett and I am so glad that the network didn't cancel that show.

Well, back to Tuesday and my superpowers of breaking technology. Who knows what havoc I can unleash! I better not touch the Tivo, though. I can lose data and backups and whole computers but losing Tivo would be a tragedy far greater than calling ketchup a vegetable.

Posted by laurie at 9:55 AM

April 5, 2010

The return of the Evil Arch Nemesis!

It's been quite some time since I had an Evil Arch Nemesis, probably over a year. I prefer being my own worst enemy, it seems, or perhaps I am boring and forgetful about enemies. I did have an Evil Enemy about a year or so ago but the hateful disliking was mostly on her part and I sort of forgot all about it until I saw her one day walking on a sidewalk in downtown and I smiled and said hey and she brushed past me with an icy chill.

I thought, "That was weird! She must not have seen me!" and then I remembered we are Sworn Enemies For Life or Longer and she was still carrying that grudge even though I had long forgotten about her. It made me laugh.

This time, though, I have a real ambitious Evil Arch Nemesis (and of course it's a she, why are my adversaries always cranky, panties-in-a-bunch women?) and she will one day make a fabulous fictional character, the foe to our heroine's main character.

It's good to get an Evil Arch Nemesis every now and again. It provides endless entertainment during happy hour with the girls and it brings out my more ebullient list of adjectives.

Now I am fully aware that there is a whole faction of the population who are as we speak stepping upon a soapbox filled with moral suds and getting elevated enough to climb up on top of a high, high horse to inform me that there should be no enemies, no grudges, no smack talking over happy hour. Those folks say it's always best to turn the other cheek, and I know that is absolutely the right choice for so many people.

However, I am from a part of the country where people are still re-enacting the Civil war and they plan to keep on re-enacting until it ends the way THEY want it to end. Talk about your elongated revenge fantasy. They put on homemade uniforms, carry real muskets and set up whole battlefield kitchens with corn pone and whiskey or something like that.

What I am saying here is that I am not from people who turn the other cheek. I am from the sort of stock that goes out of their way to dramatize an event and re-tell it for centuries to come and it includes special clothes for goodness sakes.

The very best part about having an Evil Arch Nemesis is that it brings out your creativity, largely in the realm of the Revenge Fantasy. I learned a lot from my expensive and drawn-out divorce and one of those lessons was to embrace the Revenge Fantasy. It's perfectly healthy and probably better for you than acting out in real life, unless you like incarceration, which I do not.

When you're deep in the midst of creating a revenge fantasy you're concentrating on every detail -- what you're wearing, what your hair looks like, which shoes go with your perfect-self-outfit, where you cross paths with Sworn Evil Enemy, what the other person says, what you say -- rewind, say it again, this time zingier! and so on.

It's impossible to feel sad or depressed or defeated or deflated or frustrated or hopeless when you are deep in a revenge fantasy. And that is a good thing! I know I personally always feel better about life after I spend an hour in crawling traffic having a very detailed revenge fantasy in which my sworn evil enemy is left in the dust and I am living in a pied-à-terre in Paris. In the end I am always wearing something fantastic and the nasty enemy is sour-faced and wearing bad shoes and fades out pitifully and sometimes there is George Clooney asking me to dinner. Not sure how he sneaks in there.

And what would life be anyway if you didn't have someone pop into your experience every now and then to crystallize so purely all the things you yourself never want to be? My Evil Arch Nemesis is all the stuff I definitely don't want to be in my life. So I like to see my Evil Arch Nemesis for what it is, something irritating that I can use to tell a funny story about and hopefully vanquish with George on my arm. And like all my sworn enemies she will one day be forgotten and truly, that is the very best revenge of all.

Posted by laurie at 7:00 AM

April 2, 2010

Book Giveaway: Wendy Johnson's Toe-Up Socks for Everybody!

UPDATED TO SAY: Ok, today's book giveaway just closed -- I think you set a new record in comments! I'll try to figure out the form thing next week so we can do something where you don't have to comment. Or maybe not as I love reading what you have to say and also I am lazy with the technology (and with the laundry). By the way, I am almost convinced from your comments that I am not the only one who has had a yarn room all these years but been too ashamed to admit it... and I thank you for helping me with my weird punctuation issue (in the interview below) as I feel rather big brained now having been told I had it right all along. Which is sort of rare for me, High Mistress of Comma Splices.

Our winners were reader "threadbndr" (real name still to be determined) and a reader from Poland!

Congrats and have a great holiday weekend, everyone! Also there is another sock book giveaway coming in a few weeks and several knit books, a crochet book and a great fiction giveaway in mid-April so stay tuned. Freeness abounds!

- - -

Here is the the thing about Wendy Johnson. She is good people. I am lucky enough to get review copies of all kinds of books from publishers (fiction, nonfiction, knitting, crochet, the works) and I am more than happy to promote them and do a giveaway because I love contributing in any small way to an author's success.

But Wendy is something special, and I'm the one who asked her publicist for books to give away because I know you rabid sock knitters out there will love this book and because Wendy is the real deal. She's smart, she's a knitting genius, and she's no bullshit. I have a lot of respect for her and also I think Bob sits on my keyboard at night hoping his furry butt will transmit a love letter to her cat Lucy who is far too beautiful for his himbo cat self.

Wendy Johnson is the author of WendyKnits (the blog) and Wendy Knits (the book.) She's the reason I know how to knit in the round. Her Kitty Pi was one of the first non-scarf items I ever made and her pattern was so well-written that even I could follow it as a super beginner. (Oh wow, did I make that back in 2005? How old am I? Can I age in reverse? Is it too late to go back to lying about my age again?)

Her second book, Socks from the Toe Up: Essential Techniques and Patterns from Wendy Knits, was a little love letter to socks. And now she is out with her third book, Toe-Up Socks for Every Body: Adventurous Lace, Cables, and Colorwork from Wendy Knits, which is just a delicious feast for all you sock fans.

And today I'll be giving away two copies of Toe-Up Socks for Every Body: Adventurous Lace, Cables, and Colorwork from Wendy Knits and throwing in a signed copy of my Wine book for each winner. Just post a comment (I know, I know, but it's so easy!) between now and (updated to be 6 p.m.) 6 p.m. Pacific time and you'll be eligible to win.

Wendy and I did a little chatting this week, and I got some of my burning questions answered!


- - -

Me: Hello! Please please explain the sock secret to me. I know knitters who are addicted to them and knit exclusively socks and yet with me the creeping contagion of sock obsession never caught on. What is it about sock knitting that draws you in?

Wendy: I actually resisted sock knitting for years because I am a creature who resists new things. Passionately. But I was sucked into it when the first self-striping sock yarns appeared on the market. Now I'm hooked. I love that you can whip 'em out quickly and have a finished product in short order. I love the challenge of designing in a small space. And I love that you can complete a project with just a skein or two of yarn.

Me:When you sit down to write a book do you ever have panic moments that you won't make the deadline?

Wendy: Every minute of every day. It's a wonder I can sleep at night. (Well, I don't sleep at night. Wait, I think I am on to something here . . . )


Me: Let's say you're at a party and someone you don't know asks you what you do. (Or maybe that is just an L.A. thing, but out here it's the first question anyone asks.) Do you tell folks you're an author, an elite knitting professional, or do you talk about your day job as your profession?

Wendy: It depends on the situation and the attendees. I usually respond "I'm a Washington bureaucrat and an author." Sometimes when I'm in a particularly smart-ass mood I say "I'm a mild-mannered civil servant by day and a knitting superhero by night."

Maybe this is why people shy away from me at parties.


Me: When you and I last chatted, you mentioned you have a yarn room. When you told me that -- "I have a yarn room..." -- it was a lightbulb moment for me. I have a yarn room, too, yet I have felt shamed and a little embarrassed by this, so I still call it my "home office" or even "guest room" though no one could sleep in there because of all the yarn. At what point did you embrace your stash as the your tools of the trade and go from "I have a spare room..." to "I have a yarn room..."? (I know the question mark should go inside the quotes yet it looked weird to me. Grammar conundrum.)

Wendy: Ah, the yarn room. When I first moved into my condo (in 1994!) it was the room where I threw everything that had no other place. Then I got a bed for it and it became a guestroom. Then I collected 164 pairs of cowboy boots (don't ask), had shelves built along the walls for them, and it became the boot room.

Then I learned about the concept of stashing yarn. I used to buy my yarn one project at a time, pre-internet. When I started reading about stashing yarn in knitting groups online, I started my yarn collection, I started getting rid of my boot collection. Now the room is filled with yarn and the boots have all gone to the Salvation Army. And I openly refer to the room as my stash room. Honored guests are allowed to stay in my stash room, but I need three days' notice to clear the yarn off the bed. And they have to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Me: So... what types of yarn do you gravitate toward in stash mode? Do you find you buy mostly sock yarn, mostly cotton, wool, variegated?

Wendy: I have eleventy-billion tons of sock yarn, mostly 100% wool, a few sweaters worth of Shetland wool, and perhaps one billion tons of laceweights in a variety of wool, silk and cashmere. I am generally not a fan of cotton so I don't have a lot of that. But I love other natural fibers, so I've got wool, silk, cashmere, bison, and even a bit of qivuit. The only acrylic allowed in there is in blends with natural fibers.

Me: Do people at your job know that you are a World Famous Bestselling Author Knitter?

Wendy: A couple of them do. But mostly I don't talk about it at The Day Job.


Me: Do you wax and wane with knitting, sometimes going for a while without a project, or are you always knitting something?

Wendy: I am always always always knitting something. I knit every day, unless I am deathly ill with the flu or unconscious or something. If I am nearing the end of a project and don't have another project lined up I suffer End of Project Anxiety until I figure out what's going on the needles next.

Me: I adore your blog, WendyKnits, and your kitty pi was the first successful item I ever made in the round. It was also the first time I used double-pointed needled and first time I felted anything and honestly, I have you to thank for my love of all three of those things! Were you surprised by how incredibly famous (and necessary) the kitty pi has become in the knitting world?

Wendy: I never would have dreamed it! It was just something I winkled together for my own sweet Lucy during a phase when I was experimenting with felting. I love seeing all the photos on Ravelry of kitties the world over enjoying their kitty pis! And I always grant permission for people to make them and sell them in aid of animal charities. A few years ago Petfinder contacted me about the kitty pi and we put together a project where a bunch of us knitted them and sent them to Petfinder, who in turn gave them away to people who adopted older cats during one of their "Adopt an Older Pet" drives. Isn't that cool?

[ By the way, everyone, here is a link to the Kitty Pi recipe!]

Me: That just makes me a little misty-eyes! (It's my built in crazy cat lady alert system.) (I am the crazy cat lady, by the way.) So, when are you coming to Los Angeles to visit?

Wendy: When someone invites me and pays my way. Yeah, I'm cheap like that.

Do you think Lucy is playing hard to get with Bob? He's just a domestic shorthair, you know, his ego is already fragile...

Lucy sez: "Is Bob not getting my emails? I thought he was ignoring me!"

- - - -


Post your comment to be entered in the drawing. Good luck to all of you!

And thank you to Wendy who gave the world (and me) the kitty pi which in turn gave my beloved little Roy so much happiness and kept him warm when he was sick. It's fairly rare that I am effusive and fawning over anyone other than Dallas Raines, but Wendy inspires me and makes me want to be a better knitter and a better technical writer. Her descriptions of technique make me feel more excited about knitting rather than confused or intimidated. I hope her books find their way to your collection!

Posted by laurie at 9:42 AM

April 1, 2010

Hello, April, my old friend, I've come to talk to you again....

