February 13, 2012

In which I recap TV as if I were at the Entertainment Weekly staff meeting

Oh, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (Mondays, 9 p.m. Bravo TV, also in infinite repeats forever especially on sick days.)

I may be venturing to your Villa Blanca and I may be indeed loving your cruel assessment that both Malibu (where Camille lives) and Westlake Village (where Kim lives) are so, so far away from the city and the shoes and the fake eyelashes.

That's one of those inside-L.A. snob jokes. Like the time I tweeted about the insane paparazzi I'd just passed on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks outside Marmalade and some uppity nobody from nowhere informed me that "no celebrities worth photographing go to the Valley."

On that particular day at Marmalade it was Jennifer Aniston. Not to be outdone, just a few weeks ago Angelina Jolie and some of her tribe showed up for the Studio City Farmer's Market, so here's a big tongue sticking out claiming boo-yah rights at the goobernut who believes the Valley is full of nothing but auto detailing shops and gangland violence. Not that we don't love our auto body shops and smooth pelositos, but on the boulevard we are all about celebs.

So, Kim admits she's an alcoholic, Dana is normal but in this light looks crazy, Ken seems oddly hot and all I miss is Jiggy. Taylor pulls my strings -- I mean, I am a girl who sides with girls -- but something about her makes me wary. Brandi cracks me UP. I would totally watch Vanderfabulous spinoff with Brandi in tow. If only her name were Tanqueray, it would be so fitting.

Thus concludes another season of the Beverly Hills Housewives.

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I Just Want My Pants Back
(MTV, 11 p.m. Thursdays)
The Parents TV Council wants MTV to drop this new show, obviously because it is funny and realistic-ish (still, the apartments are too big) and the Council thinks it's too racy for kids. My suggestion? CALL MY DAD. He never let me watch TV alone. We picked shows as a family and watched TV together. That is appropriate, people. When you are 12, you shouldn't be running nilly willy through the world of backdoor jokes.

Anyway, this show is funny and sweet, surprisingly. I love how it captures that time in your twenties before you become a jaded Dating Oracle with nothing but stories and wisdom left ... the characters still have their souls and their hopes and their funny love-hungry misadventures. It's solid. I like it. Make the Parental Control people just control their own kids, OK?

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SMASH (Mondays, NBC)
Meh. I watched the pilot but the whole time I rooted for Megan Hilty and not Katherine McPhee. It's my cue that I should un-Tivo this one.


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American Idol (FOX, Wednesdays and Thursdays)
I was SO BUMMED that we wasted one entire of Group Night and MY LIFE to see no singing at all last week. You are on notice, American Idol. To be a singing competition, people must SING.

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Law & Order
Not realizing the width and breadth and prolific availability of 20 years of now-canceled Law & Order episodes, I started tivo'ing them last week. I was just in a mood. You understand. Now I go to bed each night thinking that theme, CHA-CHUM. But I like it. Who was your fave? Chris Noth? Lenny Briscoe? I liked Fred Thompson. I need justice to PREVAIL, people.

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Revenge(Wednesdays, ABC, 10 p.m.)
Best new show of the year. I am soapified and sucked in! I love every aspect of this show, it is exactly what a nighttime soap should be down to the fabulous clothing.

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Prime Suspect(never, NBC)
NBC canceled the one series I fell in love with this year besides Revenge. Sure the pilot was clunky, but as time went by Maria Bello was the finest thing on TV and a revelation as a soft/hard woman on the force. Screw you, NBC. I am so mad at you.

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CSI(Thursdays, CBS, 10 p.m.)
Elisabeth Shue!
I was sad to see the departure of Marg Helgenberger, one of the strongest female leads in the long line of CSI: Dead White Woman Of The Week shows. But I loves me some Elisabeth Shue. Here is why I admire here -- she inspires me. She does some teeny movies in the 1980s, lands a big dramatic role in Leaving Las Vegas that tears your heart in two, and later re-surfaces in a Piranha movie. I really get that kind of career. I understand it. It makes sense to me. Keep in mind my Shakespearean oeuvres have lately been about hair removal or online dating, so choose your source wisely. But I am so looking forward to Shue classing up the joint.

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Bones(Thursdays, FOX)
Just come back already! Thanks to my Twitter friends who helped me uncover the scoop, Bones comes back on (GASP!!!) April 5, 2012. I'll be like, old, by then.


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Finally....

Hoarders(Mondays, A&E)
I don't watch this show live so it may already be in repeats. I TiVo it and watch one episode each morning before I start a major cleaning effort. I can usually make it through 20 minutes of the show before I have to scour something, re-grout a sink or take a full Silkwood.

Once a long time ago some bloke left me an unsavory comment when he saw a picture of my cute cat FrankiePanky sitting on the table. He said something like, "I would never eat there..."

I wanted to email him back and ask for his address. I know and you know that I have some enthusiastic issues (read: OCD) with my cleaning binges. But the poster clearly didn't know that. I wanted to show up to his house in decontamination gear and a respirator with a clipboard. I can guarantee you that even with my cats sitting their fluffy hinds here and there my home is cleaner than any man's home, barring his own bout with OCD (manifesting in a cleanliness disorder, natch). I am living proof that people can have animals inside the home and still have a clean, sanitary, fresh home. Why? Because a sister be crazy for some Clorox wipes and a Dyson. But I don't judge others. I know I border on the Mr. Clean Crazy Spectrum. (Mr. Clean is so cute, a peloncito!) and we all do the best we can. You know my belief is that your best truly is good enough.

Hoarders has changed me in good ways, and that to me is a sign of good TV. While I freely admit to some clean-crazy OCD stuff, I also am a a level one hoarder. I try much harder to part with my hoarded stuff now, because cleaning and arranging all my stuff is exhausting. I recognize that I have Stage One clutter blindness: I may become blind to the mail piling up on the desk or the magazines neatly stacked in the corner. Or even to the shoes piled neatly in the doorway shoe rack.

So when I notice a pile I actually notice it. That's a good step. But most of all I realize how important it is to get even the most minor home repairs fixed immediately. All the TV hoarders seem to share the same fate ... the plumbing or the electricity has failed and they can't get anyone in to fix it. Or they put it off for so long it's impossible. But every hoarded home is the same: plumbing problems, bad wires, no sink.

Today I had the plumber out, he fixed the garbage disposal and a wonky shower stall lever. I mopped and cleaned beforehand, of course, but he left boot prints on the floor so I mopped after, too. Everything works tonight. That's how you know you aren't going to fall into hoarding. You make a point to do upkeep. You get someone out to perform a look-see after the wonky garbage disposal. That is what the show helped me see.

Get it done. And do it now.

TV!

Posted by laurie at 10:03 PM

January 17, 2012

Rise of the machines

The DVR cerebellum is mighty.

Somewhere along the line my Tivo developed a brain of its own and grew wise and now outranks me in IQ. Proof? A few weeks ago it spontaneously decided on its own to stop recording The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. While I still plod along in my human toil, looking forward to my trashy hour of Kyle and Kim and Vanderliciousness, my Tivo grew a brain and decided to stop watching the show. Out of contempt for me, perhaps, the Tivo still has the show on its season pass list. Yet nary an episode has been recorded in two months. I have had to catch up on my trash the old-fashioned way, through copious Bravo reruns.

The indignity!

In other machine brain news...

The server will be undergoing an upgrade in the coming month, so there will be changes here. I am telling you this now because out of a deep respect for your fear and loathing of change (as well as a healthy serving of tech avoidance on my part) I have averted major upgrades for some time, but that time has ended and I know we all need fair warning that change is on the horizon. This is your warning.

There might have been misplaced words in that paragraph.

Finally...
Does anyone have a good recipe for carne asada marinade?

Posted by laurie at 5:12 PM

December 24, 2011

Christmas 2011

I was on the phone yesterday with Jennifer N., talking about the holidays.

"You are the only person I know who loves and hates Christmas so much," she said.

And it is true. The expensive therapist has told me this feeling of opposites is a state called cognitive dissonance, when the brain can hold two conflicting emotions at one time. She's nice (and expensive) so she says it's a sign of enlightenment. Ralph Waldo Emerson -- who I have not paid for therapy but to whom I owe much in the way of growthyness -- once said, "Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." Meaning, I suppose, that this idea of being consistent and never changing and holding true to only one feeling is actually a big, dumb fake out. It's OK to not know, or to be in the middle, or to both love and hate Christmas. Emerson would have used better adverbs. But you get it.

When you expect a person to stay who they were, you imprison them forever and you restrict your own life. You become limited by what you expect from others. Like it or not, people change. Everything changes. It's like my dad says: The only thing you can count on is change. (I hate that saying, by the way. I'm way more into the hobgoblins.) So you go out to dinner with someone who always orders a pinot grigio and one night, out of the blue, he orders a stoli on the rocks with a twist. Why is it you're the one who feels left out? If your sister becomes a vegetarian this week, why are you feeling an overarching need to defend the cheeseburgers? And when Christmas rolls around and it's both lovely and loathsome, which side do you pick?

Old Ralph Waldo and the spendy therapist would both say it's healthy to hold a little of each. It isn't a sign of weakness of schizophrenia to feel simultaneous love and loathing for Christmas, it may indeed be the only sign you have that you're ready to write that novel you've been marinating on.

The ability to hold two very conflicting ideas is quite a feat. It's perfectly all right to love providing a holiday home base for your family and meanwhile want them all to leave, now. It's absolutely understandable to be alone and feel both relieved and ruined with sorrow.

It's Christmas. They make movies about it, you know.

So I wish only the happy parts for you, but I accept the inconsistencies, the disasters, the hide-alone-in-a-bathroom parts of the day, too. This is what makes us enlightened! Or so says the expensive therapist and our old pal Ralph Waldo.

Merry Christmas, y'all. Every piece of it.

Posted by laurie at 5:25 PM

December 1, 2011

Like Santa Claus said she's a ho-ho-ho!

Grainy iPhone pic of the tree:

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There was so much good help this year when it came time to decorate:

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We watched one of my favorites while decorating and de-wining:

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All of this excitement left some just plain tuckered out:

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Today in Los Angeles it's windy and insane with big swirls of leaves piled up on the sidewalks and enormous downed palm fronds blocking the streets nearby. We're having cold Santa Ana winds, we don't get these very often. It feels like real weather and it's all anyone is talking about, the crazy California wind.

I can't believe it's December first already, the beginning of the end of the year. In 2012 I'm going to do my monthly roundups again, this year was too interior and growthy for all that but next year (which is merely 30 days away) (!) will be a good time to bliss out on list making and goal-setting.

Take it from Santa, it's never to early to make a list!

Posted by laurie at 11:24 AM

November 16, 2011

Salad emergency!

Best vinaigrette recipe? Anyone? Bueller?

Posted by laurie at 3:55 PM

November 11, 2011

Indie flicks and Christmas lights

Movies. Hey, independent film industry, let's talk, shall we? I understand that it's part of your arty street cred to make downer movies with vague, ambiguous endings. All those staged, hazy shots of naked women and chairs and people in bathtubs together get spliced into a trailer that looks inviting and cozy and highbrow but really it's just all that time you spent at film school watching porn that's creeping into your scenes. It's been this way for a while now. I keep thinking you'll surprise me but you're all starting to look the same. I'm going back to formulaic Hollywood blockbusters, but I'll be back, so get to work on a happy ending, OK?

Earlier in the week I saw Like Crazy, which got rave reviews at Sundance and I was very excited to see it until I realized that it's a true indie film, meaning poignant scenes with no real resolution and lots of unresolved longing, so if you have just had a minor heartache and want to feel like walking into traffic while singing along to dark Cat Power ballads, then yes, go see this movie.

Yesterday my movie buddy and I caught an early showing of Martha Marcy May Marlene Laurie Soba Frankie. The Other Olsen is a really great actress and she is beautiful, as evidenced by the filmmaker's habit of lingering on her naked and semi-naked form in scene after scene. It has another prototypical indie ending and after leaving the theatre you want to sob into a bucket of chicken. My advice to the world is that if you plan to make a movie about a young girl who joins a cult, at least pick a cult that makes some sense. For example a yarn cult or a religious cult or a cult of Clooney. But if your cult is just a bunch of mixmatched kids making up dumb songs for a skinny weirdo, I am not buying it.

Nonetheless, it's always good at the movies. Going to the movies is such a splurge for me, and I do it because it gets me out of my head and later I can write clearly. Something about switching from all words to all visuals frees up the mechanics of my brain.

Walking has a similar effect on my body but since I stay in my head during the whole walk it's not the same freeing experience as a movie. Other things that get me out of my head: yoga, Prime Suspect (please don't cancel this show, TV Gods! I love Maria Bello) and pinot with a friend. The beach. An excellent book. Salsa classes, though I haven't taken one in a while. You?

Books. I'm thisclose to getting done. I feel happy and exhausted and nervous and hopeful. We'll see.

Green tubs in my living room. I know it's crazy but I don't care. I want to decorate already, get out my tree and the lights and make everything pretty and sparkly. I still haven't all the way crossed back into holiday shine, it can be a lonely and blue time for those of us with a maudlin streak. But I love Christmas, too. I appreciate that it is a period at the end of a year, the last of one more chapter. It doesn't matter how this one ended, the best thing about a closed chapter is turning the page and reading something brand new.

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Soba avec teddy bear.

Posted by laurie at 12:18 PM

October 3, 2011

Kale Salad

Kale scares people. I'm not sure why -- it's so pretty! -- but I love kale. I look at it as my dietary antidote for all the cheeseburgers and wine that accidentally fall into my life.

Interestingly enough I'm not a huge fan of salad but I love kale salad. It's fast and easy and stays good in the fridge for two days (with the dressing on it!) I hate spending all that time washing and cleaning and chopping stuff for a regular green salad only to discover my lettuce has wilted the next day or the tomatoes have gone mushy. This kale salad is the lazy person's best friend. You make one batch and it's good for days and days.

You can make your own mix but I found the best possible bagged vegetable item EVER at my local Whole Foods market:

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That's a half pound of cleaned, de-stemmed, chopped curly kale mixed with some shredded carrots and purple cabbage for only $2.99! And it's organic. This is one of the few times that a bagged item rivals the value of buying something straight off the vegetable aisle. Plus it's so EASY. Just open the bag, make the dressing and in two minutes you're done.

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There is a recipe for dressing on the bag but after a few weeks of making this obsessively, I've come up with my own version that has more flavor and less calories. If you look closely in the picture you'll see I forgot the sesame oil -- it was in the fridge! But sesame oil adds most of the flavor to this dressing. Use the dark (toasted) sesame oil. I buy it in small quantities and keep it in the fridge so it doesn't get rancid.

My Kale Salad Dressing:

1/4 cup rice unseasoned wine vinegar (you can use a little more if you like more intense flavor)
1 1/2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons olive oil or less
1 teaspoon brown sugar
salt & black pepper to taste

Mix this up in a little bowl and then pour it over the raw kale. Here is the most important part of the recipe: Put the salad back in the fridge and let it marinate for AT LEAST one hour. The acid in the vinegar softens up the leaves and improves the texture. You can let this marinate for much longer, and it will be completely edible and awesome two days later.

Finally, I add pecans and dried cranberries on top to make this salad super tasty. The cranberries on this salad add the perfect combination of sweet to tangy. You can also add some chopped chicken breast or grilled salmon to make it a full meal. One bag of salad makes four gigantic portions. I worked out the calories in my version (with cranberries and pecans) at about 325 calories per lunch-sized bowl -- about four cups of salad. And after you eat four cups of raw kale trust me you are no longer hungry.

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Super salad!

Posted by laurie at 10:03 AM

October 1, 2011

Out, Out, October Clutter!

The first day of October has arrived, bringing with it a new, fresh calendar page and a feeling of fall and more than a little fear about the rapidly approaching end of 2011. A small, persistent voice in the back of my brain is saying, But I still have so much to do! It can't be October yet!

When I had my sudden middle-of-the-night move to this apartment last spring, I became acutely aware of how much clutter I still own. Anytime you have to pack and haul and pay to move your stuff it's a reminder that clutter can be a real drag.

For the first month or two that I lived here in Bland Hollywood Starter Apartment -- and especially as I unpacked each mysterious box -- I managed to reduce my clutter load by about 10%. But it's not enough for me. I'd like to ultimately get down to about half of what I moved here. It will free me up, cost me less, and make the next move all that much easier.

Oddly enough, having less money and therefore shopping much less hasn't reduced my clutter at all. I think as money gets tighter something inside my delicate psyche edges me to hang on to every last item, every paperback and sock and skein. Is anyone else experiencing the rise of recession clutter? It's mysterious. It makes sense in a 1930s save-the-rubber-bands kind of way, yet I'm not sure it's useful or even healthy. How can your life have ebb and flow if you're stuck holding on so tightly to your stuff?

The other challenge with my personal clutter level is that I've already gotten rid of most of the superfluous crap, the duplicate saws and fondue pots and end tables. Now I'm down to the harder decisions.

These seem to fall into three categories:

1) Stuff I want to get rid of but would require selling and having strangers in my home, or hiring movers, or some other gigantic effort.
This category includes some furniture and probably the treadmill (now redundant since I live in a neighborhood where I can safely walk outdoors all year round). Some of the furniture can be donated but logistically it's a hassle -- I live on the top floor of a building with no elevator on a street with no parking. I think the best thing for me to do with these items is to wait until I move again and make a plan for them at that time. That makes it even more imperative to deal with the other areas of clutter.

2) Stuff I want to pare down that requires significant time, effort or emotion to cull through.
Most people have some form of this clutter hiding in a cabinet or closet. How many of you are still holding onto that old, outdated computer because you need to clean up the hard drive and erase all the data and then find a place to donate or recycle it? Yup. Been there. For me it's old zip disks that should be transferred to an external drive, erased and recycled properly. And the large collection of CDs I want to transfer to my computer then get rid of. Stacks of press clips that should be scanned then discarded. Boxes of old photos and mementos I need to look through and cull out the keepers. Old photo albums that are falling apart and need to be deconstructed and weeded through and figured out. Many of these tasks aren't extremely difficult, just tedious and time-consuming, so the clutter tends to stay around longer than it should.

3) Stuff I just haven't wanted to get rid of yet.
This category has some clothes, a lot of books, a lot of yarn, craft supplies, and picture frames. They are items I genuinely like and keep thinking one day I'll do something with them. Of course the truth is that I've already had them for a long while and I have yet to make that Big Project or even the Little Project and I sure haven't done the Maybe This Could Be A Project. This stuff is hard to part with because I like it, and part of me feels distress about letting go of the idea that I'll use it in the future.

- - -

That one concept -- difficulty letting go of the idea of an item's future usefulness -- is what separates those who have clutter issues and those who do not. There will be readers who honestly cannot fathom the feeling. (These are the people who can get all their belongings into a single suitcase. Fascinating.) I'm not looking to live a spartan existence with no decorative elements, that simply isn't my personality. My goal is not to be a Zen minimalist, my goal is to lighten up because I will be moving again and I don't want to pay to move clutter.

When paring down, it's relatively easy to part with cruddy old T-shirts, rusted cookie sheets and duplicate saws. That's like the Defcon 1 of Decluttering. It's not fun to get started but once you do it's not as hard as you thought. Then there's Defcon 2 Decluttering: streamlining the main living areas and getting your bedroom closet and kitchen cabinets clean and clear. I've done a good job of this, helped along by the fact that this apartment is tiny and has almost no kitchen storage. My living area is tidy and clutter-free and the bedroom is so small that it's almost impossible to clutter up.

My office is the last big sucking swamp of stuff. It's the dumping ground, the purgatory of clutter and projects and paper. Every corner is packed with books or boxes or carefully curated bins of craft supplies. What makes it hard is that most of this stuff I genuinely still like and might want to use one day in some vague and pretty future. It's Defcon 3 Decluttering -- the painful paring down.

Unfortunately there isn't a quippy, quick tip that can fix this kind of clutter. The solution is simply to do the work. I've been avoiding it for a few months and now in October I'm taking on my office and its assorted piles and projects. My strategy is to commit to spending one day a week -- probably a Sunday -- in my office doing the work of Defcon 3 Decluttering. But why wait until tomorrow? Today is as good a time to start as any, perhaps with the mountain of mail and magazines on my desk.

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This cat is not clutter.

Posted by laurie at 9:36 AM

August 4, 2011

Here we go again.

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The A/C is broken again, second time in under a month. This is the Valley. In August. It's possible the cats and I will have to move to a hotel later so we don't die, and then eventually abandon this hellhole altogether for greener pastures in the Yukon.

I love Canadians, so it works out. Canadians are from Canadia, where I may live by Saturday if this situation gets any stickier.

Forget dating, love, romance, bringing sexy back, all that mumbojumbo. All I need is a man who can fix things. I think his name is Javier, he's 67, he is hopefully going to show up this week with tools and bring the coolness back to Chez Furball. Then I need a three-book deal, a pair of jeans that doesn't make my butt look like a Macy's parade float, and one of those pillows that conform perfectly to your head.

Achievable dreams, people. That is what I am about today. Let's start with cool air and work our way up.

Posted by laurie at 10:29 AM

June 14, 2011

And finally here at 7:46 p.m. the jackhammer rests for the evening, the cement saw sits in its darkened truck, awaiting another day.

I explained to my brother Guy last week that I have a new appreciation for the torture techniques used at Guantanamo Bay -- particularly the use of loud, continuous noises. Today by 11 a.m. I was ready to convert to the church of Reggaeton and sell my first born and tell all my family secrets and even reveal the covert and well-protected hiding location of my one most valuable and prized skein of Tilli Thomas (with Austrian crystals, mind you) if only they would please please PLEASE make the noises stop.

In order to avoid selling my soul to the church of Marley, I took a 22-minute shower and listened to I GOT A POCKET GOT A POCKET FULL OF SUNSHINE on a loop. Loud enough to drown on the cement saw but not the jackhammer. Boy they are not messing around building their tunnel to China in the apartment complex. When actual magma starts spouting out and the dude wielding the jackhammer yells out for human assistance before he becomes trapped in the oozing fiery magma, I will bring my boombox to the scene and I will play:

I GOT A POCKET GOT A POCKET FULL OF SUNSHINE!I GOT A LOVE AN I KNOW THAT IT'S ALL MINE!

Tomorrow I am again waking at 4 a.m. to write for a few hours before the jackhammering starts, and the sawing. Oh the constant high-pitched whine of the tile saw has nothing on today's high-pitched scream of the metal tubing saw.

Sometimes I have to leave because it is making. me. crazy. The real crazy, not the funny, charming crazy which we'll one day start calling "eccentric" when I finally make some serious money.I'm talking Unabomber crazy over here. But when I try to leave my apartment the entire work crew of men -- about ten or twelve men --who seem plucked right out of a novel set at the day laborers section of the Reseda Home Depot -- all stop whatever they were doing loudly, and then simultaneously every man turns to stare at me as I walk by on the sidewalk.

It has this mysterious effect on me: I want to tear out their eyeballs with their jackhammers and then throw them down in a pit of frothing, molten hot magma. Is that so wrong?

Last week I tried writing at a coffee shop. I tried five coffee shops and one weird bakery/ice cream parlor that has a bathtub in the hallway. The point here is that these are not quiet places in Hollywood. These are places for homeless smells, panhandling, and lots of men and women talking about their screenplays, their craft, their headshots, who is booking a national right now, their agents, their dog's agents.

Truly it makes for wonderful anthropological outings but isn't productive writing time. Finally I resorted to writing in my car. I parked at a large, leafy quiet park and the weather was nice and cool last week so as long as my laptop battery lasted it was the next best thing to home. This week is too hot, though.

I will not be defeated. I will wake up early, write in the wee and quiet hours, go out for a long walk the moment they start their symphony of ear-splitting noises. When I walk past them I will be on my "phone" discussing "a terrible flare-up of Mucho Bad Y Mucho Contagioso Fiebre! So Sad!"

And maybe later if we're lucky they'll hit an underground volcano -- a scientific fact, duh! Just watch any movie called "Volcano" set in Los Angeles! -- and the magma will begin to ooze and Tommy Lee Jones will have to instruct everyone to abandon the construction site and let the magma seal it in for good. And after a few days of reporters and news helicopters and well, magma, the neighborhood will go back to whatever passes as "quiet" in this crazymaking, loud-ass, constantly pulsating city. AND I WILL GET SOME WRITING DONE. I got a pocket got a pocket full of sunshine!

- - -

This next portion is brought to you by Apple Computers which are so easy even a cat can use the webcam!

ONE: SOBA APPROACHES THE WEBCAM
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"Is this thing ON?"

- - -

TWO: SOBA HAS AN IDEA

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"I'm having a thought. A wonderful thought...."

- - -

THREE: SOBA CAMERA FRONT, CLOSE-UP, SPEAKS:

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"Do we have a time machine? With GPS? I NEED A TIME MACHINE."

Posted by laurie at 7:42 PM

May 27, 2011

Open Letter

An Open Letter To The Management Of My Old Building Who Still Haven't Reprogrammed The Door Code

Dear Russian Douchebag Building Manager,

I moved. Remember? Remember when the police came because my next door neighbor was a psychotic bag of impending disaster and I had to pack up all my crap and move in the middle of the night? You should have some recollection of this moment. If not, let me remind you who I am. I am the one whose deposit you kept. I am the one you had the unmitigated gall to bill for the next month's rent because you couldn't better screen your tenants and let a crazy woman live next to me and I had to move out suddenly and not give a written 30-day notice and I had no legal recourse so I had to pay the bill but then I spent several weeks giving you cancer with my mind.

Does that ring any bells?

Well, speaking of bells, your front door code for what used to be my home still rings to my cell phone. Except I don't live there anymore. So the gas company and the AT&T guy and some woman named Sharon keep calling me for entry to your building. They want to get into my old apartment, the one that I once loved and now secretly hope becomes infested with bedbugs.

When my phone rings and says "Front Door" I get momentarily excited because I think I might be getting a package from Fed Ex or a pizza or a check from Publisher's Clearing House. Then I answer -- too quickly -- and after I say "Hello?" my brain kicks in and remembers that I now live in a slumlord building where the front door buzzer is broken and the only "Front Door" calling me is the old apartment which houses my lost ego, lost money, and one crazyass next door neighbor, unless you finally had any success evicting her. Which I doubt.

So, listen. You need to change the front door code so that it calls the new resident of my old horrible, overpriced, terribly managed yet still very beautiful apartment. Because now I'm on to you. I renamed the phone number for "Front Door" and now it shows up on my phone as "People You Should Taunt." And when they call I'm just messing with them. I tell them Judgment Day is NEAR and God is WATCHING and He is NOT HAPPY. I told the cable guy that he needs to reevaluate his shoe choices. Sharon called me three times and on the last call I informed her she had gout. I don't even know what gout is, but I told her I could sense through the phone she was suffering this grave ailment.

I'm infinitely creative and this could go on for a while. I can work scabies into almost any conversation. And porn. And poop. Consider this while you lollygag and delay updating the front door buzzer access numbers.

Yours Sincerely,
The nice, sane, on-time-rent-paying but now broke ex-resident you screwed over in March, 2011

Posted by laurie at 10:50 AM

May 13, 2011

One dollar and ninety-nine cents makes MAGIC

Listen up local folks! Smart & Final grocery store has whole seedless watermelons (the regular sized melons, not the mini melons) on sale for $1.99 each! If you are not familiar with the vagaries of watermelon pricing, let me assure you this is a crazy low price. A similar sized watermelon at Ralph's right now will cost you about $10.

You have probably guessed by now that one of my all-time top favorite foods on the planet is watermelon. I could eat it for every single meal and this week I probably will.

This has nothing to do with melons, but thought you should see this:

bob-melon-belly.jpg

Since it's Friday the 13th and I'm no dummy I am not leaving the house today. Of course if you hear about a meteor or UFO or similar crash landing in an apartment in Los Angeles you know who will be on the evening news. It's gotten to the point now where it's just funny, which means I'm nearing the end of the clump. You see, in my life bad luck seems to happen in clumps. It's preferable this way. I'd rather get it all out of the way and be clear for a good long stretch. The year I started this website was a doozy but then it passed and life got good as it does. A bad luck clump involves a triad of major upheaval -- home life, personal life and transportation. Curiously, the trifecta of suck was completed this week (involves Jeep, don't ask, don't want to talk about it) and now it's got me thinking in deep philosophical terms. HEAR ME OUT.

Let's say for the purposes of this hypothesis that the bad luck clump rolls around every six or seven years or so. What would happen if in the future, let's say in six years, I moved to Paris and gave up driving altogether? Would the transportation sector of the bad luck triad switch over into failures of the mass transit system? I am actually very willing to test this theory. My apologies in advance to all the future commuters with the misfortune to be on the same train as future me, though. Tough break! Hope you enjoy the big metro strike/alien abduction/power failure that lasts six days. The good news is we all get out alive! But we need therapy.

Anyway, I have at least learned something from previous spurts of crapticular rearrangement: bad luck is just like good luck, it runs out. Life perks up and something good will happen. It's true! Trust me. I learned that six years ago. What I learned from this current clump is that when the good stuff comes in I'm not going to diminish it or make light of it or try to keep my voice down so as not to provoke the doomy gloomy proclamations of the Debbie Downers of this world. NO MORE, my friends! When the good stuff happens I am going to buy a billboard or similar and shout that news from the mountaintops. I support you doing the same in your own life. I refuse to be one of those people who spends more time bitching about the woes than whooping up the good times.

Good times, I am ready for you. This is what I am saying. Also that I will totally move to Paris if you'd like me to test my theory scientifically.

So that's what I got today, a pocketful of hope. I'm staying home and knitting on my red scarf and having watermelon for dinner. Dollar ninety-nine! What a deal.

- - -

P.S. Don't forget we're chatting up The Great Gatsby in just over a week on Monday, MAY 23 (sorry about not adding the date and freaking you out thinking it was in two days, OOPS!!!) You can join in the book club from the comfort of your own hermit home. Have a good weekend!

Posted by laurie at 12:25 PM

April 26, 2011

Notes from the half-way place

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

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

One human with all that stuff!

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

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

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

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

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

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

This email said so much:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by laurie at 10:24 AM

April 13, 2011

This Is How We Do It

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

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

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

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

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

fondue-pots.jpg

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

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

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

Here is another example:

mitre-saws.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

soba-pare-down.jpg

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

- - -

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

Posted by laurie at 8:09 AM

April 12, 2011

Ups and Downs, and Golf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

Comments are not available for this entry.

Posted by laurie at 12:32 PM

April 7, 2011

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

pantiesbox.jpg

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

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

- - -

REAL LIFE THINGS

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

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

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


BUT IF THAT WERE NOT ENOUGH!

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

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

Posted by laurie at 8:38 AM

April 5, 2011

Miracle cat leaves closet, paparazzi catch first glimpse.

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

- - -


HEY HEY HEY!

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

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

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


BUT IF THAT WERE NOT ENOUGH!

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by laurie at 8:27 AM

April 2, 2011

OCD In The House

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

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

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

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

Guess it is better than heroin addiction.

Posted by laurie at 9:45 PM

Dear Universe, this note is for you.

At heart I am a nester.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that 7-11 will sell wine.

Posted by laurie at 7:16 PM

March 30, 2011

Notes From Box City

1) When packing, I decided to take all my underwear out of the dresser and put it in a box just in case the dresser flew open or something. Even in my panic to move I knew I didn't want the moving guys seeing my panties splayed out all over the place. But I didn't have a code word for "panties box" so it was left unmarked and now I can't find it in the pile.

2) At 6 a.m. this morning I bought panties at Rite-Aid. My basket contained a bottle of wine, two packs of panties, six cans of fancy feast (so fancy!) and a large bottle of Advil.

3) My new generic apartment building seems to be populated entirely by dudes. I'm relieved. Not because I want to get friendly with them but because dudes of the Los Angeles actor/screenwriter/waiter type are fairly low on the drama scale. I hope.

4) It's like 85 degrees here today all-the-sudden. Did I move to summer? Awesome!

5) Bob is still hiding in the closet.

6) I missed Castle because of course I was in transit but then I remembered I could just catch up online. It made me think of the time before TV was online and before the DVR and how upset I was to miss the season opener of Felicity when we all found out if she picked Ben or Noel. On that day I was out of town. Honestly, I remember being deeply worried about who she would pick and could never have forseen that she would CUT HER HAIR. The insanity!!

Anyway, I tried to set the VCR to record Felicity before I went out of town but of course I ended up recording something else, like Sesame Street or something, and I was bereft. Bereft! I was working at a studio back then so I called everyone I knew and people I didn't know to get a show tape and finally a friend over at Univision sent me a pity tape but it was in Spanish and I was still SO HAPPY. But sad, too, because the hair! The hair!

Now I can just go online at watch TV. It is kind of amazing this innernets that Al Gore created. I love you, Al. I've got wine, call when you can.

- - -

That's all I've got today. I know you want the juicy details of Whatever Happened With Baby Jane but I can't really talk about all of it. One day it will make a good story. I will be interested to see how far away that day is. As for me, I am not in the closet along with Bob so that is a good sign, although I did cry in the shower and eat peanut butter straight from the jar BUT I did not do those two activities simultaneously so I am pretty sure all these months of therapy have helped turn me into a person who can at least separate out her pity parties. PROGRESS! I'll take it.

Thank you for all the good vibes, I needed that. Thank you!

Posted by laurie at 4:08 PM

March 29, 2011

People say I'm the life of the party 'cause I tell a joke or two

HI. I MOVED.

IN THREE DAYS.

You know what's awesome? What's awesome is having to find a new apartment for you and your herd of felines in Los Angeles and pack up your whole household and move in three days. It is not at all dull. Also, it burns so many calories.

My name is Laurie and I am about to have some wine. At 10 a.m. In my new home. Where I just moved. Today. (Of course I have no internet or power or anything so I will go to a coffee shop to post this, or maybe the sushi place on the corner, I don't know, I just moved here. Help me.)

There is a whole lot of repressed dramatic going on, and I am sure one day it will bubble up and I will find myself alone in the closet with a large pepperoni pizza. OK, not the closet. Because that is gross. But you understand what I am saying here.

SO WHAT HAPPENED WAS...

My next door neighbor had a psychotic break. I'm not actually a doctor (even though I play one on TV) but I feel that term best describes what happened at The Place Where I Once Lived yesterday. I'm not sure if it was drug-induced or if she went off her medication or if Elvis speaks to her. All I know is that I had to bolt. I can't tell you too many of the details, but I think "psychotic break" sums it up.

So in what will go down in history as the most expensive few days of my life, I fled the scene in a flurry of self-preservation. There wasn't much choice, and that part is awful, also I will be eating ramen noodles for the next six years. In the same time period there was family stuff and also there was car stuff, neither of which has been resolved, and I think one of the cats is sick, and we have an appointment because all scary and expensive things must happen in the same week as predetermined by the Universe and its absurd sense of humor. But now I live somewhere else NOT SPECIFIED and it has a security system and what is most important is that I am alive to tell you this story. I'm not sure what my beyond-the-grave internet access would look like anyway.

In the midst of all this I remember telling myself to be thankful because even though this situation is ridiculously stressful and expensive it is not a tsunami or nuclear contamination zone or similar. But being forced out of your home by a psychotic person kind of sucks. So I am just going to table any moral qualms I have about my emotions and watch for the pizza man.

There you have it, the one-act dramatic play of March, 2011, presented in six acts. Now, intermission!

- - -

In a not-entirely-unrelated subject, I would like to take this opportunity to tell you about Blogads. I've never really been good at shilling or shucking or whatever it is (oh! I think "begging" may be the word!) but I do have links for advertising spaces on the sidebar over there --->

And if you have a business or even if you just want to advertise your blog for a week, I have dropped all the prices on my ads so they are delicious and affordable. It's very easy to purchase a blogad, all you have to do is point-and-click, there are premium ads (at the top of the sidebar) and there are classic ads which appear in the middle of the sidebar but are way cheaper (as low as $25 for a week!) and then there are the new ad squares, the most affordable of all, which cost only $5 a day. You can upload and submit your ad in no time at all.

And if you don't have any need for a blogad, there is still one awesome thing you can do. When you see an ad on the sidebar, give it a click! I do not get paid per click but your interest helps the advertisers know their ad is being seen and clicked upon (and hopefully it encourages them to advertise more.)

- - -

At this point in the column I feel like I should say, "And now back to your regularly scheduled programming." But in a low, 1960s TV-announcer voice.

- - -

Before today's program concludes I want to leave you with one funny image, like they used to do on "Hee Haw." Because what is the point of living your life if you can't find something to laugh at like the heyday of Hee Haw? Honestly!

soba-moving-day.jpg
THIS BOX IS ALREADY OCCUPIED. MOVE ALONG.

Posted by laurie at 1:58 PM

February 20, 2011

Change is no old friend of mind. Old enemy, perhaps.

Yet change is as always marching forward and onward like a soldier who became part man, part android and has been stuck in an infinite loop of marching ever onward ever since.

I got a little lost in my metaphor there, but the theme today is ch-ch-change. Brew your coffee strong this morning and add to it what you see fit for such a topic. I will be adding organic half & half but if I weren't driving out to meet up with Jennifer shortly I would be tipping in the calvados. Strong coffee with that little extra warmth. Oh yeah.

Possible Change Scenario # 1:

It has come to my attention that the masthead image on this here website, while amusing for the inherently naughty nature of a 1960s Bernat knitwear model having to strike such devious little poses, may not be what you want to look at when you hear my voice in your head in the mornings. Many readers have sent me letters saying they do not think it is a good representation of this crazy Aunt we have, funky ol' Aunt Purl.

Also it was pointed out to me that since people might mistakenly believe that woman IS me, that I should reconsider my doppelganger.

I will leave this one in your hands. All in favor of changing say aye. All opposed to change on pure principle, say naye. All those who said aye also signed a contract waiving their rights to complain about a new masthead should one appear. (The waivers are in real small print.) (hee)

I'm open to changing it up. And I need some help on Movable Type so if you know anyone who is an expert please hook us up. My brain hurts thinking about the code.


Possible Change Scenario # 2:

It's time to ponder -- mayhaps not change -- but ponder the nature of the eReader.

For a die-hard paper book lover such as myself, this might be an awkward and at times painful move but after trying to clean my office again for the bazillionth time I finally admit my books are out of control.

My home is full of stuff and of all that stuff the absolute heaviest and largest chunk of stuff is the books and all the furniture required to shelve said books. They take over this house and if I can manage to get some off the walls and into an eReader, it would be a miracle of space-saving.

Right now my thinking is between the iPad and the Kindle. I like the iPad because it's easy to use (after all it's just a gigantic toddler version of an iPhone) but the size itself seems to be a drawback to me for reading on it. Its bonus feature to me is that you can play scrabble on it and surf and do all that stuff on one gadget. But the kindle looks like a better size to hold and read, and it has a qwerty keyboard and it holds a whole lot of books. Plus, I am so tuned in to amazon I even have the shopping app on my phone. Love me some amazon.com. The Kindle also has no service fees, you just pay as you buy books.

So I'd love to hear from Kindlers and iPadders (They really named it that? I'm still amused. Make one with dri-weave now, please?) and if you Nookers and Sony eReader aficionados want to chime in I would love to hear from you, too. Tell us the pros and cons of your favorite device, how you use it, how sturdy it is, how reliable it's been and anything else you think can help us.

Because I am not the only one thinking about adding an eReader into the book cave, am I?

I can really only ponder two big change items in a day so there you have it. And don't worry, you won't insult my delicate southern feelings if you speak your mind on the masthead. I already know I want to change the wording a bit (see what expensive therapy does? I can now change a sentence!) and feel free to reassure me that I am not the only late adopter with this eReading thing. But I see why it could be so necessary now. You get the book immediately and you don't have to store it on your shelf.

Of course I would have to keep some books, many books, let's be real. But if I could clear out my trashy paperbacks section and put those on an eReader I would lose about 190 pounds of stuff and free up a whole area in the bookshelves for the yarn books. Amazing. The times they are a-changing.

Posted by laurie at 8:40 PM

January 10, 2011

Leaves in a bowl

Well, I lied. I didn't mean to lie but there you have it. While I often go on and on about how I don't love salad, especially the salads that are just a pile of leaves and grass in a bowl, there is actually one salad of this variety that I love. I just forgot about it. Probably because I only have it at restaurants, and even rarer still because when I eat out I have a hard time justifying a $15 salad. SERIOUSLY. Give me the steak instead.

So, the salad I'm talking about is a Caesar Salad, and I remembered it because of the January, 2011 O Magazine which features a Caesar salad recipe by Cristina Ferrare.

You know until recently I didn't realize people made their own salad dressings. I mean, yes, of course I saw people on TV shows do it. But I also saw people on TV who worked in coffee shops yet could afford to live in huge, amazing apartments in New York City. And we all know that doesn't happen in real life. I just assumed it was the same with salad dressing. Like people really make that at home!

As it turns out, one can actually make salad dressing at home. Fascinating.

Here's the recipe:

Ingredients

For croutons:

* 1 clove garlic , peeled and smashed
* 3 Tbsp. olive oil
* 3 cups roughly chopped bread cubes (like baguette or sourdough)

For dressing:

* 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
* 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
* 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
* 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
* 1 clove garlic , minced
* 4 anchovy fillets , chopped and mashed into a paste
* 1/4 cup olive oil
* 2 Tbsp. canola oil

To assemble:

* 2 heads romaine lettuce (about 1 pound)
* 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
* 1/3 cup and 2 Tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 ounce)

Directions
Active time: 20 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes

To make croutons: Place rack in middle position of oven; preheat to 350°. Combine smashed garlic clove and olive oil; infuse for 20 minutes.

Remove garlic from oil (it can be reserved and used to make the dressing). In a large bowl, toss oil and bread cubes together.

On a sheet tray, spread cubes in an even layer and bake, stirring occasionally, until golden and crunchy, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove and cool. Croutons can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week.

To make dressing: In a medium bowl, combine lemon juice, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt, garlic, and anchovies; whisk until smooth.

In another bowl, briefly whisk together olive and canola oils. Whisking lemon juice mixture constantly, add oil in a slow, steady stream. Use dressing immediately, or store in refrigerator for 1 day; shake well before using.

To make salad: Wash, dry, and tear lettuce into 11/2-inch pieces. In a large bowl, toss together lettuce, salt, 1/3 cup Parmesan, most of the croutons, and 1/2 of the dressing (reserve rest for another use). Toss salad together, making sure everything is thoroughly mixed. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and a handful of croutons.


I followed the recipe to the letter with just a few exceptions. I used Garlic Gold oil (which is a garlicky infused oil) on the croutons. And I used a gluten-free bread instead of a baguette.

Now listen, I have tried just about every single brand and kind of wheat-free bread available in Los Angeles County. I have even tried making my own (with disastrous results). When I was out at Whole Foods shopping for the anchovies, I saw a new gluten-free bread, Rudi's Original Gluten Free bread. I bought a loaf to try it out and I was shocked, shocked I tell you! I do not work for these people but I would, and you know why? This is BREAD. It actually looks and feels and tastes like bread. It's still not Wonder Bread, mind you, but it is by far the closest thing I have found to real GF bread. It's the texture. They got the texture just right.

Call your stores and request it. We have to keep these people in business -- my freezer can only hold so many loaves. They make a multigrain bread which is tasty, too. If you are allergic to wheat, or sensitive to it, or have Celiac, you have to try this bread (you can order it online, as well). And they have a $1 off coupon available to print.

After I made this recipe I called my mom to rave on and on about my awesome cooking skills (I made salad!) and she told me that if you're squeamish you can just buy anchovy paste instead of the fish an a jar, and while I am not squeamish and actually kind of liked mushing them up with a fork, you may not. I thought I would pass that tip along.

caesar1.jpg
Recipe


caesar2.jpg
Croutons-in-waiting


caesar3.jpg
Salad success


Leaves in a bowl ... I think this counts as cooking!

Posted by laurie at 10:03 AM

January 4, 2011

You got my attention with your big orange sticker!

Over the weekend Jennifer and I went to the movies and I had popcorn which means my New Year's resolutions are off to a good start. I should have tried this years ago -- resolve to do more things that are fun! After all, if the only thing I achieve in all of 2011 is watching movies and eating popcorn, could it be that bad of a year?

- - -

At the beginning of every new year I tend to get some kind of wild hair up my youknowwhat to clean something, usually the pantry or the fridge. This year I am starting with my freezer, since just last week I realized it was too full to fit a single popsicle inside it.

You see, one day in early June I went to the grocery store. This does not sound like the beginning of an awesome story, does it? But anyway, stay with me.

So it was 10 a.m. on a Tuesday. This was quite a novelty for me. I had not been able to go to the market at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday in over a decade or two because I had a job and a commute and so like many people I did my grocery shopping on the weekends or after work, when the stores were always packed with people and the goal was to get in and out and be done with it. Just another chore, which sucks, because I love grocery stores.

When I travel to other countries my favorite thing to do besides eat and sleep and order wine using my poorly accented phrasebook lingo is to visit the local grocery store. I have grocery shopped in Iceland and in Poland and in all kinds of places in between. But that's vacation, when life is easy and no one is honking at you for your parking spot at the local Ralph's.

So there I was, reveling -- no, basking -- in the practically empty grocery store right there in my own neighborhood at ten o'clock in the morning one Tuesday in early June. As I leisurely wandered the aisles I looked at the few other shoppers there. "Who are these people?" I wondered. "What kinds of lives do they have that they get this luxury of shopping on a weekday morning? Am I now one of these creatures? And where did that lady get that cup of coffee?"

In the mornings at Ralph's they sell fresh coffee. You can carry it around in your little to-go cup while you leisurely shop. I poured my coffee and carried it around the store and thought that life was just so good it couldn't get any better.

Then I wandered into the aisle with the fresh meats and I saw a whole little section full of packages of great looking steaks and chicken and all sorts of stuff with a big orange sticker on each package that yelled, MANAGER'S SPECIAL!!!

There were big, gorgeous New York strip steaks all packaged up and looking perfect yet they were marked down to $2.50. FOR A WHOLE STEAK. There was some organic ground beef, some rump roast, all of it was marked down by at least 70% with these bright stickers and I thought I had hit the jackpot. I happened to get unemployed and show up at the grocery store on the same day the manager went buckwild crazy and put all this stuff on special.

I bought all of it. I packaged it away neatly in my freezer and felt comforted and also, very lucky.

So imagine my surprise when one week later I was back in the store and I walked down that same aisle and a nice Ralph's employee was unloading a little tray of delicacies all again marked with MANAGER'S SPECIAL!!!!

"This is amazing," I said to him. "Is this something new? How do you sell a filet mignon for four dollars? Did your manager develop a crack habit and get sticker happy? Are you all going out of business or something?"

As he works with The Public and also The Public of Los Angeles he was completely unruffled by what I now realize is a crazyass looney bin kind of question. He was just as polite and nice as could be.

"No," he explained. "We just mark down the perishables as the sell-by date gets nearer or when we get in a shipment that's too large."

"Ooooooooooh," I said, as the light came on inside my small brain. "So you do this all the time? Usually I've come on the weekends and never noticed."

"We have specials every weekday, just about. Anything on the weekend would sell out early, though, because of the crowds," he said.

So that is how I discovered the MANAGER'S SPECIAL!!!! and I spent the next two months telling everyone I knew about this miracle thing I had discovered that was kept secret from me, a formerly late-night and weekend-only shopper.

But with my excitement and overzealousness now I have all this stuff in my freezer, which is why this week I am starting off my new year by eating all kinds of fascinating steak dishes and recipes using things I normally never buy but could not resist once they were eleven hundred percent cheaper than usual. After all, those MANAGER'S SPECIALS!!! won't keep indefinitely.

Every time I open my freezer and pull out another ridiculously insanely inexpensive YET STILL perfectly good steak or cutlet or chicken breast, I feel like I have beaten the system. I am not sure what this says about me. Probably not something good, but nevermind. I have found the MANAGER'S SPECIAL!!!! and that is what really matters.

And also my freezer is being excavated for the new year. All is well.

Posted by laurie at 6:51 AM

December 31, 2010

Happy New Year's Eve!

Bob is poised to jump into the new year:

bob-leap-newyear.jpg


Goodbye, ridiculous 2010 ... hello shiny new calendar! Happy New Year's Eve, everyone!

Posted by laurie at 8:20 AM

December 17, 2010

Raw Beet & Carrot Salad (with a side of navel-gazing)

beet-carrot-salad.jpg


If you have read this here website for any amount of time you have by now realized that I am not a fan of salad, specifically those salads which are nothing but a bowl of leaves and grass. But I like salads which contain no lettuce at all. My favorite is a shredded beet and carrot salad -- raw, fresh and crunchy-delicious.

Use the shredder attachment on your food processor. You can grate the carrots and beets by hand on a box grater but trust me when I tell you that hand-grating beets will leave your hands looking like Lady Macbeth. And you will have to tape off your kitchen like a Dexter crime scene.

The shredder attachment is really easy to use and once you try it you'll be addicted and want to start shredding everything. I shred parsnips, Brussels sprouts, shallots, zucchini, you name it and I can shred it. Raw beets done this way are crisp, sweet, tasty and so beautiful it makes you swoon. Until I moved to the city I didn't realize most people had only eaten beets from a can (slimy, hateful things!) so give the fresh, raw beet a try and I promise it will change your mind.

Peel the carrots if you want, or just scrub them well. Shred the carrots first, empty the bowl, then do the beets (less cleanup this way. You can shred them together but I make a lot at one time to keep in the fridge.) I do peel the beets before shredding them. It's messy, so you may want to peel them over newspaper spread out on the countertop. Four large carrots and three medium beets will make eight to ten servings of salad.

The classic salad is just five ingredients:

• Equal parts shredded beets and carrots
• Dressing made from finely chopped shallot (or top with some scallions, like in the photo above), olive oil and red wine vinegar
+ salt and pepper to taste, OK, seven ingredients

The shredded vegetables alone (without the dressing mixed in) will keep fresh in your fridge for five to seven days so it's a perfect salad for us single people or moderate salad-enjoyers. I store the carrots and beets separately so the red doesn't seep in and color my carrots in the middle of the night. SPEAKING OF COLOR. Beets are a powerful, ruby red color and they stay that way through your digestive track so don't freak out the next day, and that is all I have to say about that.

If you try this recipe and find yourself catching beet fever, you should pick up a copy of Jitterbug Perfume, possibly the best (and only?) story ever written that uses beets as a lead character.

- - -

Now the navel gazing part. You can skip this, it's totally optional.

- - -


In my kitchen and in my life my goal is to decriminalize food.

That sounds crazy. But for those of us who were programmed into Diet Mentality at a very early age, the world of food has been treacherous, unhealthy and illicit. We are food criminals and food is either BAD or GOOD and you are either bad or good depending on what you just ate. The problem of course is that food is integral to living. You need it every day to function, to breathe, to move, to sustain your life. It becomes a way to bond, nourish, show people you care about them. No wonder that food has a whole lot of emotion wrapped up in it. There are some people who see food only as nutrition and fuel. I don't know many of those people. Those people may want to go read something else now, since this will sound like "blah blah blah" to them.

I was not an overweight child. I was underweight, in fact, but I remember my first diet as clearly as I can remember my last one. I was eight years old and I tried so hard to be good but of course I failed, because I was eight and hungry. I can remember times before that, being six years old (in pictures I am so tiny and blonde and pale) wondering why my brother was allowed to eat anything he wanted while I was told, "Be careful! You don't want to grow up to be fat, do you?" I knew early on that fat was a bad thing. I'm not blaming anyone here, I'm too old to still be blaming someone for all my issues. At my age there is no one playing those tapes in my mind but me. I mention the beginning because it's important to cut myself some slack and see that this situation didn't develop overnight so it won't be fixed overnight.

Truthfully, it's a long process. I have been trapped in diet mentality since I was too young to even understand it. It has taken me years to start unraveling the kinks in my brain about food and eating and body size and even now I'm not sure how much progress I've made.

When I was on the Atkins Diet I lost a very significant amount of weight. I also lost a very significant amount of hair, and broke out in rashes all over my body, and some nights I would wake up in a panic because of nightmare dreams that I ate carbohydrates. I would tiptoe downstairs to be sure I hadn't actually eaten a bagel or a potato in my sleep. Of course I hadn't -- I had stopped buying "bad carb" foods altogether.

There was one day during that period of serious Atkins obsession when I was sitting at a lunch with my coworkers and I was carefully and neurotically picking the shredded carrots out of my salad. You would think someone at that table would have gently suggested that one teaspoon of shredded carrots wouldn't make me fat. Or at least they would have thought such a thing. But instead, I remember everyone at that table telling me, "I wish I had your willpower. You look amazing. Atkins is really working for you. I really need to lose weight, too..."

While I am not a medical doctor, I am certain that most of the obese people in America (including myself) did not become obese by eating raw carrots. Even so, I developed an irrational fear of carrots ... and bananas, and potatoes and watermelon. Inside my purse I carried a half-cup measuring spoon (enclosed in a ziploc baggie) so that I could measure out serving sizes of lettuce or "safe" vegetables. Again, you don't need a couch and a PhD to see that's not a healthy relationship with food.

It took years to disengage my brain from from carb counting and decriminalize the carrot. It's not just carbs, it's everything: points, fat grams, calories, nutrients, glycemic index, fiber. I've been on every diet that exists. Dieting like that is a disorder, it's saying that you can't be trusted to choose food for yourself, you need a list to tell you how to eat properly. Some people can move in and out of that world without losing their minds but some of us become utterly warped by it. Food becomes the one thing we must never, ever trust. We cannot be trusted. You are either on a diet and eating clean (and you are good) or you are off-plan and eating bad (and you are bad, worthless, spineless, weak, fat).

Not everyone experiences this but for people like me it's a whole life viewed only through the prism of weight and food. Listen, everyone has their stuff. Some people have drug or alcohol problems, some gamble or spend to excess, some have issues with sex or hoarding or anger. Everyone has their stuff. This is mine.

Newsweek recently featured a story about food and class divisions in America (you can read the article here) and I thought this part of the article was right on target:

Claude Fischler, a French sociologist, believes that Americans can fight both obesity and food insecurity by being more, well, like the French.

Americans take an approach to food and eating that is unlike any other people in history. For one thing, we regard food primarily as (good or bad) nutrition. When asked “What is eating well?” Americans generally answer in the language of daily allowances: they talk about calories and carbs, fats, and sugars. They don’t see eating as a social activity, and they don’t see food — as it has been seen for millennia — as a shared resource, like a loaf of bread passed around the table.

When asked “What is eating well?” the French inevitably answer in terms of “conviviality”: togetherness, intimacy, and good tastes unfolding in a predictable way.

Even more idiosyncratic than our obsession with nutrition, says Fischler, is that Americans see food choice as a matter of personal freedom, an inalienable right. Americans want to eat what they want: morels or Big Macs. They want to eat where they want, in the car or alfresco. And they want to eat when they want. With the exception of Thanksgiving, when most of us dine off the same turkey menu, we are food libertarians.

In surveys, Fischler has found no single time of day (or night) when Americans predictably sit together and eat. By contrast, 54 percent of the French dine at 12:30 each day. Only 9.5 percent of the French are obese. [34 percent of Americans are obese.]

This idea of breaking food down into intangibles such as calories, points, carbs and fat grams turns food into The Enemy when taken to an extreme. It's not even food anymore, it's just a pile of fat, calories and grams of this or that. Sometimes here in Los Angeles -- where Thin is religion -- I wonder if the goal is to simply find a way to eliminate eating entirely. I know people who seem to exist on nothing but diet drinks and fat-free yogurt. I know women who would rather die than go up a size.

A few years ago when I was still very new at what I called "undieting," I wrote a little essay here about it. I also posted what I was having for lunch that week, a peanut butter sandwich and an apple and some other fruit. Two things happened: First, I realized that attaching food choices to a list was still Diet Mentality. Second, I got a ridiculous amount of comments (later deleted) warning me that peanut butter is BAD because it is full of fat and calories and sugars and that I should be careful because I was going to gain weight. That sounded awfully familiar. Even in a heartfelt essay about breaking free of dieting I couldn't break free of it and neither could many readers. It was eye-opening.

A few months after I wrote that essay I was contacted by a major women's magazine wanting to do a story on my "undieting" -- as a diet story, complete with a meal plan and a photo shoot. I declined in a hot, crazy panic, much to the dismay of all the publicity people around me. I just couldn't do it. I wasn't skinny. I wasn't finished, or good, or done. I couldn't open myself up to anyone's scrutiny. I was horrified. I wanted to hide. I wanted to eat. I wanted to be anyone but me.

People love to give advice about eating plans. Look at any news article online about nutrition and the comments are full of people who are EXPERTS on nutrition telling you what to do. A lot of it is angry, too, "Get off your fat ass and exercise! Stop eating!" Folks are angry about the weight of strangers. I know from my own life experience that many people like me better when there is less of me in existence.

But I bought into it. I believed -- and still do, probably -- that I would be a better person when there was so much less of me. I felt (and feel, still) embarrassed about my size, no matter what size that is. With certain friends and family members I used to make a point to preemptively comment about my weight so they wouldn't feel the need to make comments (a bad strategy which not only didn't work but made me feel worse about myself.)

My weight is no longer a topic of discussion with those folks, the ones I felt I needed to preempt. If someone wants to talk about the size of my body or what I eat they have to do it when I'm not around. Perhaps that's drastic or weird or crazy, but I can't get better when I'm constantly apologizing for what I look like. Dismantling the diet mentality isn't an overnight process. It takes time, it takes work and it may take professional help. I've had to make some very serious life changes -- especially this year -- and it's not been easy or painless but it has been worthwhile in a way I can't oversell. There are no more beat-them-to-the-punch fat comments. And I'm starting to learn that being thin is not actually the only value a woman can have (even though it sometimes feels that way.) I don't apologize as much for how I look. If people don't like it I figure they can look away. Like everyone, I can only do my best.

Telling people these deep, dark things opens one to scrutiny which is not always easy for me. But I tell you these things because I look around and I know that I am not the only woman who has made a self-deprecating comment about her own human body as a way to beat others to the punch. I know I am not the only one out there who has had nightmares about eating a restricted food. And I know I'm not the only one who has had to put a little effort into dialing down my panic over something as simple as lunch. I guess I wanted you to know that the longer I keep at it the better I am getting. I'm not all the way there yet (do we ever arrive at anything? really?) but I'm better. If I can improve Lord knows it's possible for anyone.

And, at long last, I have successfully decriminalized the carrot.

Posted by laurie at 9:53 AM

December 16, 2010

Is that a carrot in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

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The table, all ready and set to go. One of my favorite things about entertaining is that doesn't cost anything to set a pretty table. Look closely and you may see my placemats are from a discount store, none of my wineglasses match, I have Ikea dishes and my water glasses are vintage thrift-store finds. My centerpiece is a lavish, too -- three green apples with circles carved out so that you can fit in a snug little votive candle. (Three apples gave their lives for art! Blame Martha Stewart.) I love setting the table with everything clean and sparkly and pretty and simple all collected together.

Until now I have not been much of a cook. I've always tried, sure, but I wasn't very good at it and even when something turned out well I just didn't like cooking. Now I know why. Cooking takes time! It takes patience to shop and chop and wash and grate and peel and simmer and meld. Cooking from scratch seems to be a lot cheaper than eating out but it sure can take time and I always hated that, I was always rushed and pressed and pinched. Cooking was a chore.

These days cooking has become a little treat. It helps that I'm getting better at it, and when you have more time than anything else it's not a bad way to spend an afternoon. I invited two friends over for a meal and I loved how happy they were with it. It made me feel so good to cook up something fresh and warm and tasty for my friends and I didn't set the oven on fire, or the broiler, or the dishcloth. Nothing scorched or boiled over or needed the fire department to help save life and property. Though I have met a few very helpful firemen in my time.

My girlfriends have busy lives and packed schedules and there's something about cooking a good meal that makes me feel like I'm taking care of people in my own way. One of my friends is on a vegan diet. You all know of course that I'm not a vegan, I'm a big fat omnivore. But (unlike the goofballs who write to tell me I'm a meat murderer every time I cook a pot roast) I respect other people's choices and I do love a challenge. I was kind of excited about the prospect of cooking a whole meal totally vegan (and gluten free. Ya'll, that is a lot of NOs all in one meal!) Especially because she is the kind of friend who would never ask for that or expect it, she'd be happy with a banana and a root beer.

For the dinner party I started off with a tray of carrots, celery, radishes, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, snap peas, parsnips, peppers... you name it. I made a trip to the Farmer's Market and got whatever was fresh and cheap. And I made dip of course -- one hummus with garlic and one hummus with kalamata olives. I started a few days ahead of time by soaking the chickpeas, cooking them up, pureeing them in the food processor, adding in the lemon and tahini and all that. I also added a ranch dip for the non-vegans which I kind-of-sort-of made, stirring a mix into some yogurt.

For dinner we started with a beet and carrot shredded salad that I plan to tell you all about in more detail tomorrow. For the main meal I made red bell peppers stuffed with a soft risotto made with pine nuts, cherry tomatoes, garlic, onion and vegetable stock (non-vegans got the option of some shredded Gruyere on top). On the side I made sauteed zucchini with caramelized onions and a simple crispy potato cake with chopped scallions on top. Potato cakes are the best dinner party meal, it's like hashbrowns gone upscale. You just shred some russet potatoes and add onions (if you want) and cook the whole thing in oil until crispy. You can even use the pre-shredded grocery store hashbrowns to save time. I never had the time before to shred my own potatoes! Or cheese. Or salad. I think I prefer being short on dough to being short on time. At least I am no longer puddled up in a corner eating my hair and crying for my mommy.

ANYWAY. That was dinner. I am not a dessert person and I don't know how to bake so we just had fruit and chocolate for dessert. It was fine, no one complained.

I feel so happy and proud of this meal! It's not the one-time-only huge things in life that give me satisfaction, it's little stuff, like pulling off a nice (edible) meal that shows my friends I love them.

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Once an Art Director, always an art director. I cut the peppers exactly in half, stems and all. I got perhaps more excited about it than is normal.

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My dad suggested parboiling them ahead of time and then shocking them in a bath of ice water. Would you have ever in eleventeen hundred years believed I would be a person who parboils? A bunny boiler perhaps, but a parboiler? Has the world stopped spinning on its axis?


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My un-glam picture of our little meal.


I meant to play Christmas carols but instead we listened to James Taylor and some old French songs and we had wine and conversation and it was a perfect day. Not because it was fancy (see: hashbrowns, above, and mismatched wineglasses) but because it had all the good stuff like laughing and talking and relaxing. And now I understand why people like cooking. I actually get it. And anyway everything tastes better when you caramelize an onion and light only your apples on fire.

Posted by laurie at 8:44 AM

November 23, 2010

It's beginning to look a lot like glitter!

I haven't been posting much because I've been writing and I can't think of anything more boring than reading about someone writing (except perhaps writing about writing, oh, whoops! I fell asleep for a minute!) so there wasn't much to say but now I'm in some odd flurry, like I caught the holiday flu all on one day and now on the heels of turkey dinner with dressing, there is this:

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My Christmas tree is up and decorated, a veritable shrine to what appears to be a growing collection of Eiffel Tower ornaments. I love it. I love this tree, I got it several years ago when I was still maudlin and morose on the holidays and went shopping for a tree to brighten up Chez Dour.

I was standing in Target in Van Nuys and I looked at all the trees on display and I sighed and decided to cancel Christmas with a wimp-out drama queen thing I was doing back then, but sanity prevailed ("The show must go on!") and I stuffed this tree in the back of my Jeep and brought it back to my tiny house in Encino-adjacent and decorated it and it has been the perfect tree for me ever since.

Last night my friend Corey stopped by for dinner (turkey and dressing, oh my!) and everything was very festive with the tree up. She confided later that she wasn't sure she would like Southern style cornbread dressing but she did like it, even though her family (not Yankees, specifically, but Northern Californians) put stuff in their "stuffing" which I tuned out because all that crazytalk sounds the same to me. I made Brussels sprouts, too, sauteed in a pan and this time they turned out pretty good if I do say so myself. I'm getting better at cooking, probably because I'm not exhausted all the time and running around like my whole life is a hassle. FUNNY HOW THAT WORKS.

After she left I admired my tree a bit before heading off to bed. I love the sparklyness and all my Paris stuff on there and the way it twinkles in the living room and makes the whole apartment festive and warm and glowy. Christmas has a very happy aura if you can strain out the shoulds and could-have-mighta-beens and just distill it into what you like best.

I like: the tree, the lights, the glitter ornaments, the way the weather changes so it's chilly in the mornings and the cats can lie by the fireplace for hours, the storefronts full of sparkles and decorations, mulled cider, champagne at noon on Christmas Day. I like going for a walk on Christmas morning when the whole city has finally calmed down, because from now until Christmas it's nothing but rush, rush, rush and everyone is crazy and on that morning the whole city feels relaxed, a collective exhale.

Sometimes I tend to focus on what's lacking -- particularly around the holidays -- and I never find it works for me, after all it doesn't change anything. So this year I'm skipping the puddled-up parts and moving directly to appreciating what is, which is much more sane and efficient. (Forget enlightened, perhaps as you age, you just want to be more emotionally efficient?)

My apartment is sparkled and ready for the good parts. We did already have an ornament fatality this season, and it was a real messy one, a glass snowglobe thingy that had water and glitter inside and shattered on the floor. Which wasn't even the cat's fault, it was all me, so if you ever invite me over I'm just suggesting you hide your breakables.

Now I'm going to make myself a cup of tea and type up some words, which is boring to talk about ("... and then I spellchecked, it was enthralling!") so instead, I'll give you some Bob on his blankie:

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Everyone likes to cuddle in the winter.

And it is winter!!!! Check out Dapper Dallas... we have cold nights and turkeys and palm trees and a cloud in the seven day forecast!

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It's winter, yo.

Posted by laurie at 9:13 AM

November 22, 2010

Cornbread Dressing is love on a spoon

This is a big pan of cornbread dressing just ready to go in the oven:

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(Fuzzy, oddly colored pic from my iphone)

If you are asking yourself right now, "What is dressing?" then you are a likely a Yankee and all I can say is Bless Your Heart. Aw, don't feel so bad. Ya'll won the war.

I've technically lived in Los Angeles now almost as long as I lived in the South, but I feel most Southern around food, especially anything having to do with cornbread or The Trinity. For many people, Thanksgiving turkey comes with something called stuffing and sometimes it's even inside the turkey (!) and has odd bits in it like walnuts (!!) and cranberries (!!!) and the most far-out of all, raisins. In a turkey. What will they think of next?

You don't have to wait until Thanksgiving to have dressing, I made mine yesterday and cooked a big huge turkey breast in the crockpot and plan to have Thanksgiving all week long.

To make cornbread dressing, first you need to make cornbread. The real stuff, not that fluffy, sweet corn-like muffin thing you get in restaurants. Southern cornbread is not sweet or cake-like or light, it's dense and grainy and chewy and cooked in cast iron.

Real Southern Cornbread

• 2 cups cornmeal (I use yellow, you can use white if you prefer)
• 1/4 cup flour
• 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 2 cups buttermilk (you can use less buttermilk and add in some water if you prefer)
• 2 eggs
• 1/4 cup oil or shortening or bacon fat (I use oil)
• OPTIONAL - A pinch of sugar, I use a very small amount, maybe 2 teaspoons.
• 8-inch cast iron skillet (makes a taller cornbread) or 10-inch skillet (makes a flatter cornbread)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put the oil in the skillet and place it in the oven to get hot.

Mix dry ingredients.

Mix wet ingredients (except oil, it's in the pan in the oven) and add to dry, incorporate.

Pull the hot pan out of the oven (use your oven mitts, seriously people) and add the hot oil to the mixture, leaving just a little hot oil in the pan to coat it well.

Stir the batter, put the batter in the hot, oily pan and put it in the oven to cook for 20-25 minutes.

*****You can make this recipe totally gluten free by using a good gluten-free cornmeal and adding in white rice flour or some other GF flour in place of the all-purpose flour.****


Once you have your cornbread, making dressing is a snap. It's really just cornbread, toast, spices and of course the trinity of onions, celery and bell pepper. The fact that Southerners and Cajuns call this mixture "The Trinity" speaks deeply to our love and religious fervor about food.


Southern Cornbread Dressing

Ingredients:

* Crumbled cornbread
* 6-8 pieces of bread toasted and cut into pieces
* Oil
* 2 cups (or less) chopped green bell pepper
* 2 cups chopped onion
* 2 cups chopped celery
* 4 cups chicken broth (or more if needed)
* 1 heaping tablespoon dried sage
* Salt and black pepper to taste
* 2 eggs, lightly beaten

To make:

Heat oven to 350ºF.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the cornbread and bread crumbs.

Make the Trinity:
In a saucepan over medium heat, sauté the onion and celery and bell pepper in oil until tender. Do not brown. Add in the salt, pepper and sage to taste. I am hedonistic and add a small pinch of cayenne but DO NOT TELL MY FATHER.

Combine the sautéed trinity with the breads in the big bowl. Stir in chicken broth, using enough to moisten. It should be almost soupy. Stir in the beaten eggs, blending well. Spread the mixture in a large shallow pan (measuring about 10" x 15") and bake for 20 minutes uncovered and another 20 or so covered with foil.

*** To make this totally Gluten Free, I used a carton of pre-made gluten free bread cube thingies sold at Whole Foods in place of the toast. It works great. You could also use GF bread and toast it up, but either way you need to soak the gluten free toasted bread cubes in some chicken broth first before adding it to the cornbread. ****


And, as the side dish to my dressing, I made a turkey breast in the crockpot:


Ingredients:

* Turkey breast
* Chicken broth or stock, about 1 cup
* Aromatics: I use a cut lemon, onions, a few pieces of celery, bay leaves, black peppercorns and of course some Bell's poultry seasoning, rubbed all over the meat

Put the aromatics in the bottom of the pot. Add seasoned turkey, add broth and cook on high for 1-2 hours, and low for four to six more depending on size. Make sure your bird is cooked to at least 160ºF using a meat thermometer.

The skin does not crisp up this way, but becomes moist and very easy to remove if you, like me, do not prefer the skin. Also, the turkey stays juicy and tender. This is a super no-fuss way to make a turkey as a very good accompaniment to your dressing!

- - -

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Frankie smells turkey in the air...

Posted by laurie at 10:16 AM

November 15, 2010

Only 39 days left, you know

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Are you horrified?

I wouldn't blame you if you were. But I love Christmas. I love the twinkly lights and the chilly weather and the way it gets dark so early. And why not decorate already? More time to enjoy the view.

Last night I went for a walk and all the shops on the Boulevard were lit up with holiday lights and it felt very festive and happy and sparkly. I haven't put up my real tree downstairs yet, just this little tinsel tree on my desk. But I foresee a Christmas Tree in my week, yes I do.

- - -

This is how a cat walks a human:

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While I appreciate all the well-meaning catloving souls who have sent me pleading letters and written dire comments imploring me not to use a collar and leash because I am killing my cat with a collar instead of a harness, let me assure you that this is as far as we have ever gotten on our "walks" with the leash: the doormat. The collar is merely a decoration, a way of the cat showing me she can get me to do any silly thing she desires.

We've lived together for over twelve years now and I know her persnickity ways. She won't even walk into the kitchen because the tile is too cold for her delicate dictator's toes.

Our "walks" take about 30 seconds. I open the door, she stands in the doorway. Upon discovering that the door does not lead to a catnip forest with flowing rivers of Meow Mix, she looks at me, bored for another day, and then we shut the door. It's not like we're out jogging together.

I think the pink collar is fine for forays to the doormat.

- - -

Other cats get their exercise the old-fashioned way:

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Work it out, Bob!

Posted by laurie at 8:25 AM

November 10, 2010

Cooking With Gas! And Reading With Gasps

The weather has been cold and wintry (read: 68 degrees) and yesterday I cooked up a big pot of black beans, good cold-weather food. I also set out some chickpeas to soak because today I'm making my favorite winter dish, kale and chickpea stew. I know the name sounds awful but it's DELICIOUS.

If you decide to make it, don't leave out the sausage. You don't have to use chorizo, I've used hot Louisiana sausage, spicy Italian sausage and herb turkey sausage instead (and you can use soyrizo if you want a vegetarian version). But the sausage adds the flavor. Also, you may want to get out your food processor to get the kale really finely chopped. I prefer that to big chunks of kale.

My cooking skills have improved quite a bit since I've been home with time to actually cook properly. I'm not constantly rushing, worried that dinner will be lumpy and burned at 11 p.m. I still fall back on many of my basic dishes (roasted vegetables, baked chicken, things that are hard to screw up) but lately I've been making a lot of dishes from the TV show Ten Dollar Dinners with Melissa d'Arabian.

A more accurate name for this show would be "Super Simplified French Cooking On A Budget," which is the perfect show for me. My cooking skills are mediocre at best but I've tried lots of d'Arabian's recipes and so far none have turned out poorly.

I made her version of a French roast chicken dinner for company a few weeks ago and it was unbelievably tasty. Last night I made the zucchini with herbes de Provence and it was outstanding. Later this week I'm making her lentil quinoa salad, which is both good and good for you. I know her recipes may not appeal to super foodies who prefer complicated cooking but for a remedial cook like me this show is perfect.

- - -

This has nothing to do with cooking, but over the weekend I read Portia de Rossi's memoir Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain. It was un-put-down-able.

This book is a very detailed diary of her eating disorder, particularly focused on the years she was on the TV show Ally McBeal. I'll tell you what, I just couldn't stop reading it.

If you've ever watched actresses on TV and wondered how they stayed so thin or if you've ever hated your own body because you can't manage to look like women in magazines, this is the book you need to read. It's a deeply disturbing look at Hollywood Skinny.

I've read my fair share of celebrity memoirs and most actresses aren't as honest about their issues as she was in this book. She didn't do any glossing or careful couching, this story is raw and real and honest. And it's horrifying. All we see on TV and in movies and magazines are women who are bone skinny, and we wonder why we don't look that way. But when I read this book I thought, Holy crap! Even Portia de Rossi couldn't look like Portia de Rossi.

It's the first book I stayed up all night to finish in a long time.

Posted by laurie at 8:51 AM

October 18, 2010

And we're back online!

The cable guy just left and my new modem seems to be working. Hello, internet. You look pretty!

They aren't kidding around with that Monday morning 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. window. I've never been able to have repair appointments scheduled during the workweek so experiencing an on-time repairman visit was like winning the lottery.

The best part of being innernetless for many days was the freedom from technology with no guilt. There was no guilt at being late with email or not reading it at all or not catching up on this or that or deleting spam or even checking my accounts because there was no internet, therefore I was free. I have friends who can't stand to go an hour without checking email or facebook or twitter or voicemail or texting or whatever it is they do obsessively on their fancy phones. I have a fancy phone but I use it almost exclusively for playing scrabble and solitaire. Maybe it's an age thing? Or perhaps I just don't have the DNA for technology addiction.

Instead I spent last week and the weekend reading (both versions of Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, the original and the updated version, so I'll be ready for our book chat next Monday!) and re-reading Passing for Thin by Frances Kuffel. The last time I read that book I must have still been a smoker, inside the pages I found a little improvised bookmark from the torn foil liner of a pack of Capris.

When I found that little scrap of paper I held it up to my nose and breathed in deeply, hoping it still smelled faintly of tobacco. But it just smelled like paper. I turned it over and over in my fingers, thinking about every thing I loved so much about smoking: tapping a fresh, unopened pack of cigarettes to pack the tobacco, pulling off the cellophane on the outside, opening a fresh carton and pulling off the foil-lined paper. Then I would smell them. Tobacco (when it's not burning) smells universally good, earthy. Then lighting, inhaling, watching smoke drift off as you exhale. I loved smoking.

When I quit and realized it wasn't just a blip, that I really had quit, I shared my dirty little secret with people. I explained that I hadn't quit, really, I just decided to pause smoking until I turned 60 and then I could smoke again. And that was the only way I could quit smoking rightnow, by promising myself I could smoke when I was older. I figured it would give me something to look forward to, anyway. And so far it has worked, I am a non-smoker. For now.

When I told people my plan to resume smoking at age 60 the responses were varied and firmly reflected the personality of the person commenting. "You'll be surprised how soon you'll start hating smokers!" "You'll never smoke again, trust me." "Smoking kills!" "Oh My God, Me TOO." "I was going to start again at 70, but maybe 65..." "I want to smoke right now."

One of the things I love most about Los Angeles is how insane people are about smoking. People here will have man-made chemical objects inserted in their boobs to gain a cup size or inject a substance made from botulism into their eyebrows but they won't stand a hundred yards from a smoker. It is fascinating! If you want to bring this city to its knees, forget terrorism and warfare. Just place a smoker on every street corner. When I turn 60 I assume that smoking tobacco will be illegal in Los Angeles County.

Luckily, though, it looks like pot will be totally legal so I can just make the switch from Capri Ultra Lights to Billy's Bong Shop!

How did I get off on this tangent?

Also, while the innernet was away, I caught up on some laundry and some mail and took several long walks and watched plenty of good TV. Is anyone else watching Detroit 1-8-7? I'm not sure why, but I find it very disturbing. It's compelling -- I can't stop watching -- but it's so gritty. Not really an ad for the Detroit Visitor's Bureau, but probably the best cop show I've seen since The Closer first aired. The Undercovers was a disappointment, but Hawaii 5-0 is beyond great TV. The new season of Castle is fun, and I'm watching DWTS, although I find it odd I'm rooting for Bristol Palin. I was glad "The Situation" finally got the boot, I feel like I need to get inoculated every time I see him on TV. I still don't understand why I watch Jersey Shore. It makes me cringe and worry about our declining civilization. Yet I watch. Fascinating.

So that's me, and now I have to catch up on email and pay some bills. What have you been doing?

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Oh, and I made a turkey in the crock pot.

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And I stalked Bob with my iphone, yet another use for technology... cat pictures!

Posted by laurie at 10:06 AM

September 10, 2010

2,000 words a day

I'm fairly certain the only thing more boring than watching someone write is having to hear about someone writing. So I am posting this on a Sunday when no one is reading anyway. Who says I have lost all my manners?

It is an unfortunate truth that I am a world famous procrastinator. So for my first two books I spent many months procrastinating and sitting at the keyboard at 4 a.m. before work and just typing blog entries instead of book stuff. Finally in a panic of self-induced deadline hysteria I wrote each entire manuscript in a weeklong cram session, just hours before deadline. I do not recommend this method to anyone. It's horrible. You really stink by the end of three or four days and you look up and the house is covered in laundry and coffee cups and something has gone wrong with your ass because you've lost all the feeling in your legs.

Fiction is different, of course, because you finish the manuscript before you send it in, so there is no deadline other than hoping to one day complete said book, submit it and hopefully get a bite. (Unless you are an established writer, like my friend Karin who gets paid one million dollars to write something like eight books a year. She has an actual cabin in the woods. I am just saying.)

In my world, nonfiction is as easy as burping. It just happens. Maybe it's more like farting? Anyway, up it comes, all the words spin out and I can sit down in the morning to tell you about this funny thing that happened one time and by noon I've dumped out six chapters. Fiction is much harder for me. For one thing, I can't just sit down and write a whole novel in a day. All those years writing newspaper stories (3 p.m. deadline! File! File now!) trained me into a fast writer, if not a very good one. I look back fondly on my newspaper career, all my high-profile stories of tomato blight in Polk County and breaking news about the Junior League fashion show. And who could forget my compelling piece about the myriad of names submitted to the city council for the baby whale that washed ashore in Long Beach. Top-shelf, I tell you.

But I'm fast. You need an expose on bathroom fixtures today by 3 p.m.? I am on it like white on rice.

Fiction is goofier. Apparently I still have delusions of grandeur, hoping I will write something great. So, like I told you last week, when I sat down in June to Write Something Magnificent, I choked. Nothing happened. I found myself sitting at my desk watching hours of crap on youtube. It is truly amazing the vastness of time-sucking videos you can watch on youtube.

Then in August something bad happened (no details, just bad) and I coped the way I do best: I went into my head. I started one of my Walter Mitty fantasies and detailed it down to the shoes and one night after several glasses of pinot grigio I started typing it up and voila! I had me a story.

I had several days where I spilled out big chunks of typing, 7,000 words at a time but then I wouldn't go back to it for a few days. Like it was too much at once or something. This month I decided to take a different approach. I think everyone has to figure out stuff as they go along, you know. So maybe this is me figuring it out. I have a huge calendar on my desk, one of those desk-blotter things, but I have it propped up against the wall. I was staring at it last week and realized I only had to write about 2,000 words a day for the rest of September to have my trashy little adventure manuscript done by end of month.

So that's the plan, Stan. I'm going to see how it goes (so far it's working well) and then I can re-adjust, maybe set a time for it or something. What I've been doing lately is sitting down in the evening with my laptop and a glass of white wine (with two ice cubes, do not ask why, I am a weird creature) and I type up a piece of the story.

My biggest obstacle with the idea of a whole book was just the frustration that I can't sit down and write an entire fiction story in one sitting. I'd be plodding away at one chapter and I'd want it to be done already, get to the good stuff! So I am writing it in pieces now. I've thought the story all the way through (hmmm, maybe August spent in my head wasn't a waste after all?) and now I do one "scene" a day. Like today is the scene in the police department. So it's still like being a columnist or a reporter, filing your story by end of day. But all my little pieces will connect for a single book. I'm even doing them each in separate documents, a plan which seems a little overly elaborate now that I say it out loud but I like the staccato rhythm to it.

I have absolutely no idea why I am boring you with this. Go watch football! I know there are a few other writers out there, though. Apparently I got kind of hung up on this idea that I had to write something great instead of just writing for the fun of it. I had to remind myself who I am and that my first book has the word drunk in the title. Maya Angelou, you have nothing to worry about from me. I never really cared if I was a great nonfiction writer, I just liked telling stories. So why is a made-up story any different?

Now my little typing time is the best part of the day. I love it. I think about it beforehand, like I'll be driving to the store and realize in my head I'm in the story. Yesterday I finished the piece where Charlene has the gun and when I typed up the last sentence for the day and saved my file (2,467 words) I was just pleased as pie. Alone in my house, cat conked out on my leg, sitting on the floor at the coffee table wearing a dorky T-shirt and drinking my white wine with two ice cubes. I think I accidentally found my perfect day.

Now that is something.

Posted by laurie at 12:33 PM

September 9, 2010

Luxury

I forget there are luxuries to being self-employed. (Maybe I've felt guilty to revel in them? Weird.) For example, I don't have to rush to get all my housecleaning done by Sunday night. I used to feel forever behind because I could never do it all in just two days. Every Monday morning I woke up already behind schedule for the week. That's a lousy way to live.

On Labor Day I cleaned downstairs and realized I'd only gotten the living room really cleaned and "done." Then I remembered, oh yeah! You don't have to commute two and a half hours tomorrow and work a full day and you can still keep cleaning this apartment! I know it sounds like a poor prize-- housecleaning-- but it's such a luxury to me. All the time to clean just-so, just how I like it. I'm a slow cleaner. I get distracted, I remember this book I meant to look up, I find a receipt and need to get that thing I put in that place that time. Rearrange the books in the office. Everything goes slower with me. When I was working it just became a casualty to my schedule, there was no time for all that. Stuff piled up. Everything was half-done. Another item on the to-do list. Anxious.