I love that at least one of my monthly check-ins is on a day devoted to fools and pranks.

Recap: At the first of the year I made some resolutions, and I decided that I would check in with myself at the first of each month to see where I am with my two 2010 goals. My hope was that it would keep me focused and motivated for the year knowing I'd have to check in with myself every month. Come September we'll see if my monthly check in posts are "Yeah, OK, don't talk to me." You never know!

Also, one of my goals was initially described (by me) as "The Year of Yes" which is extraordinarily cheesy even for me, La Reina Quesadilla. But the more I think about it, my two goals work together and the first ("Get Healthy") is really about action steps and the other ("Cheesy Yes Year") is about attitude. So here's how I did in March.

Goal #1: Get Healthy (Actions)
Things are going pretty well. Thanks to my discovery of a deep love for roasted vegetables, I have eaten more fresh vegetables in the past three months than I have in years. I love roasting stuff! I would probably roast you if you stood still long enough in my kitchen. And if I could cut you into tiny pieces.

My action-related objectives for March were to (1) continue cooking all my meals and (2) try four new recipes. And also to go for a walk every day in the month.

I tend to get into food ruts -- both healthy ones and unhealthy ones -- and to shake things up I decided that in March I would try some new recipes. I am not that accomplished in the kitchen but I am getting incrementally better because I keep trying (and also because I disabled the smoke alarm nearest the stove.) I do most of my cooking on the weekends, so that's when I tried my new recipes. The first new recipe I tried was Sole Meuniere, which looked so tasty when the Barefoot Contessa made it. The only alteration I made to her recipe was to substitute a mixture of brown rice flour and corn flour in place of the wheat flour.

My first attempt at Sole Meuniere was not great (but not because of my little substitution). I cooked the sole on too high a heat and used too much lemon juice. The second attempt was MUCH better, I used a slightly lower heat and added less lemon juice. I have to say, though, the fish in papillote method is still the most foolproof way for me to cook seafood. Plus I cannot sing the praises of parchment paper enough as there is no messy fish pan to clean up! I am no Suzie Homemaker, it seems.

The second new recipe I made was Kale Chips. If you have been reading this here website for any amount of time you know I am always trying to sneak kale into stuff to make me feel healthy. I will not however be sneaking them into chips again. I stand by my initial review that this is a tastebud issue, and I think some of you will like them. Me, eh, not so much.

The other two recipes I made were Rachael Ray's Jacques Pepin style potatoes and while this may be stretching the definition of "new recipe" I did roast some orange cauliflower which was the first time I had ever bought orange cauliflower. It tasted exactly like regular white cauliflower. Yup.

As for walking, I went for a walk on 18 out of 31 days in March. Which brings me directly to resolution #2...

Goal #2: Year of Yes (better described as "Give myself an attitude adjustment.")

Usually when I set a health goal like "lose X pounds" or "walk every day this month" I will set out upon the goal initially with great gusto and energy until the one day when I don't meet the goal and then I just use that single momentary lapse as an excuse to give up. "I didn't walk today, all is lost! I wasn't perfect! Forget it, I'll start again next month!"

Not my best quality, really.

Well, I have long since given up a weight/pound goal because it makes me INSANE and it does more harm with my head than good. But I set the walk-every-day goal on purpose, both to get myself walking more and to get over my stupid thinking that if I miss one single walk I have failed. Overall health is not something that can be failed in one day! It's the cumulative effort that matters. (By the way I am lecturing to myself here, not to you. You are already smart enough to know all this.)

So, how did my goal go? In February I walked four days out of 28. But in March, after making my mini-goal, I walked 18 out of 31 days.

Old thinking: Failure, I was not perfect, I suck!
New thinking: 18 out of 31 days is AWESOME! A success! Especially since I had a horrible stomach flu at the beginning of the month and could hardly walk up my own stairs. So, yay me!

Look, I'll be honest. It's not as easy as flipping a brain switch -- that is why I deliberately made this resolution to begin with and why I purposely set a 31-day goal in March. I wanted to practice changing from old thinking to new thinking. Yes, I missed a few days. The true success was that even after missing a day I got up the next day and went for a walk anyway, even though I had ruined my shot at perfection. That's the whole point of my Yes Year, progress not perfection.

I have to remind myself of it over and over and I hope that if I keep doing this stuff I will eventually get better at it, just like cooking.


- - -

So that was March and already it's April, 2010. For April my actiony goals are to keep up the walking, keep cooking my own meals and to relax into life a little more. (And keep cleaning my house. Seriously.) I want to try three or four new recipes again in April. Obviously my definition of "recipe" is not very complicated, but I like challenging myself to try new things. I've been off fast food now for three whole months and I think it was like kicking heroin. I could eat fast food for every meal (and in the past I have) and so kicking that habit was hard and not very fun for the first two and a half months. It's only recently that I don't drive past a McDonald's and salivate like one of Pavlov's pets.

Exercise is still not my idea of entertainment but I like walking, it's easy and you don't have to be particularly athletic to do it, so I want to continue it daily and not quit just because I miss a day. So I am re-upping my "walk once a day" goal.

In general I wouldn't say March was my easiest month, I had many days where I wanted to just eat away all my problems, a strategy which has never actually worked in the past and yet still I want to do it. When I quit smoking I started eating as a replacement for smoking and now I realize I have spent a lot of my life avoiding icky spaces by filling my time with an activity -- smoking, eating, drinking, shopping, knitting, whatever. The trick perhaps is to pick an activity that doesn't incur waves of self-loathing. I try to make good choices, sometimes I don't, but I certainly am not going to give up. But check back with me in September, hah hah.

As for my attitude I just want to relax. Laugh instead of taking things personally. Be softer to myself and to others. Suppress urge to staple people in the forehead. The usual stuff.

- - -

Finally, to everyone who is rolling their eyes and wishing I would stop talking about this because you don't want a reminder that it's already muthafreaking April and you haven't done whatever thing it was you had planned to do earlier or because you're in a different place ... listen, I get it. For me that was ALL of 2009. I remember one time late last fall when Corey was telling me how excited she was for working out at lunchtime and I wanted to inform her I was planning to go home and take a bath made of melted Snickers bars and marshmallow cream. (I managed to stay quiet and just be happy for her. But that bath sounded real good.)

I think maybe it's OK not to be "in the right place" just this minute. The best part about life is that every passing moment is another chance to turn it all around. You know?

I learned that from quitting smoking again and again and again until one day I really did quit (until I turn 60, of course, at which time I will re-start smoking and probably wear something scandalous like leopard print leggings.) There is always the chance to turn it around. I know if I keep trying with my health actions and my thinking, I will get the metaphorical bus out of the ditch. Of course, if I sit in the bus complaining about being in the ditch I will probably stay there a really long time. I got tired of being in the ditch complaining so here I am making roasted Brussels sprouts and freaking KALE CHIPS and trying to really let icky things go instead of holding them tight and just shrug instead of being defensive, lean into life instead of hiding from it.

Every day, every minute is a new fresh start. I have that on a post-it note in my bathroom. Because I really am the Queen of Cheese. La Reina Quesadilla. That's me.

Posted by laurie at 12:18 AM

March 31, 2010

Wowza!

Thanks so much to everyone who participated today in the book give-away! And seriously good vibes to the author, Adrienne Martini, who I hope has a big fat bestseller on her hands with Sweater Quest: My Year of Knitting Dangerously. And I had no idea you'd bring out all the flattery in your comments and by the way, flattery totally works on me. I am very shallow. I love you back. Let's go have a glass of wine and knit something in self-striping yarn.

So! We have two winners, I've alerted both by email and will update you with their first names when they get back to me. I even already packaged the books (gasp!) to be sent out tomorrow. I know in the past I have sucked at mailing in a timely fashion and am determined to be MUCH better.

I haven't done a book give-away in a long while and I am so happy that ya'll are into it because I have a whole line up of cool knitting book giveaways coming up!

The next one is with one of my favorite knitters ever but that's all I'll say for now, keeping you on your toes and all. And I'll be throwing in signed copies of my books for each one of these freebie fests. I LOVE giving stuff away and now that I have my box o' Wine books (hah) I can do a bunch of these little impromptu sweepstakes. I'm sorry I am so lame and disorganized that I make you post a comment but it's faster than setting up a form and I am nothing if not lazy and technophobic. And honestly no flattery is required, you can just post Hey to your mutha or whatever floats your boat, and I do read all the comments because you are my social life. Seriously. That's not sad is it?

But the point here is that there will be loads of opportunities to win free books in the coming weeks so do not despair if you didn't win this time. There is always tomorrow as Scarlett would say....

You all just had me cracking up with your posts. I am so glad the comments are back and knock on wood have only broken once in the past few months. So, in reply: I apologize for those I have gotten addicted to the show "Hoarders," though I am secretly pleased to have you share my addiction. The quilt that Soba was sprawled across is about fourteen years old, I bought it here in L.A. and I love it so much I am always stitching up the frayed bits hoping to make it last forever. Yes, I definitely do think the camera adds 45 pounds even for little kitties. Oh, the camera I bought was this Canon PowerShot. It was SO WORTH the $129. I am thrilled with it. As for the button thing I tried to write it out in my pink-sweater-post's comments but hereby promise that next week As God Is My Witness I will do a post on buttons. I, too, am a knitter who prefers rectangles over most other projects, and you're right about our weird L.A. weather which is giving us frigid winter temperatures in March (a high of 58? We may perish!) and traffic, which is my favorite subject. And love you for loving Dallas Raines with me.

Recently my mom and I were having a conversation and I said, "Do you think Dallas Raines knows I take pictures of him on my TV and call him Dapper Dallas?"

"I'm sure he has the restraining order up on his mantelpiece," she said.

"Well it's not like I'm going to leave my house and go stalk him or something," I said. "That would require me to leave my home and talk to people. I won't even go to Home Depot because it's too much effort."

"I'm sure he'd be relieved to hear you're too weird to leave your house," she said.

"Do you think Al Gore is jealous?"

And so on and so forth...

- - -

Thanks again, everyone!

Posted by laurie at 5:06 PM

March 25, 2010

FINALLY

A must-needed must-have day off, it was worth it to burn a vacation day for mental health. Seriously. Before long they were going to be stringing that yellow crime-scene tape around my desk.

- - -

Me: I'm taking Friday off!

Work Jen: What are you doing?

Me: I'm going to get my life together.

Work Jen: In one day?

Me: What? Does that seem too ambitious?

Work Jen: Well, that depends on how screwed up your life is.

(pause)

(pause)

(pause)

Me: Well, then, I'm going to vacuum.

Work Jen: That sounds very achievable!


- - -

And so it is. Happy weekend. May your tumbleweeds cower in fear of your vacuum.

Posted by laurie at 10:52 PM

March 24, 2010

Of yarn and spuds

When I am feeling mildly slumpy, or schlumpy, I try to surround myself with things I like that make me happy and at the top of my list are yarn and potatoes.

This yarn is one of my all-time favorites:

sws-laptop2.jpg

sws-laptop1.jpg

It's a big pile of Patons Soy Wool Stripes in geranium. I'm knitting it on size 11 needles because eventually I plan to felt it down into a laptop case. Still to be determined is whether or not I will unearth my sewing machine from the tragically-as-yet-unpacked pile of stuff in my office and add a lining and a zipper or will I fake it with a flap and velcro... who knows! Life is mysterious and unpredictable that way. The very best thing about this yarn (aside from its colors, which are lovely) is that it felts up like a dream.

In fact, if you are a SupaTight knitter like some people we know your SWS may start felting even as you knit! If it weren't so feltable I would think this would make a beautiful sweater. I'm not much of a handwasher so I like my sweaters unfeltable and machine washable, but even as I have been knitting up this rectangle I keep thinking I'd love a sweater that looks just like this.