Yesterday I was on the phone midday and while chatting I pulled some boxes out of the closet and sorted paperwork. It feels so decadent. I've been working at a breakneck pace for eight, maybe nine years now. Being home alone with a vacuum cleaner is not a bad thing. It takes me a while to get caught up. Maybe that's what this is, getting caught up. Finding a normal pace. Not rushing, just knowing it's a different kind of time management.

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Cats already know the secret.

Posted by laurie at 11:14 AM

September 8, 2010

Still cool, still cleaning

This is my all-time favorite weather: cool, overcast, downright chilly at night. I LOVE IT. It's like winter showed up all at one time. It's a fake-out of course (this being L.A. no one should be too surprised by anything fake, even the weather) because September and October are always the hottest months. Usually we're still sweltering in a frying pan heatwave the day before Halloween. But who cares, right now it's cloudy and 67 degrees and I am in heaven.

I have all the windows open, cleaning and airing out the whole apartment. Bob is so annoyed at the constant vacuuming, his beauty sleep is suffering.

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I am trying to get some sleep here, people.

I wish it would stay like this forever, like Seattle without the rain.

- - -

Suspended animation. That's what August was. I finally put my finger on it, I needed a title for that chapter.

Do you ever want to be someone else entirely? Maybe that's why I like this weather so much. It's like I woke up in a completely different place, a vacation from the city of eternal sunshine.

Posted by laurie at 12:10 PM

July 21, 2010

Out out damn spot, and box, and lotion.

First, a look at my newest editor:
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Just the top half. the botom half comes later.

- - -

When we had our little earthquake a few weeks back, I was sitting on the floor of my bedroom going through some paperwork. I looked up at the lamps swaying back and forth and then I looked down at my clothes.

"If this thing keeps going and turns into The big One," I thought to myself, "I am sure going to have to change my T-shirt before I can evacuate the premises."

Afterward I thought it was pretty dumb to keep a cheap T-shirt that was mainly held together by holes and stains, a T-shirt I didn't even feel comfortable wearing outside my bedroom. It's not like I don't have a bazillion other T-shirts. And this one didn't have some deep sentimental value, it just happened to be a shade of green I liked so I kept it long past its expiration date. I chucked it the next day along with two others in the same sorry state.

It's like that with me, I have to constantly monitor myself or I start hoarding my stuff. This summer I've been making an effort to cull and pare down while I have the time and it's a good activity for hot afternoons. Most of the real clutter is hidden away in drawers and in closets and in bins. Yesterday I pulled everything out from under the bathroom sink, Lord, you'd be surprised how much crap I can Tetris into a tiny cupboard. It's the only bathroom storage I have -- there is another bathroom in the apartment but I promised myself I wouldn't use that room's below-sink storage area since it would become unseen clutter. And I managed to keep my promise to myself.

Bathroom clutter just creeps up on you. One day you're a normal red-blooded American with a backup bottle of shampoo and two half-used frizz-ease products under the sink and before you know it, just a year has passed and you are hoarding what looks like a closeout sale from Sally's Beauty Supply.

I tossed old half-empty bottles of nail polish, dried up cosmetics, an eyeshadow I'd had so long it had an ancient, excavated quality to it. The activity of decluttering comes with a feeling of being in control. It's an illusion, probably, but a seductive one, like the flip side of acquiring things (which provides the illusion that this object or handbag or lip gloss will make us better, happier, complete.)

I've been decluttering steadily and still don't feel like I've accomplished much. Cleaned out the closet. Sifted through the dresser drawers. One night recently I closed my eyes and tried to remember what my first Los Angeles apartment was like, back when I had No Stuff At All. I can remember the layout of the place (it was infinitesimally tiny, you could stir a pot of spaghetti on the stove while taking a shower in the bathroom and simultaneously answering the front door) but I had nothing at all in the way of stuff. That was before home computers were a regular thing (reminder: I am an aged cheese) and so I had no desk, no computer, no external hard drives and printers and scanners and cables. No throw pillows. I did have some books, many of which I still have, and my clothes of course and shoes. I didn't knit so there was no yarn. I couldn't remember what stuff I had though. I looked back through photo albums from that time period and there was not one single picture of that apartment anywhere. Weird.

Decluttering feels good, though I'm wary it will become an excuse to re-stufficate. You know. You get to feeling that you've pared down so much you might as well go shopping. I'm not in real danger of that, since I'm not shopping at all these days both for financial reasons and because there simply isn't anything else I really need. But it's good to think about the motivations and the urge to re-populate the stuff. I certainly don't want to end up one day surrounded by towering piles of junk like those people on television programs about hoarding.

I've always held onto things and collected bits and pieces but now I have a LOT of stuff and I want to get to a place where I feel less heavy. What if I want to move when my lease is up this fall? The very idea of moving all this crap all over again makes me want to puddle up in the corner. I think when you're lighter and more mobile you just have more options. I don't need a pristine magazine home but I did love the feeling I got from staying in the cabin this summer and it would be nice to feel that peaceful in my own house. What a weird malady, this addiction to things. It's such a comfort and such a weight.

But anyway, the straggly old t-shirts are gone and that's a good thing. I did finally donate the backup skillet and some cookie sheets to the Goodwill. My closet is getting a trim down. There's still a lot of stuff hidden in the home office tucked away in boxes and in closets and inside decorative little baskets but there are plenty more hot afternoons ahead to tackle it little by little.

- - -

And finally, end with the cutest feet on the planet:
bob-cutest-feet.jpg

Bob feet.

Posted by laurie at 8:53 AM

July 7, 2010

Stuff & Gloves & Hats, oh my

After writing so much about stuff yesterday, I thought I should get off my duff and actually make good on the promise I made myself to slowly pare down. I have a lot of difficulty getting rid of books. And I have A LOT of books, so that's where I started.

While I was basking in the clutter-free zone of the vacation cabin and thinking about what I could let go of at home, I decided to part with some of my travel books. For every vacation I have thought about or actually gone on in the past five or more years, I have a guidebook or two or four. The guidebooks are a perfect storm of my personal hoardiness: they represent both a happy future (as in, "One day I will visit these places and be happy!") and in many cases they also represent a happy past event ("I used this guidebook when I went to Bermuda with my mom and it was so much fun.") What's goofiest of all is that travel books get out of date almost as soon as they're published and if I were to revisit or go to any of these places I'd buy a new one anyway. Yet still I hold on.

It seems to me that much of my hoarding has to do with some future life in which I will need or want or have a place for the object, whatever it may be. And on most of those television programs about extreme hoarding you'll notice they almost all have that in common: saving everything for someday, some unknown happy future when you have it all together, which makes their present day unbearable.

In the case of my travel books, they represent both happy memories of the past and happy expectations for the future. But they aren't the future and they don't open up and reveal the past, either. They're just books about logistics. You would be surprised how long it took me to decide which ones to keep and which to let go of!

Why was this a hard decision? Weirdo.

This is how many travel books I had hidden on my bookshelves:

travelbooks-before.jpg

The final keep pile is on the left and the donate pile is on the right:
travelbooks-after.jpg


So I ended up keeping 10 books, four of which are out-of-print and I wanted to keep them, and donating 20. It was a good start to the morning.

- - -

Last night while watching my Netflix arrivals (Leap Year and Local Hero, apparently I was in an Irish/Scottish frame of mind) I knitted on my second glove. I love the yarn so much. It's Noro Kureyon sock yarn and it's just beautiful, nubby, richly colored.

Do you find that the second thing in a set (gloves, or sleeves, or socks) takes you more time or less time to finish? I think I am knitting this one much slower.

And is it just me who seems to tighten up on gauge for the second one?

second-glove-rests.jpg


- - -

While I was up visiting my folks my dad asked me to make him a multicolored hat. This is very exciting because 1) my dad never asks for stuff and 2) I get to make him something he wants! I'm trying to decide between making my own stripes or using a self-striping yarn. And I probably should make it machine washable. Maybe an assortment of Lion Brand wool-ease striped together? I love making hats. I haven't made a good hat in a long time. But I am also tempted by some Noro Taiyo I have in my stash. I guess I need to ask my mom how she feels about hand-washing a hat.

Also, why is it that I always seem to really ramp up my knitting in the hottest days of summer? Yesterday morning I was lured into the early a.m. marine layer and pretended it would be a cold and blustery day. That lasted until the sun came out and warmed the valley midday. It's always summer when I want to up and move to Ireland or Copenhagen or just about any one of those travel book destinations.

Maybe I'll keep an extra Iceland book, just in case.

- - -

frankie-hates-waking-up.jpg

Frankie is so exhausted from being cute.

Posted by laurie at 12:11 PM

June 18, 2010

The Apartment

There are three candles in tiny blown-glass cups atop my old TV set downstairs. I lit all three at 8:55 p.m. and sat on the sofa. And I was happy.

Pleased with my home. Happy in my surroundings. I have only lived here since September of 2009, and here I am nine months later finally happy in a place I will likely move from when my lease is up in three months. This is my life.

When I moved I knew that a new location did not provide instant happiness, I have read enough self-help and done enough navel-gazing to get that memo. But still inside me I assumed a change of location would be just what I needed. It was just what I needed to get out of the old location, but like the saying says, you take yourself with you. I came along with my closet and cats and shoes.

It had no pantry. I complained about that. It was dark. The building next door looks right into my windows. There are people on both sides, I can't vacuum at midnight anymore. It leaked when it rained. this broke, that broke. Complain, complain, complain.

And all the sudden I had this new element -- time. I spent all day vacuuming, I got the stairs one by one, the bedrooms, the vent in the dryer. I LOVE to vacuum. And I finally hung all my paintings, installed the two hanging lamps in the bedroom, magic-erasered the spots off the walls, wiped down the whole kitchen top to bottom, put up some art in the downstairs half-bath, cleaned all the toilets, dusted, cleaned out the old magazine pile. I lit the candles in their little cups (dusted just hours before, shined up and gleaming) and I realized I love my home.

I did not have to buy anything or go anywhere or re-arrange the furniture or make a wish list. All I had to do was clean and hang and sort and dust and arrange. I already have the pieces. I just needed to plug into them.

That's the rub. You have all the pieces, you just need to dust them. My neighbors have a dinner party and I love hearing the glasses tink against one another, I like the laughter heard across the alley, the helicopter hovering above over traffic, the sounds of a city. I never feel truly alone in this apartment, shelved in on both sides by living, breathing neighbors, neither of whom I have met. When you live so compactly you keep your privacy. I like the way we're all so quiet and polite to each other and guarded. And I like hearing the windows shut, the baby next door cries, the people in the building across the alley shush the dog.

I don't own a home. I own the stuff inside it. I pack it, cart it, ship it, move it, carry it, arrange it, dust it. Can anyone ever own a house? Or does it own you, telling you to fix this, caulk that, mow the lawn? I have never owned a home. I only know how to own my stuff, and still it has taken me nine months to do it! It surprised me that all I had to do was clean and dust and sort and spit-shine and hang some pictures and spend a little time loving the stuff I had just yesterday badmouthed for anchoring me down. That anchor may be the only thing keeping me tethered. It's such a luxury, being able to dust and polish and see your stuff. I just had to plug in.

Yeah, it seems like a small thing. But it's your home. It's your to-do list. It's where you sleep each night. And I lit the candles and had a hot cup of tea with a little shot of Calvados and I stretched all my muscles from a day of deep-cleaning and it was damn good. Home, for now.

Posted by laurie at 8:51 PM

May 17, 2010

Ok, I'll meet you at the place near the thing where we went that time.

That's a line from one of my all time favorite movies ever, Broadcast News. I saw it again over the weekend.

A million years ago I used to work at my college TV news station. I was the weather gal. I was all about the high pressure systems. And I became close friends with a guy called Tony and every time I see that movie I think of him, because in our 1992 minds I was meant to be Jane and he was meant to be Aaron and we would say that to each other all the time. Or he would say, "Because nobody invites a *bad* looking idiot up to their bedroom."

Then we made one of those ill-fated pacts where if we weren't married at 30 (like in If Lucy Fell) we'd marry each other, but of course by the time I turned 30 I was married and living in L.A. and in love with both. A few years after that Tony got married to a woman named after a cheese, and by then I was in the midst of a divorce/nervous breakdown and she forbade him to speak to me. So we haven't spoken since. Aaron and Jane move apart, maybe forever. Cue slow music and pan left to the ocean. The waves speak to their emotional distance.

Anyway, it's a great movie.

The other movies I got into this weekend were:
1) Sweet Home Alabama (well, I think the trailer is better than the film but Reese Witherspoon is so charming she carries it.) I own this one on DVD.

2) An Affair of Love
Freakydeaky French film that I love but you will probably only like it if you like freakydeaky French contemporary films. I have seen it three times and it gets better for me. Rented off Netflix. But I should just buy it since I will definitely want to see it again.

3) Iron Man
The original. Watched it on my laptop in bed, still think it was the best movie I saw in all of 2008! Hey, one can only take so much romance and conversation before you need to see Tony Stark fly.

4) The Italian Job
Not a ro-co exactly, it is an action movie (my favorite genre) but has romance and some good one-liners. I had this on while I folded laundry.

I ran out of time but I still have Julie & Julia to watch from Netflix and I found a version of Sense & Sensibility on cable that I Tivo'd. I loved all the movie suggestions! Thank you! I am compiling them into a list and you know I believe the list is the sincerest form of literature.

What did you watch this weekend?

Posted by laurie at 6:56 AM

May 7, 2010

Friday Haiku

Friday Haiku:

Just remember, hey.
Tomorrow is Saturday!
My favorite day.

- - -

Some iphone pictures:
Woke up in the middle of the night with a Soba on my shoulder. Also why I look so awesome. Practically a supermodel.

soba-on-my-shoulder.jpg

And some Friday Bob. He makes me laugh!
bob-big-sniff.jpg

bobcat-bigface.jpg

Have a great weekend!!

Posted by laurie at 7:01 AM

April 21, 2010

Organizing the hoard

Thanks for all the amazing book ideas yesterday. I'm going to leave comments open there for a while because I'm loving all the suggestions and I like seeing the way we all define a classic in our own way. I agree that The Stand is a classic -- I re-read it every time I get the flu. Because it might be Captain Tripps, you know.

When I need to escape there's nothing better than a great book. Or a really engrossing movie. Actually, I have all kinds of escapism happening (that living in the moment stuff is bullhockey when the moment kind of sucks.) (They are now revoking my self-help card.) Sometimes I obsessively re-arrange stuff. It's one of the things I do when my life feels like it's careening out of control and off into scary unknown territory. I organize my books by color, or take all the stuff out from under the bathroom sink and re-arrange it, or I play Freezer Tetris and stack and clean and get everything neat and orderly in the freezer. I also go clean-crazy during stressful times, vacuuming everything that can be vacuumed and re-grouting the tub. It is what I do. I also drink wine and eat potato chips, although that makes for far less compelling photo essays.

Over the weekend I got all my yarn out from its hiding places in the closets of my office and re-arranged it all. I wanted to put the Noro with the Noro, the alpaca with the alpaca, the SWS with its kindred skeins. I used to be embarrassed by my weird need to have ALL THE YARN but now I don't care, because if I am suddenly and unexpectedly jobless, I will have ALL THE YARN. I love my yarn. I mean I love it, I love looking at it and having it and thinking about what I may one day make with it. This yarn makes me happy. It's five-almost-six years of collecting gone right.

yarn-organized-1.jpg
Midway through my stress-relieving yarnfest.

yarn-organized-mess.jpg
So much Rubbermaid, so little time.

yarn-organized-bob.jpg
I had a helper!

yarn-organized-bob2.jpg
Who is a giant!

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That's the wold's single largest supply of Patons Up Country, hiding inside one of the closets.

yarn-stashed.jpg
Stash in the other closet.

yarn-cat-perch.jpg
Not all of the yarn would fit in the closets, so I decided to make a cat perch out of two of my more gigantor buckets. It's the perfect height for a window lookout. They like it.

So that's my stash, mostly. I like to have it ziplocked and ensconced in bins and stacked and arranged just-so and now it is. All my half-finished projects with the needles still attached are all in one big tub together, so the next time I'm looking for something to finish I'll have a one-stop shop for UFOs.

I wasn't the only one who enjoyed yarn-organizing day. My big helper had a big time, too.

yarn-organized-helper.jpg

Posted by laurie at 7:43 AM

April 15, 2010

Green clean/Hair sheen

Lately I have been cleaning my house like a crazy person. It's the one way I know I can do something, some activity, and feel in control of my life and surroundings, so I tend to clean when I am stressed out. It's also relaxing in the end to walk into a clean house, it feels so good and peaceful. I got this comment some time ago from reader Lisa:

Laurie, I thought of you the other day when the New York Times published a letter from a lady who uses only natural stuff to clean. Of course I was reading the paper at the coffee shop and forgot most of her tips... the only one I remembered was about using vinegar on water stains. I tried it on my cat's stainless steel water dish (which I was about to throw out because it was so nasty) when I got home, and it worked like a charm! I know you have posted a list of your favorite mixtures before, but I can't find it now. Do you have a favorite website for tips on cleaning without nasty chemicals? Thanks!

It's taken me a while to fully switch from chemical to au natural, but now I love my mostly hippydippy cleaning routine and can't imagine going back.

I used to scour the house with Windex, 409, bleach, Ajax with bleach, soft scrub, tilex or whatever I thought it took to get the house clean. Then a few years ago I read an article about the huge amounts of chemicals in our homes and how those cleaning products let off toxic fumes even when they're just sitting in your home bottled up. And I thought about my little cats breathing in all that stuff and decided to try using non-toxic cleansers as much as possible. It took me several years to say goodbye to all the chemical stuff I had relied on for so long, but now I'm almost a completely non-toxic cleaning lady. I say almost because I still haven't given up everything 100%. I use a capful of bleach in the sink now and then to disinfect it and get it sparkling white. I bought some Ecover non-chlorine bleach (it's just hydrogen peroxide) and I've been using that for the tub and bathroom and any disinfecting I want to do, as I do love my disinfecting, but I still have my little jug of bleach under the kitchen sink for now. And I have windex, though usually I go with a mixture of vinegar and water for cleaning windows and mirrors.

It's about making progress, you know, not about being perfect! No matter what you do someone will say you're doing it wrong or not doing enough or whatever. All I'm aiming for is better. And to me my cleaning routine is much better for me, for the cats and for the environment.

Almost every product I used to use has been replaced by simple soap and water. I use a spray bottle filled with water and a few drops of super-concentrated Basic H2® Organic Cleaning Concentrate. I lasts forever! And it's perfect for cleaning the stove, countertops, you name it.

I use plain white vinegar for everything else, especially on the mirrors and windows (and I add it to laundry now and then). Here's an article on all the uses for plain old white vinegar. Cheap and so useful! There is a smell but it dissipates quickly. If I'm cleaning on a day when all the windows have to be closed (if it's cold or something) I might use lemon juice in place of vinegar, it has a clean, pretty smell and works great with some water and soap as an all-purpose cleanser.

In the bathrooms, I sprinkle plain old baking soda in the toilets once a week and scrub with a toilet brush and it works 100% as well as Ajax with bleach. Except of course with the Ajax I was scared I would spill a tiny bit and the cats would step on it and die, and with baking soda I know it's not toxic to use or breathe in or step on. In fact, I use baking soda for all kinds of scouring. It's also MUCH cheaper than commercially prepared scouring products.

For a little variety (and because I LOVE the smell) I use Dr. Bronner's Eucalyptus Soap for mopping the floors, just a little in some warm water and my floors look great. Dr. Bronner's is good for anything, you can wash your hair in it, take a shower with it, or scrub the floors with it! For laundry, I use Ecover Ecological Laundry Wash (I love the smell) and Ecover dish soap. Or Dr. Bronner's ... whatever is handy! I know that the few products I do use (the Ecover and Shaklee stuff specifically) are more expensive than regular dishsoap or detergent but I'm using so few products now (and the concentrated stuff lasts forever) so I'm actually spending less money on cleansers than ever before.

My house is still clean but it's not full of chemicals anymore. It wasn't an overnight switch but I just made little changes as I went along.

Everyone has different products they love and I think I gravitate to stuff that I can find easily at my grocery store and that smell good, like the Eucalyptus soap. I'm so surprised that I can clean the whole house with basically nothing more than soap and water and baking soda with a little vinegar thrown in to shine up the mirrors. Oh! I still have my magic erasers, too, they remove stains and scuffs and I love them. But for the most part the whole house gets cleaned with no chemical soup and no fumes.

- - -

So many folks asked about that mousse I referred to the other day. I use this one:


It's the KMS Add Volume Styling Foam. I have very fine, straight hair and all sorts of flyaway issues, and this mousse works magic if 1) you don't put in too much and 2) you MUST BLOW DRY your hair. If you try to put in the mousse and air-dry you get helmet head. Gloppy helmet head. As always, your mileage may vary...

- - -

Finally, iPhone stealth pic of Bob snoozing on my leg:

bob-passed-out.jpg

Posted by laurie at 8:00 AM

March 29, 2010

The curious case of the continuing ongoing neverending movable clutter feast

Where does it all come from?

I try to keep the clutter level down to a manageable amount but after moving it's as if the contents of my life vomited onto the floor and into boxes and piled up in mysterious heaps. Once again I was surrounded and overwhelmed and wanting nothing to do with any of it except maybe to go shopping for some new and magical storage system that would solve all my problems, because of course the logical solution to a clutter problem is to do some more shopping. You understand.

In an ideal world I would have unpacked and gotten organized and done and decorated in just a few weeks, but in the real world I got the hideous pig flu and hideous book deadline back to back and so nothing got sorted or unpacked or put away, and before long it was the middle of November and I still had boxes and piles everywhere. I can't work in a messy, dirty, tumped-out office, so eventually I gave up and worked on my laptop at the coffee table downstairs or sometimes in bed with a cup of coffee, and hoped for a free weekend or five to sort everything out upstairs, eventually. One day.

One day has come! And gone. And come again!

I did not manage to fully organize and clean and polish and unclutter and gain enlightenment over the weekend, but I did unpack the final boxes, put things away, do eleventy-eight loads of laundry and vacuum everything upstairs including the stairs themselves and the baseboards and the corners and really, my neighbors are probably very tired of hearing the vacuum.

The room I'm using as a home office is quite small and oddly shaped, hugging the side of a rounded staircase and full of angles and curved walls. It has two small, inconveniently positioned closets and a wall of windows. The desk fits fine in the corner by the windows and I smooshed my sofa-chair-thingy into the corner just opposite, it partly covers the closet doors but that side of the closet has the rounded wall so hardly anything fits inside anyway.

Part of the problem with this room was my lack of bookshelving. Books aren't just brick-heavy to haul up three flights of stairs, they also pose a real storage problem. My old place had a huge built-in bookcase and I loved it and over time I got rid of my other mismatched crazyass shelves. So when I moved in here all my books stayed packed up, shoved against the wall in a giant towering mound of boxes. I measured the space along that wall very carefully and found a combo of some very inexpensive Ikea Billy bookcases that would fit -- just barely, I got the measurements down to an inch!

This is a tiny room, really. Once I put a bookcase together on the floor, I had to carve out space from the Box Mountain and carefully wiggle the bookcase against the wall. Since there wouldn't be room to walk with boxes in the middle of the room, I emptied each box as I went along onto a shelf with no order, no plan, no reasoning. Just open a box, throw contents onto shelves and deal with it later.

That's what led to this frantic mess:

Nov2009-office1.jpg
(These pictures were taken back in November, using my old camera.)

Another angle of awful:
Nov2009-office2.jpg


And the poor messy desk, dirty and lonely, surrounded by a rapidly encroaching clutter pile:

Nov2009-office3.jpg


It was somewhere around the time I took these photos that I began to feel overwhelmed and anxious and shameful and borderline hoardy. I hate that feeling. Something about it takes me back to the months right after I moved into the divorce house and I felt trapped and pointless and scared.

So I took a break. I have learned one thing about clutter-anxiety: when it begins to feel like a silent scream is rising up from your deep, shameful horror-center, it is time to take a break. Get a breath of fresh air. Have a nice glass of wine or tea and watch an episode of 30 Rock. Step back. Regroup. All is not lost.

I took a step back and regrouped for, oh, what? four months?

The fear is that I will never be able to conquer my habitual clutter. My anxiety is that I want to have an orderly, pretty home and it doesn't feel either in clutterdom. My shame is that I have so much stuff and don't want to part with any of it. I've been feeling very fragile and tired lately, so I decided not to give myself a hard time about any of this. I decided to tackle this task in small bites, and I started by colorizing.

I love my books and I love visual harmony, so I started there -- organizing them by color, a trick I first tried a few years ago and fell in love with. It's a bigger task than it looks! I put on some good music and started taking books off the shelves and piling them around the room by hue, and then slowly re-populating the shelves. The upside of this technique is that you do find books along the way you can easily part with. I don't know how it works, but it does. Something about tricking your mind into focusing so fully on organizing by color makes purging less painful. Here's the result of my first pass:

march29-bookcasescolor1.jpg

march29-bookcasescolor2.jpg

Everything organized by color except the knitting and craft books which take up an entire shelf of their own, and the boxes holding office supplies and CDs. And of course there are some magazine holders and organizational doodads here and there, which didn't really seem to be working, but we'll get there eventually.

Notice that in these pictures almost all the shelves on the two bigger bookcases have a lot of space in between rows. Normally I like white space but in this case I wanted a functional wall o' storage, almost like a library wall, so I bought two additional shelves and re-jiggered all the books one more time. Afterward, my bookcase gained about nine inches of extra storage space:

march29-bookcasescolor3.jpg

But I don't like it. It's organizing gone wrong! I think I even somehow lost a little space, which makes no sense. By this time, though, I was too tired of moving books around and decided to leave it. I managed to get all my books on this wall, except for my cookbooks and my collection of vintage design books, which are in a tall, skinny bookcase in the living room. But that is another post for another day.

I did finally get the desk cleaned off and everything tidied up and now it feels better, though I didn't take a picture because I got distracted by the cuteness:

frankie-in-a-ball.jpg
Franks.

After hauling around and unpacking and organizing all these books, I have started to think more seriously about buying an Amazon Kindle. I could still buy books and support the author but they would take up a lot less space. I haven't decided yet because I love the feel of a book in my hands but they are not exactly portable en masse!

I am so glad I took Friday off and spent the weekend humming around the house, washing everything that wasn't nailed down and banishing the tumbleweeds. My life was starting to feel like a runaway train, and having control over laundry and clean floors feels really good. And there is something so zen and soothing about spending a few hours listening to good music and re-arranging books. I feel refreshed, relaxed, like I took a vacation in my head. I didn't think about work, I didn't think about stress and pressures and deadlines, I just focused on my house and my vacuum cleaner and my bookshelves.

All this cleaning got me thinking that when I do move again I'll look for a smaller space though, keeping a small house clean was much easier than a big space! But for now everyone is happy at home and feeling very peaceful:

bob-window-perch-asleep.jpg
Best Bob picture ever.

Posted by laurie at 8:43 AM

January 20, 2010

Surprises

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by laurie at 2:22 PM

December 29, 2009

House Hunters International

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

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


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

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

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

Posted by laurie at 8:20 PM

December 10, 2009

Tossed salad and scrambled eggs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I'll come see."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the possible reasons why:

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

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

3) My apartment is haunted.

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

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

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

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

Posted by laurie at 11:42 AM

November 30, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Posted by laurie at 10:04 AM

November 24, 2009

Perfect pot roast recipe (for the crock pot)

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

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

No Fail Crockpot Pot Roast Recipe:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nov182009-dinner2.jpg

Enjoy!!

Posted by laurie at 9:14 AM

November 23, 2009

Santa's helpers have whiskers

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

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

christmastree2009.jpg


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

christmastree2009-2.jpg

And my helpers enjoyed the afternoon, they love decorating:

christmashelp2009-1.jpg

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

Posted by laurie at 11:20 AM

November 19, 2009

Behind the scenes at the messatorium

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

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

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

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

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

--Ellen


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

sept21-2009-livingroom.jpg

sept21-2009-livingroom2.jpg

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

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

Nov182009-piles.jpg

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

Nov182009-pretty.jpg

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

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

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

Posted by laurie at 10:35 AM

November 18, 2009

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

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

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

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

Nov182009-sparkletree.jpg

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

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

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

Here she is decorating the tree with her body:

Nov182009-frankietree1.jpg

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

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

Nov182009-ornaments.jpg

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

Nov182009-newornaments.jpg
Apparently I like Paris.

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

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

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

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

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

Nov182009-flowers.jpg

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

Speaking of the wise and venerable Sobakowa...

Nov182009-soba.jpg

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

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

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

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

Posted by laurie at 11:50 AM

November 11, 2009

Some complaining, followed by cat talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


- - - -

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

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

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

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

Posted by laurie at 9:33 AM

November 2, 2009

Procrasticleaning for the masses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet.

Posted by laurie at 1:16 PM

October 26, 2009

Ho Ho No

My mailbox has started filling up with holiday-themed catalogs, all those shiny Christmas ornaments, little doodads, candles, glittery wreaths and table dressing.

Now that I don't have a private garage I've lost a lot of the space I had for long-term parking for all that "put it in a box and forget about it" stuff. Especially holiday stuff. It's not a big deal to stack a few big bins or boxes of Christmas decorations in your garage but move it indoors and shove it into a closet and you start wondering if you really need that much of your home storage space devoted to things you use for a few weeks a year. I think this is a good development. I'm definitely going to decorate my new apartment this year (if it rains indoors again I'll play Christmas music and pretend it's a holiday installation) but I'm going to cull through all the stuff I have in those big green bins and see if I can part with some of it. I do plan on decorating early. I'm having a get together with some friends on November 15th to make crafty Christmas cards. I always say I'm going to send cards and I never do, so maybe this will be the year.

And I'm not buying any new Christmas decorating stuff! Probably. I don't know why holiday decorations are so crackass addictive to me but they are. I brought all the slick, enticing catalogs with me on the subway this morning and flipped through them on the way to work and then as soon as I got into the office I put them in the recycling bin. Spending narrowly averted. For now.

Last week Oprah had a program about how other people live around the world (a subject that endlessly fascinates me.) The Danish folks she visited with lived in such clean, open spaces with no clutter anywhere. No clutter! As the show was playing in my living room I kept looking around at the countertops in the kitchen, the table, the little piles of clutter everywhere. I can blame part of it on moving but really I still have too much stuff. It's such a weird idea that one person has this much crap. And that it's both a comfort and a burden. I love my stuff because it makes me feel anchored and secure and I loathe my stuff because it makes me feel anchored and heavy.

There's a balance in there somewhere, I just need to keep looking for it. My friend work-Jennifer was listening to me noodle over this conundrum last week and she pointed out something interesting, "You're a total homebody. You do a lot of work at home, you prefer being home to being anywhere else, so it makes sense that your home would be filled with things you enjoy."

She always has a good take on things. I guess I want to lighten up on the clutter so I can really focus on the the pieces I truly do enjoy. There's a pile of stuff sitting in the foyer, it all came from the old garage and I haven't gone through it yet to even see what it all is. Not having a garage anymore is good, because I can't just put things in a box and wait around until "one day" I decide what to do with them. Now I just need to go through that pile of boxes and then make a trip to the Goodwill.

Then the house will be almost ready to drape in fake pine and shiny holiday bells. I'm not fighting the rapidly approaching holidays this year (What? It's October Freaking TWENTY-SIXTH? Already?) Nope. I'm going to jump into them early, with all my shiny stuff and hope I am strong-willed enough to resist the siren call of new holiday decor. Maybe just a new wreath? Maybe...?

frankieoct232009.jpg
Frankie likes Christmas trees.
And cats are not clutter.

Posted by laurie at 10:15 AM

October 19, 2009

Raindrops not falling on my head (for now)

On Friday my boss let me work from home so I could be around while the maintenance guys came to my apartment and tried to seal The Great Leak. If a strange man with a hammer is going to be in my bedroom I want to be there. (Some jokes just write themselves.)

So they did a fair amount of cosmetic repair and not enough roof repair to make me feel confident in the watertight properties of my rooftop patio and yet I am surprisingly unhysterical about this situation. This is where I am now and my bedroom may rain again but here I am nonetheless, with a shorter commute and a California Fireplace. And just like relationships, homes all have their own individual issues. Luckily it doesn't rain much out here.

ScarfWatch 2009
I fear our window of opportunity for autumnal scarf-wearing has passed. We're having typical October weather, 100 degrees and sunny on the weekend and today it's going to be a chilly 75. Then back up in the 90s by Wednesday. October is traditionally one of the hottest months in Los Angeles. The idea that it is snowing right now on the east coast seems surreal. I love the idea of traveling to cold places and I myself hate hot weather but I wouldn't know what to do with snow. Do you just stay home? Maybe you just stay in and knit and watch old episodes of Cold Case. That sounds like a good winter to me.

Which Is What I Did Yesterday (sans snow)

I forgot I like Cold Case, I stopped watching it because I had too much TV, and then one night a few weeks ago when I couldn't sleep I caught an episode and added it back to my Tivo, so I spent part of my weekend ass-planted on the sofa knitting and watching TV. I NEEDED THAT. I am knitting a project I can't show you because it's a gift for someone who reads this website. It's so hard to keep surprises surprising! I'm about 1/4 of the way done with this project and sometimes I look at it and start laughing. Also, Lion Brand wool-ease is a really good yarn. It's so forgiving and knits up so well and it's not expensive at all. And Lion Brand doesn't discontinue yarn lines left and right like some companies, so you can rely on them which is very reassuring.

Not that it matters since I can never buy yarn again. Recently I confessed to Corey that not only do I have enough yarn to last me until the apocalypse, but I also have embarrassingly little desire to part with even a single skein. I love all my yarn, even the mismatched one-offs. I am a yarn hoarder. Sure, my hoarding is neatly encapsulated in little rubbermaid plastic bins and it's all stacked carefully away in the closet but it's still hoarding, it's just organized hoarding. I even have yarn in my earthquake kit -- you never know when you'll need to whip up a quick roll-brim hat during an emergency.

To-Do List, 12 Pages Long
Getting settled in to my new apartment has been harder than I expected. I was working late nights on a big project at work and then there's the book and that whole thing with the swine Cupcake Flu. I've been so exhausted. This is the first time since Labor Day that I've come close to feeling normal again. I even walked down to the Metro Rapid today, which is a hike but worth it to skip the local bus (they both dump you at the subway but the Rapid does it in half the time).

So since I'm feeling more sprightly, I'm making a to-do list for the apartment and it's getting awfully long: I need to hang some curtains and make sense of the linen closet and fix the refrigerator doors, among other things. At my old place the doors opened the wrong way and it was a little awkward but not a show stopper. In this apartment it's nearly impossible to get anything out of the fridge without opening the doors all the way and then walking around them to peer inside. I'm not particularly excited about this little piece of home handywork on my to-do list but I figure while I'm at it I can satisfy my deep urge to disinfect every last inch of the fridge and freezer.

Kitchen storage is a real problem. My little house in Encino-adjacent had a tiny kitchen but it was surrounded on all sides by walls and there was a lot of cabinet space. This new kitchen is open to the dining area and it definitely feels less cramped because of all the open space but then again, there are no cabinets. And the few cabinets I do have are built on a curve so they're angled and funky inside. I have a ton of Pyrex glassware that I use for taking my lunches to work and I have nowhere to store it. Yesterday I had a bright idea: I decided I should just go to the market and buy all the supplies for a big pot of kale & chickpea stew and all the stuff to make that delicious chicken & white bean chili and then I can fill up all the containers with stew and chili, stick it in my (currently empty) freezer and I'll have lunches for a month plus a safe place to store all that Pyrex.

So I filled up my shopping cart and yesterday I spent the afternoon making the chili, it filled up eight pyrex bowls and my lower cabinet no longer spills out onto the floor every time you open it. Tonight I'm going to make the kale and chickpea stew and that should fill up the rest. (By the way -- the secret to the kale dish is to use a VERY good spicy sausage. The sausage is what gives this dish all its flavor. I have used all kinds of spicy sausage from Whole Foods instead of chorizo and the dish changes flavor depending on what you pick. But don't skip the sausage or this dish is just dull. Healthy but dull.)

The to-do list just gets longer and longer! But even though I still have a few lingering boxes and piles and none of the paintings have been hung and I can't find half the towels (where did they go? so mysterious!) there are nice things about my new place. The dishwasher, for one. I LOVE HAVING A DISHWASHER. It's been five long years of handwashing and dish pan hands and I love the loud, satisfying slurch of my dishwasher. Everything comes out so clean and sparkly. Lord I have missed having an automatic dishwasher.

And the cats love the California fireplace. About ten years ago I lived in a big house in another part of the valley and we had a real wood-burning fireplace and it was nice, mostly, but it was such a pain in the butt to clean and the wood was expensive and hard to store properly so we hardly ever used it. A gas fire is the way to go -- flip the light switch and voila! Beautiful flickering flames in the blink of an eye and there's nothing to clean up.

The first time I turned it on the click-click-click sound of the ignition scared the cats, they went running up the stairs. But then they eventually came down one by one and before long Frankie was rolling around belly-up, basking in the warm glow. The cats are even getting along better these days. They just have so much more space to spread out in and they can run up and down the stairs and sit in the windowsills and they're not all crammed in together. I actually saw Soba play with Bob last week. Real playing! She came around the corner of a box I'd left in the living room and she saw Bob lolling around on the floor nearby and she hunkered down and did that kittycat butt-swishing thing and then she pounced -- but playfully, not like she was trying to eat his head. I stood there in bare shock. I haven't seen her play with Bob maybe ever. Usually when she jumps at him it's because she's biting out a chunk of his fur or drawing blood. And a few days ago I saw Frankie affectionately rub up against Soba and the Sobakowa endured it without hissing.

It gave me a little twinge, like I felt bad we hadn't moved sooner or something. But there's no use in feeling bad. Maybe it wasn't ideal, having all my cats in such a small house for so long, but I was just doing the best I could with what I had. And at nighttime we all end up smooshed together in bed anyway, no matter how many square feet there are in a day we always share the same little patch of blankets each night.

frankie-fireplace-oct192009.jpg
Frank on a melange of rugs. I haven't found a perfect rug for the fireplace yet so I'm using all the other rugs at one time. She likes it.

Posted by laurie at 9:19 AM

October 15, 2009

Home Is Where the Wine Is

I was so wrapped up in my new apartment's indoor waterfall yesterday that even as I shared with you the exciting news about the finishing of my manuscript and the simultaneous opening of a chasm in my roof, I neglected to actually tell you the name of the book.

As you can see, I am very skilled at promotion. My publicist has an entire area of grey hair devoted to me and my freakish desire to not leave my house or tell anyone at all about my secret life in books. I think it's because I still can't believe I wrote a book, not to mention TWO -- plural! -- and I fear if I acknowledge it then I will wake up from this good dream and find myself naked from the waist down and late for my chemistry final. PAGING DR. FREUD. DR. FREUD, WHERE ARE YOU?

So! I have a new book coming out! It's called Home Is Where the Wine Is. It also has a long subtitle that changes about every ten days. I am not a fan of subtitles and my editor loves subtitles and I love my editor so I just go with it. One day the subtitle will probably be a paragraph long and contain Sanskrit characters and I will just smile and nod because I have long since released all control over the issue of the subtitle.

One thing I didn't know until I myself wrote a book is how little control the author has over some things. Like the subtitle or the book description or where it shows up on the shelf in the bookstore, if it shows up at all. I'm really lucky, though, my publisher is great and they agreed to the title I wanted and the book cover is so cute:

wine-cover.jpg

Look! The stunt cat makes a re-appearance!

So thank you for the lovely emails wishing me well with both the book and the indoor waterfall in my bedroom. And thanks for reminding me to actually share the title of said book.

You can pre-order it on amazon.com or borders.com or at barnes and noble.com. It comes out around Valentine's Day but do not fear -- it is not a sticky sweet romance starring me and the hot bus driver riding off into the sunset and making sweet love on a riding lawnmower. Not that there would be anything wrong with that of course. But this is not fiction, after all, it's me we're talking about and this is Los Angeles and my legs are not nearly as hot as the ones on the cover of my book. It's a collection of essays about dating and complaining and traveling and of course there is at least one adventure in the high art of hair removal because hair removal is my deep existential dilemma. I hope people will like it and laugh a little but you never know. OH! And there are knitting and crochet patterns in it. And a few recipes. And the grave of Al Capone. We aim to please!

As for the leaking roof, the rain finally stopped and it's supposed to be ridiculously hot and dry this weekend so hopefully a team of rooftop specialists will remove the current high-tech fix ("a tarp") and do some actual water-preventing work on my apartment so that I do not have to re-pack all the yarn and move to a cabin in the woods and give up essay writing for a career in the manifesto business.

I can't imagine manifestos get such cute cover art.

I joke, but listen, there isn't a day that goes by that I don't feel a shot of pure, deep gratitude. Thank you for reading because that is what made all of this possible. Well, the book part, not the indoor rain. I am still looking for someone to blame for that. Gratitude is good for the soul and all, but blame is good for the complexion.

Posted by laurie at 9:45 AM

October 14, 2009

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

Last night around midnight I finished up the final version of a gigantic sheaf of words I have been working on FORever and sent it off and I was so pleased, so happy, so relieved ... so tired. I went upstairs to get into my big comfortable bed and I discovered a delightful new water feature right in my very own boudoir.

AWESOME.

The rooftop patio is right above my bedroom and sometime during the Great Storm of '09 while I was downstairs typing and mainlining pinot grigio, a seam opened up in the ceiling and water had soaked the floor and the bed and the drywall. I tried to put buckets and towels where I could but it was coming down awfully heavy and I spent most of the night emptying buckets and wondering if I had entered the smiting period. That's a time in your life when things begin to tumble around in the dregs and later you make jokes about "that time your roof caved in and the FBI tapped your phone and then someone flashed you at Ralph's and you weren't even that offended." I'm just imagining of course, but really who knows what could happen when the smiting starts.

Or maybe it's just Los Angeles, where it rains so infrequently that one inch of precipitation can cause your rooftop patio to morph into a waterfall.

I waited patiently until 8 a.m. and then started calling the manager who is Russian but looks like Antonio Banderas. He was nice and apologetic and apparently I'm not the only apartment experiencing indoor rain. Now I'm just waiting for the maintenance people to come and then I have to go to work and print out 1600 stickers and pretend I don't look haggard and wrinkly from being up all night.

So that's the worst of times. The best of times is that I got the nicest email from my editor this morning congratulating me and reassuring me. I love Allison. If this book ends up being so bad we all just make fun of it later, it's my fault. But if by some miracle it does end up being readable, Allison is the reason. A good editor is the finest person you can have in your corner and she is the very best.

So, in the spirit of both writing and smiting, I thought I would share with you one of the essays that didn't make the final cut but seems oddly apropos today.

Before I started driving I thought an Act of God was a hurricane, earthquake or a smiting. I wasn’t real clear on what smiting consisted of really, but growing up on the bayou one is often warned to be nice or God will smite you.

My first real official grown-up car was a red Volkswagon Fox. It was a smallish, boxy metal car with a stick shift, four-speed transmission and optional passenger’s side door mirrors. They were optional. That was the kind of luxury package available on the Volkswagen Fox.

And I loved that little metal box of a car. I drove it from my home in Mississippi up to college in Tennessee and back every single semester break and holiday. I learned all the back roads, knew the best road stops by heart and I would smoke menthol cigarettes and listen to college music on the tape deck and I would always stop at The Snack Pack ten miles outside my house in Mississippi to change clothes and wash the stank of cigarettes off my person and spritz heavily with perfume as my parents had a nose for nicotine like nobody’s business, and I did not want to be in their crosshairs.

The first Act of God came right before the end of the semester freshman year when a deer committed suicide on my car right there on the rural route, three miles from the house. I was going through a heavily vegetarian phase at the time and I was more devastated by the deer’s death than the massive cavern he'd carved into the side of my tiny red car. I didn’t know when it happened that it was an Act of God, but I soon learned that's the term used on the insurance papers my father filled out. Any event outside human control was deemed an Act of the big guy. Good to know.

The second Act Of God happened just two months later when an owl flew into my windshield. I do not know if you are familiar with owls –- I was not –- but they aren’t the tiny furry little birds who eat lollipops in TV commercials. They are actually huge, enormous rockets of power. The owl who dive-bombed my windshield did so on the northbound lanes of highway 55 and the collision of the two produced a thwack! like a sonic boom. The entire windshield spidered into a crackling web but held it together. I freaked out and spilled Diet Coke in my lap and cursed God for smiting me.

I pulled the car over to the side of the road and sat there for a moment, trembling, and thanking the smiting God that there was no traffic on the highway and that I had not swerved into a big truck in surprise of the attack.

After a few moments I got out of the car and inspected the damage. The windshield was broken and there was a rather large dent in the front passenger’s side of the car, on the metal area above the windshield. It looked like someone had tossed a bowling ball out and hit me like a bullseye. I just stood there staring at my red Volkswagon, wondering why on earth animals were so cruel and suicidal and why me? Why me? Me who had just last semester become a vegetarian, right before the deer hit me?

It wasn’t long before a trucker spotted me and my car on the side of the road and CBs crackled and buzzed and the highway patrol found me. They carried me off to a service station a few miles up ahead where I called my father and gave him the bad news. He just got in his truck and drove out to the scene of the second Act Of God and shook his head, and thanked the nice deputy who’d helped me out, and he asked me if I was OK.

“I think so,” I said.

“Well, you’re certainly better off than the owl you hit.”

The third and Final Act Of God happened at the very end of summer, when I was driving home for Labor Day weekend. The whole southeast was in a drenching downpour, huge areas of Alabama and Mississippi were under flood warnings and still it rained, and rained and rained.

I was driving home on the back roads, avoiding the traffic on the interstate. And even though no one would believe me later as I re-told the story –- first to my Dad, then my mom, then my brothers, then the nice man at the insurance agency –- as I was driving on one of the rain-soaked backroads of Mississippi a tree fell on my car.

It happened almost in slow motion. A giant old oak whose roots had been exposed from weeks of continuous rain chose the exact moment I traveled under its mighty branches to suddenly tump over. Onto my moving vehicle. I was fine, my car was dented and covered in tree bark and mud but mostly I was just really tired of nature throwing itself at me when I was driving. I appeared to be unharmed and my vehicle was still running, so I drove out from under the branches and arrived home. The car was dented and scratched and the front grill was broken in, covered in mud and leaves.

My father didn’t believe this “tree-falling-on-car” story the first three times I told it so he himself suited up in a slicker and got in his truck and drove out to the scene of the accidental logging. He came home an hour later, wet and covered in red Mississippi mud, and sighed the sigh of a weary man.

“A tree fell on her car.”

And later as he tried to explain this to the nice man at the State Farm agency, the man turned to my father and said, “Three Acts of God in one summer! Now that is really something. “

“Yes,” said my father. “That is really something all right.”

The insurance man looked my father straight in the face and asked, “Do you think your daughter has angered God?”

And sometimes I wonder. Three Acts of God in one summer. My summer of dating was a lot like the Acts of God summer – surprising, unfortunate, with superficial (but repairable) damage and nothing left but some really funny stories to tell.

Posted by laurie at 10:20 AM

September 23, 2009

When it is 1000 degrees, make pot roast!

Not sure why I had a deep, unrelenting desire to make a pot roast when it is a zillion degrees out, but there you have it. And organic grass-fed beef roast was on sale at Whole Foods this week. HARMONIC CONVERGENCE!

By far my favorite way to make a roast is in the crock pot. This is the easiest recipe I know and turns out delicious every time. You need:

• Some form of beef roast or brisket (I usually do this with brisket and it's delicious, this time I cooked a rump roast)

• Crushed or pureed garlic -- I use the kind from a jar, because I am lazy. The smoother the consistency the better.

• Coarsely ground black pepper

• Sea salt (optional)

• Some form of liquid -- can be broth, water, beer or red wine (I do a mixture of red wine and water)


To make the roast:
In a bowl, make a paste with the garlic and black pepper. I use a lot of black pepper ... and a lot of garlic.

Cover the roast with garlic/pepper paste. I use my hands and just work it all over the surface.

When the roast is covered in the spices, brown the meat in a big, heavy pot. I use a big stockpot so the stove doesn't get as messy and if your cut of meat is very lean, you may need to add 1-2 TBS of canola oil. I always add the oil because my big stockpot isn't a non-stick pan. But if you use nonstick cookware you may not need any oil.

When the roast is browned on all sides, put it in the crock pot. (I am guessing if you had a Dutch oven you would do all this in one pan, but I don't have a Dutch oven so this is the way I do it.)

Next, use a small amount of liquid to deglaze the pan and scrape up all the bits from browning the meat. I use either a good beef stock or a combo of water and cabernet. Lat night I used the wine/water combo. About 1/4 cup or 1/2 cup liquid will do.

Add the liquid and pan juices to the crockpot.

I usually let it cook on high for an hour or so, then turn the heat down to low and let it cook all night. Some people add in potatoes and vegetables but I think it all ends up tasting too much like pot roast so I just cook a potato and some green beans separately. The garlic mellows over the long cooking time and the gravy at the bottom is tasty and rich. The only problem with this dish is that it smells so good it kept waking me up during the night!

- - -

Do you have any recipes containing peanuts? We're supposed to be having an Iron-chef-inspired potluck at work tomorrow and the dish has to contain peanuts. Pretty much the only thing I "cook" that has peanuts is celery and peanut butter.

Maybe I can sprinkle some peanuts on my pot roast?

Posted by laurie at 11:45 AM

September 22, 2009

You may think nature abhors a vacuum, but not if you have a Dyson.

Happy first day of fall!

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Doesn't it look like dapper Dallas Raines is asking me to dance? Only if you have the air conditioning, my man.

Over the weekend I finally started unpacking. I got very sick right after I moved and I spent the next ten days hoping I would not die in my new apartment and be eaten by my cats. I'm much better now thanks to massive amounts of pharmaceuticals and finally some sleep. Living out of boxes was making me bonkers, so over the weekend I tried to get as much done as possible without overdoing it. I managed to get my kitchen mostly-unpacked and my clothes unpacked and things are starting to shape up, a little.

And I've got quite a nice pile going to donate to charity. Sure, most people would have done that in reverse (first, cull out donations and then move the rest) but there was just no time for all that, I had to pack and move in three days flat. It's fine, this way I can be more relaxed about it. And it's a relief to be totally out of the old place, that seemed to drag on forever, just all the little stuff that had to be taken care of. I like the bigger space, it's so luxurious to have two bathrooms. What I don't like are those people saying, "Beware! Your stuff will expand to fill your newer, bigger space!" and "Nature abhors a vacuum, you'll fill it all up soon enough!"

That is just hogwash! I don't buy it for one second.

Of course if you believe that old adage it will come true for you. But I don't believe it and so it isn't true for me. Like, I believe things happen in threes so they do. But if I were from a place where everything came in fours and I bought into that belief I am sure I'd see four of everything instead of three.

So I absolutely do not believe that having more space means having more stuff. In fact, I plan to do just the opposite. Luckily I have discovered that objects do not just magically appear in the house each night as I sleep. The cats are not out shopping all day while I'm at work. The only way stuff enters my house is when I bring it in myself with my own hands by my own choice. So I'm the one in control of the stuff, not the other way around.

Right now I'm all about the one in/one out rule. Whatever comes in, something must go out. And for some stuff (books and yarn, ahem) I can go a loooong time without shopping at all. I have enough yarn and books to last me through the apocalypse.

As I unpacked my books on Sunday I made a stack of all the books that I either haven't yet read or want to re-read and I'm putting them on their own shelf so I can "shop" from my own supply instead of buying more. I know people who use the library exclusively -- my mom does that-- but I buy books because I prefer to support the author with my money (karma, etc.) and anyway, I own a lot of books that I have yet to read and it was fun stacking them on their own shelf like my little personal bookstore.

Yarn is a whole 'nother story. I AM NOT BUYING ANY MORE YARN. I have enough yarn to keep me busy for weeks and months and years. I have decided that unless I am making a project that is a gift for someone else AND I have absolutely no yarn on hand that will work AND I plan to cast on for said project within 24 hours of buying the new yarn, no more yarn shopping will happen possibly ever but definitely not until June, 2010 (I'm such a little nerd, I love to set myself dates and goals). I figure I can buy myself some yarn for my birthday next year or something. My stash is embarrassing. I can guarantee you I could knit all day every day between now and next June and still have plenty left over. Also, I sense I am not alone in this arena. I have seen Ellen's stash and mine is a tiny shadow of the master stasher! But I do have plenty. There's just something about having beautiful yarn that's addictive.

Not getting much done during the week, though, by the time I get home I'm worn out. Hopefully I'll be feeling better and back to 100% by next weekend. It sure would be nice to get rid of the rest of these boxes.

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Frankie helps keep me from overdoing it.

Posted by laurie at 10:26 AM

September 21, 2009

Last day of summer

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Some folks work out.

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Some sleep.

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Some wonder why I can't find a single low-light setting on this wretched camera that looks good.

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"Autumn" in Los Angeles.

Posted by laurie at 11:05 AM

September 14, 2009

Cats on Stairs

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Frankie peeks around the side.

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Soba rules the top flight.

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"Here, I'll come closer so you can get an action shot."

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Bob. Probably the most accurate picture ... stuff stuff everywhere.

Posted by laurie at 9:53 AM

September 7, 2009

Hoarders

I have become obsessed with this show on TV called "Hoarders." The first time I saw it the episode featured a lady who hoarded food (all food, even spoiled, rotten, curdled food) and I made it through about 15 minutes of the show before I had to pause the Tivo and go clean out my refrigerator, using those Clorox wet wipes to sanitize it, checking the expiration dates of every condiment, throwing stuff away. Listen, it's there, inside me, that genetic desire to hoard, to have, to prepare. I don't know if I am warding it off or OCDing away or just postponing it, but who cares, my fridge never sparkled like it did that night.

Moving gets you up close and personal with all your stuff like no other experience on earth. Sometimes I am comforted by my stuff, as if it anchors me to the earth, tethers me to reality. Other times I feel weighed down by it, burdened, embarrassed to have accumulated so much. I am just one person after all, who has this much stuff?

All those months, years of decluttering and still I have so much. I bemoan it, but then I feel grateful for all my little doodads. Stuff is such a tricky subject. My dad and I talk about it sometimes. He gets me, he understands the tightwire walk between comfort and overwhelmed. I want to take this time as I unpack to consider my stuff more critically. I LOVE a clean house, and yet sometimes it looks like a hurricane passed through (like now, with all the boxes and piles) and now that I have more space I vow not to clutter it up with more junk. I want to have what I need, yes, but not hoard. Only some people understand what poverty mentality does to you, and those people know it's a fine tiny line between being prepared and being trapped. People who grew up poor have a different filter. Sometimes I want to clean all day until you can lick the floors and taste sunshine and sometimes I just want to be so engulfed with my stuff that I feel anchored. Like everything in life, it's just finding the middle space that lets you breathe.

It's such a high-class problem to have, that I know for sure. It makes me comforted, all this stuff. And it feels heavy (especially up three flights of stairs.) Somewhere in there is a middle place, that's good to know. I was an overachiever at Tetris and apparently I parlayed that skill into Tetris closet, Tetris pantry, Tetris garage. Lordy but I can fill a space and it looks so organized! How did I get so much into 800 square feet? Even after paring down by more than half?

Have decided I'll give myself to the end of the month to unpack and then what has no home has to go. I keep reminding myself it's a good problem to have, it's abundance, it's not being poor, it's not having to hold on because it may never pass my way again. Oh, it's just stuff. It's a lot of stuff. Even as I type this I can feel myself breathing again.

We are not our stuff! (Bob is in his space behind the keyboard right now, he's not clutter. He likes to lie there as I type, he's adjusting so well!) Anyway, it's a little bit of chaos here but I'll figure it out, I always do. I got so sure that my relationship with stuff had changed then I moved and saw just how much stuff I still had. I truly do understand how those people on "Hoarders" got where they are. I have nothing but compassion for them. But hell if I will end up that way. It's just piles, boxes, objects. We are not our stuff.

Posted by laurie at 7:46 PM

September 6, 2009

We're here.

Current conditions are boxy, with more boxes ahead! but we're in and finally the cats have come out from the closet and are eating a normal breakfast. The first night, one hid behind the fridge and everyone else vanished into cupboards and closets. The cupboards and closets are relatively bare since everything is still packed and stacked. How did I fit this much stuff into that little tiny house?

A few months ago I signed up for a two-day seminar over Labor Day thinking how convenient to spend two full days at a seminar and then have a Monday off for relaxing. Of course then I'd have no way of knowing I was would be moving that weekend, just up and move in a week flat. I'm so bone-tired I almost fell asleep in yesterday's afternoon session of the workshop. Crazy. But it's non-refundable and so, I am going again today. Boxes be damned.

The move was arduous, the hottest day of the year and I pulled an all-nighter beforehand, worried I'd never get it all done (you never do, or maybe you do but I tend to run out of boxes at 3 a.m.) and so I still have a few carloads of little junk to bring over myself. On Friday I went back over there and cleaned and then later that day the landlord and his wife did a walkthrough -- they're the nicest people you'll ever meet -- and they were both happy for me that I'm moving closer to work and out of my "transition" place (which lasted five years, ahem) and then Miss Nancy turned to me and said, "You have just been so clean, Laurie! I think this house is even cleaner today than when we rented it to you!" and she smiled and I grinned ear-to-ear. One of my personal philosophies in life is to do your best to leave things just as good or better than how you found them. I especially wanted to do that for the little house in Encino-adjacent.

Now I'm going to unload my Jeep from yesterday's carload (I was too tired after the seminar to unload anything but a bottle of wine and a Lara bar.) My legs already feel like I have been on a stairmaster for two days straight! The washer and dryer are on the top floor of my apartment, so to get a clean shirt (all my stuff is still packed, I'm just washing the same clothes over again) I feel like I climb a small mountain. It's going to be great built-in exercise or so I keep telling myself groaningly. Then I have a pile more to get at the old place and then there is the workshop to attend at 10 a.m. and at least by the end of the day tomorrow I should be done over at the old house and can focus on the new one. I think we're going to be very happy here. I know that once I can find my pants I will be even happier. And my socks. And the coffee pot. The only thing that is easy to find is yarn... it's EVERYWHERE. It's all arranged neatly in its mountain of plastic see-through bins sorted by color, fiber type or project. One of the moving guys asked if I worked for a yarn shop. "You really have a LOT of yarn," he said. "You must work in a yarn shop, right?" I lied. I said "Yep, sure do. Why else would anyone have so much yarn?"

hehehehehehe.

Posted by laurie at 5:28 AM

September 3, 2009

Yes there are two paths you can go by but in the long run there's still time to change the road you're on

In addition to believing in ghosts and regularly encountering friends and family members with hauntings, many Southerners are also superstitious people. I mean that in the best way possible, because what is a superstition anyway except an ear at the door of the future, listening in?

I myself am superstitious and always have been. I believe that bad luck can run out and in its place you can have a run of good luck. I believe you should listen when the universe sends you a sign or else the signs will just keep getting bigger and uglier. And I believe things happen in threes.

The first thing happened on August 8th. I was out taking a walk in my neighborhood and I saw something awful happen, it was horribly tragic and I will not talk about it but to say it was a Definite Sign. Deep inside, I knew right then I was going to have to move. But because I am the way I am -- a homebody and not exactly embracing of change at all times -- I got another sign the following Saturday when my garden was mowed over. The Universe was really not messing around with vague little signs. I was worried. I wondered if I should start packing.

At work on the Monday after the Great Garden Murder, I confided to my friend Corey that I needed to move before a truck drove through my house or the roof got struck by lightening or something.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"Signs! They always come in threes," I said. "I got two BIG ones already and I am not sticking around for the third one to force me out."

We were in the lunchroom, eating at a table in the corner by the window and she just laughed. Corey has the best laugh on the planet.

"No, no way," she said. "Sometimes just one thing happens. Or two."

This is because she is from Northern California and one can only assume that up there they just have their one sign or their two signs and that works for Californians. However, where I am from things happen in threes. I have lived out here for a long time, but I was a Southerner the day I was born and that means you mind your manners, you say yes ma'am and no ma'am and you believe in the law of threes. You can pretend to ignore the signs all around you but they just get bigger until a sinkhole opens up under the kitchen or a meteor drops into your living room. Don't laugh. I am telling you, it has happened to some people.

That very evening I went home and as I was cooking dinner I heard the doorbell ring. My neighbor across the street and three houses down had arrived home to discover her whole house burglarized top to bottom and she was passing out fliers with a notice about the robbery and so on.

I immediately called Corey.

"The third thing knocked on my door!" I said.

I explained what happened, about the robbery and the lady saying there was a wave of crime sweeping the neighborhood (or that's what the police had told her as she filed her report, but it's not a great part of town to begin with) and then I read the flier to Corey over the phone.

"I felt awful for my neighbor," I said. "But I was also relieved because it wasn't a truck driving into my living room at midnight. It's a weird feeling, being sad for someone else and also being relieved but with guilt. Anyway, there's no time to think about all that. Because now I have to move."

And we laughed because I am superstitious and also because I've been talking about moving for a long time and now, finally, the time had come. I wonder if Corey thought I was just being dramatic, I do have a tendency toward the hyperbolic. But when it comes to signs I don't fool around. My philosophy is that when the universe is telling you to get out of Dodge, you need to start boxing up the dishes and get a move on.

Listen, I have loved this house. It was exactly what I needed at the time. My life had crumbled into smoke and ashes and I had no money at all and I was barely holding my pieces together. This little house was as far away from my married life as possible without leaving the county and it was secluded and it was where I sat and cried and smoked and drank and cried and divorced and later it was where I pulled myself together. I have navel-gazed and pondered and gardened and learned to cook and knitted and cocooned and it was just the right place at the right time. It was the right place for a long time.

I'm not sure when it stopped being the right place. That's the thing with signs, we only heed them when we're ready. I haven't fit this house in a while but it took until now to be clear to me. I need a change. Moving is stressful for me and dramatic and crazy and scary and anxiety-producing, but moving can also make you see things differently, and it changes a person, and I need to move on. I simply don't want to stay in the Divorce House forever.

I have a vision for my life -- don't you? -- of how I want things to be "one day." It's that little dream we all hold inside of us, it's how we hope things will be as we move forward. It finally dawned on me that the discomfort and restlessness I've been feeling is because the gap between Where I Am and Where I Want To Be is just too great a distance. I can't get there from here. So I have to make movement toward it, meet it half way, change things up a little.

So I am making a little leap across the unknown into the future and I am moving. I am moving to the cutest little place. And I am moving today! I can't sleep, I have too much to do and I'm too nervous and anxious and excited.

It all happened so fast and everything fell into place just so. Last Monday I made a list of everything I wanted in a new home: a safer neighborhood, closer to work, gated, with stairs inside, dishwasher, fireplace. I wanted one of those Los Angeles fireplaces, you know, where you flip the little switch and magically flames appear. We had one at the old condo before le divorce and the cats loved lying there basking in the heat all winter. I wanted stairs, like a place with a loft or a townhouse-style apartment so the cats could run up and down. Maybe they can go off the dreaded diet food if they get some exercise.

Anyway, that was Monday. I had a list.

On Tuesday I looked at some rental listings for ideas, you know, just to see what was out there. The third ad I looked at was IT. The One. Fifteen minutes later I'd made an appointment to see it. But even sight unseen I knew the moment I read about the place it was going to be mine. On Wednesday I saw it in person and filled out the application. On Thursday I signed the lease and two days later I picked up my keys.

HOLY CRAP YA'LL! Apparently when I actually heed the signs with no bellyaching and just say, Ok! Here we go! everything moves like a waterfall. Is that the craziest thing you ever heard? Who in Los Angeles makes a list like that and finds it in the first building they look at? It is a renter's urban legend.

It has every single thing I put on my list plus a patio! It's gated and secure and there's no one below or above you since the whole thing is stretched out top to bottom with all the levels like a townhouse. I LOVE IT. The building is new and SO CLEAN and I can still have my plants, and I love container gardening so now they'll be on a patio.

The biggest change by far will be my commute. My new place is still in the Valley but it's closer to work and will shave about 45 minutes off my commute each way. Yes, that is 45 minutes less each way. It's closer to restaurants and stores and it's within walking distance to things and the neighborhood is much safer. I'm so excited. I'm also a little freaked out. But I am just going with it. I'm not going to second-guess or give into my fear and honestly, I just knew. I knew the minute I saw it it had to be mine.

Because I am nostalgic and maudlin I tend to hang onto things even once I have outgrown them. I knew for a long time I needed to move but I just wasn't ready. Moving is crazymaking and I've had my moments this past week. Doubt, anxiety, sheer panic. This tiny little house way out in the armpit of the Valley was my little refuge, my little island off the coast of humanity. It feels like I'm moving back to the mainland, which is good but a little stressful. I've tried to stay focused on packing ... packing and labeling and cleaning and sorting. I keep reminding myself that doubt and panic are all totally normal and expected reactions to big change and so when I have a moment of "Oh -- wait -- am I really doing this?" I don't let myself get wrapped up into it and just let it pass. I have never been a fan of moving (though I have done an awful lot of it in my lifetime) and of course it stirs stuff up, this move in particular. I keep remembering how awful it was moving into this house, what a disaster I was, how everything was pear-shaped and messy. I miss smoking. I miss Roy. But mostly I'm just relieved not to be moving out of tragedy this time, but moving out of choice.

Moving was the right next step. Most of my stuff is boxed and labeled and stacked up neatly around the house. There's still so much to do though, moving never seems to end! The truck comes in a few hours to load it all up and move it to the new place. I can't sleep, there's so much to do. I'm moving! It's been five years and it's time. Goodbye, Divorce House. Hello DISHWASHER!

Posted by laurie at 1:24 AM

August 18, 2009

The writer at work

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Posted by laurie at 8:40 AM

August 5, 2009

Summertime, when the living is easy.

Did you see my boyfriend Al Gore on the news this morning? Looking good, Al! Looking good. I called Corey to chitchat about the news:

Me: You think if you and I ever get trapped overseas that our boss will send Bill Clinton to rescue us?

Corey: No.

Me: You think if we ever get trapped overseas Bill will come anyway?

Corey: Definitely. He's The Bill. That's what The Bill does.

Anyway, I watched the live news coverage this morning because I am a sucker for happy endings. I know that there are hundreds or thousands or millions of other people awaiting help in all kinds of other ways but you know what? One person's joyful moment doesn't take away someone else's chance at happiness. That's my philosophy anyway. Take pleasure in joy where you can, savor it. That's probably why I like food so much. I know how to savor, oh yes I do.

Speaking of joy and happiness, Dallas Raines had our forecast:

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Don't you love how our "Fall-like weather" is 79 degrees? Autumn comes to other parts of the country bringing chill and frost. In Los Angeles, autumnlike weather is a sunny 80-degree day! It will be hotter in the Valley of course, the armpit of summer and all. But I'll take it! No one's complaining about it in my house.

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Frankie loves those summer nights.

Posted by laurie at 9:23 AM

July 29, 2009

Salad #21, two versions

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From 101 Simple Summer Salads. # 21. Dice cucumbers (if they’re fat and old, peel and seed them first) and toss with cubes of avocado, a little mirin (or honey, but then it’s not vegan), rice vinegar and soy sauce. (You could mix in a little lump crab meat, really not vegan, even rice, and call it a California roll salad.)

I made this salad with cucumbers from my garden and a delicious ripe Haas avocado. And I added the lump crab meat, though I bought canned white crab since the fresh lump crab meat at Whole Foods was over $14 for a little tiny tub! You could definitely omit the crab, I don't think it added much (unless you want to spring for the pricey stuff, but I was not prepared to make a $20 salad).

This time I learned from my mistakes and made the dressing separately and stirred and adjusted and tasted until it was perfect, then added it spoonful by spoonful to the salad until it was enough. Tamari sauce for soy makes this salad wheat free, and I loved the taste of honey and rice vinegar combined with the avocado it almost gives a smoky taste, delicious.

I had plenty of dressing left over for another salad which I varied with some small cherry tomatoes picked fresh from the garden:

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My, what a large cucumber you have.


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Honestly, the salad was better without the tomatoes. They just added one too many flavors. But they were so pretty and I'm so proud of my real! red! tomatoes that I couldn't resist.

I am loving these leaf-free salads, they are so much better than a bowl of grass. And even though most people would not consider this cooking, I feel positively gourmet at this point. This is food I could actually serve to other people and not be embarrassed about. Nice!

Posted by laurie at 11:05 AM

July 27, 2009

Salad # 7

Although it appeals to my sense of order and lists, I'm not going to start making salads in exact chronological order from Mark Bittman's recent New York Times article of 101 simple summer salads. Instead I'm going to make them as I have ingredients on hand. For example, right now I have a lot of cucumbers and tomatoes and carrots.

Yesterday's salad was number 7 on the list:

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7. Grate carrots, toast some sunflower seeds, and toss with blueberries, olive oil, lemon juice and plenty of black pepper. Sweet, sour, crunchy, soft.

The food processor made quick work of shredding and I have plenty raw carrot shreds left over for another meal or two. The salad itself was tasty despite my culinary error -- I added too much lemon juice and the first salad I made was so tart my ears puckered. The lemon I had was so small that I'd juiced the whole thing and stirred it together with olive oil and black pepper and then added it to the salad without tasting it first. Rookie error. To even it out, I added more carrots/blueberries/sunflower seeds and mixed it with the first batch to tame the lemon zeal, so I had a lot of salad to eat for dinner.

But even with the too-tart dressing, this salad was unexpectedly delicious. I would never have put blueberries and carrots and sunflower seeds together of my own volition, and even as I was making it I thought the combo sounded possibly gross. But it was so good! Savory and sweet and crunchy, all things that I love. Two forks up. Just go easy on the amount of lemon juice you use (this is why I do better with more specific recipes.) (But I try.)

- - -

I'm still working on my entrelac scarf, and I got so much help this weekend...

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Frankie sitting on the pattern to be sure it wouldn't go anywhere.


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Bob likes to help hold down the yarn.

Posted by laurie at 8:38 AM

July 26, 2009

And so that happened, again.

Last week I started off on the wrong foot. On Monday I was upset all day because I couldn't remember if I had turned off the gas grill. It's hot, you see, and I had planned to grill some chicken on Sunday night to add to my packed lunches during the week but last Sunday night it never cooled down and finally I gave up and went to bed.

I have this thing about starting the week -- if I don't manage to get something prepared ahead of time for my lunches (like wash and cut some vegetables, or make rice, or whatever) then I usually have a week full of eating crap and subsisting on microwaved popcorn and Lara bars. There just isn't time during my workweek to cook much. I commute. It's time suckage.

So on Monday morning, I got up early and went outside and put some laundry on to wash -- the laundry is in the garage -- and then I set about grilling my chicken. And it was early, and I'm not really a morning person by any stretch of the imagination, and when everything was sufficiently charred I took the chicken off the grill and went inside to chop some and pack it up with rice for lunch.

Then I showered and got dressed and did all those morning things and when I was on the bus halfway to work, I started freaking out about the grill. Had I remembered to turn off the gas? I teetered between panic and calm, panic that something would catch fire and then calm because I am someone who turns off the grill, geez.

So my Monday was spend gazing at the clock, wondering if I was crazy, wondering if my house was still standing, and vowing to never again try to be ridiculously productive before work. (Yes, I had turned off the grill. Of course. Thank God.)

This whole affair reminded me all over again of what's challenging about being a Party Of One. After my ex-husband left and then I moved into this little house, I would panic on a regular basis about whether or not I had left some appliance or another turned on, or if I had left a window open, or left the door unlocked accidentally. One day early on in the pre-divorce-mid-divorce crazy days, I worked myself into such a state that I had to leave the office and go to my house and check on something. You wouldn't think it would be that big of a deal to leave work and quickly check on something at home, but the challenge is that I commute on a bus which does not run between 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. It's a commuter bus, so it runs early in the mornings and then again in the evenings. So on the day of my panic trip home so many moons ago, I had to pay $73.00 for a taxi to my car which was located at a park 'n ride lot, then I drove to my house where NOTHING AT ALL was amiss, then I drove back into work, poorer and behind schedule and shamed over my crazypants ways.

[Please don't email me horror stories of people you know/heard about/read about online who left their doors unlocked/oven on/etc. It is not helpful. It makes crazy even crazier.]

That is how the sticky note situation started. Once I realized that my panic was largely based on the scary notion that there was simply no one to call to help me, no one to rely upon, no one to remind me to lock the door or double-check the oven, I decided to think not of such frightening things and concentrate instead on sticky notes. I started writing myself post-it notes and leaving them in key places, such as on the door: "Did you remember to lock the door? Turn off the oven? Unplug the hair dryer? Throw salt over your left shoulder and spin three times while chanting lucky charms?" (OK, just kidding about the last one, but really. I am an embarrassment to myself.)

The safety net of having a significant other or roommate who you can call to help with the day-to-day tasks of living was simply gone and I was suspect about relying on myself, shoddy adult that I was. (Am.) When I would have people over I would hide my post-it-note neurotica, but I used that system for well over a year to help ease me into singlehood. There are other re-singled things, too, like not having anyone to pick you up when your car is in the shop, or having anyone to drive you home from the dentist's office while you're doped up on happy gas. Eventually you figure out solutions -- I have -- and the weird feeling of being so alone and dependent entirely on yourself eventually fades and becomes the norm. In time I even realized I am more reliable and easier to talk to and I am a better driver anyway and instead of feeling alone and put-upon, I feel independent and resourceful. Still, I hate those days when I panic and think I left the stove on or whatever. They're not nearly as frequent but they are still awful.

But there is also the small saving grace of strangers. I forget how helpful people can be. Yesterday I got home and it was hot out and I was tired and in dire need of a shower and before I could even get all the way out of my Jeep, my next-door neighbor was walking over to tell me a pipe had started leaking in the front sprinklers so he turned the water off for me. The gardeners came to fix it today and then left and after fifteen minutes the pipe burst forth into a giant geyser, and my neighbor was out his door as quickly as I was out mine. I got drenched turning off the water and later, after I had dried off and changed clothes I went over and thanked him for keeping an eye on my house. I wish they knew how much I appreciated it, being a Party of One and all, but that was a little hard to convey so I just said thank you. He was gracious and his wife said I looked like I had been hit with a firehose and we laughed then I went back in and finished breakfast, not feeling quite as worried as I was last week.

But I'm still not planning to grill chicken before work anymore. Just in case.

Posted by laurie at 1:33 PM

May 20, 2009

I was not alone in the shower.

I just took a shower with a spider.

It was not intentional, of course, and only people who share my irrational and completely unfounded fear of spiders will understand my reaction. I screamed like a little girl. Because that's what creatures who are over 5 feet tall and weigh ... rather a lot ... do when they see tiny little insects that could be easily squashed but yet hold a terrifying power over humanity. We lose all sense of reason and huddle far away (while still being able to keep a keen eye on the dreaded creature) and we whimper and cringe. It's very normal, I'm sure.

So there I was, alone in the shower with The Enemy, and he was near the drain and struggling mightily not to be sucked down with the shampoo and water. I splashed water at him, but still it took a while for him to spiral down, and then I felt an immediate sense of sadness. Had he suffered much? Was it inhumane of me to let him drown? Did he have a name? Couldn't I have been at least brave enough to squash him with the soap and spare him the pain of drowning?

It was then I realized I have slipped off the shelf of anxiety and landed squarely in the realm of the utterly insane. Perhaps it's a sign to get more sleep, or eat more carbs, or do something, anything, before I start naming the dust balls in the dark recesses of the kitchen and communing with my belly button.

Posted by laurie at 6:44 AM

April 30, 2009

The Lost Furball

The past two weeks have been hard at work, we've been shorthanded and I'm trying to fill in wherever I can and sometimes by 5:30 I'm so tired of looking at code and clicktags and images and PDFs I'm drooling on the keyboard. Which is really attractive as you can imagine.

The icing on the crap cake came yesterday when my computer went to the blue screen of death just as I was trying to complete something for a deadline NOW NOW NEED IT NOW. I am the master of breaking things, it's a talent really. The only thing I can't seem to break is my old boxy TV set (I just feel wasteful and ridiculous buying a flat-screen TV with this perfectly serviceable TV already in place) so last night after melting the hard drive on my rockstar dual-processor animation workhorse at the office, I took the bus home and walked in the front door and immediately laid hands upon my TV thinking maybe my malo mojo was working and I could do good with my technical death skills ... for once.

Alas, my malo mojo was exhausted and the TV lives on.

But the TV just kept going on and on about how we're all going to perish from the swine flu and blah blah blah.... so I turned off the TV and got back to Isla Sorna... you see, I finished Jurassic Park and was on the last few chapters of The Lost World when I looked up and found this animal moving toward me:

T-Bob.jpg

The Tyrannosaurus Bob!!!!

While the T-Bob is equipped with fangs of outrageous sharpness, he also has a small brain and a short attention span:

T-Bob2.jpg
The T-Bob at rest

He lives in constant conflict with the extremely intelligent but unpredictable Sobasaurus:

sobasaurus.jpg

This creature is the smallest on the house-island, but appears to control most of the environment.

sobasaurus2.jpg

The Sobasaurus is an advanced Catosaur species, with fast-changing moods and a dislike of other Catosaurs. She especially dislikes this one:

Pfrankiedactyl.jpg
The Pfrankiedactyl

The Pfrankiedactyl is a peaceful, graceful Catosaur with long, slender anterior extremeties and an unusual color patterning. She prefers sleeping and purring to hunting and fighting, which seems to annoy the Sobasaurus.

Pfrankiedactyl2.jpg
The Pfrankiedactyl at rest.

Observing these animals is a constant source of scientific wonder. They hunt their prey -- hair elastics, bottle caps, barrettes -- with great vigor and seem to drag the kill to an unknown lair, still hidden to researchers. They do occasionally fight between them, though the Sobasaurus is the clearly dominant species.

All tolerate their human observer with detached acceptance. They produce a large amount of Catosaur poo and researchers are hoping to one day power a vehicle with this ever-replenished resource.

It's very exciting here on the outer edge of science!

Posted by laurie at 8:22 AM

February 10, 2009

The linen closet. Possibly the most exciting thing since dryer lint.

bob-on-red-blankie.jpg

Bob sleeping on his red blankie.

I bought that red fluffy blanket for Roy when he was very sick but by that time he stayed in his little kitty tent all day on his self-warming heating pad and never used the red blanket. I missed that cat so much after he died that I got rid of everything he'd used when he was sick, I had to let go that very day or I knew I'd somehow be locked forever in a weird place where I didn't want to be. The red blanket, never used, got washed and folded and stuffed away in the back of the linen closet.

My linen closet is in the hallway and it's actually pretty big for such a small house. I use the top part of the cabinet for linens and the bottom part for storage (tools, toiletries, miscellaneous sundries.) I have known for some time now that my linen closet was OUT OF CONTROL but I have done nothing at all about it except stuff more towels and pillowcases inside and close the doors. It's good sometimes to pull a Scarlett O'Hara and say, I'LL THINK ABOUT THAT LINEN CLOSET WHEN I FRANKLY GIVE A DAMN. Which I don't. Or didn't ... until I couldn't sleep. Then I was all over that linen closet like me on white Arborio rice.

I think I forget sometimes that I am just one person and I do not need 14 mismatched towels, eighteen sets of sheets and 22 blankets. After all, I only have one bed ... well, I do have a pullout sofa in the office that makes into a twin bed but scientific studies show that one can actually use bigger sheets and just tuck them in and apparently the law will not come to your house and arrest you for bad homemaking. Allegedly.

Part of this linen closet trouble started last year when I found a whole closeout sale on 1000-thread-count sheets and decided to stock up (that was prior to going all no-shop). My previous supply of sheets were 300 thread count (which were awesome right up until the moment I slept on a 1000-thread-count sheet and then I crossed over into a new level of uppity) and now all my old sheets have been relegated to the back of the cabinet in the ghetto area near the mismatched pillowcases and the raggedy beach towels.

Why didn't I just get rid of them? Why did I KEEP all my old sheets instead of donating them to Goodwill or something? This makes no sense, it is not logical thinking -- it is the part of the prefrontal cortex called the Clutterelis Unexplainedness. I am very sciency today what with my deep medical knowledge of the brain and all.

So the other night when I couldn't sleep I pulled everything out of the linen closet and stacked it on the bed in piles. I sorted it into basics: my awesome new fancypants sheets in one pile, towels that match in another pile, favorite blankets and throws in another pile, and "everything else."

The bulkier stuff, like the extra pillows, got smooshed down into space bags. Space bags! Why can't they make space bags for my thighs? (Oh wait -- they have -- they're called Spanx). It was hard to figure out what to let go of, but I did manage to pare it all down and I wrapped all the purged linens in two (!!) big plastic bags and sent them to the garage for Yard Sale day.

Then I put everything back into the closet:

linen-closet.jpg

Not bad for an hour's work!

For some reason I feel happier knowing that there is order and organization happening behind the closed doors of my linen cabinet. I have to walk past that linen closet ten times a day and now it's not nagging at the back of my mind, clean me! Help me! Free me of these ugly towels with frayed edges! Funny how clutter nags at you even when you aren't looking at it directly. While I was in full-sorting mode, the red fluffy blanket was out on the bed for just a minute and Bob started rooting around under it, then making biscuits on it and finally falling asleep in a happy round pile of cute:

bob-on-red-blankie2.jpg

The red blanket stays. It has a contented new owner.

Posted by laurie at 8:22 AM

December 12, 2008

Mexican Standoff at the O.K. Cat Corral!

bathtime1.jpg

bathtime3.jpg

Someone apparently needed a bath and didn't really want one. It's not all fun and games around here, folks, there is drama! Action! Intensity!

Also this weekend there will be mad rushing! Because Christmas is a mere 12 days away and I am now nearing full panic mode as the sum total of my holiday preparation is the following: I have written one (1) sappy entry about holiday lights, I have listened to four (4) Christmas carols accidentally, and I have purchased the whopping accomplishment of one (1) gift, which isn't even for a human but is for my parents' new DOG. Seriously.

But anyway the dog will still like me after the holidays. Maybe he can move in. Frankie will give him a bath!


bathtime2.jpg


Posted by laurie at 9:30 AM

October 2, 2008

Q&A: Knitting Bag, Books, Cat Litter... all the basics

Today it's Email Day here at Chez Blabsalot. But before we get to the important stuff like books and cat poop, I just wanted to chime in and say I know that the world has gone completely ass over teakettle and all we hear about right now is gloom and doom and crisis and crunch and bailout and collapse and on and on. Trust me, I hear it all day long.