Most of the knitting I have done in the past year has been for other people: babies, mostly, and squares for blankets for babies. Just yesterday I finished the squares I had to do for the group blanket one of the ladies at work is putting together and I have finished what I think is my last baby project for a while so I'm going to be selfish, stingy, yarn-hoardery and just knit a few things now for me, me, me. Starting with this easy little laptop case and then I want to knit myself a pair of gloves (which I am very excited about). AlterKnits Felt also has a pattern for a gigantic felted tote which I think would be beautiful and I could use all those single skeins of wool I have lounging in my mountain of stash.

- - -

Last night I went home a bit early so I could make myself a proper dinner and go to bed early and get myself out of that day. I love potatoes with a fiery passion. There is something so comforting and so relaxing and soothing about eating a potato. I guess I feel about the spud the way some folks feel about chocolate or crack cocaine or whatever your drug of choice is. For me, comfort food is and will always be the potato. I love them shredded, baked, boiled, fried, sauteed, oven-roasted, smashed, mashed, chopped or whole. I like all the varieties, too, waxy reds and creamy golds and starchy Russets.

The recipe I made last night was Rachael Ray's Jacques Pepin style potatoes. I used very small yellow fingerling potatoes and I skipped the parsley. I forgot to take a picture of it in the pan, but here are some leftovers in a dish:

jacquespepin-potatoes.jpg

Served with a little fillet of fish and some roasted cauliflower and it was a very satisfying meal. I'm counting this as one of my four new recipes this month even though it isn't hard, it was a new recipe and it turned out great. Cooking the potatoes in the broth really adds flavor, and then you have butter and Parmesan to top it off and make it just perfect.

A good antidote to slumpy!

Posted by laurie at 10:17 AM

March 23, 2010

The mid-March slump

All those statistics about New Year's Resolutions say that people begin to waver in their resolve by the first few weeks of February. I tend to last a little longer out of pure stubbornness and determination but by Mid-March I usually find myself here, slumping, wondering how bad it would be really to just give up and be fat and grumpy for the rest of my life. Not so bad, surely?

I'm certainly not in the depressive maudlin funk of a few years ago, a funk I told no one about (except the poor recipients of my late night phone calls, Jen and Lark) because in general no one wants to hear about your funk-related garbage. I discovered the hard way during my divorce that folks have this Pavlovian response to whining, in which they 1) tell you it could be worse thereby invalidating your feelings and making you want to eat their head off or 2) tell you to buck up little camper, which makes you immediately feel the need to defend your unhappiness and also hit them in the head with your handbag. And by "you" I mean "me." So I try to keep a lid on it most of the time. It never solves anything anyway.

Life is just like that though, ups and downs. Or at least mine is. I don't trust these people who seem to stay on a perpetual cheer bender all the time, never getting frustrated or upset or having any emotion other than chipperness. It seems plastic and suspicious, like the fixed smile of a Cabbage Patch kid. I'm more volcanic, with my exuberant good moments and dramatic hissyfits. I love that about Southern women in general, there's a kind of emotional navigation of life that's expressive and full of gestures.

When I get like this I try to find things I like and load up on them: potatoes, in any format. Carla Bruni CDs. Yarn. Funny conversations with my friends. Good movies. Cats-- this morning Bob even sat on my lap for a whole 60 seconds, a world record. Coffee with cream. Life is too short to give up the cream in my coffee! Just listing things out like this makes me lighten up a little bit. The sheer force of listing in itself is a good-feeling activity.

I also need to clean my apartment top to bottom, a much-needed and much-overdue activity. As the Dalai Lama says, the first step toward meditation is to clean your room. I've been working long hours on multiple projects and my house has become a pit of tumbleweeds and piles of unopened mail and socks in weird places. When my space is messy I feel messy inside. Do you ever get like that?

There's no action item, slumps are like that. The best you can do (I think) is to focus on a few things that are pleasant and just ignore the other stuff. Or of course you can go whole hog and really get into the funk but I am saving that for my ladycrisis which I plan to have in a few years. I can't wait! It will be so fun. I may even do the one thing everyone has always warned me about -- dye my hair a shade of red that does not occur in nature. So for now there is no need to pull a full Blanche Dubois. I'm just going to make some lists and then clean my house.

Posted by laurie at 10:47 AM

March 22, 2010

That was fun!

march21-knitstudio.jpg
The Knitter's Studio in Los Angeles.


march21-sara.jpg
Inside the Knitter's Studio with Sara and the beautiful yarn.


march21-rachael.jpg
Rachael and some of the group.

march21-photos.jpg
This just cracked us right up!

march21-merachael.jpg
Me & Rachael.

march21-chateau.jpg
As I was leaving I noticed that a few doors down from the knitting shop there's a store called Chateau Marmutt. TOO FUNNY.

Thank you so much to everyone who braved the traffic on marathon day and came out to the Knitter's Studio. It was a lovely afternoon!

Posted by laurie at 12:45 PM

March 18, 2010

Their favorite child

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My parents have a favorite, he is covered in fur.

Posted by laurie at 9:35 AM

March 17, 2010

The luck of the eye-rish

Ever have one of those weeks where you wake up each morning already feeling behind for the day? That's my week. And my shirt is blue, not green because I got dressed in the dark and fugue of my early morning brain and so I am celebrating St. Paddy's day in blue, the cousin of green. I'm not sure if I'll have much time to write this week, so I'll just skip to the important stuff:

1) The weather is really warm and summerlike and I realize I am having pre-traumatic stress disorder thinking of switching from winter's forgiving layers to summer clothes. Also, my legs are so white they are now made of marshmallows and mayo and I fear I may blind people if I try to wear a skirt.

2) Which brings me to self-tanner. Do you have a brand you use and like and can recommend? I have tried the Clarins stuff before which is good but kind of spendy. And is there a brand of self-tanner anywhere that doesn't have the weird telltale fake bake smell?

3) I'm not sure I get why the judges LOVE Siobhan and Paige on American Idol. But it could just be me.

- - -

And finally, I hope to see you Sunday at The Knitter's Studio!

Rachael Herron and I will be doing a little reading/talking/signing thing together at the Knitter's Studio in Los Angeles this Sunday (March 21, 2010) from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

The shop is located at 8118 West 3rd Street, Los Angeles, CA, 90048. I'm going to bring my knitting and hope you will join us for a fun afternoon of knitting and chatting and book-reading. Do not fear! I plan to wear long pants and boots and pretend it is still winter so you will not be blinded by my marshmallow legs.

Posted by laurie at 8:28 AM

March 12, 2010

Cat Picture Friday

Some cuteness to offset the whackness that was this week:

bob-sleepyhead.jpg

bob-sleepyhead-foot.jpg

I love how my new camera is so good it shows all the cat fur on the blanket. Ewww.

- - -

What did you think of Idol results? I felt so bad for the guy with the mullet, the one with stage fright. That's the level of stage paralysis I myself have and I kept hollering at my TV set, "Get that boy some beta blockers and Xanax, stat!" but I guess drugging the contestants is not part of the American Idol master plan.

- - -
Have a good weekend!

Posted by laurie at 9:36 AM

March 11, 2010

Random tidbits on Thursday

After writing about my everything-but-the-kitchen-sink pasta sauce that I usually serve over corn pasta I got this email:

Do you like that corn pasta? I have celiac disease and I haven't tried corn pasta yet. I've tried the rice pasta (terrible!) but read somewhere else that the best pasta is made by Tinkyada. I pretty much gave up on pasta after the celiac diagnosis, and I love a good food adventure, but I sure don't like to spend major $$$ on gluten-free food unless I know for sure it's good!

Take care!
--Tania (rhymes with lasagna, which I can't eat, but maybe I should make it with zucchini, I hear it's pretty good that way.)

Hi Tania! In my opinion, the corn pasta is well worth the money. It's not exactly like wheat pasta but it's better than most gluten-free foods I have tried. The corn holds up well and with a good sauce you can barely tell the difference (or at least I can't but then again I am not a pasta connoisseur). I don't eat it very often but when I do I like it a lot!

It's not any more expensive than wheat pasta, at least not the DeBoles brand. It's on sale this week if you have a Whole Foods near you, I think I got a box last weekend for around $1.79.

The only caveat is that you must use a very large pot of boiling water (not a smaller pot) and when you put the pasta in to cook, stir it immediately and keep stirring it regularly during the first few minutes of cooking or it will clump together. I like it much better than the brown rice pasta, which I found doughy and spongy. I've heard you have to watch the rice pasta like a hawk to be sure you don't overcook it and I'm simply not that attentive in the kitchen. I need food that is less fussy about its cooktime, so the corn works better for me. It's a good alternative for people who want to eat less wheat or those who have a sensitivity to it.

- - -


My favorite comment from yesterday by Three Good Rats:

I oppose the time change because it is confusing and gains us nothing. But I also think the US should adopt the metric system, so I am the queen of unpopular causes.

When Jen and Amber and Shannon and I went to Paris I turned to Shannon one night in our room, I think we were fairly intoxicated at this point, and said, "This wine is metric! So we can drink more of it, just like you can walk more kilometers than miles!" and this amused us to no end.

- - -

I have my performance review later this morning. I am wearing my most conservative outfit, which is just my normal clothes with a boxy jacket on top of it all. I sort of look like a rectangle with a blonde head poking out.

- - -

That's it. Today's a good Q&A day if you have any questions I'll try to answer. Oh, and no I haven't forgotten I promised to show how I sew on buttons but I just haven't done it yet. Whoops!

Posted by laurie at 8:42 AM

March 10, 2010

Nothing to see here, move along!

Busy, busy day ahead. This morning in the shower I started stressing out about the time change coming up because I can't take losing an hour! No! I will not go quietly into the daylight savings!

I don't know why we still do this time change thing anyway. Why can't we have one time and keep it all year? I realize we have larger issues facing us as a planet and all, but I am very stuck on the weird time change rules. Everyone has a cause. Apparently this is mine.

I like this guy's cause:

bumper-signal-plz.jpg

Amen, brother!

Posted by laurie at 9:13 AM

March 8, 2010

I'll take a Jeremy Renner-George Clooney sandwich, please

On Sunday I watched the Oscars, including way too much of the seventeen hour pre-show. It's like tailgating for couch potatoes. I love watching the stars chitchat awkwardly on the red carpet and pose and try to say profound things even though most are already two sheets to the wind.

On Sunday I also made the alleged Kale Chips I have been hearing so much about and I can assure you, they won no awards. You can search online and find all kinds of variations on the recipe but it's basically kale, oil, seasonings and a hot oven.

I used Lacinto kale (also called black kale or Tuscan kale) because I prefer its flavor over curly kale. I am always and forever trying to sneak kale into my food to make me feel healthier and I like the Lacinto kale best. It's great mashed in with potatoes or in my favorite chickpea stew.

This is what kale looks like washed and patted dry:
kalechips-kale.jpg


Here it is with the big leafy stem removed and cut into pieces:
kalechips-cut.jpg

Below is a picture of it on the baking sheet. I used reader Rachel's tip and sprayed mine with olive oil rather than tossing in oil since I am not much of a drizzler, I tend to be a pourer (which works well on Brussels sprouts, but maybe not on leaf bits.)

kalechips-sprayed.jpg


And here they are at the end, cooked and crispy and seasoned with sea salt:
kalechips-done.jpg


Awful. Really awful. But listen, you may find this is right up your alley. I think it's a tastebud issue, because this tasted just like toasted nori to me and I hate toasted nori. I can't stand the taste of nori, no matter how many times I try to like it. I took one bite of one of these kale chips and gagged. I took another bite to be sure, because I am a slow learner and I always like to give food a second chance, then I threw the rest of the cooked leaves away.

I still had a pile of uncooked kale left so I chopped it and added it to my everything-but-the-kitchen-sink pasta sauce that was simmering away on the stove. Every few weeks I make this sauce, you just start with a little garlic and some shallots and sautee them in olive oil. Then add in chopped tomatoes (I like cherry tomatoes best) and whatever else suits you. For this one I put in finely chopped zucchini and carrots, some cured black olives and some balsamic vinegar.

everythingpasta1.jpg

Then I added in kale and later basil:
everythingpasta2.jpg


You can see the steam coming off it! It's a good sauce. I serve it over corn pasta and add a little goat cheese and some pine nuts to the top. It's yummy and re-heats well for lunches.

I'm glad I tried the kale chips because I was curious about them and because it satisfies my goal of making new recipes this month but I won't be making that again. Yuck. I know a lot of people rave about them though, so you may find them just tasty as can be. I guess I prefer my kale sneaky and finely chopped into sauces or stews ... more of a supporting actor than the main event!

Posted by laurie at 9:16 AM

March 2, 2010

Me & Rachael at the Knitter's Studio March 21 (Or: "Me and Julio down at the schoolyard...")

Why is it that my brain works song lyrics into every conversation, thought or idea and yet I myself cannot carry a tune in a bucket? I was singing "Happy Birthday" in a group recently and someone turned to me and said, "I am so glad you chose writing instead of singing!" Heh.

First, thanks for all the interesting and thought-provoking comments yesterday. I read each and every one and appreciated them all. You gave me a lot to think about and it is incredibly reassuring to know I am not the only one who gets flummoxed in conversations about weight. It's just so tricky a subject for me, and for so many folks.

Also I loved the people who pointed out there is so much more in the world to discuss that is far more interesting, exciting and scintillating that weight. Amen, people. Amen.

Like, for example, today being the day that my friend Rachael Herron's brand new book is finally available!


How to Knit a Love Song:
A Cypress Hollow Yarn

Rachael and I will be doing a little reading/talking/signing thing together at the lovely Knitter's Studio in Los Angeles on Sunday, March 21, 2010 at 2 p.m. The Knitter's Studio is located at: 8118 West 3rd Street, Los Angeles CA 90048. I'm going to bring my knitting and hope you will join us for a fun afternoon of knitting and chatting and book-reading.

Congrats, Rachael!!!

Posted by laurie at 7:43 AM

March 1, 2010

March check in

Over the weekend I actually did a few things and even took pictures but I'll talk about them later in the week when they are thoroughly not fresh anymore... because today is March One! Time for a check in.

March is usually the time when my New Year's Resolutions begin to slip away, then I meander aimlessly toward my birthday in June when I make a new set of to-do items aimed to get me back on track. I'm actually glad this year I made the decision to write at the beginning of each month and check in with myself and my goals because it keeps them at the top of my priority list, which was the point of setting goals to begin with. Of course when it's August and my check in is "Yes, last month happened. Moving on...." we'll all have a good laugh and... uh, move on.

All of my lists and goals and tasks are always about two essential things: getting physically healthy and getting happy. So this year I broke it down into just those two goals.

Goal #1: Get Healthy
I dreaded my book event for many reasons but let's be honest: mostly I just didn't want to stand up in front of a room of people with cameras and be fat. But you know what? I lived. It ended up being really fun. Was I at my ideal size? No. Did it affect the quality of my penmanship as I signed books? Not a bit.

Listen, 2009 was a rough year. I found out I had this weird malady that I don't talk about because I don't want to be the poster child for said condition. But it involves really re-thinking everything you eat and I kind of sucked at it and by year's end I had gained a lot of weight. I also got pretty sick, which is why I seemed to remain perpetually two steps from the morgue from September through the end of last year. By December 31, 2009, I was sick and tired of being sick and tired and I started the new year with real determination to get healthier.

I specifically did NOT make this goal about weight and have very carefully avoided talking about losing weight as a goal because I don't want or need dieting advice. (I still got an email last month from a male reader who said, "All you need to do is eat less and exercise more." And I thought silently to myself, "OH NO!! REALLY!! YOU SHOULD ALERT THE MEDIA!!!")

People who have never struggled with their weight don't realize this but most of us who do struggle with this issue know more about dieting and calories and diet plans and exercise regimes than anyone. We don't need a better book or how-to manual. We know what to do. We just don't do it. And speaking for myself I can tell you that I have been on a diet on and off for thirty years of my life and my weight problem is not going to be solved by another diet. My weight issue is between my ears. It's in my head, folks. I have to work on me, the inside-me, for the outside to fall in line.

This is why I have never considered weight loss surgery. I would be one of those people who gain it all back. I know this because fixing my weight issue starts in my head, in my thinking and in my way of dealing with stress and emotions.

For those of you who don't get it, maybe you think "Just put down the fork! Just go for a walk!" but think carefully about your own life and that one issue you have that shames you, that stops you cold sometimes, that one area of yourself you want to change. Is it compulsive spending? Obsessive hoarding? Terrible money management? Dating guys who treat you poorly? Going after married men? Substance abuse? Constant inertia in your job/life/family? Whatever it is, that problem you have, well -- that's what it's like for someone with a weight issue. It's an issue, just one that is more visible to the world. And it changes only with a combination of behavior modification and real effort to re-think your mental approach to it.

I'm focusing on getting healthy because it's systemic. It's not a diet, you can't fail it, you can't do it for anyone but you, and there are lots of cool components to it.

In February my goal was to build on the stuff I was doing right, like cook all my own food and go for walks in the mornings. I also wanted to work on getting better at having breakfast regularly. I was skipping breakfast because I didn't want to take the five or six minutes each morning to prepare it, which is just silly. So I decided to buy honey and cinnamon and leave it at my office and bring yogurt and eat that at my desk each day. It's going very well!

I didn't walk very much at all in February, a combination of rain and exhaustion and creativity with excuses... so in March my goal is to walk every day, even if just for ten minutes. I'm happy to say I have thus far walked every day in March. You know, meaning today.

My other goal for March is to try a new recipe every weekend this month because I'm starting to get in a food rut, making generally the same meals day in and day out. But this whole roasted vegetable thing has been a revolution in my life. I am a roasting fool! I love it, I can eat a whole pan of roasted anything for dinner and it's just delicious and perfect.

I'm happy with my progress, even if it is slow. But real change, very significant change, is going to take a while in my poor diet-broken brain.

So it's progress, it's good. It's March and I'm still moving forward.

- - -


Goal #2: Get Happy
Well, I had a longer and more philosophical title for this resolution but the basic principle is to be happier, say yes to the best of life and ignore the icky, nasty bits.

Usually for me this is an attitude issue. For example, I could have spent LOTS of hours beating myself up mentally for not being the lithe skinnier me of my dreams for my book signing. But I recognize that you cannot go back in time and make better decisions, no matter how hard you want to do that. So, instead of flogging myself mentally I just gave it up and decided to make better decisions each day moving forward.

Sounds small, but it's a big deal for me.

I also noticed at my event last Thursday that I was more excited than nervous, a sure sign I need to get out a little more. I tend to be a recluse of Howard Hughsian proportions so in March I already have several things planned that will be nice little excursions with friends. You know, say yes and all that...


- - -

Oh, there was one other thing that happened but I'm not sure if it falls under Goal 1 or 2, it's kind of both. At the beginning of February a very, VERY thin acquaintance of mine started complaining to me about how she had gained five pounds. I have never understood why skinny people think it is cool to complain to a fat person about how awful and horrible and disgusting their invisible weight gain is. To me it's like turning to a person who just lost their job and complaining about your lousy 5 percent pay raise and 4500K bonus.

In the past I used to get really annoyed with the "Oh my God, I am so fat, I gained half a pound!" stuff. In my world that's a sandwich. You want to talk to me about a serious weight issue, call me when you have 100 pounds to lose and we'll talk.

BUT I have finally learned that skinny people don't see it like that. I have a lot of very lovely, very skinny girlfriends and to them I guess gaining five pounds really is a horrible, terrifying thing. It's hard for me to listen to this and not think, "Wow, if you think five pounds is disgusting, why are you even speaking to me, who by your own standards is a freakshow?" But it's not always about me. (Amazing, I know.)

I'm starting to realize that just because a skinny person acts like five nascent pounds is the difference between happiness and despair doesn't mean she is looking at me and thinking I'm horrible and tragic for carrying way more than five wayward pounds. And if she is judging me harshly that is her problem. And everyone has their issues, all of us. So what if I can't deeply relate to someone's fear of five pounds? I'm sure my fears of standing in front of a big crowd at a bookstore and having to (gasp) sign books sounds pretty silly. Everybody's got their stuff.

I've been thinking about all this because I'm not sure I handled the friend with the five pounds that well. At first I said, "Oh you always look tiny and great, if you gained weight it definitely is not visible..." and then she started vehemently arguing with me to tell me just how fat she was. I kind of froze, I had no idea what to say to this obviously bone-skinny person who maybe weighs ninety pounds soaking wet who is going on and on and on and on and on about how fat she is. So I tried to change the subject. Probably not perfect, but I am flummoxed when skinny people try to tell me, a very large person, how fat they are. I don't want to be snippy. I don't want to make an issue out of it. But I don't want to participate in it. Do you just listen and nod? Are you supposed to agree with them? Isn't that weird?

Any ideas on the right way to handle this?

I was pleased that I didn't get irritable with her -- she is a lovely, decent person who probably had no idea how weird that was for me -- and I didn't make it into a big deal. It shouldn't be a big deal! But I think there was a better way for me to handle it, I just don't know what the better way is.

The reality is that this is Los Angeles and it's full of skinny women who talk about their nonexistent weight problems all the time. I don't get it, it makes no sense to me, but it is what it is. Skinny folks aren't going to stop complaining about how fat they are just like I will never stop complaining about how hot it is in the Valley all summer.

So since I can't change other people, I might as well change how I react to them. I'm open to ideas if you have them!

And hellooooooo March!

Posted by laurie at 11:07 AM

February 23, 2010

Seafood success; If only I were a betting fool...

Tuesday! That means American Idol and dinner at home with a nice glass of wine and a good dinner. This may surprise you, but I am even the one cooking a good dinner!

My cooking skills are mediocre at best, I am able to make certain things pretty well but I tend to stick with basics and I often overcook everything. A lot. That's fine for a roast in the crockpot but not so fine with delicate foods and especially seafood.

I have discovered maybe the only foolproof way ever for me to cook fish without it becoming a rubbery, overcooked mess: Fish in papillote. I was watching the Food Network one day a few weeks ago and saw Melissa D'Arabian making this recipe and it looked easy enough for me to try it. And it's GREAT! I've become completely hooked on it. I get so tired of chicken or rice and beans all the time, which are my usual default dinners. (Or microwaved popcorn!) And awesomely enough, I found fresh Dover Sole at Whole Foods for $8.99 a pound, which is cheaper than the organic chicken I usually buy. And a pound of sole is a LOT of seafood. For just one person you only need 4 fillets or so at a time for two or three meals and that will run you about $4. This fish is very mild and the fillets are thinly cut so they cook quickly, too.

Before starting, I cut up a few carrots, some zucchini and a yellow bell pepper very thinly and put them in individual baggies to cut down on my prep time during the week. If you pre-cut your veggies over the weekend you could make this dish in under 5 minutes of prep and just 12 minutes of cooking time, which is about all I can do when I get home at night. Here are the ingredients I used:

fishpaper1.jpg

Parchment paper, baggies of zucchini, carrots and peppers, one lemon, old bay seasoning.