But getting upset about it or cowering in fear or obsessing over it every minute of every day has pretty much zero effect whatsoever on the outcome and only makes you grumpy. Same goes with the politics stuff. And even though there is Crisis! And spin room! And insanity! There is an awful lot of good stuff, too. Like cheese. And cats. And yarn. And there are so many good inventions like hulu.com where you can watch TV shows and movies for FREE! (I don't work for them, they don't even know me from Adam but I like free, so I am a fan.) And the weather forecast says it will cool down tomorrow which is a blessed, joyful event not unlike the time I found the last box of chocolate truffles at Whole Foods and I almost wept in appreciation. That is how I feel about it cooling off, which also coincidentally is FREE. So there are good things happening you just have to look for them. Sometimes they come at the bottom of a box of truffles, but whatever.

- - -

Now for correspondence! Which I am SO GOOD at that I think some of these emails are from forty-six months ago. Reader Karen who has just re-taken-up knitting emailed me and asked:

I have decided to find a knitting group in my area which brings me to my question. What do you transport your knitting stuff in? I don't recall you showing a knitting bag. I want something hip rather than grandmotherly. Could you recommend a source for cool bags?

Thanks!
Karen

I have a few different knitting bags, and which one I use at the time usually depends on whether or not I am toting around a bigger project (giant scarf) or a little project (roll-brim hat.) I take mass transit, so my bag also sometimes doubles as the transportation not just for knitting but my lunch, a book, and whatever assorted papers and bits I'm carrying to and from work.

The bag on the left is an old Isaac Mizrahi find from Target, that superpink and cute bag was a birthday present from Drew. It's a Lantern Moon tote which I love. And the green shapeless sack is a big ol' freebie bag which I got from the book expo and it has been carrying around my most recent project, plus my lunch and assorted work stuff:


Click for big pictures.

Sometimes I use my envirosax, too. But the most important bag in all my knitting is the oh-so-awesome ziploc baggie, which I use almost all the time even if it is then carried around inside a knitting bag. (See: lunch and knitting sharing same bag, accidents averted via magical ziploc.)

That's the glamorous right there.

- - -

Reader Allan from Newcastle (my favorite beer!) said:

Enjoyed your house reformation. It has inspired me! But where do you keep your books and can we have a photo of them? They give an insight into someone's zeitgeist.

I cannot resist emails with the word zeitgeist! So, part of my no-shop has been easy (not buying clothes has been VERY easy, since I've been feeling uninspired to see myself in trying-on room mirrors) and buying less stuff for the house has been easy. But about a month on into my no-shop I decided books were an essential. I love and support my local library but having dipped my toes into the murky waters of royalties I want to buy books now, more to support the authors I like than anything else. It just feels like the right thing for me to do, though you know of course I don't expect others to abide by my little quirks and roadsigns, this just works for me. So I have been buying books, the best of which recently are by Kate Atkinson -- she was recommended to me by Karin Slaughter and I have fallen in love with her books, my favorite being Case Histories.

But you asked about storing books, not about buying and reading. Right now my books are spread all over the house. One day (one day! always one day!) I want to get a big huge bookshelf with closed doors to keep the dust out and the clutter in, but until then I have my books on many shelves.

My little house has a built-in below the main window in the living room:

bookcase-soba.jpg

I arrange the books here mostly by color, with exceptions for piles that go together in my own insane filing way. (I also enter people in my address book by first name, a practice which makes my mom crazy.)

Another view:
bookshelf-colorized.jpg

There are books by my bedside and books in the office, these books are my knitting/craft/project books:

bookshelf-knitting.jpg

There are books in piles, too, because not everything has been filed away by color just yet and I have unread books in one area, my goal is to put all the books I haven't read on one shelf so I have my own mini-bookstore-library at home and that way when I want to read a new book I can go shopping from my little cache of unread litterchure.

books-stacked.jpg

Books everywhere! I love books. They make me happy.

- - -

Reader Courtney writes:

I recently discovered the joys of knitting, and subsequently the joys of your blog. :) I was wondering, since I'm still figuring out how to navigate this site, if you knew of an EASY two color scarf I could knit. My brother has his first college football game EVER in about three weeks, and I wanted to whip out a super cute scarf in the school colors for his game. Any recommendations?

Garter stitch in a bulky knit is not just fast and easy but can be more boyish, too, less refined -- I love a simple garter stitch scarf. That's where you knit every row. Or, how about a knit 3, purl 3 rib stitch? I'm sure more folks will have suggestions for you, too. If you're reading you'll have to let us know what style you picked...

- - -

Finally:

Reader Elizabeth writes:

Dear Laurie, A friend of mine recommended your website to me because she said you might have a suggestion of a good cat litter to use. One that won't make my asthmatic (seriously, she takes pills) picky female cat poop on my bed when the litter box (one of TWO) has a little bit of stinky male kitten pee in it. Basically that means I'd need to change the litter box everyday and I can't/won't do it! Help! I read on your blog that you used Clump n' Flush but it is no longer sold in CA. I live in Oakland. What do I do? I mean the cats love each other, evidenced by their playing together, cleaning each other, etc, but SHE has litter box needs. Please help!

Thanks,
Elizabeth


So those of you who have been reading about my exciting world for some time now know I had a big Kitty Litter Crisis (!!!) a long time ago when the stupid people who manufacture stupid Clump 'n Flush decided to stop selling it to California rather than put a sticker on the bag with a disclaimer about sea otters. And even if they started selling it again in California now I wouldn't buy it just on principle. (It's all too much to get into here, you can read this post and this one, too.)

At that time my cat Roy, rest in peace and I MISS YOU, had all sorts of problems including asthma. I discovered mostly by trial and a lot of error that he responded best to litter that was NOT scented and NOT made of wheat (people aren't the only animals with wheat allergies!) I know a lot of readers rhapsodize about World's Best Cat Litter, but I didn't find that it worked for my cats or for me. (It's made of wheat, as is Swheat Scoop.) Plain ol' Johnny Cat unscented works great, though it is not scoopable. Some folks love Feline Pine -- bottom line is I think you have to experiment to see what works for your cats. What I used to do to find out if a cat litter would work or not was to use a "test box" for the new litter. I would buy a cheapo plain old plastic litter pan and place it near the other litter pans and fill it with new litter and see how the cats responded. It was like science, with more poop. This whole website is an excellent resource about cats and their litterboxes. I found it really interesting and helpful!

Normally I try not to give advice about catboxes and cats in general since it's a pretty personal topic. But since you asked.... here's what I would recommend:

1) Have your cat checked for any infections or illnesses. This is the standard thing folks tell you when you have litterbox issues, especially if they are recent changes.

2) Start with the litter box itself. I used to use a Booda Dome and the cats HATED it. It's too cramped and dank when enclosed like that. In fact, many vets will tell you that while humans prefer the enclosed litter boxes because they seem more sanitary, cats prefer a nice open pooping surface like a plain ol' basic cat pan. Speak with your vet or do some reading online about this. But I can tell you as soon as I switched to unenclosed cat pans, we had much better litterbox behavior in Chez Poopsalot. This is what my catbox set-up looks like and you can read what I wrote about it here:

catbox.jpg

3) I scoop twice a day. Yup. It is very exciting being me, what with all the poop scooping. I scoop once in the morning and once when I get home at night. This is because Queen Sobakowa will not use the box properly unless it smells like sunshine and unicorns. Scooping twice a day eliminates pretty much all problems for us in this area.

4) Clean the box when you change the litter. I use some unscented cleaning wipes that are safe for use with pets and I wipe down the box inside and out before replacing the clean litter.

5) Discourage the alternate pooping by removing the place it's happening. This means for you closing the bedroom door when you're away since your cat seems to like that room as her alternate loo. Also, you might want to try laundering all offended linens with enzymatic cleaner (get this at any pet supply shop). It removes the scent so they don't keep returning to that spot.

Eventually I switched to Dr. Elsey's Cat Attract litter, and I have found it works great for us. I purchase it at PetSmart, and each bag comes with a $1 off coupon inside so your next purchase is a little cheaper. Keeping the pan VERY clean is really important, and luckily I am a little OCD with the cleaning so it works out fine for all of us. I hope you're able to find a solution that works for you and your felines, and I'm sure the comments will have all sorts of helpy advice, too. We are cat crazy around here!!

- - -

Thank you so much everyone for your emails, I know I am weeks behind as usual but I do eventually get to them all and I really appreciate your notes and questions and hellos. Even the poopy ones!

Posted by laurie at 9:16 AM

September 24, 2008

All domestic goddessy and stuff

I am so happy that some of ya'll said you tried that Chicken and White Bean Chili recipe recipe off Epicurious and also liked it! I find that if I make a big pot of something on Sundays -- stew, soup, chili, rice and beans -- it's enough for lunch all during the week and paired with a wedge of cornbread it's a fast, filling lunch. If I can sneak some kale in there it's even healthier. Ha! Me and the sneaky kale.

This coming weekend (which seems so far away right now) I'm either going to make black bean soup with cilantro-lime sour cream OR white bean and escarole soup with garlic OR some variation of red beans and rice. I am leaning toward red beans and rice because I already have a big package of kidney beans in my pantry and some spicy sausage in the freezer. We'll see.

Sometimes I like to fool myself into thinking I am really cooking here... but making one pot of food to stretch over a workweek, is that culinary delight? No -- wait -- don't answer that. I'm happy with things they way they are. At least my lunch isn't coming from a brown paper bag handed to me by a McDonald's employee, and in my world this is progress.

- - -

my-favorite-room.jpg

This is my favorite room of the house, the bedroom. At night after I'm done with dinner and tidying up and working and so on, I come in here and turn on the bedside lamp and all the cats pile up on the bed, they love this time of the night. I stretch out on the sheets and write in my notebook or read a book while Sobakowa lays on some part of my body and Bob wants to be petted and Frankie stretches out and it's the best time of the whole day.

The bedroom is very, very small, just enough room for a queen-size bed and one dresser and a narrow bedside table. No TV, no stereo, no phone. Just quiet and relaxing. Right now I'm doing the Scandinavian hotel room look with all white sheets and a plain white duvet cover for chilly nights (when they arrive, eventually.) Sundays are my favorite day in my favorite room because even though I still wake up early, I stay in bed longer on Sundays and all the cats snuggle in and I read or write in my notebook or do nothing at all for the first hour of the day.

It's definitely my favorite room. Simple and kind of sparse but really peaceful.

bob-in-bed.jpg
Bob agrees.

Posted by laurie at 8:52 AM

September 19, 2008

That's so corny

I made cornbread and I declare, it is GOOD! In fact, I made two pans of cornbread (since I had the ingredients out and all...) but in the end I didn't use my dad's recipe because it called for more eggs than I had in the fridge. I went online and did some searching and found this recipe which we'll call cornbread #1, and this low-fat recipe which we'll call cornbread #2. I made some changes to the recipes and they both turned out pretty darn good all the same.

Mostly I added and subtracted a bit -- to both recipes I added in some very finely chopped red bell pepper, some finely chopped jalapeno (YUM) and a whole lot of frozen niblet corn. Yes, I added it in frozen and it was just fine. Each recipe was baked in a 9" round nonstick cake pan that I sprayed with some canola spray.

Here is how cornbread #1 came out:
cornbread1.jpg

LOVELY!
The other main changes I made here were to decrease the oil called for in the recipe a little bit and I made up the difference with kefir, which is all I had on hand but you could use buttermilk, too. I also used plain unsweetened yogurt in place of the sour cream. I added in the red peppers and frozen corn, not creamed corn and, stirred it all in the batter (instead of layering it.) Um, I guess in the end it's a different recipe altogether! The first time I made this a few weeks ago I stirred in a big helping of shredded monterey jack cheese but I thought the end result was way too greasy so I left it out this time around.


Here is how cornbread #2 came out:
cornbread2.jpg
Not pretty, but very tasty!

Cornbread #2 had a better taste (I think I put more frozen corn in it, so it was sweeter and also it was lighter in texture) but the bottom stuck to the pan. What you see in the picture is the poor naked bottom of my cornbread. I'd definitely make this recipe again except I'd line the pan with parchment first.

I followed this recipe pretty much to the letter and then I added in my peppers, jalapenos and frozen corn. Just dumped it all in the batter and stirred to get everything mixed up and then put it in the pan to bake. Making two pans of cornbread took about ten minutes total, plus of course the cooking time.

It's REALLY easy to make cornbread. I prefer mine to be savory with no extra sugar or honey and I like it to be 100% cornmeal (some recipes call for 1/2 cornmeal and 1/2 flour, which gives it a cake-like consistency that it not typical of Southern cornbread and isn't my favorite.) You can substitute plain, unsweetened yogurt for a lot of the fat called for in most cornbread recipes. I had a friend once tell me she added applesauce to hers instead of all the oil, but I have never tried that (I guess if you like sweet cornbread, that could be a good trick!)

Plus cornbread freezes really well -- I cut up one of my experimentations and froze it in individual pieces. The rest I've been having all week with this Chicken and White Bean Chili recipe I got off Epicurious.com. This chili is sooooo yummy! It's a really filling meal, perfect for re-heating in the microwave at work and goes great with cornbread. Not bad for Sunday afternoon cooking!


soba-yummy.jpg

Posted by laurie at 9:04 AM

September 8, 2008

Cooking for one, the "I don't cook" episode

Ok, confession time: When I am in my kitchen chopping and piddling around and so on, I pretend I have my own cooking show. This is made all the more amusing by the fact that I am a pretty lame cook, do not follow instructions well and often think a bag of popcorn + a glass of wine = a good meal.

BUT, sometimes I do cook. I'm trying very hard to cook more of my meals these days for two reasons:

1) It's so much cheaper than eating out.
2) It's so much better for you!

When I fix my own meals at least I know what's in my food and especially what's NOT in it. I have a serious and long-term abusive relationship with fast-food and one of the real downsides to fast food (besides the fact that to me it is crackass addictive, I could eat it for every meal) is that is has almost no nutritional value at all and is covered in stuff my body doesn't need. One day I was eating french fries, my version of heroin, when I looked at a fry and realized I was inhaling them and they have NO NUTRIENTS. I'm not even sure the fries I was eating were made from a plant-based object.

But I kept eating them. They tasted goooood.

So I have to really work at avoiding fast food, because even though my mind says, "This is garbage!" my mouth says, "I like garbage! Put salt on it and call it a day!"

The weekends are my time for cooking and preparing meals. There just isn't enough time or energy left in me at the end of a workday and a commute to come home and fix a meal. So on the weekends I shop for a few staples and then come home and wash my vegetables and assemble stuff for meals for the week, lunches and snacks or whatever, and I also try to cook something I can stretch through the week, like a stew or chili.

Cooking is not my favorite way to spend a day, so I try to do a fair amount of cooking in my crockpot. This past weekend I cooked a turkey in the crockpot, so easy! (Here's how I did it.) That will make a good dinner tonight!

Another confession here: I hate greens. I know you're supposed to love and eat leafy greens all day long but I just don't care for them. I don't even really like salad very much. But I have discovered by accident that I don't mind kale (I don't want to eat a big side helping of it, but if it's mixed in with something else it's ok.) And I am therefore committed to adding more kale to my diet since it's about the only green leaf I don't mind eating. Thanks to reader Rachel who mentioned a stew made of chickpeas and kale and sausage... I went to Epicurious.com (my favorite website!) and found this recipe, which I made yesterday. Chopping the kale in my food processor was a real pain in the butt, there's a fine line between "minced" and "paste" and it made a big mess, so halfway through making this dish I did not have high hopes for it. But in the end it was delicious! I made some modifications -- I cooked my own chickpeas (not from a can) and I added about twice the amount called for in the recipe. I also used a spicy hot Italian sausage instead of chorizo and it gave this stew so much kick, it's really outstanding. I also let it simmer for a lot longer than three minutes. It was so tasty I had it for lunch yesterday and I brought it for lunch today with some cornbread.

The rest of my cooked chickpeas were used to make more hummus -- yummus -- and then I still had all this kale left over so I decided to make a more adventurous dish, mashed potatoes and kale. It's apparently based on an Irish recipe for Colcannon, which I had never heard of but I looked it up on the internet and hey, it's Irish! People love Ireland! And I love mashed potatoes, so I figured it was a good companion for my crockpot turkey.

I also didn't have high hopes for this dish but it ended up being pretty darn good, if I do say so myself. I definitely didn't add the whole amount of kale called for in the recipe but it still greened up my potatoes. If you make mashed potatoes a fair amount -- and I do, alas -- it's a good way to get some greens into the butter and cream. The potato is an amazing thing, it makes everything taste good!

I don't know about you, but all the success for me in working towards being healthy and taking good care of myself (ESPECIALLY with nutrition) is in planning ahead. If I don't spend Sunday afternoon or evening cutting up veggies, washing cucumbers, making my lunch, putting my snacks in little containers then I find myself standing in line at McDonald's ordering yet another in a long line of nutrition-free ass building meals.

And my mental cooking show is AWESOME. This past Sunday as I was standing in my kitchen chopping yet another onion, I realized I was narrating my every move in my head, telling my fictional audience whoops! Don't let your fingers get in the way! And I realized what a dork I was, running a cooking show in my mind when I am the world's goofiest and arguably least talented cook. But I was happy to notice I was content standing there, not resentful or irritated like I sometimes am when I feel pressured to cook a meal. I was just doing something good for myself, treating myself well by making a new and unusual experiment in kale.

That was a nice moment. The studio audience in my mind agreed.

Posted by laurie at 8:50 AM

July 29, 2008

Everyone loves the smell of freshly laundered sheets!

everyone-clean-sheets.jpg

Posted by laurie at 1:49 PM

A lot of words for a tiny house!

Reader Lynn wanted to see my shoe closet:

closet-shoes.jpg

It's not very impressive. Have I mentioned my house is tee-tiny? It's smaller than most one-bedroom apartments, even though this is a two-bedroom house. I use the smallest of the two rooms as my bedroom, the larger room is my home office. My most-used shoes are there on the floor and my fancypants shoes (heels, ankle boots, etc.) reside in a set of plastic drawers. It keeps them free of dust and cat hair!

My bedroom is roughly 8 feet by 10 feet, just big enough for the bed, two very tiny bedside tables and a dresser. I don't believe in having electronics (TV, DVD, computer) in the bedroom. My long history with insomnia has taught me to keep the bedroom as spare and peaceful as possible, so my room is very quiet and cozy and small. The closet has those awful sliding closet doors -- you can only see half of your closet at one time, how annoying. But these doors are heavy mirrored monstrosities and the last time I tried to remove them I almost broke the doors, my toes and the mirrored panes. So they're staying put and I just keep the closet very tidy, my main wardrobe fits all on one side anyway.

The clothes hanging above my shoes make up the bulk of my wardrobe. I've pared down my clothes to just a fraction of what I used to have, but I probably still have a few things I could get rid of. (Rome - not built in a day!) My basic wardrobe is very simple -- I don't want to waste time each day worrying about what to wear for work, what's appropriate for the dress code, what matches, what is business professional enough, etc., so all my work clothes are based on one color scheme (black) and I have a limited but good quality selection of work clothes. Instead of buying 37 cheap tops and 19 pairs of inexpensive bottoms, I invested in eight really quality pairs of trousers and ten or so high-quality tops. I have two skirts (I don't wear skirts often at all) and a few jackets and that's it. Also hanging in the closet are some tops for nights out and jeans and so on. My work wardrobe is probably boring but I don't lose sleep over it. I realize this automated method of dressing for work makes the more fashion-minded folks in my circle break out in hives, but it really works awesome for me and I never have to wonder what to wear to my job. I get to expend that energy thinking about other stuff, like vacation and Al Gore and ice cream.

Accessories like hats, gloves, scarves and little things live in these bins on top of the closet:

closet-boxes.jpg

On the other side of the closet three big pink plastic drawers hold out-of-season clothes, swimwear, hosiery and sweaters. One drawer holds the clothes I don't quite fit into but don't want to give up on just yet. I know that also makes some people break out in hives (some people are so sensitive!) but this works for me. I am nostalgic and hopeful and that can be a deadly clutter combination. Therefore, getting my entire wardrobe clutter scaled down to a single pink plastic drawer is a considerable accomplishment in my life, and I am very happy with my progress.

I don't have anything on top of the pink bins since this is Bob's Super Top Secret Hiding Place. He loves this little nook of the closet, so I keep the doors pushed to the side closing in his hiding spot to make it cozy but keeping the other side open so he can come and go as he sees fit, plus he can peer out into the bedroom to keep posted on the day's events. I learned the hard way that any clothes hanging on the rod above Bob's Hiding Spot get covered in fluffy orange cat fur!

bob-in-closet.jpg

I do have a coat closet in the hallway for scarves and coats. It is very small, a little less than two feet wide and is crammed with my winter outerwear. I have more coats than anyone in Southern California needs but coats are a weakness of mine!

Someone else asked where I keep the catbox in a small house. Here is my solution:

catbox.jpg

It's in the closet in the office. I managed to get the doors off the closet and installed a little curtain there in its place. One half of the closet holds yet even more plastic drawers, these are full of yarn and crafty stuff and paint and glue and so on. I also keep the extra cat litter in this closet. Since I am renting and I'm sensitive to the germaphobic among us, I carefully lined the walls and floor of the closet with three layers of contact paper before putting the catboxes in there. My cats are very good with the box and they don't have accidents but I still felt this was the most sanitary way to handle having the litter pan in a closet. When I move out, I can remove the barrier of contact paper, give it a thorough once-over with disinfectant and feel good about it.

The biggest problem in this room is dust! I really wish this house had a half-bathroom or a separate utility room or laundry room or mudroom where I could put the litter pans. I don't love having the cat pans so close to my office nook but hey, everyone has to poop somewhere.

I knew before I bought my desk that the room was imperfect -- cat trays, clutter, storage, books, yarn, alleged guest room. For a long time my picture of the perfect office was so at odds with the reality of my house that it kept me in a stalemate, always hoping that "one day" I would wake up and find myself in a new life. But because I didn't feel like I had the perfect home office I just kept using that room as a dumping ground and it stayed a constant source of anxiety.

I didn't have a real at-home work area for almost three years and it wasn't what I wanted but I just assumed I would keep making do until... until I had a perfect house, until conditions were just right, until I had time, until I could work from home, until I had enough in my savings account, until I was a size whatever, until I was certain, until, until, until.

You can read all the self-help on the shelves and you can ponder your navel and listen to all the inspirational and motivational stuff you have the stamina for, but until you actually know what you want and start moving in that direction you don't really change. I guess one day it finally sunk in with me that even though conditions are not yet perfect, there is only one way to get to the picture I have in my mind of the future: start walking toward it. My ideal future did not contain a room full of boxes and me hauling a laptop and file box from room to room looking for a decent scrap of workspace. So I cleaned that room and bought that desk and it isn't perfect but it's definitely one big step in the right direction. I really do love it, catboxes and all.

Sometimes I am amazed at how much my life has changed simply from getting un-hitched. I'm pretty sure everyone has formative times in their life, maybe it's a before-and-after event from which they emerge so changed they wonder who they were before it all began. My life is radically different now but strangely I'm more myself than I ever was before. If that makes any sense. It feels like I got really lost in the middle there somewhere, accumulating so much crap and trying to be somebody I wasn't, and slowly (sometimes painfully) I've had to de-clutter, de-stuff, de-box, and de-construct my house and my habits. And my life.

Secretly I hated being a slave to my stuff. I hated that I still felt empty after I bought something I thought would make me feel whole. This past three years have been about not buying, not accumulating, not spending money just to buy something intangible and finally understanding the difference between want and need. I thought all that "not" and "don't" would be a downer, that I'd feel somehow poorer and less happy. But oddly enough, getting rid of stuff -- not an easy task at first -- slowly began to lighten my life up in both the predictable (less stuff to clean) and the unexpected (less anxiety at home). And when I do buy something now I make sure it's exactly what I want, not just whatever will make do.

My best guess is that we make things real by starting to picture them in our minds. We dream them up, we fantasize over one day, one day when I have the life I really want... Then we start building the picture in our real lives. The house isn't perfect, the location is not my ideal, I still go downtown five days a week. But I have a crucial part of the vision in place, and it's a start.

And of course, there's a cat! The cat is perfect. The catbox, well. One day.....

perfect-desk-frankie.jpg

Posted by laurie at 8:27 AM

July 22, 2008

I bet AmEx is wondering if I croaked.

So, about that mid-year resolution to stop buying stuff ... I have had some blips, as I mentioned yesterday, but I think for the most part I'm doing well on the no-spend. It has been almost two full months now since my mid-year resolution to stop buying nonessentials and ya'll, I haven't died. I haven't gotten uglier! The house has not gotten bare and lonely! My feet have not gone unshod! The cats still have their catnip and I still have my wine and all is well over here in Chez Lintrolls-a-lot.

There's a big difference between stopping my consumer crazy and becoming a minimalist. I don't even know what the word "minimalist" would mean in a life like mine, where toilet paper only comes in packs of 24 and I never run out of things like soap and cat food. I do tend to run out of clean underwear but that is an issue with the maid -- she sucks.

(Also: I don't have a maid.)

I'm not sure I could sleep at night knowing I could run out of the necessities of life. "Decluttering" to some people means that you live in a spartan zen freedom from things. Picture a fine clean room with nothing but a white sofa. That works for many people and to them I say amen. But to me, decluttering means I can finally reach the yarn in my stash without having to move a pile of boxes and two shopping bags and a basket of stuff first. Tomato, tomahto.

Me and "minimal" aren't a rockin' couple, I'm in a long-term relationship with "prepared for anything." I always have a good supply of cat litter on hand and you will never come to my house and run out of something like mustard ... but is it necessary for me to have THREE containers of Gulden's spicy brown mustard in the pantry? I mean really now. There is preparation and then there is "the cupboard was too stuffed for me to see what I already had so I assumed I was out of mustard and bought yet another one because God knows the earth can't turn on its axis if I have a shortage of mustard."

Hopefully that better explains what's happening in my house.

The biggest step forward I've made in these first two months of nonconsuming is to re-evaluate my most hardwired shopping instincts. Three times this month I caught myself buying magazines on impulse! Autopilot much? And there was my epiphany about my ugly plates. My latest lightening bolt happened last week as I was contemplating the little sofa in the office. I bought it because it folds out into a single bed and I thought it was a good solution for a guest room. But after I got it, I realized I wouldn't actually make a guest stay in the guest room since that room has the catbox which doesn't seem very welcoming. Plus, they wouldn't be able to shut their door at night (catboxes and all) and so I always end up sleeping in there when I have a guest and frankly an airbed would work just fine for me. The guest always ends up in my room and I sleep in the office. And the pull-out bed is lumpy.

But the even uglier truth is that the longer I stared at my little sofa (it's cozy and fine and the cats like it, but did I really need it?) I realized I bought it based only on my long-held belief that I HAD to have a guest room. Just like I assumed you had to buy plates in sets of 12 or had to get married or had to do all kinds of stuff that as it turns out you can live long and fine and happy without doing. But it never once occurred to me that I was not required by law to have a guest room.

The even uglier truth is that I don't particularly enjoy having houseguests. My house is too small, I have to move out of my room temporarily to suit a guest, I have one bathroom the size of a very small cupboard and it's very stressful for me and the cats to have house guests. I always feel like I need therapy afterwards. Admitting this out loud has not been easy -- what kind of Southerner am I, anyway, that I don't LOVE having houseguests? Is there something wrong with me? Defective? Horribly selfish and unfit? I really don't know. I guess they'll revoke my belle card for saying it out loud, but I don't think I want to have a guest room anymore. There are some lovely hotels nearby, and they don't have catboxes in them, and then we call retire to our respective rooms at night and enjoy the visit without counting down the hours until departure.

I guess for me the lightbulb was just realizing for the very first time that you don't HAVE to make part of your house a guest room. You don't have to carve into your very limited space to accomodate people four days a year. What a realization, and what a waste of limited space. I think in my next house I'll use the space the way it best suits my life and then get an air mattress for those few times when people have to stay over. And it's good to challenge all my long-held assumptions about living right. I think there are lots of "right" ways to live your life, you just have to find the one that works for you. If other people don't like it, I have three bottles of Gulden's spicy brown mustard they can put where the sun isn't shining.

Making this decision to take a break from consumerism for six months has been good for me. This new way of thinking is a little different from the times when I was not-shopping out of fear of sheer financial ruin. I still acquired stuff back then, I just bought less expensive stuff. This is different ... challenging all those assumptions about what we "need" and what we buy without thinking (even how we live without thinking!). I'm getting creative with what I already own. Clearing the noise so that treasured things are more available -- after all, it's hard to enjoy my vintage pattern books when they're buried under a pile of magazines and crap I don't want.

It's not minimal by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a start toward clean and un-stressful. That's all I want. So the maid can take a day off ... especially since she's not getting paid anyway!

Posted by laurie at 10:18 AM

July 21, 2008

Cats are not Clutter

My new favorite place in the house is my desk. The home office has long been the lone repository of clutter left in my entire house and it's just taken forever and a day to get it sorted out. But oh man it is so worth it! Here is a better view of the desk area:

bob-on-desk.jpg
Again, I can't recommend the company where I got this furniture - dreadful awful customer service so bad that I will never ever shop there again, ever, As God Is My Witness, etc. etc. The end.

A few weeks ago I watched a TV program called "The Messiest Home In America." I felt so bad for those folks, their house was not just a messy and cluttered house but it was REALLY dirty. Filthy dirty. Clutter drags you down in so many ways, and I guess some people give up altogether. I'm not someone who can live in a dirty house, so even after I moved into this house my piles of clutter had to be dusted and vacuumed around and placed in tidy piles. It was exhausting to constantly clean around all my clutter! All that clutter turned even a basic cleaning job into a time-consuming and difficult task and no matter how hard I tried to keep it all clean it never felt as clean as I like my house to be.

My clutter consumption problem probably would have gone unnoticed for a good long while if I had continued on the path we were on when I was married: systematically moving "up" every few years, moving into larger and larger spaces so the stuff got spread out over a wider square footage. And then shopping to fill up the new larger space!

But in 2004 I got dumped and all the sudden had to move 2,500 square feet of belongings into 800 square feet of space. In a matter of hours my life went from organized and "decorated" and spacious to tiny and scary and cluttered. Seeing all my stuff piled up into my new little house was simply overwhelming.

My problem has never been that I needed the right system to bring harmony to my home -- I did not need a Flylady or an acronym or a personal organizer or yet another plastic bin from Target. Of course, I thought I needed those things, especially when it was all so overwhelming and I was an emotional mess and life in general was chaotic. When I moved and saw all my mountains of crap I fell into immediate paralysis -- I just felt anxiety and fear and had no idea where to begin. It was all just too much.

So I can fully understand why some people get into such a mess that theirs becomes The Messiest House In America. I'm not judging, I know we all have messes. Some of us more than others. And maybe you do need a system or some outside help or maybe you just need time, every person is different, but you really can get it under control -- my home office is living proof of that. You just decide you cannot live this way and you start where you are. You declutter one little pile of stuff at a time. It has taken me YEARS to do it but it's one of my happiest accomplishments.

For a long time I thought the answer to my problem was space. I believed I needed to pay down my debt so I could move to a bigger place to better house all my things. That is how skewed my perspective had become -- I didn't immediately think of how to live smaller and smaller, I just hoped one day I could live bigger and bigger! But as I worked hard to stop spending and squirreled away every dime to pay off my massive debt, I began to see how much unhappiness I had tried to shop away. As time passed I started seeing the connection between my insecurities and my need to buy something to fill up a void. And it was pretty clear my shopping-therapy strategy had not worked.

So finally it dawned on me that I didn't need to buy more stuff to hold my clutter or spend more money to live in a larger house. I didn't need systems and schedules and a complex zone strategy to cleaning and arranging crap. The solution wasn't nearly as complicated as I tried to make it. The solution was I needed to get rid of some stuff! And furthermore, I needed to stop purchasing more stuff. The end. That was and still is the solution for me and it's working.

It's not as easy as it sounds, of course. It takes time to let go of things, time to understand your buying habits, time to realize that you used shopping like a drug, used it as a way to feel better. It takes time to figure out what is essential. How much do you really need to live? How much do you want? It takes time to make yourself feel happy and secure and comfortable without signing a receipt. It's taken me three-almost-four years and I'm still not all the way there.

Making the decision to stop buying crap for a few months has been really good for me. I've had a few blips -- I bought two magazines last month on autopilot (!!) and on my birthday I picked up three things at a yarn shop -- but it's been a great way to re-evaluate my shopping habits. All I want is a tidy, clean and well-appointed little house. I don't want to be some Zen Buddhist monk living in a white room and sleeping on a straw mat. But I do want to be able to reach and enjoy (and clean) the few things I need and love.

I used to be so overwhelmed with clutter that my way of dealing with the anxiety was to go out and buy more organizational crap at Target and Ikea. Buying even more stuff to hold my stuff -- now if that is not insanity, what is? It took a long time for me to see the solution to having too much crap wasn't to go out and buy more crap!

The biggest step forward I've made in this period of nonconsuming is to re-evaluate my most hardwired shopping instincts. I've also noticed I hang onto things that I wish would have worked out -- but that didn't work out -- just because I spent money on them. So I've said good-bye this month to organizational items I bought back in the day, trying to deal with my clutter by adding more clutter. I bought a white cube organizer shelf unit over two years ago and all it has done is clutter up my house. The squares are too small for my books and too open to hold my bits and bobs (especially no Bobs!) The shelf was the wrong height to fit beneath my windows so it took up a whole swath of wall space and I couldn't really use it effectively no matter what I tried. So of course to solve this problem I spent even MORE money and bought little bins to fit in the cubbies. But then I didn't really have any stuff that fit well in the bins.

However, since I had spent all this money on it (throwing good money after bad with new bins and baskets and buying doors for the cubes, etc.) I just assumed it was staying. It did not occur to me to STOP BUYING STUFF to make a bad purchase more palatable. That is crazytalk. Last month I looked at my useless shelf unit with new eyes. I finally decided it was ridiculous to hold on to something just because I wished it would have worked out and because I already paid for it. I dragged the whole unit out to the garage to be donated or sold another day, and later made a wild sweep through the clutter of the home office and got rid of all the organizational purchases that had become clutter. The stuff I didn't want went in the recycle bin so the stuff I do want is now easier to reach. Novel concept, huh?

This is the last remaining pile of unsorted clutter I have in the entire house:

clutters-last-stand.jpg


That's monumental. The tip of my clutter iceberg used to look like this:

office-scary-before.jpg

So a few bins of clutter is a massive improvement. Not perfect, but it's progress. I still have some organizational shelves and bins I bought back in the day that don't work all that great but I'm going to keep purging stuff slowly over the next few months and then really figure out what my bookcase and storage needs are come January. If I keep going at this pace I'll have my possessions pared down to the right level for me by winter. And then, instead of buying cheapy "just for now" stuff, I'm going to really figure out what I need and want and measure my walls and think it through and buy the right shelving, not the available or cheap one.

You can see in this picture what I mean about having a bunch of particleboard shelving crammed in a corner:

office-bad-storage.jpg

It's working for now because my office stuff is finally organized and I know what's in every shelf and I can get to it without moving boxes. But it's not a part of the room I just love -- I see it and know I bought a lot of that white particleboard shelving when I had no idea what to do with all my clutter. And eventually my goal is to have less stuff requiring a shelf anyway.

So, there's progress in some places and still more work to do. The rest of the house is working well and the office is finally a real, functional room instead of a storage locker. It's taken me almost four years to liberate my life of sentimental doodads, boxes of old papers, cassette tapes that have no way to be played, computer equipment that is obsolete, stuff holding more stuff. But I am living proof that it can be done, box by box, little bit by little bit.

The biggest changes happen so slowly, I'm almost surprised to see how far I've come from where I was. It's makes me excited to think of what changes are to come, where I might be going from here.

bob-on-desk-closeup.jpg
This cat is not clutter.

Posted by laurie at 9:54 AM

June 25, 2008

Humpday

1) Chitchat
On the bus this morning I had to ask a fellow passenger if today was Tuesday or Wednesday. It's Wednesday. How did I lose track of my days of the week? Again?

2) But hey, it's Wednesday!

3) So exciting to be me

I got an actual parking space at the park 'n ride this morning. I would like to say I am thrilled with the influx of new mass transit users but I'm not ... yesterday I had to park in another zipcode and walk twenty minutes in uncomfortable shoes to catch the bus. There's a huge, empty lot next to the park 'n ride but if you park there to take the bus, the city will have you towed. I think the city needs to get some medical mary jo and stop harassing the nice people who want to take the bus. But what do I know.

4) I am this far along on mitten numero dos:

mitten2-coffee.jpg
Still life with coffee and mitten.

I learned the hard way I can only knit this project on the busrides home at night and not in the morning on the way to work. This yarn is very soft and very pretty but it sheds like crazy! After five minutes with it you look like you've been mauled by a persian cat. It's too much lint-rolling so early in the morning.

5) Mitten pattern question

Reader Martine asked:

In case you didn't know I only knit stuff whose patterns you write up, I initially found you because of the roll brim hat. So I was wondering...I know you're really busy and I'm not in a rush...but would you mind writing up the mitten pattern you used? I'm sorry if I'm repeating something someone else asked already, I decided to just go ahead and ask you. Feel free to tell me to figure out my own mitten pattern.

P.S. I made the roll brim hat, the little nightclub bag and the mistake rib scarf. I'm not adventurous enough for some of the other stuff but am almost ready to try to beret. Thanks for publishing all those patterns.

Martine I am so happy my dorky patterns are getting used, thank you!! After following this mitten pattern I started thinking how real pattern writers must scoff at my wordy Gone-With-The-Abbreviation patterns, but then I got so mad at the thumb portion of the pattern I decided that real words are a good thing. Too much crazy abbreviating makes my head hurt.

I can't post the mitten pattern, though. Since it's from a book I'm not sure it would be legal or ethical for me to reprint it and I look terrible in prison-issue orange. Also wouldn't it be sad if I were in copyright jail trying to make knitting needles out of my toothbrush. However! I am really enjoying making mittens! And once I get the concept down in my head enough, I might try to make up my own pattern. My friend Lucia has a free mitten pattern on her website, too, but I will be honest with you ... I am not even close to being able to read from a chart. People, I can barely read a pattern written with all abbreviations! If you think my chihuahua brain is ready for squares on graph paper think again. I am not ruling it out for the future, but I am also not ruling out that I will one day be the future Mrs. Al Gore so make of that what you will.

What number am I on? Is it Thursday yet?

6) Being the wildlife photographer is hard work.

butt-and-interloper.jpg
This is what most of my pictures look like.

I was actually trying to get a picture of this adorableness:

bobbelly.jpg


7) Finally, we have no bananas today!

The catnip banana toy is a big hit around these parts. I have found it in my shoes, in the bed and once hidden in the cat food bowl (???). Frankie enjoys making the toy feel the humiliation ....

frankiebanana1.jpg


frankiebanana2.jpg


frankiebanana3.jpg


Have a good WEDNESDAY! It only comes around once a week these days....

- - - - - -

Edited to add:
I just noticed that two of my rockin' advertisers are having big sales -- go click on the SuperCrafty ad for 30% off all kinds of crafty goodies and Knitpicks is having a huge 40% off sale on all their craft books!!!

I want to be up front here -- I don't get money when you click on ads but if the urge strikes you it always makes me happy if you do click because it shows the advertisers that people are seeing their ads here (and clicks are counted) and tells them that this site is a good ad buy. The money I make on the ads helps offset my server costs and I am so grateful to the blogads company for making that happen!!

Also I am having a hard time not perusing KnitPicks and SuperCrafty for deals! I am going to shop vicariously through ya'll. Let me know if you scored a deal!

Posted by laurie at 8:43 AM

June 18, 2008

Sew what!

Now that I am getting the office/spare room clutter down to a more manageable level, I'm going to pull my poor neglected sewing machine out of the garage and give it a tune-up and put it in the office. I love to sew!

My office closet used to hide a big stash of fabric but not anymore. However, when I was cleaning out the linen cupboard a few weeks ago I found a lot of things in there I wasn't using and with some creative cutting and a dye job they might turn into something fun. I haven't decided what I'm going to make or when, but I think it's a good sign that I am bringing the sewing machine out of retirement. Sewing is the first and finest form I ever discovered of active meditation -- I didn't even know what "active meditation" was back then, I only knew that if I started a sewing project, I became so focused on it that all my other worries and inside-chatter went away. That is a really good feeling, especially if you have the brain of a yappy chihuahua like I do. Yap yap yap ... that's all my brain ever does.

As part of my big self-helpy Buffet Of Learnin' I read a lot of helpy books, and it appears that all these enlightened people who probably don't cuss in traffic and don't secretly flip off their computer when they get an icky email are all folks who meditate daily. So I tried to meditate. I really did. I tried diligently for weeks to sit all still and to quiet my mind. My mind would say, "Are we there yet? Huh? Are we? Are we at inner peace yet? How much longer? Do I have to sit still like this the whole way? I have to go potty. Why are we doing this? If I can't meditate does it mean I will never have inner peace? Why are we still talking? Are we there yet? Is there any cheese in the fridge? FOCUS. Ok, I am focused! My leg itches. Do you think we got a bug bite? What is wrong with me that I hate doing this so much? Where is the next exit?"

And so on.

One time when Drew came to visit we were eating lunch and watching TV and they had a promo for the Oprah show. The little commercial was promoting an upcoming show about people who were married and discovered they were gay. The soundbite used in the commercial was something like, "One day I just knew something was different..." and they showed a close-up of this guy's face. Right then Drew turned to me and asked, "You think he woke up one day and just said ...'Uh-oh! I think I might be FAB-YOO-LESS!!!'"

Oh Lord I had not laughed so hard in a long time. It makes me laugh even now just thinking about it.