I put the fish on the parchment paper:
fishpaper2.jpg

The lemon I'm using is a Meyer Lemon, a little sweeter than a normal lemon. Squeeze half a small lemon on the fish and slice the other half into thin slices. Then sprinkle the fish with Old Bay and layer on a few lemon slices (I like lemony seafood, but you could cut down on the lemon and use white wine like in the Food Network recipe instead.)

fishpaper3.jpg

Top with veggies and a final lemon slice:

fishpaper4.jpg

Starting at one corner wrap the paper tightly so it makes a half-circle. It doesn't have to be perfect:

fishpaper5.jpg

I've been cooking mine on a cookie sheet (lined with foil, just in case it spills which it hasn't) and I cook it for 12 minutes in a 375 degree oven. The veggies won't be super soft, but lightly steamed and nice and colorful. This is the packet when it comes out of the oven:

fishpaper6.jpg

Slide it all onto a plate for a tasty dinner:

fishpaper7.jpg

It's a great dinner, and only takes me 15 minutes start to finish (with the vegetables pre-cut, of course.) And I feel like I'm eating a real meal. I am just not one of those people who thinks salad is a meal. To me, a salad is something you pick around out while waiting for your real meal to arrive.

In the photo above I'm having this fish with a baked potato because it was a weekend and I had some time. But I also made the rice with caramelized shallots recipe featured in the same Ten Dollar Dinners show with the fish and it was very good. I used brown basmati rice in place of white rice and it was delicious, the shallots add a nice sweetness to the nutty basmati rice. Rice is easy to heat up during the week for quick weeknight dinners and goes well with this fish, too. I have to say I am impressed enough with this dish that I would even serve it to company. Plus the best part of all is there is NO cleanup! No icky fish pan to clean, and the house doesn't smell like fish thank goodness.

- - -

I'm so glad I decided to watch American Idol this season! I have decided I'm going to make a preliminary call and say who I think will be in the top 5:

ai-top-5.jpg

Crystal is by far my favorite. I realize all this is totally premature since we haven't really heard any of them sing much but I thought I would call it now anyway and then at the end I could look back and see how close I was. I like to amuse myself with random prognosticating.

These two also make honorable mention:
ai-maybes.jpg

I like this show because it's so much fun to watch people with talent chasing their dreams. And Ellen's doing a great job, I think, as a judge. What do you think? Are you watching this season?


Posted by laurie at 9:52 AM

February 22, 2010

Last Monday in February list

1) Time passes, woman astonished
Whoa. Can you believe it is already the last week of February? I wonder if I am somehow small-brained in the Time Passing department, as I am always astonished to wake up and discover things like, holy moly it's 2010! Or ... it's already almost March 2010! This may be a very annoying quality of mine, my constant astonishment and wonder at the turning of the calendar pages. But on the other hand ... I have retained my wonder and astonishment at things like the ever-changing pages of the calendar. I'm kind of like a puppy that way.

2) Time passes, woman too busy making three-letter words to notice
Online Boggle is the best invention ever. I have a doctor's appointment later today and the waiting room is always this long ordeal and now I can play boggle on my phone and I am actually looking forward to it. (See: "easily amused puppylike brain" above.)

3) Laundry Haiku:
Big pile of laundry
Why do you mock me like that?
I think you eat socks.

4) Blame it on the Barefoot Contessa
After watching too much tivo-d Food Network programming this weekend I want to go to Paris and make an arugula salad with warm butternut squash. And I don't even like arugula.

5) Or blame it on Gwyneth and pals
I love watching that show Spain... On the Road Again which makes me forget laundry and work and everything else that's piled up and instead makes me think of driving through the Spanish countryside with nothing ahead but a good meal and some sightseeing.

Posted by laurie at 9:32 AM

February 16, 2010

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign

feb16-jesus.jpg
He's talking on a cellphone, though you can't really see it in the picture. Reminds me of a sign they have posted at church, "God may be calling you... but not on your cellphone. Please turn off all phones during services."

- - -

feb16-fatburger.jpg

The sign in the window says, "Our buns are freshly baked. And quite honestly that's as personal as we're going to get."

- - -

feb16-bob.jpg

Sign of cuteness!

Posted by laurie at 9:06 AM

February 13, 2010

Weekend

For the past three years I've made sure to plan a vacation over Valentine's weekend and it's been great, like a little love letter to my wandering gypsy side. This year I couldn't really plan anything because I knew there was going to be at least some promo for my book and nothing was firmed up until recently. It's been good, though, it's given me an opportunity to try and get my finances smoothed out (moving is very expensive!) and it will be nice for a change to have some vacation time left at the end of the year. Usually I use it all up by March!

And my parents are coming in April or May and I want to be able to visit with them, so I won't be traveling at all until perhaps this summer. Part of me has been very content to just stay home and hermit, which I can do like it's an Olympic sport. I realize now that going on trips is good for me in an unexpected way, it gets me out of my house! And out of my head. I tend toward the habitual, and so when I am being a homebody I get more and more reclusive. A trip here or there a few times a year keeps me open to new possibilities, new adventures.

People are often like that, I think, we get used to something and keep doing it until jogged out of the rut. It's not a bad thing. I'm perfectly happy at home, I love being silent and productive on my little tasks, writing or knitting or just cleaning the house, making some new recipe. My home life is a sanctuary. I love my animals, I love keeping myself entertained with a good book or a funky knitting project or just re-arranging all the stuff in my bathroom cabinet. I suppose some people find that totally strange, how can one be perfectly satisfied and content alone? But to me it's the epitome of peace.

Traveling is good for me to get me away from my safe, contained place and jolt me into the unexpected. It's the best way for me because it feels like adventure, and it makes you appreciative of the world and even more grateful to return to your own bed. Before I recognized what an introvert I am I used to force myself to go and do and see every weekend something new and it chipped away at my energy and I felt frazzled. This new life seems to be working better for me, it's certainly less scheduled and eventful but gives me room for those bigger escapes a few times a year, instead of always trying to mix it up each weekend.

The ads on TV and the radio and the huge displays in the grocery store around Valentine's Day remind me that our programming is all geared towards pairing up. Our culture isn't built around single people, the single lifestyle. Pairing up is what's more common and of course it's a good part of life, too! But there are a lot of paths to happiness. Finally I really understand that being solo isn't the same as being lonely. It took me a long time to get it. Five years ago when I was going through my divorce and even the whole year or two afterward my focus was still on a man, some man, whoever he might be one day in the future. There was a sense of my life suspended in waiting, in the time between companions. It never occurred to me I would find happiness as a single person. It simply never dawned on me that I might consciously choose to be the captain of my own ship for a while.

What a surprise to discover my best companion is me! All that time I spent wanting somebody to complete my life, expecting that I would need to find another man to add peace or love or contentment. For so long that was the goal -- fix myself so I would find a great guy -- and all the other pieces of my life (my job, my hopes, my goals, my desires, my home, my clothes, my social life) were just a framework to get myself into another relationship.

Oh -- and thinking I had to wait until I met a man to travel again! It wasn't obvious to me that I could do all this on my own, or that I could feel happiness from just doing well at living my life. I was gobsmacked. I had no frame for the mental picture, I carried inside me an expectation that really good vacations happened with family or with a husband.

It was astonishing to discover I prefer traveling alone. Dude - I LOVE IT. I love relying on myself to make plans and I always come through for myself. I work hard when needed and leave the rest up to happenstance and magic. It's a leap of faith -- faith in me, and faith that I can handle whatever weird situation the travel gods have put me in. I love the freedom of possibility. I love the knowledge that wherever I am I will laugh and so will the person holding the boarding pass, especially when they see my godawful driver's license picture. That piece of work is a built in laugh-a-tron. I believe life gives you what you want and what you need. And at home I like making the big decisions, I like knowing I can depend on myself, I like being resourceful and not always knowing how it will come out.

That is how my singledom has unfolded. There's no proof of a great plan. No proof I get to see Roy reincarnated. But I am single with the Universe getting my back. We're not alone, we have ourselves and our spirits behind us. When a vacation goes wrong these days it's not because my husband let me down or I failed, it's just part of life. I turn it into a funny story. And now I can't imagine it any other way, I can't imagine ever going backwards and expecting someone else to make me happy. Happiness is an inside job. How can any other human being ever look inside your heart and see what will make you happy? Especially when most of us don't even know ourselves? I love the idea of lifting yourself up to possibility. I am hopeful, I am optimistic, and I think pure hope can dash fear. I think life is wide and we are small.

I would have never guessed any of this. It's a revelation. I know it's not everyone's first choice, and how I landed here is a mystery even to me, I was so dead set on hooking my wagon to someone else's for so long that I'm as shocked as anyone to be a single woman all happy and stuff. But it's a very good place to be for me. Coupling has never felt as good to me as independence feels.

Listen: I'm thrilled for those who meet someone that sets their heart on fire and makes their life colorful and full. And I'm relieved to see not everyone has to follow my path to be happy. There are so many roads to personal fulfillment, even ones I never expected. I'm happy for all of us, those who fit the bill and those of us who wandered a bit. We create a new happy each day, each in our own way. The woman who chooses to be a single parent. The woman who chooses to divorce and live with her partner without a contract. The woman who marries another woman. The man who proposes to his boyfriend. The woman who falls in love at 63 and meets THE ONE and he's only 57. Or the woman in Los Angeles who has three cats and a room of yarn and is astonished to discover she is happy all alone, for once in her life she has the say on everything and it makes her heart sing. She feels generous because she now has just enough.

To all of them I say thank you, I love you, keep on keeping on.
To all those people, I wish you mad Valentine love.
To my single friends who feel what I'm saying here (minus the hokey kumbaya stuff) ...it is good to be alive. And all the chocolate will go on sale tomorrow!

Posted by laurie at 1:02 AM

February 12, 2010

Everything has come down with a case of pink and frilly!

Just in case you somehow someway forgot that Valentine's Day was around the corner, a quick trip to the local grocery store will bring it all back in focus:

vd2010.jpg

I felt like I was being pummeled with fake love and Mylar. I got my fizzy water and instant coffee and left with the quickness.

My little Valentines are at home anxiously awaiting my return:

frank-n-bob-asleep.jpg
Yeah, real anxious...

Oh, one last thing... my publicist Kim Weiss sent me this info about a new series of books that will feature real-life romance stories:

Do you have a sexy, steamy, bigger-than-life, or just plain worthwhile love story to tell? Want it romanticized by an actual romance novelist?

You can submit your own story to VOWS and qualify for one of two (or both) prizes. There will be a monthly winner in an ongoing "best story" contest. Winners will get their choice of a dozen long stemmed red roses or a box of Godiva chocolates. For details, click here.

My romance story that involves an amazing sale on Noro and a bottle of wine apparently isn't what they're looking for, but you may have just the love story to win a prize!

And on this Valentine's weekend, my pink contribution to the world will be finally finishing the baby booties that go with Courtney's baby sweater and sending them off in hopes that this gift reaches her before her child is off to college:

booties-for-courtney.jpg


Happy Weekend of chocolate!

Posted by laurie at 8:52 AM

February 9, 2010

Bold return of the crazy camera lady eminent, bring two double-A batteries, stat!

Hello! First of all, thank you so much for the comments and emails telling me about your cameras and your reviews. It was a tough decision. I've had my purchase for about a week now and while it was a slow start getting to know each other we have since grown very close and the Dyson is feeling jealous. Ah, the secret life of electronics.

bob-new-camera.jpg
That cat lady, she crazy.

I went with the Canon PowerShot A1100IS, a very simple point and shoot. This Canon is a little brick of a camera, reminiscent of my first Kodak EasyShare from a decade ago (which I loved to death, literally). I like the size but if you are looking for a tiny, credit-card thin camera this is not the one for you. It has some heft without being bulky like an SLR, which I prefer. And I really like the wheel on the top of the camera that changes settings (from auto to video, for example) because it's simple to use but has enough tension not to twirl around accidentally.

The shutter button is also very obvious so if you're off traveling and ask a stranger who doesn't speak your language to take your picture they would know intuitively which button to push. (Or if you've had too much wine. It happens.) Everything is clearly marked and the buttons are spaced well enough that you don't accidentally hit three at one time if you have pudgy little fingers like I do.

The test images I took in very low light were mostly good, some were grainy but not one came out blurry like my lemon. And that's the test, because I can retouch grainy but you can't come back from blurry. I expected some visual noise with a point-and-shoot in dim lighting (if you ever find a point-and-shoot camera that has no noise in low light settings, you must tell me!) But almost all my display is online so I can live with it. I'm only pointing this out because if you want a camera that can produce poster-size prints without a flash, this would not be a first choice.

soba-new-camera.jpg
Aren't you planning to make this into a poster?

I would recommend this camera 100% for anyone who is a novice and wants a VERY user-friendly camera. It is definitely simple to use and I love that. But I do find it irritating that no one gives the consumer a full user's manual anymore -- hello, we would pay $2 extra for a pocket size booklet of the full user's guide included in the box! -- because it improves picture quality if you know all the nuances of the settings. I went online and downloaded the full manual but wish they'd just included it. And there was no carrying case, which was surprising, not even a cheapo cloth case.

It took me a few minutes to get the auto-timer working just so, but I finally found it and tested it out. Being able to set a timer is a MUST when you travel alone. (By the way, if you do travel alone, I highly recommend the Gorillapod Flexible Tripod, you can bend the legs to wrap around fenceposts and signposts and window railings and get shots from almost anywhere!)

I almost got caught up in trying to buy something fancier but Work Jennifer helped me do a reality check and remember I mostly take pictures of cats and bumper stickers and funny signs. I don't need a thousand dollar camera with changeable lenses and extreme telephoto. Now I'm really glad I went with an easypeasy camera, I love it. The test pictures of the cats came out well even in a dark room and the knitting close-ups I took are fine, too:

canonfrankiepaw.jpg
Cat paw super close-up!


canonbob.jpg
Bob asleep at the foot of the bed. Awww.


canontest1-knitting.jpg
Mystery knitting close up in a dimly lit room and no flash.


And of course the big question is... can I take good pictures of my TV weatherman Dallas Raines like the reclusive little stalker I am...

dallas-raines-new-camera.jpg
Oh yeah, Dapper Dallas forecasting rain and sun and flying palm trees all in one day!

The one downside is that the lag time between shots is awfully long, you have to wait a few seconds for the camera to record the image and be ready for the next shot. I haven't tried the video yet so I can't comment on it.

Overall, though, I'm happy. I am mostly happy to have decided on something and be done with it! I got a little stressed out looking for a camera. I was searching and reading and poring over all the reviews and I was getting hung up on buying THE PERFECT CAMERA. As soon as I noticed I was doing that, getting all mired down with the pursuit of impossible perfection, I made myself just choose one and move on. I know this one isn't PERFECT but I like it just fine and I'm trying to remember that the world will keep spinning on its axis if I decide a year later to sell it on ebay and buy a different one. It's a camera, not a heart transplant. Realistically I don't need the $500 rockstar point-and-shoot (though I almost bought this one instead: Canon PowerShot G11 10MP Digital Camera but at the last minute realized I could buy a roundtrip ticket to Barcelona for the cost of that camera.) I liked the Canon PowerShot SX120, but the cheesy pop-up flash weirded me out. (How's that for technical jargon?) There is just so much out there to choose from!

I can't believe how much cheaper electronics are year after year... my first digital camera cost over $400 and it had such limited features compared to all these newer models. Over the weekend as I tried out my new camera I remembered how reluctant I was to make the switch from film to digital. Now I can't imagine going back to film and waiting to get your pictures developed before seeing if any of your shots worked out. I like the instant satisfaction of seeing my cats both in person and on "film" right away!

canonfrankie1.jpg
Frankie says, "Relax!"

Posted by laurie at 9:21 AM

February 8, 2010

Book signing on February 25th at The Grove in Los Angeles

Hello!

I am not touring for this book but I will be doing one reading/book signing in Los Angeles:

Barnes & Noble at The Grove
189 Grove Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Thursday, February 25th, 2010
7:00 p.m. [ Map here ]

I am a little nervous. I haven't done any public appearances since 2006? 2007? And I've relapsed into my cozy hermit shell, where it's pleasant and there is TV. But I am excited to see folks I haven't seen in so long and chitchat and see what ya'll are knitting and look at your cute shoes and thank you for buying my book and also for agreeing with me that dating should come with hazard pay. I will also happily sign any book you buy, not just my books. I am flexible that way.

So there you have it. I will be at the bookstore on February 25th, all of me, so much more to go around this time! We will pretend I am taller, perhaps. Maybe I can find some really high heels. Or maybe I will get you all drunk so I look prettier through the misty haze of your tipsiness. Who knows! Be there or be a granny square!

Posted by laurie at 10:21 AM

February 2, 2010

Tuesday Five Things

1) Funny:

oband-pizza-candy.jpg

Hard to tell from my crappy picture, but that's Vitello's pizza on the left and just beside it on the right is SweetHarts, the candy shop run by the Hart family (of Melissa Joan Hart). Above both is the world's largest gastric band billboard. Funny?


2) Knitting

I have been knitting a baby sweater and booties set for my friend Courtney's new baby and by now I fear the child is already walking and will soon be driving while I am over here trying to finish a button band. I think the problem is that the pattern I chose looked better in the pictures than it does knitted up and since Courtney is a great knitter, I'm afraid she will think it's cheesy. Do I just finish it and wash it, block it and wrap it up and send it off with love or do I scrap the whole set and make something new? Tough to say. Maybe I'll do both. Send this off with a note that it was cuter in the pattern picture and then try to make her baby something really pretty at a later date.

3) TeeVee
I love television. This year I'm watching American Idol, which I haven't watched in over five years and I'm so glad I tuned in, I think there's something so entertainuplifting about watching people work toward a goal. Plus, I can't carry a tune in a bucket so I admire anyone with the ability to sing. And, just because it was on one night, I started watching the show that comes on after, Human Target. IT IS SO AWESOME. Cheesey fun entertainment in the ilk of Bond-meets-The Bodyguard. I'm also still watching Castle, which keeps getting better, and International House Hunters and all my usual addictions on The Travel Channel.

Last night I watched Anthony Bourdain in Prague and it made me feel a little sentimental about Prague and the great time I had there with Mr. X. But that was a long time ago, and one of the things most happy and liberating about my life now is that I am not afraid to go there by myself and make all sorts of new memories. Being the captain of your own ship can feel a little heavy sometimes, but it is also totally freeing in a way I never would have expected. I guess everything is two sides: the good and the not-so-good. Like the good Doctor Dyer says, every wave has a peak and a valley.

4) Book stuff
Apparently, I have an online book tour. I forgot I said yes to this, and so it snuck up on me. I have never done one of these but I agreed to it because I do not have to leave my house. I was sort of nervous, because I suck at promotion of pretty much every type and I didn't know what would happen. How nice to see the first person on the list was Kristy Sammis, who is like an old friend. So it's all very incestuous... just the way I like it and hopefully they will all be nice, which is all anyone who writes really wants. Forget constructive criticism, that is what the editor is for. Hah! Actually, it just dawned on me they're all doing book giveaways and I should do that too. I just got my shipment of books so maybe if I get my act together later this week or next week we can do that.

One thing I do love is how knitting folks all seem to stick together online. It's kind of the way the internet (and the world) should always be. I remember when the Yarn Harlot introduced herself to me at my first Book Expo and gave me a hug and it felt like finding a really solid anchor in the midst of a crazyass sea. Because of the blogtour thingy I've gotten to correspond this week with two of my favorite knitters, too, Wendy Johnson and Wendy Bernard. Knit people are good folks. I've met a lot of fancypants book people since all this started, and the knitters and crocheters are the only ones who are universally supportive, friendly and hoping you succeed, too. Some authors in other genres seem to feel if another writer gets a leg up it ruins their own chances. But with the yarn writers, they all seem to believe (as I do) that when one person gets an opportunity it opens the door wider for us all. I LOVE THAT.

5) Not All Pollyanna Fun & Games, Missy
I did lock myself out of my own Jeep this morning in the parking garage. I was on the phone blabbing away happily and then I got out of the Jeep, locked and shut the driver's side door, walked to the passenger's side to get out my giganto-purse and my lunch and realized the door was locked. With my keys sitting in my purse pocket. Inside the Jeep. Luckily I know the secret whatsithaveyou to breaking into my own car, so I broke in just as Jennifer walked up and laughed at me (we work in the same building.) I am so happy that Jen got to witness me breaking into my own car on a Tuesday morning, an auspicious beginning to a day.

Oh, and I ate breakfast this morning. Thank goodness, I needed my strength for breaking and entering.

Posted by laurie at 10:18 AM

February 1, 2010

February check in

It seems like five minutes ago that I was sitting down with a fresh notebook and a pen, contemplating my navel and making New Year's Resolutions. And now we're already a month in!

While I doubt this is as scintillating as, say, knitting content or videos of my cat sleeping, I thought I would post a little progress report at the beginning of each month here in my online diary more to keep me accountable than anything else.

Priority #1: Get Healthy

Progress: This is a tricky subject to write about because a lot of getting healthy is about food but it's so easy to devolve into diet mentality and start listing what you ate and grading yourself like a character assessment ("I ate this and am therefore good, I ate that and am therefore bad...") and honestly there is nothing more cliche or boring in this world to me than a woman blathering on about what she ate that day like a verbal diet diary. BO-RING. Useless. Unproductive. Total diet-brain stereotype.

So, having said that, I'm making good progress in my goal to be healthier. There is a food component, of course, but I'm trying to look at the whole and not be so weird about being ON PLAN or OFF PLAN and just remember you get one life with a lot of days and a lot of meals and the goal is to make basically healthy choices, that's the plan stan. (It is not the two tablespoons of olive oil on the roasted cauliflower that make you fat.)

The immediate challenge was to reign in my repertoire of mostly drive-through and junk food, none of which has any real nutritional value. Since the beginning of January I've been cooking all my meals except the occasional microwaved popcorn. The key is all the prep work on the weekends. I make sure to cook and assemble all my lunches on Sunday afternoon and pack my lunch bag every night before going to bed. It takes a lot of thinking ahead but it's worth it -- lunch is so easy during the week.

Dinners need to be quick -- I commute and I'm starving when I get home -- so I have been making staples ahead of time and re-heating them when I get home which is working out really well. Even roasted veggies re-heat well in the oven (I think they come back better in the oven for ten minutes on 300 than in the microwave.) I've been bringing snacks, too, mostly apples and walnuts because they keep longer and I like them. I'm discovering I'm more of a veggies person than a fruit person. I would rather eat a bowl of green beans than peel and eat an orange. But I like apples and they're portable.

I'm still having a hard time finding a workable breakfast, sometimes all I want is a coffee on the way to work. In February I want to work on getting a better breakfast routine.