Then the next day when I tried to meditate all I could hear inside my stupid brain was, "Uh-oh! I think.. I think I might be FABULOUS!!!" and I started giggling and it was all she wrote. Finally I just gave up on the traditional sit-still-and-ponder-your-navel thing. I don't care how many people tell me it's the only way to find peace. Good for them. But they aren't me and don't have a chihuahua in their heads.

All that frustration with meditating is how I remembered I'd once read a term called "active meditation" and it clicked with me. I immediately thought of sewing -- it's something I could spend all day doing and I love doing it and so why is my machine out in the garage in a box? When I'm cutting out pieces for a pattern (or making my own pattern) and pinning them together and moving the foot pedal on the machine, I think of nothing else at all. Active meditation is awesome for me and my yappy brain. You just focus on something you like or an activity and your whole body gets less tense. You breathe more regularly. You stop clenching up all your muscles and making mental to-do lists. I figure if I found something that works for me, why beat myself over the head for not being like everyone else?

Other things that keep me focused and help me relax and breathe:

• Writing
• Painting (anything, not just a picture, but painting old furniture or picture frames or making watercolor postcards). Painting old terra-cotta pots is relaxing, too.
• Wrapping presents, like at Christmastime when you sit down to wrap everything, that's so relaxing.
• Petting the cats or brushing them. Frankie will sit still for hours to be brushed with the soft brush, she starts meowing like crazy when she sees me go near it! So I guess that's her meditation, too.
• Cleaning the house when I don't "have" to clean it (it's very stressful when company is coming and I have to clean, but if it's a Sunday afternoon and I'm just puttering around it can be very relaxing to shine up the kitchen.)
• Gardening
• Brushing my teeth
• Showering, I swear I could stay in the shower all day (but I don't)
• Cleaning out a kitchen drawer
• Making crafty stuff
• Walking
• Sitting at the beach or walking and looking for shells (that is my favorite)

I have a book on my bedside table called The Meditation Bible that has tons of great ideas like the candle meditation (where you focus on a pretty candle) and active listening and all sorts of things. It has given me some good ideas and made me realize there's more ways to find a slice of calmness than just sitting in one spot and closing your eyes.

My favorite meditation device -- my sewing machine -- will be off to the Sew & Vac repair shop this weekend for a good tune-up. Older machines love having a thorough cleaning and getting all greased up on the insides every now and then. Mine is an old Singer model from the 1970s and it only has two stitches, straight and zigzag! It doesn't even have a buttonhole maker. I like it though, it's sturdy and friendly and I've had it a long time. I wonder what weird and wacky thing I'll make with my sewing machine this summer? All I know for sure is that I'm looking forward to some zen time winding bobbins and threading needles!

Besides, maybe I'll make something and realize ... Uh-oh! It's FABULOUS!

Posted by laurie at 8:29 AM

June 16, 2008

What's for dinner?

What's for dinner tonight? Stir fry!

A stir-fry dinner is one of the best ways I know to get a fairly inexpensive but fast and healthy dinner. With one chicken breast and a bag of frozen pre-cut stir-fry veggies you can make enough food to feed one for dinner plus lots of leftovers, or enough for a good-sized dinner for two people.

I use different brands of the pre-cut veggies and haven't found one I dislike yet. I know some people think it is just a travesty to the world of culinary arts to buy frozen vegetables but we don't really have culinary arts at my house. We have a lot of microwaved popcorn. Frozen veggies last longer (obviously) and they work best for me -- in my opinion, the pre-cut veggie is the best invention for people who work and commute! I was hoping for a jet pack as my favorite invention but since that is not available at the grocery store, I will take the pre-cut/pre-washed veggie ... for now.

I like that you can get get all kinds of organic mixes, too.

Some pre-packaged stir-fry veggies come with the seasonings, but I like to spice up my stir-fry myself. You can add shrimp or beef or turkey or just about anything to a stir-fry, but chicken is my normal stir-fry staple. I buy boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs when they're on special and freeze them in individual portions so if the urge to cook strikes me I can pull out one serving and not have to defrost 8 pounds of chicken on a Wednesday night. (Folks who live alone understand what I mean! Because if faced with the daunting task of cooking a whole pile of chicken at 8 p.m. after work or just making popcorn and having a glass of wine, you guess which option is the winner.)

I defrost the chicken by putting it in a shallow sink of cold water for a few minutes. I think chicken is easier to cut up if it's a little frozenish anyway. Then slice it into small strips or bite-sized pieces and sautée it -- I love to use a stove-top wok pan for cooking just about anything, so I heat up a little sesame oil and get busy.

For seasonings add a little splash of white wine or some rice vinegar or soy sauce or all of the above. Sometimes I add fish sauce in place of the soy sauce (you can buy it in the Asian foods section of your grocery store.) It doesn't add a fish taste, it adds a salty taste and it has a lot of sodium so just a few drops will do it. I love spicy food so I always add a good dallop of chili-garlic paste -- I can't cook without my chili garlic paste. If I have fresh ginger I add that, or garlic, but my number one favorite is a good sprinkle of Chinese Five Spice. I like spicy and pungent food, so my stir fry is definitely full of flavor. Cook the chicken for 8-12 minutes until it's cooked through and then add the veggies and let them cook (they don't take long, just a few minutes.) I like to serve this on top of those crunchy rice noodles you get at the store although I'm sure that isn't the healthiest option. You can have it with steamed rice or later this summer you have it on a whole army of zucchini I am sure.

I like stir-fry. It's pretty easy, only requires that one pan get dirty and takes about fifteen minutes. Not bad!

Posted by laurie at 11:12 AM

June 13, 2008

All Fridays, even Friday the 13th, are welcome around here

So far the only horrific thing that has happened this Friday the 13th is someone farted a toxic, deadly fart on the bus this morning and I thought I might have to ralph. Someone opened a window and we survived ... just barely.

- - -

I got this email recently from reader Suzanne:

In your post today, you mentioned putting some peat moss around your pumpkin plants. Just recently my boyfriend and I were planting an azalea bush and the instructions said to plant it with peat moss but we had a hard time figuring out what that meant. What is it and where do you get it and why is it better than good ol' dirt? Thanks!

Peat Moss is a spongier material than dirt so it holds water and stays moist longer than my poor old dry garden soil.

I bought two small bags of sphagnum peat moss at Home Depot. They were the MiracleGro brand, that's all I could find and they worked out just great. Each bag cost me less than three dollars. They probably had some funky stuff in there for making the zukes grow even larger and scarier.

I have noticed a big difference since I added the peat moss to the dirt around my plants -- I have to water them less! My pumpkin vines are vinier and happier than ever. The peat moss seems to soak up the water and hold it in better than just plain dirt. Our soil out here is real dry and it never rains in the summer so anything that helps retain moisture is a good thing! Another reader suggested I use newspaper mulch but I live in a place where it is regularly so windy that trees fall over. My peat moss kind of mixed in with the dirt and should stay put even during the Santa Ana winds.

To use it, I just haphazardly dumped a little peat moss around the base of each plant and kind of smoothed it out with my trowel. Or whatever you call that little hand-held tiny shovelly thing. Wow I am such a knowledgeable gardener with my misnamed tools. Hah!

- - -


A few days ago, reader Laume commented:

Is this a Hundredth Monkey sort of thing? It seems like everyone, including myself, has suddenly decided to drop out of the consumer lifestyle. And not out of a sense of need or discipline but instead with a sense of freedom and abundance. I'm not trying to do a 100% drop out, but I'm finding it much easier than I thought to not buy 90% of what I would have bought before my "less is more" epiphany. I'm not stopping myself from buying things, instead I don't WANT to buy them. It makes the things I do buy mean more. And the rest of the time I have more money, more time, and less things to dust or wash. Win/win/win.

I loved how you said that! "With a sense of freedom and abundance..." That is exactly how I feel. I know a lot of people thought I lost my damn mind when I made my declaration to stop buying nonessentials for the rest of the year but it is really working for me. That day at our four-friends-yard-sale I just had a moment of clarity in which I saw that I was truly acting like an insane person. This is my life? I work long hours and commute long hours and work harder and more and better so I can afford to go out and buy stuff because deep down I'm searching for happiness but it's too hard to make all these changes I need to get to real happiness all at one time, so I shop for things and buy stuff and consume and eventually these things I work hard for and spend money on end up ... where? In yet another yard sale? Is that the craziest thing or what?

It was just so all-the-sudden clear that I needed to check myself befo' I wreck myself. Also, hello bad eighties slang, I missed you! Yo!

All this thinking about my consumerist habits has really started noodling with me, too. Last night I was in my kitchen making dinner and I got out a plate. The same plate I have been using since I moved in ... it's the one on top of the big stack of plates in my cupboard. I accidentally chipped it in the sink once but I use it all the time anyway and after I eat dinner I wash the plate and dry it and put it back on top of the stack.

Last night it dawned on me in a new way: I use the same plate every day. Wash, rinse, repeat. I used the one chipped plate, too -- not one of the 11 other unchipped plates. And the kicker is that I don't even like these plates! After my ex-husband moved out I got rid of our plates because they had some bad mojo. I needed dishes so I found these plates at Ikea and they were cheap enough for me to afford 12 settings which for some completely unknown reason I thought was the amount of plates normal ladies had to own. God forbid we only have four plates. Four plates never even occurred to me. If plates were being purchased ... they came in stacks of 12 or not at all.

I am thirty-six-almost-thirty-seven years of age and until last night it had never dawned on me that I don't NEED to own 12 plates. I never use all 12 plates at one time. In fact, if I have that many people over and plates are called for, we use paper plates (don't judge -- I have no dishwasher. I know I am horrible. Move past it.) The point is, there is no law saying you go to Bad Homemaker Jail if you have less than 12 plates. Or bowls or serving spoons or whatever. I could VERY easily live a long and happy and productive and healthy life with say, four plates. Four plates I really like looking at.

Then I had an even noodlier thought: I bet you I could have bought four really pretty plates that I love looking at for a fraction of the cost of that big stack of 12 ugly plates. It's not all about scrounging and making potholders out of blue jeans, it's about re-thinking my autopilot consumer habits.

At my next big Goodwill purge or yard sale I'm going to release that stack of dishes I don't even like and let someone who needs and wants them go home happy. I want my home and my life to have just what I need and love. It's Goldilocks over here in Growthyville -- not too much, not too little ... just the right amount of the right stuff.

I understand that my little flashes of enlightenment are mundane -- plates, gardening, reading instead of window shopping. I guess you just start where you are, and anyway a lot of my life is pretty ordinary. Sometimes the most exciting thing that happens to me all day is finding a parking spot at the commuter park 'n ride lot.


- - -

OK, that turned into perhaps more rambly doodads than I intended!

- - -

Finally, Bob started his day by perching atop Mount Pajama Leg and chirping so I would scratch his head and under his chin. He doesn't meow, he chirps. One of my friends was telling me the other day she wasn't sure if her dog loved her or just acted like he loved her because she fed him. That's one of the best things about Bob ... I know he loves me because even though the housesitter feeds him if I'm out of town, he just hides under the covers until she leaves. She said she was pretty sure he hid under the covers a whole week last time.

Bob loves me. I am officially the only human he sits on ... and not very often. I was almost late for work this morning because I waited for him to get up instead of making him leave. I love him back.

bob-pajamas.jpg

Posted by laurie at 8:42 AM

May 28, 2008

And just what is "essential" anyway?

Edited to add: Each of the readers I commented here gave me such thought-provoking and good stuff to ponder that I quoted them because they said what was on my mind, too, and I thank them. Thank you, Jennifer(s) and Jasmine!

- - -

When I decided to share my mid-year resolution to stop buying crap for the rest of the year, I didn't expect so many folks to chime in with the amen chorus and it's made me very happy to hear so many others are thinking along the same lines. But I thought this comment from reader Jennifer was really interesting:

I think that's the smartest thing to do right now... but ...I just read an article about consumer confidence falling to a new 16 year low. So ... the more we worry about the economy, the less we spend. The less we spend, the worse the economy gets. It's a vicious circle and everyone doing the smart thing could have pretty dire consequences. Depressing and confusing. But I'm still going to stop spending AND my tomato plant had it's first fruit last night! Yea! Free produce!

Congratulations on your tomato. I am still hoping to make my own zucchini-based fuel for my Jeep. Hope, like zucchini, springs eternal.

But her comment about consumer confidence was interesting because I was recently asking someone here at the Place I Work about the Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) and what it really "measures." For example, if you don't know about it does it really matter to your life? People tell us we need to buy, shop, spend so we can keep our economy afloat, but at the same time we're seeing foreclosures at record highs and more people out of work and groceries costing more every second. Are we supposed to spend to make it better? But what if we go even further into debt, doesn't that make it CRAZY?

I'm not an economist and I don't pretend to be an expert, but while our so-called consumer "confidence" has declined, as a nation we have accrued statistically more credit card debt per person than at any other time in history. So my thinking is... maybe consumers have low confidence because they're already burdened with debt from buying stuff?

All I know for sure is that when I have debt I don't feel good about spending even more money, because that feeling of having debt hanging over me like a dark, ominous cloud of despair is just awful. My life's goal and purpose is not to prop up the failing economy of a whole nation by taking on more debt. I don't believe that's the clean, harmonious path of living I want to be on. I can and will live within my means, and consume less of the earth's resources.

But if the economy is tanking and someone wants to blame it on me -- the consumer -- for not buying crap, I'm totally 100% OK with that. I won't have credit card debt and besides, doesn't blame burn calories?

Another reader also named Jennifer asked:

I have long been trying to extricate myself from the consumerism borg. One question though - does your 'diet' include services things? Like going out to movies or restaurants or getting pedicures? I go back and forth on that one...

Well, the word "diet" makes me want to eat french fries, so I am thinking of this more as a break. Just a little vacation from stuff. My purpose here is to detach from the endless cycle of consuming, buying, shopping, spending and then wondering how on earth I accumulated so much junk!

As for services and experiences, your mileage will vary. I think haircuts are essential, but others may not. I tried having my nails done a few years ago but I got an infection and freaked out because ... my fingers! Take anything but my fingers, I need them for frantic typing! So anyway, germaphobic me doesn't do the nail salon thing anymore (don't bother trying to talk me out of it, it's just my thing.) I don't go out to the movies often enough to exclude it plus it's an experience not a thing that you junk out later at a yard sale. I'll probably still rent the occasional DVD and movies on demand, because I enjoy them and they don't clutter my life.

In general, I think if service/activity things aren't eating up a huge area of your budget they're fine -- especially because you don't have to dust them, store them or vacuum around them! But when it comes to eating out I definitely try to limit this as much as possible because I swear I'm addicted to fast food, and it's HORRIBLE for the body and the waistline and in general it's best for me to avoid it.

The concept of "essentials" varies from person to person. I think buying a a puppy toy (or three) for my parents' new puppy is an essential. For other folks, shoes are an essential but I have more shoes than I have places to wear them so I'll be fine holding off for a few months. I want less stuff and less clutter, so my moratorium is more stuff-related than anything else.

Of course I'm not advocating that all people stop buying stuff. I'm just personally ceasing my crazyass consumerism for the next few months. I'm taking a break. For me, I chose a more radical "rest of the year" approach but I like radical. I began drastically reducing my spending when I got divorced and was dead broke and I owed a whopping amount of debt. I paid it off by living so close to the bone it was scary, and it took me from October of 2004 until June of last year to chip it away and in that time I cut my shopping back to virtually zero, plus yarn. And it worked.

My buy-buy-buy habit started back up again as soon as I was out from under the shadow of that debt. Is that insane or what? It started small... "just this little thing to reward myself for a job well done!" but I could see where it was headed and I'm just not going to walk that road again. I know like I know like I know that I can't buy my way to contentment or happiness or satisfaction, so I am dropping out of buying for a while. I want to focus on life, not stuff.

I didn't mean to suggest that everyone had to go monk and stop buying shoes and wine and yarn. I just personally happen to have enough shoes and yarn to last me a few months. OR YEARS. But for the next little bit I think I can make do with 17 bins of yarn and a bazillion pairs of shoes I already own. If I truly need something it's not like I can't buy it -- no one will send me to Bad Budgeter Jail. This is a choice, something I volunteered for, and I am so relieved for having decided upon it. I want to free myself of the poverty mentality that says I have to hoard for a rainy day. I want to believe -- and live -- with the safety of knowing I will always provide for myself, I will always be able to have (whatever) if truly necessary. I don't want to forever be waiting for the rainy day.

As for wine, it is an essential and therefore free to be purchased liberally and often. (I've discovered organic wine now, I am crazy with the all-organic thing I tell you what.)

By the way, no one at work believes I will make it seven months of no spending. I believe they have an office pool going on how long it will be before I cave in. My co-workers have seen my Zappos.com issue firsthand and they think I am incapable of maintaining a spending cap but they are wrong! When I commit to a thing I am all over it. I am excellent at goofy existential challenges.

And that's what this is, it's a philosophy and a challenge I want to try out for a little while and let it seep into my life and become a real habit. I just want to find the contentment available from anything other than buying more stuff. I'm excited about having to be a little creative and I am really excited about watching my bank account go up a little bit at a time. I didn't mean to suggest that everyone jump ship and move to an ashram, but I know that for me these next few months are going to be really great because I'm focused on appreciation instead of accumulation.

I don't ever want to go back to how I used to be, shopping on credit cards because I was sad and unhappy in my life. Buying stuff I couldn't afford so I'd feel temporarily better. Using those credit card checks they send to rob Peter to pay Paul. Worried about when it would all come crashing down. I spent seventeen years of my life living with credit card and consumer debt and that is way too long. I'm just going to take a few months out to appreciate what I already have and relax from having to purchase, store, move, dust and re-arrange layers of stuff.

That's all. It's just my way of focusing more on what I already have -- my family and friends and cats and using what I've got on hand. Utilizing the library more often, visiting the beach instead of the mall, really finishing the work of paring down so that my home has only what I need and can afford and love. Living within my means like my grandparents used to do. That's all.

If you do want to try it, I'll be here doing this thing I'm doing and probably blabbering on and on about it from time to time. If seven months of no-shopping seems like crazytalk but you like the idea of spending less on crap, you can always start with just two weeks. Or how about trying reader Jasmine's more targeted approach:

I tell myself pretty much every week that I am going to quit buying crap, but my willpower is not equal to to the task, so for the time being I have started small: I've put a moratorium on buying makeup and jewelry, because even though there's a fashion-magazine-reading part of me that believes one more pair of hoop earrings will fix my life, the truth is, they're going to lie at the bottom of a drawer while I wish for my twenty dollars back.

I'm all for little tiny changes that are helpful to your life but not so agonizing they make you want to hide under the covers with a flask of gin. If you like the general idea of de-crappifying your life and spending less on non-essentials, pick a category and stick with it for a month, like "no purchasing magazines for one month." I added up all my magazine purchases once a few years ago and it was something like $40 for one month. NUTTY!

And of course if none of this appeals to you at all I encourage you to completely ignore me and my zealot's wackiness for bringing down the Consumer Consuming Index. You can also join in the office pool that's betting against me, although I assure you it will be a waste of your money. I am SO up for this challenge!

Posted by laurie at 9:01 AM

May 27, 2008

Mid Year Resolution

Happy day-after-long-weekend! I had a particularly long weekend because after being in The Torture Room ("dentist's office") for FOUR HOURS on Thursday, I was in pain and spent Friday at home feeling sorry for myself for not being able to eat. Then I remembered milkshakes and I didn't feel sad anymore. Milkshakes are really nice. So are smoothies. I could probably live on smoothies, especially when they have peaches in them.

None of that has anything at all to do with my Big! Mid-Year! Resolution, by the way.

On Monday bright and early at the buttcrack of dawn, I arrived at Faith's house for a group yardsale with me, Allison and Jane. It was an AWESOME day, because I never get the chance to spend a whole entire day with my friends, and even Sara came by with baby Vivian, and I can't image a better group of friends. We got to hang out and haggle and declutter and make money and chitchat all day long.

And we had a big turnout for the yard sale, even on a Monday! I have a theory about this, as ya'll know I love a theory of any kind, and my theory is that with the pressure people are feeling about the economy and this:

gasprices-may24-2008.jpg

... no one really left town and everyone likes a bargain so the planets aligned just so and we had a great yard-sale crowd. Also, that picture above is from Saturday and overnight it went to $4.19 but I didn't take a picture. I didn't want to idle on the corner!

So that's my yard sale Monday Crowd theory and I'm sticking to it. I've been thinking a lot about the economy lately which is a little strange, I've always been one who prefers to think about things like imaginary vacations, and the mysteries of how the cats need to sit on the one piece of paper on the floor, and whether or not I should be a redhead. But maybe I'm thinking more about the economy because I work at a bank and they have assimilated me finally to their banky borg, or perhaps it's because the media talk incessantly about the weak dollar and the failing real estate market and energy prices skyrocketing. I don't know. I've just felt... unsure. Unstable. Not comfortable at all.

It's a weird feeling, this sort of pervasive uneasy feeling that things could go bad ... and that's not how I want to live my life. Not by a long shot.

On Saturday when I was hauling Jeepload Number One of crap to sell at the yard sale over to Faith's house, I looked in my rearview mirror and I just saw all my clutter with fresh eyes. How was it possible that after participating in several very big yard sales over the past three years that I still have this much crap?

And that's when it hit me. That's when I made my New Mid Year's Resolution to stop buying crap. I did this once before, back when I was desperate to get out from under my mountain of debt and let me tell you, it works. The very best way to not accrue debt is to stop buying stuff. Cold turkey!

So, from right now until December 31, 2008 I am not buying anything inessential AT ALL. There are two exceptions: 1) Presents for other people and 2) I already bought and paid for some office furniture back in April that has yet to arrive, so that doesn't count as new spending but will arrive sometime during the moratorium.

The rest is just the essentials, food and necessities and that's it. Simple. I'm going to do this for the rest of the calender year. After Jeepload Number Two, all my clutter and stuff and piles and bags and boxes -- it was overwhelming. I felt a little embarrassed, a little ashamed to still have so much extraneous stuff especially when I know I would feel better if I saved instead of spent. And that's when it clicked with me, finally, and I decided to drop out of consumerism entirely for the rest of the year. I'm just done with it.

And you know what? I am so excited! I am thrilled! Instead of seeing this as some lame punishment I am looking at this from a whole different perspective. I'm excited about all the things I'll have so much MORE of:

• MONEY! The number one way for me to save money and to have more money is to stop buying crap. Period.

• TIME! I don't have to shop for a new outfit for so-and-so, or spend three hours scrolling Zappos for shoes to match, I don't have to drive around looking for a bargain on whatever it was I thought I needed, and I don't have to special order, find it in my size, or feel bad because I can't fit into it.

• CONTENTMENT! Speaking of feeling bad about fitting into size whatever ... I won't have to feel that little nagging urge to shop to make myself feel better because I'm just not participating in that for the rest of the year. I'm out of the running. I won't be buying magazines either, so I won't be told what brand new thing I just HAVE to have to feel good.

• HAPPINESS! I won't have the weird, uneasy guilty undercurrent running beneath my shopping because I feel bad about spending money when the economy is so unstable and I should have more savings. I will have more savings because I'm not spending.

• GIVING! If you're not spending on yourself, and by that I mean "myself," I will have more money to give to the causes I support. It feels good to be able to have a little more set aside for giving.

• ENERGY! Since I won't have to move, dust, re-arrange, find places for or clean any new stuff, I'll have more time and energy on the weekends to see friends or read a book or knit with yarn I already own or just sit outside and ponder my bellybutton.

The next few months are going to be the culmination (I hope) of this three-year process I've been on to declutter my life and my home and make my days more manageable. It's surprising how little I really need materially, and this next few months will be a break for me, a break from consumerism. I'm really happy with my decision, it feels like relief. I don't want to have a heavy unmanageable life, I want something simple and happy. I don't want to shop anymore and buy stuff that will one day end up in a new pile on the front yard. I'm done.

So this is how it works best for me -- just groceries and essentials (for me that means toiletries and household maintenance stuff like sponges or Kleenex or whatever) and cat food and litter and of course the occasional cat toy, because this isn't Angela's Ashes over here. Cats are not clutter! But no new clothes, shoes, yarn, decorative household crap, DVDs, CDs, iTunes purchases (there is so much free good stuff out there!) (and I already have 27 gigs of music, shouldn't that be enough for a few months' time?), and no more books because Lord knows I have a huge pile of books already I haven't read. And in the meantime, if I see something I want that isn't an essential I'll just write it down in my little notebook that I carry in my purse. Put it on the "Stuff To Buy Later" list and if I still have a burning desire for it after December 31, I'll buy it. No big deal.

But you know what? Last time, when I did a three-month moratorium on buying crap, I went back and re-read my list and after three months there was only one item on it I still wanted -- a salad spinner. So I went to Target and paid my ten bucks for a salad spinner (and I use it more often than you'd think!) and that was it. Ten bucks. All that other stuff had just been impulse "I want it" items, stuff I saw on TV, or maybe something a friend bought so I wanted one, or just some pretty but useless thing I saw in a store. It's ridiculous when you think about it.

So that's my big Mid-Year Resolution. It's not a law or a punishment or some kind of self-imposed prison, it's freedom. It's just seven months out of my entire lifetime, and that's tiny compared to all my years of buying stuff. It's a break, a little period of breathing and re-grouping instead of spending. I plan to really re-evaluate what I already own, to actively have more appreciation for what I do have, appreciation for my time and my space instead of focusing on things I think I "need."

I'm really happy about it. It feels like a great way to start a change in my life, something positive and completely totally do-able. It's just seven months. I once spent seven months on a horrifying diet that featured cabbage soup and lentils as the main meals. Lord knows I can stop buying crap easier than ever eating cabbage soup again.

And anyway, milkshakes and smoothies still count as essentials. Especially smoothies with frozen peaches. They are just truly delicious!

Posted by laurie at 9:02 AM

May 5, 2008

Yes we have no bananas today

While I do enjoy my berry good smoothies regularly, sometimes I don't want to add a banana. I may not have a banana, for example. Or I may have them but they're really really ripe ... compost ripe if you know what I mean and I think you do.

But if you still want the creamy goodness that a banana provides and you either don't like bananas or don't have one on hand, what do you add instead to get the smoothie smooth?

Ideas? Suggestions?

Posted by laurie at 9:37 AM

April 22, 2008

Earth Day Girls Are Easy

It's Earth Day and as of today, Whole Foods is getting rid of their plastic bags. You bring your own bag or you get paper bags but plastic is like, SO March 2008! Totally!

Other cities have made plastic bags an expense -- in some places, if you want plastic to hold your goodies you have to pay for it. It's been like that in many places in Europe for years. The first time I saw it was in Zurich in 2002 and the Co-Op (the local grocery store) charged for bags at the checkout. I thought it was a pretty cool idea, especially because Zurich was one of the cleanest large cities I had ever visited and it just seemed to fit in with the whole "We're Swiss, we're neutral, we make great cheese" vibe. I love Zurich, I should go back soon. The cheese is REALLY GOOD.

Anyway, before Gwen left Los Angeles, she gave me two big green woven Whole Foods grocery bags that I love and use all the time. But only at Whole Foods, of course. After Allison read about my issues with branded bags, she gave me possibly the best gift anyone has ever given me -- a pack of five Envirosax. They're these fabulously strong and roomy nylon bags that fold and roll into little tiny egg-roll shaped logs that fit neatly in your purse. If you buy the five-pack, which is what Allison gifted to me, the little logs fir in their own carrying case and the whole thing is smaller than my makeup bag.

I keep one or two bags tucked away in my handbag all the time for unexpected purchases, or to hold my lunch on the bus or whatever. I love my Envirosax!

envirosax-bag.jpg

envirosax-pouch.jpg

The Envirosax online store is here. I don't work for them or get a kickback -- I just think they're a cool product. I love them so much I even bought a set for my mom, which is news to her since they haven't arrived yet (her birthday isn't for another week.) And I plan to give them as gifts this year for Christmas. I love these little bags because they're so easy to keep on you at all times and it's so handy when you just happen to make a little impulse buy to skip the bag and use the Envirosax.

Since Allison gave me this amazing gift, the amount of plastic bags coming into my house has decreased by about 90% -- which means I am also consuming 90% less plastic and bag-related resources than before. It's not like I made cold fusion or cured cancer or something -- my life hasn't changed in some dramatic way -- but it's one very small, teetiny change that over time could have a positive impact on the planet.

Little changes are the key for me.

Of course you can always make a bag yourself, sewing one or knitting a tote -- maybe that will be my next summer project, a hand-knit grocery bag. But if you don't want to buy a bag, today the California Grocers Association has a whole list of participating stores in California that are giving away FREE re-usable bags! Apparently these bags are "soft, durable and made of 100% recycled water, soda and food containers and carry the message, 'Great Taste & Zero Waste.'" Check out the entire list here. I am all about the free.

Posted by laurie at 9:43 AM

April 8, 2008

Stuff and more stuff

I'm fairly certain I spent at least ten years of my life thinking the solution to my clutter issues (or piles of assorted bits, or disorganization, or whatever) was simply that I needed to find the right storage system to house my stuff. The perfect set of matching decorative boxes or bins or a carefully measured and assembled IKEA shelving system would be JUST THE THING! finally! to solve the problem once and for all.

And so almost every single foray into decluttering began with me measuring a wall or a closet or flipping through the Ikea catalog and making a list of stuff to buy. Then I would spend the whole weekend running off to stores -- the weekend specifically set aside for decluttering, mind you -- and by Sunday night at 10 p.m. I would be siting in my house surrounded by piles of excellent organizational tools, or pink boxes with little labels, or some wacky new Swedish shelverbären thing and interestingly enough no decluttering had transpired at all. Quite the opposite.

Yes, it must have been ten full years of using that particular clutter management approach. Talk about elevating procrastination into an art form.

I'm happy that living in such a small place forced me to deal with my clutter issues. At first I wasn't the least bit happy, I was actually intensely and urgently pissed off about it. I blamed the divorce, the ex-husband, the lack of financial stability, the shitty divorce lawyer, the government, the neighbors, the state of California and also the weather. Just because.

I mean imagine being too freaked out about your life to leave your house and at the same time being too freaked out about your overwhelming clutter to stay inside your house. Crazy! I spent a lot of time that year alone on the back patio smoking cigarettes and trying to decide if fleeing to Mexico was a viable alternative. And how many cats and shoes I could fit in the Jeep before crossing the border.

Those first few months in this house were almost untenable. I wish I had taken pictures of how bad it was right after I moved in, but even I was in such shock that it wasn't funny or photo-worthy or a "story to tell one day." At the time it was shameful and embarrassing and pathetic. It was 2500-square-feet of a ruined marriage moved into an 800-square-foot bungalow in the Valley.

I love my house now for being so small that it forced me to live within my means (in more ways than one.) The very boundaries created by this house outlined my new life. I would have to take responsibility for what I had, see what was really in front of me, make some hard decisions and get a move on if I wanted to have any life at all. It took over two years to really get the bulk of junk cleared out and now it seems manageable, even spacious sometimes. I can't believe I used to think this house was so small -- compared to places I lived growing up, it's a palace. I shared a room with my brother and lived in tiny dorm rooms and even when I first moved to Los Angeles my apartment was the size of a closet. You could make dinner, take a shower and open the front door all at the same time. But that was before -- before I maxed out my credit cards trying to buy happiness, before I tried to live up to some lifestyle I thought I wanted, before I began shopping to fill the void. Back before all that I lived pretty simply and it was nice. I love my little house for reminding me of that.

I haven't renounced stuff and gone off to live a monastic existence ("I am more pure and unsoiled by commercialism than you, you of the patent-leather handbag!") Stuff is great and I like stuff just as much as anyone. I love my new coffee table, for example. It's awesome and I like shining the kitty noseprints off it with a soft cloth. But that rampant drive toward acquiring crap has died inside me. There used to be a need, an impulse as strong as hunger to go out and buy something pretty, and that need is purely gone. I don't know if it was living within a budget for so long or just returning to a sense of myself or both. But the empty spot inside that I used to try to fill with treasures on sale is just ... gone. If I buy something now it's usually because I like it or need it or want it, but not because I think it will change my life. There's not a store out there selling what I needed to change, you can trust me on that one.

Rome was not uncluttered in a day so I do still have a few boxes and piles hiding around my house, mostly in the office. Partially this is from my medical condition, I have a terrible addiction to office supplies. It's 12-step worthy, really. At work I sometimes stand in front of the supply cabinet the way bored teenagers stand in front of the fridge and stare inside, waiting for something appetizing to jump out at me. In addition to the pens and hi-liters and post-it notes in every color, shape and size, my home office has been the repository of clutter and paperwork and tidbits. It's not cluttered in the meaningful and dramatic way it was back when I moved in -- that's a relief -- but it's a dumping ground anyway, the one place for stuff that has no real place or function. All that stuff I'm still trying to figure out what to do with it -- it's in the office.

Spring makes me want to clean and declutter and open the windows and get the cobwebs out (it's brief, so you have to harness the urge while it strikes, you know.) I've been doing a little work in the office every morning (in truth, all this was started by the dire need to find my paperwork for the scary taxes) and before long I was dragging boxes out of the corners and dumping clutter out of its assorted hiding spaces. Why do I have a box of zip drives from 1998? Why? It's that kind of clutter, the stuff you just don't want to deal with.

This spring I noticed something a little different, though, a nice change. Instead of running off to find more shelving and storage and clutter-hiding, clutter-holding, clutter-displaying contraptions to address the issue of my home office, I started actually removing the clutter. Bags of stuff for the trash, recycling, the shredder, goodwill, more trash. I finally wiped the hard drive of that ancient computer and found a place to donate it. Finally got rid of the power cord to nothing, the broken tape recorder, the papers I was sure I would need someday for a car I do not even own.

It appears I have finally given up hope that the solution to my clutter problem is buying more clutter. I don't need new shelves or a fancier office-supply labeling mechanism or a better closet organizer. I just have too much crap for one small room and need to get rid of it.

What a relief! I don't have to buy anything new or assemble complicated free-standing shelving components. I don't have to squint at pages of unreadable assembly directions illustrated with asexual creatures in overalls. I don't have to hope Target has some particleboard thingamajig on sale to hold my stuff. I don't have to scour Home Depot and The Container Store and OSH for new shelves that will fit the bizarro 1940s dimensions of my closet or new boxes that will fit on new shelves and conceal even more stuff.

I just have to pare down a little more. Get rid of some crap. It's really the solution to the problem.

Posted by laurie at 2:48 PM

March 26, 2008

At long last....

At last ..... my love has come along
My lonely days are over
And life is like a song
At last ..... the skies above are blue
And my heart was wrapped up in clover
The night I looked at you
I found a dream that I can speak to
A dream that I could call my own
I found a thrill to press my cheek to
A thrill that I have never known
You smiled, and then the spell was cast
And here we are in heaven
And you are mine .....at last

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Frankie adorns the table. It's a Noguchi knockoff, but she doesn't mind...

Yes, at last, I have a coffee table!

Back in early January when Drew was here visiting, he and I let Faith introduce us to the amazing H.D. Buttercup. It's a big fabulous furniture mart in Culver City, and they were having some kind of crazy new year sale and I finally found it, AT LAST, my true north, my true love: my coffee table.

And apparently buying new furniture is time consuming as well as tree-consuming, because it took three months for my purchase to arrive but last week the store called and said my little table was in and so Faith and I went to pick it up just a few days ago. Faith's car is kind of amazing with the holding of weirdly-shaped items. Her car has a fourth dimension. Anyway, the cats love the new table, something new to conquer and recline upon.

As I was admiring it the other day I realized that this is the very first brand-new coffee table I have ever owned. I've always been a fan of vintage (read: "thrift store") finds, but I searched forever for a coffee table and couldn't find one I liked. Finding furniture that fits well into a very small space is challenging, so I have been sans coffee table since The Great Decluttering of 2006.

Not anymore! Let the surface clutter begin!

P.S. Frankie is not considered surface clutter.

Posted by laurie at 10:17 AM

March 24, 2008

Green and mean, with a side of beans

After all that talk of smoothies last week, I decided to try some variation of Green Lemonade over the weekend. I've known about Green Lemonade for a long while, it's a juicer recipe originally from the Raw Food Detox Diet. I usually try to eat one raw food meal a day (like a smoothie or a fruit salad or a regular green salad) but I have never been a big greens eater, even at my most neurotically health-conscious. I tend to be a little schizophrenic about meals, sometimes all I eat is junk and more junk with a helping of wine, and sometimes I won't let anything pass my lips unless it's organic and made of nutrients. This used to drive my poor parents crazy, they'd never be able to tell if I was coming to dinner for a whole cow with a side of butter or if my dad would be rustling through the cabinets to find something with no oil, salt, additives ("or taste," my brother would say.) Once after I was being particularly difficult during a summer break in Mississippi, my father sighed and then handed me a carrot on a plate. "It's completely additive-free," he said. And laughed. And laughed.

My poor father. Between me and my brothers and our assorted tomfoolery it is a wonder he didn't run off and join the circus.

ANYWAY. Yesterday morning I took Bevvy's Green Lemonade recipe from the comments and made it into a smoothie. My variation used:

2 apples, cored and cut into pieces
4-5 leaves of Kale (I chopped them up a little beforehand, too. My mixer is good but not great.)
1 whole Meyer lemon, peeled but some of the white pithy stuff was still on it, sectioned into pieces
About a tablespoon of chopped up ginger
a handful of spinach leaves
some water
a few ice cubes

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And I blended it all up for this:

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I thought it would taste awful, to be honest. Even as I was making it I wondered why on earth I was wasting a whole Meyer lemon. Yet I soldiered on because I am nothing if not adventurous when it comes to health nuttiness. And you know what? It didn't taste as bad as it looked. IT TASTED WORSE.

It was just like drinking up a pre-digested salad with some stringy lawn clippings thrown in.

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Things that make you go, "eeeewwww."

I have in my time embarked upon all sorts of oddball "cleansing" diets. One time many many moons ago I was reading the National Enquirer (don't ask) and I noticed a little blurb on a purifying diet that called for mung beans and clarified butter. I don't know about you, but any "purifying" diet that calls for butter is worth a try. This was in 1999 just a few months before we all perished -- possibly -- at the turn of the new Millennium. People were stockpiling toilet paper like nobody's business. Remember how much fun that time was? Doesn't it seem so innocent compared to now?

So I had never heard of mung beans and I went online to read more about them and how to cook them. As I searched the web it seemed I'd found myself in some underworld of Y2K bunker-ese preparation for the end of the world and mung beans were THE food to have on hand. Apparently they were Y2K compliant! There were entire message boards devoted to storing mung beans and using them for sprouts when the world stopped spinning on its axis and chaos ensued.

All that talk of stockpiling appealed to my little hoarding soul, and I do remember buying a little extra wine and rum and diet coke and cat litter for the impending end of humanity. And a really cute pair of heels that had a ribbon bow on the back (everyone needs cute shoes for the apocalypse.) And after all that necessary stockpiling, I went to the market and bought me some mung beans. I found a package in the health foods aisle at Ralph's and I tried cooking them and eating them for purification (clarified butter! yum!) except soggy mung beans + butter = deesgusting. I did not feel pure at all. I could actually feel them cementing to my intestines. If I recall correctly, I think I had to have a cheeseburger to purify myself from the purification. Then I believe had a cold drink and called it a day.

Not all healthy nut food forays go well, you know. It is part of the adventure of living.

And then of course we all survived Y2K and to this day I still wonder if there are people out there with stockpiles of mung beans just waiting for the day when they can use them. All those folks who were well and very prepared for The End may have gone through their hoard of toilet paper by now, but I am willing to bet someone out there somewhere is still hanging on to those ol' mung beans.

My advice: skip the beans and go right for the clarified butter. Trust me on that one.

Posted by laurie at 10:25 AM

March 20, 2008

Bliss with blueberries on top

Breakfast and I were strangers for years and years, then I discovered toast. I LOVE TOAST. I love it slathered with butter and accompanied by hash browns and bacon. However, I don't cook (or have arteries made of steel.) I especially do not cook in the pre-dawn hours before work and coffee. Sometimes I have just toast for breakfast, or Cheerios, but my favorite no-cook breakfast is just heaven and healthy all at the same time:

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The smoothie.

This little smoothie packs three (or sometimes four, depending on how I make it) servings of fruits in one single meal. Three servings of fruit! And it tastes great! For someone like me, that is miraculous.

I took this smoothie recipe from "You On A Diet" by Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen, and I modified it over time to suit my tastes. You can find the original recipe for free on Oprah.com [click here for that.]

My Smoothies, more or less:

Note: This is the order I add the stuff to the blender, which keeps the protein powder from flying everywhere or clumping up too much. See "trial and error."

• About 1/3 to 3/4 cup Kefir
["Kefir" is a yogurty-like drink, I found it in the milk and yogurt section of Whole Foods. It's a thicker consistency than milk, but a little thinner than yogurt and I like the taste. I use the lowfat organic kind because that's how I roll. I forgot to put the Kefir in the picture because I'd already put it back in the fridge but that's just as well -- you can use anything as a base, like milk or soymilk or yogurt or even ice cream!]

• About 3/4 a scoop of Whole Foods soy protein powder in Vanilla

• 1 tablespoon psyllium husks **** Start out with 1/2 a teaspoon!!! Trust me! You need to work up to this amount of fiber over time or else, you know. Consequences.****

• A little flaxseed oil, maybe about 2 teaspoons, I just eyeball it

• 2 smallish bananas, peeled and broken into pieces

• about 3/4 cup frozen blueberries. The package says there are two servings to a bag, so I use half the bag for each smoothie.