All in all though, I'm pretty happy about cooking my own food. I like experimenting with new recipes and finding new foods (Brussels sprouts! who would have guessed it!) and I'm working very hard to keep sane about all this. If I start counting carbs or points or calories, someone smack me.

Exercise: I bought some awesome Nike shoes on sale right before the new year and I ordered the Nike + SportBand which comes with the memory chip you place inside the shoe. You can't feel the chip (it's underneath the insole) and it tracks your mileage and calories and all that, it's awesome. I was getting into a groove until it started raining like crazy and then I just stayed in and snuggled with the cats and watched the weather each morning on TV instead of going for a walk. On the days I was walking, I noticed I slept a little better. Absolutely want to do more walking in February (she says just as the forecast projects more rain this week.)

So overall I am making progress in the health arena. Mostly little changes here and there, the biggest change being all the cooking and washing and chopping and so on. It is time consuming but it's getting easier each week. One thing I keep reminding myself is to look how fast January went by! And to remember that the small changes are cumulative and over time will make a larger change in my health and shape. At the beginning of the month it felt daunting to cook all my meals from scratch for four weeks but it went by in a blink and now already we're in month two of twelve. It really does get easier each passing day and I'm finally not having those McDonald's french fries detox pains anymore. I swear, I think McDonald's is more addictive than crack. Not that I have done a comparative study, mind you.

- - -

Priority #2: Come from an attitude of yes.

Progress: This is kind of one of those hippdippy resolutions that is so loosely defined it may not mean anything to anyone but me. Basically, I want to focus more on the good parts and less on the icky parts of life, looking for ways up instead of finding all the ways down.

My progress this past month has been ... interesting. I had a few times where I knew I overreacted to something or got upset about something I should have just let go. I want to get better at letting go of other people's crap. The Dalai Lama says you have all the power in your life to choose how you feel about someone else's words or actions. Except I noticed a few times last month that I get all inflamed with emotion before my brain even kicks in! Guess that is why he is the Dalai Lama and I am Her Ladyship PantiesInAWad.

Last week was particularly rocky and I didn't handle a difficult person very well. Luckily every passing moment is a chance to turn it all around. (Uh, it took me the whole week.) The biggest thing I want to work on in February is to institute a cooling-down period. Had I just taken a step or five back and waited to reply or respond to the difficult person, I may have had much better results. I tend to speak without a filter and I also get emotional about stupid stuff that isn't even that important. A cooling-off period helps me put things into perspective.

There were a few times this past month, though, when I started to really dwell on something icky and I caught myself mid-ick and made my brain think other thoughts until I honestly felt happier. So that is progress!! My favorite thought is just a little fantasy picture: Me sitting in a cafe in Paris (I get to imagine what I am wearing, down to my shoes) and I'm stirring a spoon through a steaming hot cup of coffee with milk. On the table is the cup and saucer, a smaller saucer with a few cubes of sugar, maybe a candle, or a place mat, a napkin. I have a guidebook with me, it's sitting out by the cup. Nothing of consequence happens in this scene, I'm just stirring the coffee in a Parisian cafe as the world walks by.

Thinking up that little picture makes crummy stuff in real life evaporate. It reminds me that the globe is large, much larger than the beige office or the crawling commute or the floors that need mopping.


- - -

I'm not sure how this is related to those resolutions, exactly, but it is: ever since I moved I've found it impossible to part with anything. It's only been a few months but still, it's very odd. I know I have tendencies to hoard and I try very hard to be diligent and clean and cull and let go of things when I need to. But I have been unable to let go of anything for a few months (except trash of course). It became very apparent to me the day I received a duplicate of a book I already owned and instead of passing it along I shelved it right up on the bookshelf next to its twin.

WEIRD. Even for me.

Last month I realized it was a combination of anxiety and discomfort and I figured it would work itself out. I'd also just parted with a huge chunk of stuff all at once when I moved, and maybe I needed a little time. I don't know.

Slowly (in the past week and a half) I've started easing up and over the weekend I took a whole Jeepload of stuff to the Goodwill, mostly clothes and things I found when I moved that I should have let go of back in September instead of moving them with me. And of course that extra book! And some other odds and ends. I also cleared out a big bag of papers and magazines and junk and went through my closet one more time and found some winter coats that don't fit and I donated those, too.

It felt good to clean up and clean out. I think it's a positive sign that I can at least tell when something is weird with me and I'm willing to let it work itself out. And it did work itself, I guess, since I felt a lot of relief cleaning the closet and getting rid of unneeded clutter.

- - -

Well, that was January. I ordered a new camera but it hasn't come yet. All empowered by the brilliant idea (after many many moons) to get rid of my lemon camera, I looked around my life for other lemons to eliminate. This weekend I made a list of other funkadelic things that are nagging at me and I'm going to fix or get rid of the irritation. Some will have to wait because of the cost, but some things I can fix myself. That has got to be a good step in the year of yes.

Posted by laurie at 9:49 AM

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 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 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 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:

brusselssprouts1.jpg

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):

brusselssprouts2.jpg


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

brusselssprouts3.jpg


And in the bowl, with some grated Parmesan cheese:

brusselssprouts4.jpg

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 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 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:

roasted-beets.jpg
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:

cauliflower1.jpg

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:

cauliflower2.jpg
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:

purse-with-lemons.jpg

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

December 31, 2009

Happy New Year 2010!

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

associates.jpg
(My associates)

Posted by laurie at 9:18 AM

December 29, 2009

New Year's Resolutions for a New Decade

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

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

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

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

My 2010 Resolutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, in general, lay off the griping.

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

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

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

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

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


- - -

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


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

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

Posted by laurie at 9:03 PM

December 28, 2009

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

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

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

Anything can happen Next Year!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by laurie at 9:37 AM

December 22, 2009

Tuesday Five

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

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

Posted by laurie at 11:26 AM

December 18, 2009

Hot off the press....

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

wine-cover.jpg

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

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


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

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

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

Posted by laurie at 6:54 AM

December 16, 2009

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

Tomorrow is the holiday party.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by laurie at 6:28 PM

December 15, 2009

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

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

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

xmas2009-1.jpg

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

xmas2009-2.jpg

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

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

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

Posted by laurie at 11:11 AM

December 4, 2009

Missives from Kleenex City

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by laurie at 8:55 AM

December 3, 2009

Book soup

Let's talk books!

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE STAND. Baby, can you dig your man?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

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

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

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

Posted by laurie at 10:12 AM

December 2, 2009

Reader Q&A Day

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

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

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

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


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

Reader Lynley in Australia writes:

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


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

Posted by laurie at 3:57 PM

Stuff I Like Addendum

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

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

mossimo-thin-sweater.jpg

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

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

mossimo-thin-sweater2.jpg
I do not look this skinny in my skinny sweater.

Posted by laurie at 11:09 AM

December 1, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

New Year's Resolutions TWENTY TEN!!!

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

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

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


Finish my first fiction book.
Then: Finish another.

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

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

Posted by laurie at 10:23 AM

More happy things I like

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

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

- - -

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


Best Green Veggie From A Box

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

greenbeans.jpg

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


- - -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

- - -

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

Posted by laurie at 1:43 AM

November 27, 2009

Black Friday

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

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

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

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

Posted by laurie at 11:05 AM

November 25, 2009

Happy Thanking Day!

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

- - -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

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

xo
laurie

Posted by laurie at 11:40 AM

November 16, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by laurie at 7:11 AM

November 13, 2009

Friday the 13th and then just some blabbering

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

Many months ago I posted a link to this video:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Posted by laurie at 9:58 AM

November 7, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truth and lies, that's all you need.

Download it: Truth download the mp3

More songs here.

Posted by laurie at 9:44 PM

October 29, 2009

Picture takin'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by laurie at 4:33 PM

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

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

Which goes over really well. As you can imagine.

crosswordOct292009.jpg

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

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

More Sobakowa keeping the homefires burning:

soba-fireplace-oct292009.jpg
They're lying on the beach perpetrating a tan so that a brother with money can be their man...

Posted by laurie at 10:20 AM

October 28, 2009

Reader Q&A Day

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

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

I think about it for a minute.

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

Here's some other recent email questions from readers:

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

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

- - -

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

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

- - -

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

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

- - -


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

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

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

- - -


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

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

- - -


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

~Heidi


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

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

soba-by-the-fire-oct2009.jpg
If you look closely you can see Frankie's tail on the bottom right side of the picture. It's the tail with the white dot on the end. She sees the camera come out and wants to be in all the pictures. I had to push her out of the way before Soba gave her a smack down for harshing her kittycat fireplace buzz.

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

Thanks for the emails! Love you, Alaska!

Posted by laurie at 11:36 AM

October 27, 2009

Taxes and Death and Big Talk

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


Taxes and Death and Big Talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


- - -

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

Posted by laurie at 10:17 AM

October 22, 2009

Like a star sighting, only better

Brush with fame

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

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

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

Brush with insane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by laurie at 9:21 AM

October 13, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

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

Posted by laurie at 10:32 AM

October 1, 2009

Panty lines visible from outer space and other news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Oct12009dallasraines.jpg

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

Posted by laurie at 10:24 AM

September 30, 2009

Knitting, Glee, Mr. Clean, Borders, traffic photography

Knitting:
The past few weeks have seen no knitting at all as I packed, moved, then got sick. A few days ago I unpacked the box that was hiding my newest knitting project -- I did manage to put all the necessary components (pattern, yarn, needles, etc.) together into one box but then I mislabeled it and you can imagine my happy surprise when I opened a box expecting to find the fondue pot and instead found my long lost knitting project. But it's a gift for someone who reads this website and I'm not going to spoil the surprise.

[ use you imagination, picture something knitted here ]

The other night as I was sitting on the sofa staring at a pile of boxes that sadly would not unpack themselves, I thought of a great idea for my living room. I have a really pretty wooden bowl thingy that I'm going to set out with some Noro yarn and a set of aluminum needles and at some point I'm going to start an entrelac scarf using said yarn and needles and I can just leave it out all the time because it will look pretty in the bowl. And that way even if I'm not working on a specific project I can knit up a little square or two at night. And if I use metal needles the cats (read: Bob) won't chew on them. They don't bother yarn but wooden needles have a ten-second shelf life around ol' Big Teeth. Anyway, as soon as I unpack the bowl and find the yarn I'm going to make it into a little domestic art installation. I'm not sure why this idea made me happy but it's the little things, you know.

Glee:
A coworker of mine mentioned offhandedly that he'd started watching a new show called "Glee." This coworker and I sit very close together but we watch none of the same shows, and if we've all learned anything about conservative business corporate etiquette, it is that you need to share some social connections with your coworkers and that usually ends up being TV. Which is fine with me, that's how I discovered Dexter which I became totally addicted to one weekend.

Anyway, I decided to Tivo "Glee" just to see what it was like and I think I got about five minutes into last week's episode (where Kurt dances his own version of a Beyonce video) and I was so in love already that I decided to watch all the back episodes in order on hulu.com. Here's the clip that sucked me into this show and made me an instant fan:

This whole episode was just that good. Glee is by far my new favorite fall show. It was even better since I got to go online and watch the pilot and the two other episodes I had missed. That also reinforced to me of how AWESOME the internet is because it reminded me of the year I was crackass addicted to Felicity and I was on vacation to like Poland or Iceland or somewhere that did not get the WB and I missed the episode where Felicity chooses between Ben and Noel and I was heartbroken. Heartbroken, I tell you! I had to call a friend of a friend who worked at the network to get me a bootleg of the episode on VHS and by then all the surprise was gone.

This is a very long way of saying that I now love the happiness that comes with knowing it's easy to find TV episodes I missed online. So I did, and I watched Glee from the very beginning. I was surprised by how good the clarity and quality of the streaming video was on hulu.com -- and even though there are occasional short commercial breaks some of them were HILARIOUS, like this one, the Dokken/chicken ad from Norton:

I think whoever came up with the concept for that marketing campaign is both brilliant and probably around my age. Kind of makes me want to spray my hair with Rave #4 and peg my acid wash jeans.

Anyway! Glee comes on tonight at 9 p.m. (8 p.m. central) on Fox. And now you have all day to watch back episodes in preparation. If you like it than you shoulda put a ring on it!

He's A Magic Man
Today at work we have a full-day workshop and part of the homework was to pick a brand you feel strongly about and share a bunch of stuff with the group like the brand's target demographic, its brand feeling, value proposition and market share, etc. etc.

I picked Mr. Clean and his Magic Erasers which I think I've written about already eleventy-nine times but hey, I love me some Mr. Clean. When the movers left big marks all along my freshly painted walls it was Mr. Clean to the rescue. I have Magic Erasered everything from the walls to the stovetop to the crockpot (I have one of those white crockpots and when you make pot roast it gets all discolored which grosses me out) and Mr. Clean is my man -- always available, never lets me down. While I was doing my research for our meeting today I came across this funny piece of trivia:

According to Procter & Gamble, the original model for the image of Mr. Clean was a United States Navy sailor from the city of Pensacola, Florida, although most people think he is a genie based on his earring, folded arms, and tendency to appear magically at the appropriate time.

Somewhere out there a real-life woman was probably married to the real-life Mr. Clean and he was a salty sailor. How about that!


Making a run for the Borders
I stopped into a Borders book store last night on my way home from work to pick up a gift for a friend's birthday. Guess whose book was on display! Oddly enough, I sometimes forget that I have a whole 'nother secret life so it always shocks me to see anyone reading my book or a store that carries it. I walked in to Borders to get the newest Dan Brown and saw Drunk Cat Hair books and I think I blushed. Maybe it was a relapse of the Cupcake flu but maybe it wasn't. Who's to say. Anyway, go Borders.

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How this column became an entire ode to brands and products I have no idea.

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Finally, this morning's traffic shot:

bumper-got-rice.jpg

Funny!

Posted by laurie at 8:40 AM

September 24, 2009

So that was nice!

Comments lasted a grand total of what... not even a month? Awesome!

Yesterday I wrote a little sentence at the end of my entry about pot roast. I offhandedly mentioned we're having a group lunch potluck thingy today at my job and the theme is to bring an item creatively made with peanuts in an Iron-Chef inspired taste-off. You guys always have the best ideas, so I thought I'd ask for recipe suggestions.

A few hours later I went to read the comments to see what new and unusual dishes my creative Internet friends make with peanuts and I found a bunch of nasty, bitter mean-spirited comments about peanuts. PEANUTS. I think I let out an audible UGH!!!!!!!!!!! Good grief on a cracker.

I can assure you all that:

1) Had I wanted a vitriolic diatribe on peanut allergies I would have googled it. I did not. I was not really that interested in vitriolic diatribes. I was however quite enticed by the recipe for Asian cole slaw.

2) The person planning the potluck checked with everyone first to make sure no one would keel over from some peanut butter fudge so you do not have to contact Human Resources, a legal representative or the ACLU, but thank you for the offer. (Also, why does this require explaining?)

3) I had no idea peanuts were the new "You're an alcoholic."

4) Our little departmental potluck is not putting you -- leaver of mean-spirited comments -- personally at risk of going into anaphylactic shock since you do not work here. I know this because I can see your IP address and if you are on my floor you have no other way to access the internet than through our subnet.

5) I kind of feel mad geeky having just said "subnet."

So, that was fun, an almost-month of comments! Say hey to your mama and thanks for the memories!

I know that there are other people who would handle stuff like that better. Some people love and embrace unasked for advice, unsolicited snarkiness and strangers pointing out that the sky is falling. Sadly, I am not other people. (I keep shopping for clothes like I am someone else though -- someone taller and skinnier. So sad. Yet, so hopeful!)

Maybe it's because I've been ridiculously sick for two weeks and I just do not have the energy or time or disposition for other people's issues. And I have at least learned that when people go off about some random thing like some complete stranger's potluck, it's their issue, not mine. I'm just so incredibly tired. I don't want to deal with other people's stuff. I had the flu. You know... THE flu. And it sapped the happy go-go right out of me. I know they say when you get sick and run-down the first thing to go is the sense of humor. I wonder if mine left forever? I dearly hope it comes back one day. ("Dear God, are you there? It's me Margaret and forget about the period, I want my happiness back.") Usually when I see mean-spirited comments I can hit the delete key without bemoaning the loss of civilized human discourse but apparently I have lost not only my sense of humor but my entire sense of whimsical bemusement. I got irritated and bitchy my ownself just reading people's blahblahblah.

Mostly I was irritated because folks seem to forget that even if the spiteful comment doesn't personally affect me, it may in fact directly insult a friend of mine who may have picked the theme of the potluck and who may read this here website and its comments. Perhaps when I get my mojo and my voice back all the way I will also get my cheerful, delete-key-happy disposition back. We'll see.

So that's that, off with their heads, no peanuts for you, pass the winesack. All this and I didn't even make anything with peanuts! I worked late last night and by the time I got home I fell onto the sofa and drooled onto the remote control. (I make single life sound SO ATTRACTIVE, do I not?) So I just brought drinks since nobody had signed up for that and it didn't require me to cook. And not cooking gives me so much more time to bemoan the loss of civil discourse!

Posted by laurie at 9:19 AM

September 11, 2009

Nine Eleven

There are a million places to read on the internet about politics and I have never felt a need to write about all that, mostly because I prefer to debate the merits of new brands of cat litter and whether or not I should finally make the switch from a plain old moisturizer to one of those fancy anti-aging creams. Decisions, decisions.

My parents and I have totally opposite political beliefs. It is because of this great ideological divide in my own family that I believe with ardent fervor there are good, decent and smart people on either end of the spectrum. I do not need people to believe what I believe. And to their unending credit, my parents have never tried to change me. They accepted early on that I often held the completely opposite viewpoint and we made jokes about it and they just let me be me. They have teased me to no end and sometimes we cannot talk about certain topics without rolling our eyes at each other, but in the end we respect each other. We share the desire to make our nation the finest and most decent place we can.

I am so happy and grateful to be an American girl. I love travel and I love my diverse and multi-ethnic adopted city and when I'm abroad I want to represent my country well to everyone I meet. I am not a xenophobic flag-waver and never have been, but I also never once backed away from saying I am an American, even when I traveled after the first months of the Iraq war when many people in other places were openly hostile about it. I remember being cornered in a bar in Reykjavik by two women who were enraged about the war and I just listened and told them that many Americans shared their feelings and felt frustration and anger, too. In the end I bought us all a round of drinks and one of the girls laughed and said, "It might be easier for you to say you're Canadian, you know!"

But I have never lied about being an American. I was in France two weeks after the stupid Freedom Fries thing and I was mightily tempted to all-the-sudden be from Manitoba, but I still told people where I was from when they asked.

To me, patriotism is being kind and open and welcoming and always propagating The Dream. I believe that our nation is a hopeful and optimistic place that one can come to and work hard and make a life and live better. My father is the embodiment of the American dream, and even though I know he is sometimes disillusioned with our politics, he is also someone who instilled in me a love for my nation, my neighborhood, and my work. My father taught me to look up, to look forward, to strive. My older brother Guy is also the American Dream, he has started over more times than I can count and worked his way up that ladder every time. I admire him because he never gives up, to me he embodies our national spirit.

After September 11th, when the anniversary of the events rolled around one year later, I was horrified that I would be expected to get up and get dressed and go to work that day and each and every September 11th from then on. I desperately felt we needed to make it a national day of mourning, a day of quiet and reverence and personal grief. I felt a lot of grief that day, I lost someone on that first plane and like many I also forever lost my sense of safety and my naive belief in the integral decency of others. I was furious that someone -- many someones -- could move here and work here and shop for groceries here for months, years, and then one day get on an airplane and create such evil.

I took September 11th very personally. I was angry, I was bereft, I was broken in half. I wanted that day to be forever silenced and remembered and held in your hands gently. I divided my life into pre-9/11 and post 9/11.

Enough time has passed now that I think I understand even more what it means to be an American citizen. It means to keep on keeping on, to move onward and remember without becoming mired in paralyzing sadness and regret. It means to remain optimistic and hopeful and to strive to become better. This nation is not perfect and never will be. We screw up. We're imperfect. But we don't give up.

I was very happy to see that September 11th is being commemorated in a new way -- today is the first National Day of Service and Remembrance.

The New York Times has a piece on it, this jumped out at me:

By joining with those already planning to take all or part of the day to aid their chosen cause or charity, Americans can show their patriotism and help recapture the spirit of community that saw so many people volunteer to help the families who lost loved ones in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 horror.

This to me is the real essence of our American character, giving back, giving to others, giving forward. Much better than a day of mourning -- it's a day of helping. It's a way to remember and honor and give at the same time, which truly is the best of us.

If you are looking for places to volunteer at today specifically in honor of September 11th, visit http://911dayofservice.org/ or visit http://www.serve.gov/ for a list of opportunities to serve at all times in your area.

Posted by laurie at 8:56 AM

September 10, 2009

Har har

I love dumb jokes. Here are some of my favorites:

Q: Where does the king keep his armies?
A: In his sleevies!

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Q: Why does a cow wear a bell around his neck?
A: Because his horns don't work.

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Q: What do you call a cow with three legs?
A: Lean beef.

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Q: What do you call a cow with no legs?
A: Ground beef.


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Two sausages are in a frying pan. One sausage says to the other, "Wow it sure is hot in here!"
The other sausage says, "Oh my gosh -- you're a talking sausage!"

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A dog walks into the unemployment agency to fill out an application. He tells the startled woman at the front desk he's come to see if there are any job openings in his field.

"A talking dog!" she says excitedly. "You should be in the circus!"

The dog looks puzzled. "Why would the circus need a plumber?"

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And my favorite joke of all, which I know I have already told you, is my graphic designer joke:

Q: How many graphic designers does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: A lightbulb? Does it have to be a lightbulb? Can we go with a candle, maybe with a flickering light? Or a lantern? Why do we have to go with a lightbulb? I was thinking more along the lines of an open road, with clouds and a desertscape. Who came up with this crappy lightbulb idea? It was marketing, wasn't it?

Posted by laurie at 10:35 AM

August 31, 2009

Monday List

This was supposed to be a little ditty about Jack & Diane... or rather about baby booties, which I completed and photographed so carefully then I forgot to bring my camera, so no pictures. Ah well. The only thing people are talking about anyway are the fires.

Driving into downtown today the smoke was so thick and heavy it obscured even the skyline. I have a lot of coworkers who live in or near the fire area, it's scary. This season is worse than usual, it reminds me of that awful summer five years ago when my ex-husband left abruptly and I was living in that huge condo alone and I would sit on the patio each night and smoke even though I knew it was redundant. Just breathing was bad enough. But that's what people do in hard times, they do whatever it takes to get through a single day and I don't regret a minute of it. Regret is useless, it robs you of living right now.

Can you believe it's been five years? By nature I am a very private person, and sometimes I'm shocked how much I poured out in this online diary. I think about removing it sometimes, it's all just the past. But then I get an email from someone who's going through it right now, today, and she says it helps and in the end I guess I'm glad I went a little crazy that summer and the whole next year, a majestic meltdown. And all captured in words. What I remember most about it is sitting