• Or any other frozen fruit on hand -- I buy the bags of frozen organic fruit when they go on sale and keep the freezer stocked. I have peaches (YUM), strawberries and cherries, too. Frozen fruit gives this a nice cold smoothie texture.

Blend it all up and drink!

On the weekends I might make a smoothie for breakfast and then have one for dinner, too, thereby getting six servings of fruit in my body. On those days my body is like, "Where the hell did all this nutrition come from??? Why aren't we having microwave popcorn again?" At first when I started making these I just assumed I'd be hungry again in five minutes but the combination of foods plus the protein powder keeps me full for way longer than I expected. I love my breakfast smoothies, they make mornings happy.

It doesn't seem like something as simple and mundane as breakfast can change your life, does it?

Sometimes when you line up your life on a ruler (and by "your" life, I mean "my" life), it can look like "Wake up, rush, feed cats, late, shower, don't forget the so-and-so, blow-dry hair, where is other shoe?, morning commute, morning commute, rush, late, work work work, etc., work all day, deadlines, hurry up, where is that memo?, more commute, many cars, late getting home, dry cleaners closed? no... open, feed cats, tired, go to bed do it all again tomorrow..."

I don't know when it happened that I became someone who lived for the future. Maybe it started back when things were unpleasant, or maybe it was my lifelong dieting mentality ("I'll be ten pounds thinner in eight weeks, so then I can do X, and I'll be down 20 by my birthday so I can fit into X...") But however it started, it became habitual and before long I was someone who saved all her nice things for "one day" and lived for tomorrow, next month, next vacation. But when next month arrived, I was already living for the next one. I mentioned that a little a while back, about my mental checklist and my life map. And even last summer when it dawned on me that life has already started. This movie is already in progress.

But it's one thing to know and understand your habits and it's a whole nother thing to break away from them. Little tiny things, like waking up and making a smoothie and drinking it before work and really enjoying it -- it's something that small and mundane that makes me happy and makes me happy NOW, not in the future or two months from now or someday when I am skinny enough/financially stable enough/accomplished enough/rested enough/whatever enough. Because what if that day never comes, anyway?

I always thought it would be the big events, the high points in my life, that would make me happy. And they do make me happy maybe for a few moments, but sometimes they're also stressful. As it turns out it's the small, seemingly insignificant things that are helping me find contentedness in my day-to-day life. Petting the cats before bedtime when everyone piles on the bed at once. A really good book. Soba sitting on the fresh laundry. Blueberry smoothies for breakfast.

Not bad for breakfast philosophizing, anyway.

Posted by laurie at 9:08 AM

March 19, 2008

Very mysterious

On Monday at 3:40 a.m. I was jolted out of bed. Literally. I thought it was an earthquake -- it felt like the bed was violently pushed away from the wall with one huge shove. I got up (jolted!) and turned all the lights on in the whole damn house, as if that would help, but we weren't having an earthquake. Nothing else was moving. The cats were pissed off for being disturbed during their beauty sleep and it was all very mysterious so I promptly went back to bed and forgot about it. It was 3:40 in the morning after all.

Then I noticed yesterday that the bed had actually moved away from the wall -- by about six inches. WEIRD. So it really had happened, whatever it was that jolted me out of slumber also pushed the bed away from the side of the house in the middle of the night and disturbed the beauty sleep of three felines. Et moi.

I decided to go round the side of the house and have a look in case the neighbors had a rowdy St. Paddy's Day and drove into my house. Listen, stranger things have happened. It was already dark outside so I can't be certain my CSI efforts were 100% perfect but there didn't appear to be any damage to the bushes or the plaster on that side of the house. The box shrubs did seem a little dry, but I seriously doubt a state of parchedness in the hedge area would case the house to tremble.

So after much chin scratching and carrying on, it is clear that there is only one possible logical and clear explanation:

My house is haunted.

On the plus side, I'm from a part of the country where we have haunted crap everywhere. In fact you are not even really considered Southern unless you yourself have lived in a haunted house, or you are related to someone with an apparition, and/or you have been intimate with OR gone to school with OR attended church with someone who has at some time lived in or next door to a haunted house. Bonus points if your church itself was haunted or you ever went looking for the Bell Witch.

The downside is that right now I just do not have time to add anyone new to my life, phantasm or no. I AM BUSY OKAY. There is a lot going on in my life (aside from laundry which is an other-worldy issue of its own) and I am just far too harried at this time to entertain a specter, people. I barely have time to clean up after myself and the aforementioned annoyed felines so having to pick up plates off the floor and constantly shut mysteriously opening cabinet doors and see stuff floating mid-air is just not in my planbook. Not to mention being shoved awake at 3:40 a.m. That is just RUDE.

I can however recommend one or three excellent houses on my street that would be perfectly ripe for a good haunting. I'm neighborly that way.

Posted by laurie at 9:09 AM

January 15, 2008

Ode to the Crock Pot

I don't cook.

Sure, there is the microwaved baked potato, the salad from a bag, the occasional spaghetti. But there isn't real cooking going on in my house on a regular (or even semi-annual) basis. My father is a natural gourmet, he can take a can of beans and turn it into a Michelin-rated five star meal. I do not know he he does this. My brothers also got the cooking DNA, they can whip up delightful meals without setting off the fire alarm and having to call out for pizza on Thanksgiving like some people we know.

I have gotten even sloppier about cooking since living alone. One of the best parts about living single is that I don't have to pretend that I am going to cook dinner and be a good wifey. I can just burn a bag of microwave popcorn, pour a glass of wine and call it a night. I've sunk to new lows with my dating skills, too: I once bought a Ralph's grocery store rotisserie chicken and brought that sucker home, put it in a pan, dumped some baby carrots around it and stuck it in the oven AS IF I HAD COOKED IT MYSELF and served it to my date. Like I was Betty Flippin' Crocker.

He said it was the best chicken he'd ever had. I agreed. But the carrots were a tad underdone.

And while my baked-potato-salad routine works for me most of the time, sometimes I find myself in need of more serious nutrition and not really desiring to spend twelve hours in the kitchen preparing it. This is where I begin today's "Ode To A CrockPot."

I actually forgot I had a crock pot! I bought it back when I was married and used to make a mean pot roast. One of the best features of the slow cooker is that it is really quite hard to burn food in it, which seems to be my primary downfall with cooking (I do, however, rock the grill -- mmmm, cook meat on open fire!) but since I moved to my little house in Encino-adjacent, my crock pot has been resting peacefully in a back cabinet. While my friend Drew was here, I was determined to cook at least one meal of decent taste and quality and since he's a really good cook, I figured he could help me with a one-pot dish in the slow cooker.

Well, that one meal was so good that I went out this weekend and bought the same stuff to make the dish all over again just for me! I've been a little under the weather and I need some serious nutrition in my body with about as little effort as possible. This crockpot thing is the BEST invention -- one pot and enough food to feed me for every meal for days. In fact, when I set it to cook overnight it smelled so good in the morning that I had my crockpot meal for breakfast. A little weird maybe, but filling and good and healthy.

You'll need:

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Some root veggies -- I bought whatever they had that was organic. Parsnips, carrots in multicolored bunches, celery, leeks, golden beets, onions, garlic and celery. The bananas in the back left of the picture are not for the crockpot. Heh.

And you can't have a meal in my life without some potatoes -- here I'm using red organic baby potatoes and some turnips:

potatoes and turnips

Chop everything roughly and add a layer to the bottom of the crock pot:
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To that I added half a turkey breast:

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I chose the free-range turkey with the bone in and skin on. The skin and bone and marrow provides natural fat and flavor. (My dad would be so proud of me. I said "marrow.") Since I am just feeding me and this whole crockpot of stuff will last me a good five or six or eight meals, I decided to buy the highest quality groceries like organic vegetables and meat that has no hormones or anti-biotics and stuff. Even at Whole Foods prices, my bill came to $26.35, which averages out to about three bucks a meal. NOT BAD!

For flavor, I have garlic and onion and some spices for the turkey, as well as some vegetable broth to add to the crockpot to get everything steaming. You need about a cup of liquid. I added no oil, butter or fat to the dish and trust me it was just fine... and this is coming from a girl who thinks butter is a food group.

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Then add some more chopped veggies to the top (I keep the leaves on the celery to add even more flavor, I love the way celery tastes!)

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Turn it on high and let it cook for 3-5 hours, depending on the size of the turkey. Drew told me that poultry needs to be heated to an internal temperature of 180 degrees, so I used my meat thermometer to check for doneness. The whole house smelled so good while this was cooking and I didn't even set the smoke alarm off!

I've been eating some crappy food lately and I can tell even just eating junk a few days in a row how my energy level goes way down and my skin starts to look bad and I'm grumpy. I guess I never noticed before how much my body needs real food with decent vitamins and minerals in it. I'm glad I remembered my crockpot! After just a few meals I already feel better and I swear even my skin looks better. I think I could get better with cooking if it were all this easy. So if you have any (easy) crockpot recipes, please share! I like my turkey meal but I don't think I can live on one meal my whole life. I mean really now.

But doesn't this smell YUMMY:

crockpot-cooking.jpg

mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm! I didn't take an after picture... I was too busy eating!

Posted by laurie at 6:25 AM

January 14, 2008

Hello! It is January, it is sinking in now....

Three or four times recently I've caught myself saying, "Oh, I'll catch up with that after the New Year..." or "I'll have to get right on that after the New Year..." and then I realize all over again that OH MY GOD the new year is not just here, it's been here and it's practically old already and I still have my Christmas Tree up!

I am five weeks behind on life and it is already January 14. Help me.

Anyway, weekend before last (yes, that's right, I am just now catching up on something that happened TWO WEEKENDS AGO) Drew came to visit and we had a grand old time, and Faith came to rescue us from my driving and we did a little shopping at H.D. Buttercup, which I had never been to before but immediately I tried to move in. It perhaps freaked the staff out that I was picking out which living room I wanted to live in each day.

Drew relaxed while I tried to figure out how to use my new camera, having broken the old one in a freak battery-replacing accident and now trying to understand why I cannot seem to "point" and "shoot" without blurring:

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Faith looking adorable in the pottery section:

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Then we went to Chinatown:

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Look, you too can start the new year off right by hanging with "Confusions" as your guide:

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Later Drew and I drove up the coast and found this awesome seaside town whose name I do not know and there was a very good restaurant:

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And we walked out along the pier while I droned on and on about how much I want to live near the ocean:

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We happened to be there at low tide so the critters living on the pier pilings were exposed, like these amazing looking starfish:

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Later we got home and Soba was mad we didn't bring her one to eat. Whatevs, cat! I'm pretty sure the starfish are protected by the guv'ment against cats.

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We also got our hair did by the awesomeness that is Aharon (Umberto, (310) 274-6395) and his gorgeous assistant Jasmine:

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Beauty is hard, and also apparently made Drew into crazy eyes:

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And you'll never believe it, but guess who now has BANGS!!!!!

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Yes, that's right people. I have BANGS. Wispy-ish ones that kind of go to the side but still, they are BANGS nonetheless! And you, too, can witness the dorkyness that is my exciting life change, a.k.a. "a haircut with bangs" when I see you this Saturday in Mission Viejo!

Saturday, January 19th, 2008
BORDERS -- 1:00 PM (Reading & signing)
25222 El Paseo
Mission Viejo, CA 92691
Phone: 949.367.0005
Click here for a map -->

I promise not to be late. Well, I promise not to be two weeks late, like I have been with everything else. My bangs and I will see you there! Confusions say so!

Posted by laurie at 9:50 AM

December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

santa-soba.jpg

Merry Christmas from my jolly brood to yours!

Posted by laurie at 10:31 AM

December 21, 2007

Oh no, she's taking pictures of the teevee again!

When I was going through my Big Budget Revamp, I got rid of all my cable pay-movie channels. With the lower-cost cable package there are a couple of free movie channels, perfect for those occasional drunken Tivofests where you sit with the program guide and choose weird stuff to Tivo which you promptly forget about until you come home two weeks later and wonder why you have six new movies on your Tivo List, including both Sister Act and Sister Act 2: Back In The Habit.

(OK, I cannot lie to ya'll. I LOVE the Sister Act movies. They make me laugh. Plus, the songs are good. Who doesn't love some Whoopi in the nunnery, now, huh? C'mon.) (Don't judge.)

But only recently I discovered that my cable lineup also has a Turner Classic Movies channel and a Fox Classic movies channel and both have movies without commercial breaks. My classical movie knowledge is spotty at best -- I never watched TV as a kid, so I spent my teenage and early adult years catching up on such staples as The Brady Bunch and Gilligan's Island. I'm just now getting around to the movie staples thanks to Tivo and my freebie channels.

The other night I watched this movie called "Take Her, She's Mine" with Jimmy Stewart and Sandra Dee. (I couldn't find it available on amazon, but here is the link to it on IMDB.com.) It was cute in places, kind of surprising in others, but James Stewart is charming in pretty much everything so it was a good movie (especially with a cat on my lap and some knitting, love you garter stitch scarf!)

Maybe it's the weather or maybe it's the time of year, but all I want to do is eat chocolate, knit simple cozy projects and sit on the sofa with a cat on my leg while watching some TV. It may sound boring to some people, but considering the pace of this past year, the downtime is really decadent to me!

Last night I watched An American in Paris starring Gene Kelly. And here's where my curiosity comes in: was Gene Kelly considered a heartthrob back in the day? It was kind of hard for me to tell, especially from this movie. Sometimes his character is a jerk in that movie and sometimes they pose him like a movie idol (and he did have a rather studly physique) and sometimes he's goofy. He sure could dance though!

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So was he considered a George Clooneyesque hot guy back in the day, or was he more of a non-heartthrob entertainer? I can't think of a modern-day equivalent, maybe like Tom Hanks? Or Billy Crystal? But with amazing feet, of course. Tell me what you think. I'll have to check in with Grandma on this one, too, I have a feeling she will hold a definite opinion one way or the other!

For my money there's still just one bygone-era man who takes the hunky cake:

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Gregory Peck, of course. I realize that the man would be ninety-one years old if he were still alive, but I still have the hots for him. That particular picture of my television set was paused while watching the movie "On The Beach." I read the book a long time ago so when I saw it in the Tivo program guide I set it to record before I even realized Studly McMan was in it. I have detailed fantasies that involve a man who looks exactly like Gregory Peck, and I am sort of a Nora Charles-looking version of me and it's all very black and white with cocktails.

Le sigh.

I love this time of the year. It's finally cold and we've even had some weather (grey skies! alert the media!) and the cats like to snuggle since my house apparently has no insulation at all and seems to hover around 60 degrees no matter how much I use the heat. But whatever, not complaining! I have chocolate and I have a simple garter-stitch scarf for mindless, perfect knitting while I catch up on my movie history ... dancing Gene Kelly, Jimmy Stewart playing a man who just looks like Jimmy Stewart (hijinks ensue), bleak handsome Gregory on the beach ... and my Sister Act movies, too, of course!

Posted by laurie at 8:36 AM

December 19, 2007

Happiness presents for both the be-furred and the be-fatted

Two pre-Christmas presents are a very big hit at Chez Furball right now, both of them were supposed to stay under wraps but the cats managed to sniff their way inside the bag holding their gift and the human manged to open and devour half of hers and all parties involved needed an intervention.

Awesome Present for the Human

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Whole Foods organic dark chocolate truffles, imported from France. And this whole box was something like four dollars, which if you shop at Whole Foods you know that's less than a tomato costs.

Now, normally I do not have much of a sweet tooth, and while I do like dark chocolate I'd still rather be face-down in a vat of french fries if we're talking about calorie allocation. But these truffles are so good I wanted to be alone in a room with them. I had to get them out of my hands so I had to lock them in the garage for safekeeping.

Luckily, I alone have the key to the garage.

- - -

Awesome Present for the Felines

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New curved cardboard cat scratcher that I found at Target. It was in the cat supplies aisle and cost about $14.

Alas, Target.com and Amazon.com do not have any listing of this item, nor did the three major online pet supply retailers I checked and neither did the manufacturer's website! Crazy! So, just in case it was some kind of promotional fluke, I went back to Target and bought the other two they had left for safekeeping because my cats love it THAT much. (Safekeeping means I had to put them in the garage and lock the door.) (The cats do not have the key.)

Also! Usually ya'll are better at finding stuff online than I am, so if someone finds this cat scratcher online, will you put the link in the comments? Thanks!

Anyway, I do hope this is an item which the stores will be carrying lots of, for replacement purposes, since it is the hottest ticket in furtown right now....

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"Pardon my retouched eyeballs. Dictators cannot have red eye."

Posted by laurie at 10:13 AM

December 14, 2007

Winter Wondering-What-That-Is Land

This morning there was a strange, cold, white substance encrusting my jeep:

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Frost in the valley, ya'll! Break out all your handknit items, STAT! It was very exciting, I ran back inside for a wool roll-brim hat, a bigger, heftier scarf and gloves. The gloves are leather (not hand-knit) but I found them a few years ago in the dead heat of summer on clearance at Bloomie's. They were approximately one billion perfect off the regular tag or I probably would never have bought them, buttery soft black leather lined with cashmere and I love them enough to want to marry them. People scoffed at me then, buying cashmere-lined gloves in 118 degree weather. But I knew! I knew a day would come when ants could ice skate on my Jeep's little canvas rooftop!

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If you were an ant, you could do a sit-spin on that roof.

We have weather! It's very exciting. Now it feels like Christmas.

Posted by laurie at 9:08 AM

November 5, 2007

When did it become November?

This is what a busy weekend at my domicile of residence looks like:

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That is the Sobatator, making sure the freshly washed and dried towels are fully furred before being allowed back in the cupboard.

As soon as she sees me with the laundry basket she starts following me and finally, because these cats are spoilt rotten, I give in and let her decorate the warm laundry with her butt. She can sit there quietly keeping the laundry from escaping for hours:

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(That thing in the top left of the picture is our Comfort Zone Plug-In Diffuser that we cannot live without. You can read more about that here.)

Laundry is not safe from the Sobanator. I have to lint roller whatever was on top of the pile when she finally removes herself from it, usually hours later. And speaking of the lint roller, other forms of craziness in our house are calico in nature. This is one very badly done home video of me and Frankie (Frankie is a cat who does not meow, she whines like a baby and it's annoying and also strange because she sometimes sounds eerily human) in which Frankie gets lint-rollered:

Have you ever seen a cat so excited about a damn lint roller?

On Sunday I got up Painfully Early and went to get some inspiration and afterwards I met up for breakfast with Faith and Allison at a great diner in Culver City called Dinah's. Later when I got home I was doing more of the aforementioned dreaded and soon-to-be-refurred laundry and trying to get stuff accomplished before setting out again for another trip and I walked into the bedroom to put some clothes away.

Bob and Frankie were all stretched out on the bed in a big pool of sunshine and the sheets were all fresh and I just sat on the bed for a minute -- just a minute -- to pet on the cats all splayed out and showing me their fluffy bellies and before I knew it I was taking a nap. ME. I am many things, but a napper is not one one of them (napper - no. Gangsta rapper - yes.) I have not taken a nap in years, no really, I mean YEARS. I kind of woke up about ten minutes into my nap and thought, "I have to get up!" but Bob stretched his legs out so that the very pinkest part of his toes rested lightly on my arm, something that has never happened before. Roy used to do that all the time, just needing something of him to be touching something of me. So I stayed still.

I closed my eyes. From time to time I would feel myself waking up, feeling guilty, because I'm supposed to be doing this, completing that, fixing that one thing, sewing on a button, vacuuming, reading that book before this weekend, finding that document about that other thing, putting together the cabinet for the office, cleaning the catbox, calling that person back... but then Soba got on the bed too and curled up behind my knees and I just gave into it. Slept for almost two hours, which if you knew me would shock you.

For people who have trouble sleeping, a nap is like a miraculous gift, kind of like checking the pockets of your jeans before washing them and instead of finding a fiver, you find a stack of hundreds. The cats nap all the time, maybe I could learn a thing or two from them.

And just so we don't end this one with Bob feeling left out, here he is in a late-night picture, grainy because he's scared of the flash but still bobaliciously cute:

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Also, if you are new to Los Angeles, let me remind you to leave work extra-early today. You don't believe me now, but trust me: this is one of the worst traffic days of the entire year. On the Monday after Daylight Savings Time ends, the city gets dark earlier and you will find that in the months of summer and lazy sun-filled afternoons and evenings people have lost the ability to drive in the dark. There will be gridlock and honking. Trust me, I know of what I speak.

My city may be crazy, but at least it is predictably crazy.

Posted by laurie at 9:22 AM

September 14, 2007

Friday "Clean Up" Q&A

Yesterday lots of excellent questions and comments popped up, thought I'd try to answer what I can...

Rhett asked:
"What do you use to dust? I would love to save the money and be a little greener too! but dusting is very important to me."

Answer: Hey there Rhett! To be honest, dust is a MAJOR problem in my house. I like to open the windows whenever it's not a thousand degrees outside to get fresh air circulating but living in Los Angeles with no rain there is a LOT of dust in the air.

Oh, and uh... yeah. The cat hair and the cat litter dust. Need I say more?

So my primary tool for dusting (when dusting must occur) is the vacuum cleaner. Now I would rather get a full-body wax than do dishes, I do hate dishwashing, but I could vacuum all day long. It's so therapeutic... goodbye dust! Au revoir kitty litter! Using the brush attachment is great for vacuuming the TV, all my electronics (major dustcatchers, gross), the slats on the window blinds, the toaster ... you name it. For small items (I don't have a lot of knickknacks, but a few small ones) I just dampen a paper towel or one of those lint-free cloths and go over the item quickly to remove the archaeological layer of dust. My housecleaning time is pretty limited so there's definitely always some dust on stuff. But I try to do one massive vacuum dusting about once a month.

One of the benefits to decluttering -- and frankly, one of my main motivators -- was that I got so damn tired of having to clean and dust all my stuff. I have about ten knickknacks in the whole house (like candle holders or vases or picture frames on tables.) I still have dust on everything, sadly, but at least now there's less stuff to be dusty. That's an improvement, right? Right?

- - -
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Readers Susan and Aileen wanted to know how you use Borax:

According to about.com's explanation of Borax, it is used as a natural laundry booster, multipurpose cleaner, fungicide, preservative, insecticide, herbicide, disinfectant and dessicant. Borax crystals are odorless, whitish and alkaline. Borax is not flammable and is not reactive. It can be mixed with most other cleaning agents, including chlorine bleach.

It is, however toxic and like any commercial cleanser it can be bad for you. As the article above mentioned, don't use borax around food, keep it out of reach of children and pets, and make sure you rinse borax out of clothes and off of surfaces before use.

You can buy it in the laundry detergent aisle at your store -- look for 20 Mule Team Borax, that's the brand I use. And yes, it can be toxic but I myself don't let my cleaning stuff lie around open and available to cats or guests, and I keep the bathroom door closed when I use Ajax with bleach or any commercial cleaner because I don't want the cats messing around with it. So with any cleaning product, heck... even with just lemon juice... I do the same thing. It's not like I'm slopping it on the floor and rolling nekkid it it. As always, your mileage may vary and use with common sense.

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A few readers mentioned concerns that Magic Erasers contain formaldehyde. You can read about the debunking of the myth here on snopes.com, or read the official word from the Mr. Clean team addressing this rumor.

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Marlyn asks, "Okay, where do you find this Ecover stuff? It sounds great. I'm trying to switch to greener cleaning supplies, too, though not moving as quickly as you are."

Hi Marlyn! I buy Ecover products at Whole Foods. I love Whole Foods... of course, it's so expensive to shop there that I have to restrain myself from going nuts! But being a one-person + cats household, a bottle of Ecover laundry detergent will last me a good long while. You can also find a list of products available on amazon.com to purchase.

- - -

While we're at it, I have a question for you cat owners:

If you have a blanket or basket liner for your cats, how often do you wash it, especially if the cats sit or sleep on it daily? Once a week? Once a month? Anyone? I'm not sure how much is too much, but goodness those blankets get hairy fast.

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- - -

Barbara commented, "By the way, you do know that Al Gore is married, right? I'm just sayin'. But he would be proud."

Yes, I heard that rumor. He's so darn cute with his powerpoint, don't you think? (Sometimes I like to mention Al Gore and my love for him just because I know somewhere on the other side of the country my daddy is shaking his head and wondering if I need a brain transplant. Remind me to tell ya'll about the time I framed a picture of Al Gore and set it on his desk just for fun. Ah, good times.)

- - -
I don't know if ya'll caught this exchange in the comments but it about had me laughing so hard. Ya'll are funny. I'm gonna be out of a job if you keep this up:

Megan said, "And I'm confused about what 'green' means to everyone - does it mean 'not harsh' or just 'natural'? Ammonia is certainly natural - we pee it every day! I bet rubbing a poison tree frog on your shower doors would work wonders for the soap scum."

Lyda replied, "But Megan, wouldn't the fumes be hallucinogenic?"

To which Megan replied, "...Hmm... Lyda wants to know if poison tree frogs emit hallucinogenic fumes when dragged across a shower door ... I say, we can only hope."

Heh. But in answer to Megan's original question ... I'm trying to move closer to non-toxic. Natural is great, but some "natural" items such as bleach are toxic so I'm going to try to cut back on them and re-think how much I rationally need to use for getting the house clean. In other words, "Would a cup of bleach work on the sink instead of half a gallon?" That sort of thing.

Also, if anyone knows where I can find a hallucinogenic shower-cleaning tree frog, please let me know.

- - -

Oh -- and a few readers have mentioned to me in past columns the joys of placing clothes on a clothes line. It popped up again yesterday as we talked about green cleaning. Being a gal from the country I can attest to the good-smelling loveliness of line-dried laundry. Living where I live however, I can also attest to the fact that nothing would be left on that line when I return home.

City living is a wild and wonderful experience, isn't it?

- - -


Reader Nancy writes, "...I'm a little concerned about your current cleaning/organizing frenzy..."

Well, Nancy. Thanks for the concern. Now, I would be more concerned if I had started maybe using heroin or picking up men at streetlights or hitting up the sun-in (do they still make sun-in, anyway?), but I can assure you I'm not in a frenzy of cleaning. I'm just trying to address the year of no-cleaning-whatsoever that occurred while I wrote and edited and re-wrote my book. I remember coming home once in the midst of all that and looking for a single pair of clean underwear and being too exhausted by the messy house to even sort the laundry. Sorting would have been an all-night affair (I think I ended up wearing some horrible butt-creeping panties of doom. Alas.) So, anyway, my house was in dire need of attention.

Besides, I think sometimes we all do what we can to feel more plugged into our own lives and this is my thing. While I myself wouldn't classify this as a frenzy I still think it's better than embarking on a life of crime or taking up a porn addiction.

I do have some friends that would disagree with me on that last point however! Tomato, tomahto!

- - -

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Don't be talking dirty about my cleaning bucket!


Denise commented: "What's the point of recycling all those plastic bags, and then buying plastic buckets and caddies?"

Ah, Denise. As it turns out I purchased one (1) bucket and one (1) caddy which fit neatly together as a single carry-all. In my way of thinking, I needed a bucket (for scrubbing those wood floors) and it was such a nice treat to find a portable cleaning toolbox that fit right inside it. I knew if I were ever going to really do any cleaning, I should be properly outfitted. This is how my mind works, see. I found it inspiring to do some preparatory pre-shopping.

(It's kind of hard for me to get excited about scrubbing, so a gal has to do what she can.)

Also, these are not one-time-use items and I use them all the time now, they especially come in handy because I tend to be a naturally very scattered person so having a single place for all my stuff -- in this case my cleaning stuff -- has worked wonders for my personal get-it-togetherness.

And just to be clear here -- my goal is to do a little better for the environment than I have been doing, but I will never meet anyone's standards of getting it all right. One of the things I find really off-putting in sometimes sharing with people that you're trying anything new is that once you admit to making little changes some folks seem to start yammering on about how you're not doing it right, or not doing enough, or you ought to do more, or shame on you for not doing more sooner.

Like a lot of people, I can only do the best I can with what I got. In my way of thinking it's best for me to make some small changes and let them build on each other. If I felt like I had to change EVERY THING IN MY WHOLE LIFE AT THIS VERY MINUTE, well, I wouldn't be bothered to change a damn thing. It's too hard, too overwhelming, too exhausting and doesn't work for most humans. And I'm sure if someone came knocking on my front door for an inspection and made up a list of every thing I do wrong they'd judge me just as harshly and I'd be sent right off to the Jail For Failed Homemakers.

On the plus side, I bet the company in my jail cell would be a hoot and a holler.

- - -

Another question from yours truly here, is it normal to get cat hair tumbleweeds in the corners of the living room now that I have these wood floors? Is it just more noticeable now since the carpet is gone or do ya'll think the cats are having a party every day while I'm at work, inviting the neighborhood wild animals over to shed all over the floors? Because they are really not fooling around with the tumbleweeds.

- - -

And finally, reader Melissa wrote: "I love Kim and Aggie too, but I'm also quickly becoming obsessed with "You Are What You Eat" which is on BBC America too at 4 and 4:30 (eastern time zone). You should check it out! It is...well, you just have to watch and see..."

Melissa! I am already on that bandwagon and I love that show too and cannot wait to see new episodes on my Tivo list. It's my new favorite thing ... I'm addicted! I was chitchatting with Brenda for an upcoming podcast and she lives in Wales so I made her tell me in great detail what a "fry-up" was, since I saw it on that show. A whole fried plate of food -- now, they could be Southern! Except for the beans of course, you'd have to put grits or hashbrowns in place of the beans. But it's another fabulous find on BBC. Curiously enough, I like to watch it while I'm walking on the treadmill, maybe it's an incentive!

- - -

Ok, that's all for today. Have a great weekend and I'll see some of ya'll in Failed Homemaker Jail. We can talk all about the time we couldn't start cleaning yet because we had to run out and stock up on cleaning supplies (yes, I did that, I admit it.) I'll bring the wine!

Posted by laurie at 7:41 AM

September 13, 2007

Clean and non-toxic(ish)

There are a lot of reasons to green up your cleaning supplies ... better for the environment, less toxic for you to touch and smell, cheaper, and so on. The main reason I am making the switch from my chemical cleaning arsenal to plain old natural cleaning stuff is uh, well, because of the cats.

This summer I read an article somewhere that talked about the things we buy (bleach, ammonia, chemical cleansers, that sort of thing) and how these cleaning products sit silently on the shelves of our homes giving off fumes. This had never occurred to me. Could my stockpile of cleaning products be off-gassing in the air? And I thought about my little gatos who never go outdoors and live inside the house all day long, 24 hours a day, and they're so close to the ground what with their short, furry legs and all ... and I started to wonder how hard it would be to clean without Windex.

Was it even possible? I mean, I love Windex! I love Scrubbing Bubbles! I love bleaching the sink! Who are these hippieass granola-lovin' clean green people anyway? Are they crazy? And most importantly, if I give up Windex and go au natural, DO I HAVE TO START WEARING BIRKENSTOCKS?

(Oh calm down... I jest, I jest.) (Kind of.)

Mostly I wanted to know if I could get the same level of cleaning out of natural or "green" cleaners as I do with my heavy duty chemical cleansers. Then I started to think back to my great-grandma and her little farmhouse out in Blanco, Texas. She used white vinegar on windows and plain soapy water on everything else. Her house smelled like lemon and fresh air, it was spic 'n span with never a trace of dust anywhere. I don't remember a single cleaning product in her house, aside from soap flakes and vinegar and no one ever got sick from not having enough antibacterial cleaning chemicals.

So, yeah, I guess it's possible. Somehow, someway people once lived without the awesomeness of Formula 409.

I would love to tell you I immediately ditched all my chemicals and went straight to the baking soda, but this is a process. I am not one who is easily swayed from her long-held list of Products To Love And Buy. I started using Shaklee cleansers a while back, but Lord that gets expensive. So slowly, and I do mean sloooowly, I started experimenting here and there to see how clean and non-toxic I could go before ... you know. Having to buy Birkenstocks.

The first step has been creating an arsenal of clean.

The space between the fridge and the wall previously housed a GINORMOUS mountain of plastic and paper grocery bags and some cobwebs. A few weekends ago I re-purposed a wire rack from the back patio, scrubbed it off and brought it inside. Fits perfectly! The mountain of plastic bags went to a recycle bin at Whole Foods. I kept a small supply of plastic bags for cat pan cleanup and some paper bags for hauling out the household recyling, but I did not really need 75,000 bags. Really.

At Target I found a cleaning caddy and bucket hold my everyday cleaning supplies:

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The set is from the "Real Simple" cleaning line and I think they cost me about $12. Inside I have spray bottles with my homemade cleaning concoctions, a shaker jar full of baking soda, a jar of white vinegar (I buy the bigger gallon size jars and refill the portable one as needed) and various scrubbers, sponges and gloves. I also have magic erasers in there because I love my magic erasers.

My favorite duster is there, too, it's some kind of fluffy animal fiber and I wash it as soon as it gets dirty. The telescoping rod means I can get the cobwebs in the corners of the ceilings!

The little wire storage rack houses bulk supplies, too. I am and will always be a Cancer gal, so you will not see me running out of toilet paper, paper towels, or cleaning supplies. It's a fine line between being prepared and being a hoarder, and I walk it very carefully. That's where I store my have backup cleaners -- baking soda, lemon juice (opened lemon juice is in the fridge) and various sponges and cleaners, including a small box of Ecover enzymatic laundry powder that I use for household scrubbing.

I do a lot of laundry. While I loved my Shaklee laundry detergent, it was just way out of my budget. I switched to Seventh Generation laundry detergent, and now I'm using Ecover brand laundry liquid because I like the scent. Both work just great. I have bleach for sheets and whites (Drew says bleach is a natural chemical, but it isn't non-toxic so I use it with more restraint now). For dishes I use my Shaklee dish soap or Seventh Generation.

My biggest struggle has been finding a perfect combination for a cleaning spray to replace Formula 409, Windex and various bathroom cleaners. I've tried plain vinegar (yuck smell), vinegar and water, soap and water, soap and vinegar and water and so on. What seems to be working for me right now is a combination of plain water, a few drops of dish soap, a few drops of essential oil (this week it's citrus, but sometimes I use tea tree oil or eucalyptus oil) and a small amount of vinegar. Sometimes I add a small bit of baking soda. I put it in a spray bottle and it seems to be doing the job. Windows get straight vinegar and I clean them with newspaper and -- shock!!! -- this age-old cleaning tip really works. The vinegar smell goes away pretty quickly and I don't have to worry about the fumes I'm breathing in or worry about Windexing little cat lungs. Now the cats aren't having to wear little gas masks everytime I go on a neurotic cleaning binge.

We have very hard water out here in Encino-Adjacent. It's a menace on fixtures. So last weekend I took a tip from my heroes Kim & Aggie and soaked my limescale-encrusted showerhead in lemon juice like I'd seen on an episode of "How Clean Is Your House?" and it worked! I honestly did not really believe this trick was going to perform any miracles, I sort of half-expected it to be a bit of TV tomfollery but thought it was worth a try.

I just filled a ziploc baggie with enough lemon juice to cover the face plate and then secured it over the showerhead with a hair elastic. Then I let it sit for about five hours. I am also such a nerd that I took before and after pictures:

Showerhead before:
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Showerhead after:
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In the past I've used massive amounts of CLR Limescale Remover on my bathroom fixtures to get the crud off. CLR is so toxic that you have to wear gloves and fully ventilate the room and hope no one lights a match. I was always terrified I would spill a little somewhere and one of the cats would accidentally step on it (ditto for Scrubbing Bubbles, bleach and Ajax powder).

Lemon juice smells pretty and doesn't require a massive clean-up lest a stray kittycat paw step find a spilled drop. I think I'll try this on the shower doors, too, although that is a bigger job than the showerhead. I'm guessing I'd have to take the doors off and sit them on the back patio with a coating of lemon juice and borax, a combination which is supposed to be great at removing built-up scum and scale. I am also supposing that this may rewuire possibly more gusto than I have to work up over some shower doors. Well, maybe I'll save that one for when I have company. Maybe.

Which brings me to my last toxic-to-nontoxic switch, and it's happening this weekend. Mark your calendars, alert the media. You see, I have been using Ajax with bleach in my bathroom for years and years. (Just think of the powder I have inhaled after 15 years of using Ajax with bleach once a week! I have me some clean nostrils!) (That's gross. Moving on.) But I will not sacrifice toilet bowl cleanliness, yo. I have my limits.

This weekend, I will make my first non-Ajax pass of the bathroom. Using a paste of Borax and lemon juice (another tip from Kim and Aggie, of course, what ya'll think I just sit around at night dreaming this up? No way Jose! I learned it from my best fried, TeeVee.) I plan to scour the bowl and report back. I am skeptical, but it would be really nice to find a cleanser that doesn't require major ventilation. And frankly, every time I have a guest over I have to obsessively check to be sure they've put the lid down or panic about whether or not Bob is drinking Ajax water.

Like I said, these are the concerns of one lady with a lot of cats who has a deep, anxious fear of another one of them dying.

There are a few items I haven't been able to let go of, because I love them and boy do they work! Magic Erasers will always have a place in my arsenal, but according to a scientist friend of mine the main cleaning agent in the basic eraser is a superfine grit that essentially sands your dirt off (cool!) And I love Bounce dryer sheets, so hopefully they aren't super toxic because, well, I love them. I'm not sure I will forever and always let go of the Ajax, but I am trying and that's something.

My slow switch to nontoxic cleaners has saved me more money than I would have ever anticipated. A big box of baking soda, a gallon of vinegar and the Wal-Mart brand bottle of lemon juice on my supply rack cost me less than $2. Borax was about $2, and my spray bottles were 99 cents each. Ecover is expensive (compared to generic or ALL brand of laundry detergent) but I think it's worth it. Mostly I like the peace of mind that comes from knowing my little gatos aren't breathing in toxic fumes while I'm at work breathing in the toxic fumes of downtown. I love that when Al Gore finally takes me on a date I can impress him with my saving of the envoronment of Encino-Adjacent. I love that I can use the same cleanser on almost everything. And it is good for the world, and that can't be too bad, either.

And of course, crazy animal lovers unite... if they're breathing in healthier air, then I am a happier lady. And it can't be a bad thing for me to have healthier air, too!

Posted by laurie at 7:48 AM

August 30, 2007

Hot, handyman and hello there, inner decorator!

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I'm not even going to bother complaining since it is August and I do live in the Valley. I'm merely posting this for my friend back East who was complaining about it being 95 degrees or some such nonsense. Also: Hello, there Dallas Raines! That is a fine tan you have, weatherman!

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Next:

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Saw this driving yesterday. This photo is not my usual top-quality traffic photography since -- gasp! -- traffic was actually moving. But Lord, I wished I'd known about that sort of service back when I was married. I am just saying is all.


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And in household news...

The old mini blinds in the kitchen had been up long before I moved in and no matter how much I Windexed them and wiped them down, they still had a film and grimy ick to them. The main window over the countertop also looks directly into the next-door-neighbor's window and onto their driveway. And God love 'em, but my neighbors spend an inordinate amount of time in the driveway doing I have no idea what. Who walks up and down the driveway all day? They don't even use their front door, I'm almost positive they spend the whole day walking up and down the driveway, opening and shutting their back gate. It's nutty!

The other window in the kitchen is part of the back door. It was also covered up by a mini-blind that was undeniably gross, sticky from its proximity to the stove. No matter how much I cleaned or scrubbed or soaked the blinds, the gunk remained. And every time I opened the back door, I scraped my hand on the poorly-placed lower blind hardware. OUCH.

So I removed the blinds from both windows and scrubbed each window and windowsill clean (hot soapy water and tea tree oil with a scrub brush. Probably should have done this BEFORE cleaning the countertops and floors. Whoopsy.)

Then I worked the MAGIC. The magic of window film!

Decorative window film is something I have been looking for for ages. One weekend I was at Home Depot and there it was ... a whole display of these amazing colored and printed vinyl sheets that you cut to fit any glass surface. They use no adhesives so the designs are 100% removable and temporary -- perfect for a renter like me. Each roll of art film is $19.95 and will cover an average-sized window. It was a little more expensive than buying new mini-blinds, but well worth it.

The back door before and after:

kitchen-door-before-after.jpg
Artscapes Decorative Window Film in "Bamboo" ... also, this picture doesn not truly convey the nastiness of the window blind but trust me it was gross.


Here's the kitchen window before, during and after (OK, I got excited and forgot to take a total "before" pic, so it has one pane of art film):

kitchen-window-beforeish.jpg

kitchen-window-during.jpg

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Artscapes Decorative Window Film in "Wisteria"

It took me about half an hour to clean the windows and measure and cut the vinyl film to size and another 20 minutes to apply everything just so. I love it!


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Right after I applied the artscapes film to my kitchen windows, I caught an episode of some home improvement show on HGTV where the designer hated this kind of window treatment. I got up off the sofa and walked into the kitchen and evaluated my windows ... nope. I still loved them no matter what some designer on HGTV said.

Being decidedly single for the first time in my life is a new, interesting place. Like most girls growing up in the South in the 1970s and 80s, I took my style cues from my friends, my family, and later from MTV, watching my favorite videos over and over to scrutinize whatever my idol-of-the-moment was wearing. I always had my own little sense of personal flair (see: side-part mohawk) but when it came to decorating I didn't have a big say in things until I moved out on my own and by then I was either looking for a guy, looking to be pleasing to a guy, or settling down with a guy.

It seems that all my window dressing was something done to achieve an effect, to create a nest or project an image ... all meant to please another person.

Realizing things like this always makes me a little ashamed of myself. What woman living free in the United States of America in this day and age builds her home around a man? Any man? But that was the fact, and since I've been un-hitched I've slowly unfolded into my own style which is, as it turns out, nothing at all like what I thought it was!

I tried to make a list of all my little personal design epochs, the "home interior" version. My first design style was clearly Trailer Park Church Box Thrift Shop. No questions there. My teenage design style was I LOVE PRINCE. And U2. And Madonna. And "...the 80s called, they want their Debbie Gibson back." Later, my room was full of Marilyn Monroe posters and pictures of my best friends and lovey-dovey framed photos of my boyfriend along with a few dried prom corsages.

College was my favorite decorating period because it was so simple. I was just happy to wear my hippieass broomstick skirts and patchouli (OH GOD) and decorate with found objects and fellow art students' paintings. But it was a sweet time, I loved my little apartment in college. We burned a lot of incense.

When I moved to Los Angeles I had enough stuff to fill the trunk of my OH-SO-COOL Volkswagon Fox, and ya'll that is not much stuff. My decorating style that first year was "I cannot afford Los Angeles, I need a cigarette." It didn't help that my first apartment out here was so tiny you could make dinner while showering and answer the front door all at the same time.

When I got married the accumulation began in earnest. I liked our first place a lot, the little apartment where we lived with just Roy and Soba for a few years. It was nice and the clutter was at a minimum. I began to buy things I thought would please him, make him happy. Or maybe I always did that, took on the fashion and decorating style of whoever influenced me the most at the time. (I have a girlfriend who does this with music. One day she told me in a panic that she did not actually know what kind of music SHE liked. She'd always just listened to the musical choices of whatever boyfriend she had at the time. I hope I was kind to her when she confessed this to me, because I was in a similar panic the night I started at my Burke table for two hours wondering if it was actually my style or if I just bought it because it completed some picture of us as a couple.)

The last piece of mid-century modern furniture I bought was my sofa, and I bought it long after Mr. X moved out. It is the one single piece of furniture I love more than any other and I didn't buy it for its vintage coolness, I just bought it because I fell in love with it. It's a huge, long Vladmir Kagen style bent-leg sofa reupholstered in smooth cappucino brown ultrasuede. I love that sofa. It's warm and comfortable and inviting and that's the style I like. It was a start, anyway.

The decluttering process made me take an even more critical look at the junk I'd amassed. Did I love that vase or did I just buy it because it was on sale/was a name brand/fit the "look" I was trying to project? And who the hell tries to project an image at my age? At any age? Shouldn't home be your most real, most happy and comfortable space? Who has to be impressed with your house? After all, it's supposed to be both a reflection of your truest likes and a service to your most basic needs for shelter and comfort and happiness. Can those things be achieved by shopping to please someone else? Who is this someone else, anyway? And why have THEY been driving the car of MY life?

And that's kind of how I've happened upon what appears to be my own personal home design style, modern-hippie-Moroccan avec cat-hair ... with less clutter than I thought ever imaginable. (And I love my dorky windows with their faux artiness.) Maybe it's strange to be in your mid-thirties and only just now figuring out what your personal design style is. I don't know, I'm not sure I care. I'm just happy I'm figuring it out, whatever it is.

Posted by laurie at 6:55 AM

August 29, 2007

My favorite corner of the house

In this month of turning my rented house into an actual cozy home, I had to address the dining table situation.

My dining "room" is exactly 15 inches wide by four feet long. It isn't a real dining room, of course, or even a dining nook. This space sits at the end of the long living room (now with wood floors! love you, wood floors!) between the doorway to the hall and the kitchen wall. The kitchen in this house is so small there's barely room in it for a garbage can, and definitely no room for a table.

Toward the very end of my marriage I acquired a rockin' Burke tulip-base table and four star-based chairs (the graphic designers are all nodding right now, everyone is is going, "Burke? Star tulip whatsit? Huh ...?") but as much as I love that dining set, it's just too big for the house I'm in.

burke-table-chairs.jpg
Blocking the flow of chi, and cats.

And along with its massive coolness factor this set is also old, built back in the days when Americans did not have such ample behinds for padding convenience. Do you see where this is going? While I love that Burke dining set and I appreciate its mid-century modern vibe, every time I sit in one of the chairs I worry it's getting tiny little stress cracks in the fiberglass and bringing down the resale value.

That's not very homey, homie. My expensive antique was basically a catch-all tabletop for mail and the chairs made excellent cat beds.

Finally, I realized this was just not good for my homey feng shui. I disassembled the table, packed it up and will decide what to do with it someday. Today is not that day. After months (and now years!) of aggressive decluttering, my house is really pared down (for me, let's be realistic here.) But I'm just not ready to decide what to do with the Burke dining set. I'm attached to it, it was the biggest purchase I made back when I was trying to make my home with Mr. X into a little shrine of married happiness and there's something sad and hopeful about that table and apparently I need more growthy before I know what the hell to do with it. Or therapy. Or wine!

For now, though, I wanted a small and cute and very affordable table and chair set just for the "dining room." My requirements: The new dining set had to be small but sturdy, inexpensive but not look cheap, and something I could haul home and assemble on my own.

I found it at Mecca. Um, I mean ... Target:

teensy-dining-area.jpg
Even the painting is helpy. hehehehe
Thanks so much to reader Pam who found info about that painting online here for those who were asking. You'd think that as its owner I would have had more information but uh. Nope. Thanks, Pam!

This three-piece set has a round wooden table with adjustable fold-down sides and solid wood chairs. (In this image I have only one side of the table folded down, the side that is flush against the wall.) I got it on sale for $179. ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-NINE DOLLARS. For all three pieces! Can you believe that? (It's not on sale on the website, but even at $229 it's a great value.) I often stress out about buying new stuff, since I think I should stop contributing to consumerism, I should be fiscally responsible, etc. etc. (See: "Still have not purchased coffee table.") but I did the math, and $179 is like a month and a half of smoking money ... so yay me for quitting smoking. (This is how I justify shoe purchases, too, in case you're wondering.)

And it's important to have a nice place to eat your dinner. If I have a big group of guests over we always eat outside at the long table on the covered patio, it's definitely the outdoor dining room. But for just me, I was tired of coming home and having dinner on a TV tray by the sofa or -- fine, I am admitting this -- eating standing up over the sink. YEAH I SAID IT. Total chick-flick movie freaking cliche ... you know those movies where they show the girl before she gets the makeover, sad and alone and eating dinner on the sofa, cue sad music. Then she gets a good makeup job and ditches the shlumpadinka clothes and she gets the guy and one can only assume dinner alone never happens. The end, cue montage and happy music.

ANYWAY.

The wood in this dining set ($179! For a whole table and two chairs! Still shocked!) is real wood, not pressed particle stuff, and the stain is a deep espresso color. The set is "counter height" which means it sits up higher than a regular dining table but it's slightly lower than pub table height. Most of the other tables I looked at were pub tables, and I'm about four inches too short to feel comfortable in those chairs.

My little three-piece dining set is sturdy, was very easy to assemble, and I got it home in the Jeep with just a little of it sticking out the back window. It doesn't have the coolness factor of the Burke dining set but let's be honest here, I am a divorced woman in my thirties who enjoys knitting, wine-drinking, and taking pictures of my extensive herd of cats. CAN I REALLY BE ANY COOLER? This dining set also fits perfectly in my space, and it feels really solid and -- most importantly -- it fits me and my full-butted American self! It's cozy for dinners for two people, and perfect for a nice dinner alone, too. For under $200. That is crazytalk.

Cue happy music!

frankie-new-chair.jpg

Posted by laurie at 6:05 AM

August 24, 2007

The floors, the floors.... the scary, scary floors.

The one thing I have hated most about this house are the floors. Specifically, the horrible ugly poop-brown sculpted hi-lo shag.

woodfloor-carpet-closeup.jpg


If you think about it long enough, you, too, will be grossed out beyond all redemption. See, sculpted hi-lo shag has not been in style since the 70s. And even with a generous time allowance, this particular type of carpet hasn't been sold in stores since the late 1970s. Which means by my calculations, it is at least 35 years old. IF NOT OLDER. And it has seen how many rental tenants...? And their pets? And children? And possibly not all of them have had the attention to Dysoning that I have...? It is enough to make your skin crawl and drive you to pick up the phone and call the steam cleaners once again.

Not that it helps. I've had the carpets steam-cleaned twice and the owner had them done once. But even with three deep cleans the carpet is an eyesore at best, a health hazard at worst. I really, really hated the carpet.

After a few months of living here I was moving boxes around (oh, that whole time of my life will be known as "divorce - smoking - clutter" always moving a damn stack of boxes somewhere...) and I noticed the carpet was pulling up at one edge. Always a glutton for punishment, I pulled the edge up to see what horrors were lying underneath.

I was SHOCKED! This house appeared to have gorgeous original oak floors under the carpetrocity. Floors that had likely been covered in said brown carpet since the early 1970s, and maybe even long before that.

I tried wheedling the owner into hiring a guy to re-do the floors, but he wouldn't go for the price. "Find me someone cheaper..." he said, over and over again. (There was no one cheaper.) The landlord finally said he didn't care if I paid to pull up the shag but he sure wasn't paying for someone to come and refinish the floors professionally.

[I'd like to pause here and thank you in advance for offering to research all the ways he's slumlording in violation of so-and-so code. Thanks, man! I know you got my back. But this is Los Angeles. Finding a cute house in a safe part of town that accepts multiples of cats and rents for under $2000 a month is like... like finding a gorgeous naked man scrubbing your toilets on a Sunday. Tres impossible.]

In this city you take what you can get, uglyass carpet and all.

woodfloors-plush.jpg


I desperately wanted to have wood floors in the living room but I knew I would have to do A LOT of decluttering before I could have people in to do the floors, even if I found a guy who'd work for next-to-nothing. Just six or eight months ago it would have been a full day's work to move stuff out of the living room, last year it would have been impossible.

Time passed, and life got crazy, and floors weren't the top priority. Clean laundry became a much more urgent need, and also "meeting deadlines" and "arriving to work to bring home bacon, fry in pan" and so on. But once things began to settle down and my insomnia returned full-time in late July, I found myself alone at 2 a.m. fixating on the carpet again. My clutter level had reached an all-time low. I had also gotten to an almost-but-not-quite-all-time low, personally, and needed to make some changes. I'd started thinking maybe I should stop waiting for conditions to be right to actually move in, make a home, have a lovely little space, live my life to the fullest. And I knew someone who was crazy enough to work not just for cheap, but totally free.

Me, of course.

In my defense, I am practically an expert in home repairs. Over the years, I have watched at least five bazillion hours of HGTV programming! Surely that investment of time combined with my extensive knowledge of cuteness levels of Home Depot employees makes me an expert at home improvement do it yourselfery. I mean really now.

And that is how I decided to embark upon what might be The Worst Project Ever. (Or, you know, maybe it would be OK.) I made an $8.65 investment in a tackstrip-removing tool, pulled out my gloves, pliers, vacuum, sense of humor, sense of adventure, aspirin, face mask and studiously set upon bringing sexy floors back.

wood-floor-supplies.jpg


My strategy was fairly boneheaded and simple: Pull up the tackstrips slowly over a period of a week by pulling back the edges of the disgusting carpet and removing a tackstrip or two. I figured this would make the hideous tackstrip removal less annoying, spreading it out and multitasking it while the TV was on at night after work. Then I planned to spend a weekend day removing the carpet and underpad, and cleaning the floor with a round of hands-and-knees scrubbing with warm water and an enzymatic powder (to remove ick and proteins, please don't think to long on this one) and follow it up with several good moppings of linseed floor wash.

The most important step involved two glasses of wine and a decision to hold out HOPE. Hope that whatever was underneath the carpet wasn't horrifying. (There was a point midway through the process when I hadn't yet pulled up the carpet and I confided to a friend that my greatest fear in this Do-It-Yourselfathon was that I would uncover the chalk outline of a crime scene in the middle of the floor. Hey, guess who's seen too much CSI! Three guesses!)

Here is the room before carpet removal, this photo shows the big Ikea rug in the middle of the floor. Notice that nearly six months after I sold my old coffee table in the yard sale I still have not bought a new coffee table. Le sigh:

woodfloors-beforepic1.jpg

And a picture without the rug concealing the carpet:

woodfloor-before2.jpg

The biggest obstacle standing between me and wood floors was no longer clutter removal or time, it was the loathsome, dreaded tackstrips. Furthermore, I have discovered along the way that I HATE TACKSTRIPS. Whoever laid the carpet in this house some century and a half ago was not messing around with the tackstrips. I started at one corner of the living room and each night after work I would carefully remove a tackstrip or two, then fold the carpet back down over the area and move on to a new quadrant of horror.

woodfloor-tackstrips.jpg

The key to this job is to work slowly and carefully, wedging the tool beneath the strip and slowly prying it up nail by nail. I was surprised how fulfilling it was to remove each strip, I felt like I was channeling Bob Vila, showing off my Southern ingenuity, and also, you can drink wine simultaneously if you work slow enough!

Despite the repeated steam-cleaning and the massive amount of vacuuming I do here at Chez Furball, there was a layer of dirt and detritus underneath the entire carpet pad. It was ancient dirt. Perhaps even prehistoric:

woodfloor-dirrrrty.jpg

I got all the tackstrips removed last Friday night and spent the weekend pulling up and removing the carpet and cleaning the exposed floors. (For this job, I put the cats in the other part of the house and closed the hall door which leads to the living room. I did not need that amount of feline assistance.)

I will not lie to you, removing the carpet and cleaning the floor and baseboards was sweaty, exhausting work. It was also AWESOME. Every time I got tired and wanted to rest alone in a big glass of wine far away from the hellhole of home, I would find a new horror and get inspired all over again to get rid of the shag. And I believe this speaks for itself:

woodfloor-pukey.jpg

Brilliant me undertook this adventure fully on my own. I also didn't tell many people about my big project because I am sensitive to the amount of advice folks love to give, advice which usually involves doing things in some way other than the way my stubborn little brain has decided to do the job. I can be hardheaded like nobody's business. Plus, if I decided halfway through the process to change my mind I wasn't accountable to anyone but me (hey, it could have happened.)

And aside from my fears of unearthing a crime scene (which would've made a heckuva story, I tell you what) this harebrained project of mine was kind of empowering. I think women have a better attention to detail than men do, and so I was extra-careful with the tackstrips and left the most tiny, barely visible holes. I had to be smart about moving the furniture so I didn't end up in traction, and I decided to divide the room into three segments of work. To remove the carpet, I cut it in manageable strips and got it all out of the house by myself. There's something really rewarding about sweaty manual labor, and the fact that I did it entirely by myself gave me the "I am sweaty, hear me roar!" feeling.

Not bad for a Sunday afternoon:

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This part of the job took me about nine full hours of labor: pulling up and removing the carpet, moving the furniture around, scrubbing each section of floor with enzymes, letting it dry and mopping it with the linseed floor wash. In addition, I spent roughly five hours removing the tackstrips and staples on the floor. The total amount I spent on supplies was a very affordable $14.86.

By the time I finished on Sunday night it was almost 11 p.m. and I was dirty, sweaty, aching and exhausted. Therefore, I did not take a picture of the floor without the rug because I was smelly, see above, and the cats were refusing to walk on the floor like normal until I put the rug back down. Weirdos. However, I assure you there was no crime scene underneath the carpet, just lovely oak floors.

Here is my living room on Monday morning after I took two Motrin and hobbled out of bed like a hunchback:

woodfloors-after.jpg

Well worth it!

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Edited to add a few notes: To clean the dirt and proteins and general scum, I used Ecover enzymatic laundry powder dissolved in lukewarm water. Very cold or hot water can warp the floors, so it's important to use lukewarm water. I used a scrub brush and a bucket of the soapy water and washed the floor in segments. As soon as I scrubbed an area, I cleaned the soap off with old towels that had been dampened in water and well wrung-out.

For the general mopping, I used Ecover Floor Soap, which has linseed oil in it to feed and shine up the floors. You could also use Murphy's Oil Soap. Two capfuls of floor wash in a bucket of lukewarm water cleaned the floor with a basic sponge mop. Rinse, wash, repeat. And repeat again!

Posted by laurie at 6:00 AM

August 17, 2007

It's not really about changing the air filters.

Last night I was in the Jeep, windows down, it was hot but late enough to be out running errands without sweating all the way through my clothes, and anyway I was driving to the Home Depot for replacement furnace filters. Not exactly glamorous.

The house I'm in is so old that even the size dimensions of the furnace filters went out of style in 1960, and now the only place I can find them is at Home Depot. I also need to look for an inexpensive grout-remover tool thingamajig. In other places they may call these tools by such names as "butter knife" or "screwdriver" but I like to have a specific tool for a job like that. Well, only if I can get it for five bucks or less. Butter knives are cheap.

So I was thinking about air filters and grout and that was the exact moment I remembered, out loud to myself, that it's not just about home improvement. It really has nothing at all to do with pre-shopping for an upcoming weekend of cleaning and furniture arranging and maybe finally hanging a picture on the wall. It's about deciding every single day that I am worth a clean air filter, and that I am not waiting until some unspecified day in the far-away (but so easily fantasized about) future when things are perfect and I get on with the business of having a great life and living in a house with pictures on the wall.

Drew once told me that if you show up for a thing, your effort sends a powerful message. I guess it's like a memo in triplicate to the Universe/Cannoli. "I am showing up for happiness in my life."

He reminded me that by just placing yourself on the right path and walking in its direction, even little steps, it sends out positive ripples into your life like a pebble in a pond.

I like that theory. I know it's not just air filters and grout and baking soda cleaning concoctions. It's the effort put toward a well-appointed, well-loved space.

That's got to be on the right path.

Have a great weekend. You know where I'll be ... in my house, trying to make the life I was waiting for. FILM FOOTAGE AT ELEVEN!


cat baths are rough

Posted by laurie at 6:37 AM

August 6, 2007

Excellent organizational help is so easy to find...

The weekend was awesome. I saw a movie with Faith (Jason Bourne, call me! Love you!), walked around Urban Home in Sherman Oaks for inspiration and actually got some house-to-home work done without it feeling like dreadful work.

More often than not I start a home improvement (or cleaning) project and get distracted by organizing a row of books or painting my toenails or trying on clothes which reminds me... do I still fit in that one coat I bought at that place that time? Then I try on the coat which then reminds me to turn up the A/C which reminds me to buy air filters which reminds me I wanted to go to Target and get a duster.

DO YOU SEE WHAT I MEAN?

And back when I was married I would often hate coming home, knowing it was my JOB, my DUTY to clean the kitchen and bathrooms and do the laundry and make dinner and frankly I dreaded it at times. Housekeeping was just another chore, another item on my resented to-do list.

So to help me out on my monthlong adventure in Home Lovin', I decided to give myself a break right from the gitgo. I'll just admit right now to God And Everyone that I'm never going to be the most perfect housekeeper and there will always be someone out there with a prettier, lovelier, cleaner home. After all, I do have three cats who decorate my house daily with a fine patina of cat hair. So I just want to do the best I can with what I've got and really try to enjoy it, and if I desperately need to paint my toenails bright pink and fantasize about Jason Bourne while the sink soaks, I plan on doing just that!


sobastorage.jpg

Posted by laurie at 11:17 AM

August 3, 2007

How Clean Is YOUR House?


Drew has gotten me completely hooked on this television show called "How Clean Is Your House?" It comes on the BBC America channel and I have it set on the Tivo so I get three whole episodes a day and I am addicted now. ADDICTED.

If you have never seen the show, I will give you a brief description: There are two lovely proper English ladies who go to messy houses in the UK. These are REALLY messy homes, usually stocked with clutter and unkempt for years on end. The folks who live in these house often embody the exact pictures of my Fear Life, the life with all the clutter and detritus. (Also in the show the hostesses use the word "detritus" and I think I am kind of in love with the way the British speak. They could say "this is a poop sandwich" and it would still sound very posh.)

The hostesses, Kim and Aggie, gross out over the dirt and grime, run lab tests to see what sort of deathly bacteria are on the countertops and sinks and then with the aid of a whole team of cleaners they get the place in super-clean and tidy shape. The transformations are miraculous. It's not a makeover show with all new furniture and decor -- it's just the cleanest, most uncluttered picture of the house using its current conditions. Then in a follow-up piece (which you see at the end of each episode) Kim and Aggie return to the home in two weeks' time to see if the offending parties have kept the household clean.

If you are squeamish, DO NOT watch this show while attempting to eat dinner. Nosiree, Bob. These are dirty, grimy houses.

Drew had been telling me about this show for weeks on end when I finally decided to watch an episode just so he'd stop mentioning it. Sometime in mid-July I set the Tivo (FINE DREW I WILL WATCH YOUR SHOW OK) and it recorded three half-hour episodes. The next night I went home and watched it. I'm a good best friend.

Midway through the second episode, I had to pause the Tivo and go scour and clean my sink. I am not lying to you. I HAD TO SCOUR MY SINK IMMEDIATELY. (And I do not think I need to tell you I am not under normal circumstances a person who comes home after ten hours at work and just gets her relaxation on with a scrub brush. Unless by "scrub brush" you mean "wine glass.")

Anyway, now I am completely addicted to this show and it has truly been a lifesaver. In the same way that looking at books of beautiful, decorated houses inspires me to have a beautiful house, watching this show inspires me to clean. It also put the fear of God in you, appealing to my germaphobia and needing to REALLY get that sink clean. And in a quirky twist of fate, I have always found that maniacal cleaning is an excellent distraction technique. When I started watching this show two weeks ago, I was shocked and kind of enthralled and also somewhat spiritually comatose. Cleaning felt like action, and action felt better than being morose.

I think that cleaning can be a form of active meditation. Now, don't get me wrong ... there is nothing at all stress-relieving about cleaning up a messy, cluttered house for unexpected guests when you have been on deadline for a bazillion weeks while working long hours at the Real Job and commuting and being crazy and so on. At those times you want to hide under the covers and make sweet love to a gin and tonic.

But when you have a Sunday morning to yourself, and it's not hot yet outside and the windows are open and the breeze is nice and you have on some music or maybe a book-on-CD or maybe just silence, and it's just you and a single cleaning project ... well, that's when the act of cleaning becomes more than a to-do list item. It's accomplishment and activity and self-care all in one. This is the same reason I love knitting, because it can be a form of active meditation, too, and I have always loved sewing for the same peaceful freedom from my own thoughts and worries. Intense concentration on one action, one very productive action, is something I just lose myself in.

I think sometimes I forget to put "cleaning" on the list of activities that zen me out because I often associate it with duty and work. But cleaning, when it's just for the sheer joy of a pretty sink or a sparkling fridge or a single shiny pane of window glass, can be happiness and meditation all in one. (This works particularly well for those of who who find sitting still and meditating a near impossible task.)

The best part about "How Clean Is Your House" is that they give you all sorts of hints on how to use natural things around the house as cleaners. Hostesses Kim and Aggie use a LOT of lemon juice and vinegar and plain old table salt and baking soda. (They are so adorably British and kept saying "bicarbonate of soda" and crackerass me was wondering what the heck bicarbonate of soda was... was it coca cola? Was it something only British folks had? Then I had a DUH moment. It is baking soda.)

Anyway, I had no idea you could clean the copper bottom of a pot with a lemon and some salt! Or remove rust with a potato and some salt. I also didn't know about running vinegar through the coffee pot -- how did I not know about that? -- to clean it and disinfect it naturally.

Mainly I love this show because it reminds me on a daily basis how I want to live and how I definitely do not want to live. One of the side effects of bringing the clutter level way down is that you can simultaneously bring the tidy level way up. It's hard to keep a clean house when half of the surfaces are under an avalanche of stuff. Decluttering and cleaning go neatly (!) hand in hand.

And living in a clean space isn't just beneficial for your physical health. For me it's a huge mental shift. Living in a clean house is a little gift every day to me and the furballs. My environment always seems to reflect my mental state (when I first went through my divorce, Shannon came over one night and saw the complete disarray and said, "Yes. This is the house of a terrible divorce." No judgment, just the truth. We laughed. Then I probably cried, and we drank wine. Ya'll understand.)

But a few weeks ago I began to wonder, what if I want to change the inside of me by changing my environment? Is that possible? Instead of being a reflection, can it be a catalyst? Then Drew got me hooked on this show. And now it's August and cleaning has already commenced! My goal is to deep clean every room of this house during the month. I work long hours during the week so my deep-cleans can reasonably only happen on the weekends. There are four weekends in August and I have five rooms: kitchen, living room, bathroom, two bedrooms. So I started the kitchen already... kind of a little jump start.

And of course, there may be a last-minute flurry of decluttering. Again. I sigh thinking about it. But I know it's easier to clean a simple, uncluttered house and it's way easier to keep it clean. The goal now is to have just what I need and what I can reasonably manage. August may be the month of moving in, but life is too short to spend ALL of my hours and days and months cleaning and managing clutter!

Somewhere in the middle of 2006 I got the house clean and passably decluttered and then I kind of got stuck. I kept up the maintenance, vacuuming, always keeping the litter box tidy, washing up on the weekends, but I didn't deep clean anything. This house had needed a really thorough deep clean for a few months before Drew got me hooked on "How Clean is Your House?" but it was during that very first episode that it clicked with me. Cleaning isn't just an obligation. It's also a way to honor your life, a way to show yourself you're worth that much effort.

I'm working on that one.

Posted by laurie at 9:00 AM

August 1, 2007

Progress and problem areas ....

There aren't a lot of pictures of the house in its most perilously cluttered state. I was ashamed of it, and overwhelmed by it, and photographing the seemingly insurmountable and possibly dangerous problem didn't seem like a good idea.

The few pictures I have show only the edges of the clutter, but it's enough to see where I was back then and how far I have come which is kind of a good way to start a month of home improvement. I've been giving myself a hard time for stagnating, spending so many months and weeks fantasizing about some far-away perfect future instead of making my actual real-life a cozy, happy place. But maybe I just needed a little rest. Maybe.

The huge clutter problem happened mainly in the "office." Also known as "Oh God do not go in there, it's scary." The bedroom and bathroom have nevr had a clutter problem because they're so tiny, and I was careful to keep only what I needed in those rooms. The living room has been clean a lot of the time, but still gets its share of accumulated stuff... however, since I spend most of my time in that room, watching TV or reading on the sofa or just looking out the pretty window onto the backyard, I have tried to keep it tidy. The kitchen table often becomes a holding place for stuff but I think that's kind of normal. Right?

But that office, it was just a mess. It still gives me hives thinking about how much I have to do in there because it's really still very cluttered. But when I first moved in, the boxes were actually stacked high enough that the cats had no problem at all getting into the cubbies near the ceiling. THAT IS CRAZY. But I definitely wasn't exaggerating about the boxes:

In this picture you can see the adorable Sobakowa waiting for HER kitty pi to dry on the impromptu blocking form (that story is here.) But look in the background, see the view into the Bad Place? see the boxes? That was Very Very Bad.

Later I started pulling things out of boxes and into piles, sorting what would stay and what would become my Very First Yard Sale.

Yeah. It was a process.

There is still a large pile of ... stuff.

This month I am going to get through that pile one way or another and deal with the assorted stuff that remains. I want this room to be pretty and functional and nice.

The old desk and wobbly chair went the way of the yard sale, and now I have these two old computers. I've been putting off donating or selling them because I need to wipe the hard drives. When you donate computers, they say it's not enough to just delete your personal information, you must also really clean the hard drive, erasing the data for your security. One of my tasks this month is to figure out what to use to scour the data and leave the operating system intact. Then I have to decide whether or not to donate them or try to sell them. Either way, it needs to get done and it's not going to magically happen by gnomes in the middle of the night. Those damn electronics have gathered dust in this room for almost three years!

This space used to have all kinds of junk seated on a big Ikea bookcase. Now it holds my office supplies and ... THE WALL O' YARN.

I know I need to make another decluttering pass through the office supplies and get rid of things I am no longer using. Yarn doesn't get decluttered!

So that's the main problem area of the house from a clutter standpoint. I'm really tired of waiting until tomorrow, next week, next weekend, that day I have off work (not likely), next month... before I get this room finally cleaned up and decorated. And truthfully, if I could really be ruthless with the remaining junk I bet I could even use this room as a painting studio. The very thought gives me little goosebumps. I'm not a great painter but i sure do love painting, and I haven't picked up a paintbrush or touched a canvas since I moved to this house. The light in this room is lovely, I think it would make an amazing studio

Bob agrees!

Posted by laurie at 2:33 PM

Improvement begins at home, with the cannoli of the universe

[I'm sorry this is so long. Apparently I have had some wordiness stored up inside.]

How August came to be the Month Of Making A House A Home

On Friday, July 13th, I woke up and decided I needed to move. IMMEDIATELY. Apparently the way I try to worm out of a conflagration of bad events is to pack up and get the hell out of Dodge. As it turns out, the universe at large did not think this was such a good strategy and wanted me to remain in Dodge for the time being.

(My mom sometimes wonders if I have turned fully crazy because I talk about The Universe a lot. But I like to think of "The Universe" as this dude who looks a lot like Luca Brasi from The Godfather. Sometimes he's got my back. Sometimes he swims with the fishes. We both like cannoli. Sometimes The Universe even looks like ... just the cannoli. It's a fluid concept.)

Anyway, I am a person who has never had trouble finding a place to live. Ever. I just get the show on the road and somehow it always works out. The Universe, he's got my back. YouknowhudImean?

But let me assure you that after five full days of dogged determination, a hundred phone calls and a wasted $60 for an online listing service, I finally put my head down on the desk, beaten by The Universe and July, 2007. I realized Luca Brasi had other plans for me, plans to stay put and figure it out ... whatever It was.

Where am I, and how did I get here? And is there any wine?

I moved into the teeny house in Encino-Adjacent at the lowest of low points, and I had more stuff than any one human should carry around. I was heartbroken, disheveled and also just plain broke. I hated how small the place was, filled floor-to-ceiling with the million boxes of my misspent marriage. I didn't care one way or the other about this house, I was just glad moving was over and it had a covered patio outside to sit and smoke. I could never smoke indoors, it was a long-held peculiarity of mine ... besides, Roy had terrible asthma.

The boxes were stacked in huge piles in the bigger bedroom and they filled the garage, the living room, every space was overflowing with stuff. I couldn't even get the stove serviced by the Gas Company for a week because the stove was piled high with boxes. It took a long time to dig out from underneath it all, but I did eventually get the clutter down to a livable amount. By the end of 2005 you could at least walk around the place. Then I pared down to a more acceptable level, and I pared down again and again until my house began to feel spacious, all 800 square feet of it.

This time of paring down has not always been easy or painless. Frankly, at first I did not want to do it. I thought that holding on to the things I'd collected over the years would bring me some kind of security or comfort or a sense of safety. After I moved, I was thisclose to becoming another woman altogether, one who'd once had a life and then something changed and she just stopped living. I could see the path to this potential life so clearly: The clutter would pile up, a new layer on top of the old layer from an old life, a life left unsorted. Year after year more rubble would be added to the pile like clutter strata until before long this woman, the one in the potential future, is sleeping on a corner of the bed and nobody could come visit and she is alone and ashamed. She would wonder sometimes how to fix it, and she would desperately want to fix it, but by then things had gone on for so long she was immobilized by stuff and fear.

I didn't want that to happen.

For some people, of course, this path is never even a possibility. But it was real and kind of alarmingly near for me. I knew that inside me there was a line drawn in the invisible sand and I could have stayed behind the line forever, and my life would have become an archaeological dig of junk and despair. Or I could cross over to something new and scary ... and free.

I'm not sure what was the one single deciding factor for me crossing to the other side of the line. I think it was Roy and the cats, to be honest. (Does that sound weird? Perhaps when we're at our most alone we cling to what we can, we cling to the one living, breathing thing that needs us.) Maybe that's why his passing has been even harder. He got very sick almost right after I moved into this house, and even though it was a coincidence and not the fault of the move or the house, I made the decision to try very diligently to get the house tidy and sorted out. I wanted the cats to be able to move around without fear they'd be trapped under boxes and piles. Whatever time Roy had left should be really nice, in a comfortable house with clean floors.

And I didn't want to be that woman, the one sleeping in a tiny corner of her own life.

Getting rid of the junk, and the not-junk, too

I think I've spent almost three years here in this little house unpacking. My relationship with stuff is a complex one, and revising that relationship has taken a lot of work. Even now, after years of letting go, sometimes it's so painful it almost physically hurts. When Roy died, I had to restrain myself from running out to the curb to retrieve his little tiny self-heating blanket mat out of the bin before the truck came. I sprawled on the bed and cried like an idiot as I listened to the truck empty the big cans, taking away forever that little blanket.

But that old mangled up piece of fabric which had seen a lot of washloads and a lot of fur was not my beloved cat. It was just an old blanket. Sure, he loved it. But up until he left me I never really thought of the blanket one way or the other, just washed it once a week and put it back inside his little tent and I was happy he was happy. I did not love and miss the blanket, I loved and missed Roy and I WANTED HIM BACK GIMME THAT BLANKET RIGHT NOW.

But I had to let it go. Things carry energy and memories and he only used the mat because he was frail and sick and cold a lot of the time. It reminded me every time I looked at it how hard I tried to keep him alive and still he left and I was sad. And holding onto a grubby scrap of cloth just will not bring him back.

Other times letting go has been easy. I don't care at all about saying goodbye to pants that are too big for me now or towels who have seen better days. I loved passing on to the Goodwill a pretty duvet cover and matching pillow shams that I bought when I first moved into this house. They were still pretty, but they represented my attempt to rid myself of married linens, re-take the bedroom as it were, and frankly ya'll that is a war I have long since won. Yay me! And yay to the person who finds this treat in the Goodwill store.

Sometimes you have to let go so new things can come in.

The move here to Encino-Adj. required a giant moving truck of the 18-wheeler variety and a team of three men and still it took NINE FULL HOURS to load and unload. NINE hours, not including breaks and driving time. And that was on the day after four of my girlfriends and all their respective vehicles had spent a whole Saturday loading and hauling stuff to the house before the movers even arrived. I look back and I am embarrassed at how much stuff I had, how much of my life I wrapped up in clutter and accumulation.

But when you know better you do better, or so says Maya Angelou and I do not argue with her. Or Luca Brasi. So I forgive myself. I held on because I didn't have a lot of material things growing up and it felt like comfort and security to accumulate stuff as I got older. I held on even tighter when my marriage started to fade. HOLD ON FOR ONE MORE DAY. I shopped hoping to finally buy something that would make everyone happy. Now I know they do not sell my brand of happy at a store. (But I do have some great shoes.)

I appreciate everything I have. And sometimes I give things more importance than they deserve. But finally, finally, nostalgic and sentimental me has realized that in the end it's just a blanket, it's not a soul. And when stuff begins to crowd into your life, there's not a lot of room left for people and adventures. I wasn't very portable just a few years ago. I couldn't have people over very often, either, because it meant spending ten hours of prep time sorting, stacking, managing the clutter, cleaning and hiding all the stuff.

I want my life to be about living, not about moving piles of boxes from this room to that room. It's hard to feel grateful for what you have when you're struggling to hide it or move it to the side so there's a path to the computer desk.

Just go to Ikea, that will solve the problem!

I used to think the solution was to buy new things to hold my stuff. I had all kinds of cheap cubbies and cubes and plastic bins, filled and overflowing, if I bought something new I often bought something to house it in. I also used to be in debt thanks to my try-to-buy-happiness-on-sale approach. Now, truth be told, I still believe that you can buy things and they give you a happy feeling or make you pleased. For example, I adore my L'Occitane shower oil. I love pretty yarn. AND SHOES. How I do love shoes.

But nothing I buy gives me the ability to be in my own company and enjoy it. That was something that came from a place they don't have sales.

One of the habits that has been hardest to break is the urge to buy a really great Ikea shelving system as a solution to all my problems, or maybe some plastic bins in matching sizes, or a set of pretty boxes that I don't know what they'll hold, but Lord knows I'll find something...

No. The solution to having too much stuff isn't to go out and buy more stuff. Funny how that works.

From House to Home in 31 days...?

I wanted to move out of this house because I was sad, and July sucked, and I'm anxious about the future.

Nothing in my life is very stable right now, and for me (a stabilty-lovin' mudfoot) this is a really scary place to be. I am trying to Go With It, and often that involves wine and fervent prayers in the wee hours. Sometimes I plead with The Universe/Luca/Cannoli to just show me a little glimpse of the future. Please? And let it be a good one?

One night I looked around my living room and realized I have been living here, in this house, for almost three years and I have yet to actually move in. I was living in the past for the first year and a half, and I've been living for the future the rest of the time. And at the risk of sounding even weirder and self-helpier than usual, I realized in that moment of pure clarity that I have been living my life on credit, on emotional lay-away, waiting for my life to start, waiting for The Future. And now I am 36 years old and here's a newsflash: LIFE HAS ALREADY STARTED. IT IS ALREADY IN PROGRESS.

I have been waiting until....

Waiting until I pay off debt. Then waiting until I save money. Waiting until I have free time. Waiting until the book is finished. Waiting until it comes out. Waiting for the phone call. Waiting for the schedule. Waiting for more information. Waiting until I have a plan. Waiting until I weigh X amount. Waiting until I get my hair cut. Waiting until I find that right outfit. Waiting until I know. Waiting until I meet someone. Waiting until I move to really decorate. Why bother doing it now? Sometime in the future I'll live someplace else. That's when I'll get it all together. That's when I'll have a lovely little home. Why bother now? Why, when the future is coming?

I have been waiting until conditions were perfectly right to live fully. Apparently I think somewhere off in the future there is a really good life and if I wait long enough I will get to it.

IS THAT THE CRAZIEST THING YOU HAVE EVER HEARD OR WHAT.

Then Roy died. And lots of things happened all at once. And finally I lifted my head and looked at my current surroundings. My life is right here, in this house, right now. Today. I sleep in this house every night and wake here every morning and clearly I am not moving this weekend or in the certain near future. And even if I do move unexpectedly in two weeks, I can't wake up anymore in a half-way place, always waiting, living between What Was and What Will Be. This house is what I have to work with at this time. It's not about a big shopping spree or all new furniture, it's about having what I need and love and enjoy and making it comfortable and pretty and tidy. Living as nice as current conditions can be.

Moving has not ever brought me much happiness, anyway. I tend to carry my stuff with me everywhere I go.

It's a process.

Since that lonely first Christmas when all it did was rain and all I did was smoke alone on the patio avoiding the boxes and the future, I have learned some good things just from living in this house. Like how enjoyable it can be to have a small space. And how small things can go a long way. And I finally learned how to sit with anxiety and fear, and how to be truly alone.

Most importantly, I learned how to be grateful in this house. There were times I would come home and thank God for letting me have such a comforting place to spend the night.

But maybe gratitude is like a muscle, like a bicep or something, and I have to exercise it regularly or it gets weak. Or I get weak and forget to be appreciative. Maybe somewhere along the line I stopped being grateful for what I have right this second, and started hoping for a better (happier, kinder, softer, skinnier, less lonely, more vibrant) future. Or maybe somewhere deep down inside I don't think I'm worth the effort. Don't believe that me, alone, is a project warranting any more than simply removing the clutter and waiting for a better time to make improvements. Until conditions are right.

Well, this is the August when I actually move into my house. It's going to be a really great month whether it wants to be or not. I know that current conditions will never be perfect, but it will simply have to be good enough. I don't want to fall asleep in my house each night envisioning a future home with a future me where I am skinny and have a great companion and have money in the bank and never experience loss or sadness or blemishes ... while my current conditions deteriorate rapidly. It's another way of crossing that invisible line in the sand, keeping my life on the path I want instead of stuck on the fear path.

Work with what I've got. Exercise the grateful muscles. Stop waiting. Conditions are right now, and that is what I have to work with.

Posted by laurie at 10:08 AM

July 25, 2007

Color-by-Number and Interviews

More than one eagle-eyed reader noticed the remarkable literature filing system at Chez Insomnia. No, not the Dewey Decimal System or the commonly approved "A-to-Z" method (I file people in my address book by first name anyway). The books at my house are arranged by color and size.

One night in a fit of wine and enthusiasm I took everything off the shelves, piling them in like-minded pools of color, all the red/pink/oranges in one spot, all the blue spines together, light to dark or whatever visually appealed to me. I love it. Something about the symmetry makes the room seem less cluttered. Ideally I'd have everything behind frosted glass panels so there's no visual clutter at all, and also ideally I would be the filling in a George Clooney-Mark Wahlberg sandwich and we would live happily in Gloucester in our clapboard Victorian and so on but I digress.

Someone asked me one day how I find a book if it's not alphabetical (I wish I could remember who asked me that question, I'd have to show her my address book and really mess with her mind). But I don't have any problems finding my books. After years of decluttering I only hold onto my best friends and all my books are memorable to me, aren't yours? I know their shape and size and color and font by heart.

I searched through my files of photos for a picture of the bookcase before it was re-arranged by color. This was the best I could find. It's really a picture of the Sobakowa caught off guard by Flashmonster (with a little Bob-paw in the top).

Before:
bookshelf-before.jpg

And now:
bookshelf-colorized.jpg

I love it. That's all that matters.

And speaking of books and reading and all that, there's an interview with me in ForeWord Magazine's "ForeWord this Week" column. Look under ForePlay. No, I am not kidding. ForePlay!

I love ForeWord Magazine, they're fabuloso, so this is a treat for me. Of course, that interview happened a while back so I'm done reading "Runaway" now and just checked out "Eat Pray Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert from the library (I know, I'm late to the party.) But since it's a library book I can't read it in the kiddie pool ... don't want it to get smudged. Everyone else has Harry Potter fever and I am thrilled that people are reading, that's a good sign! Maybe one day I will get a vacation, a real vacation, and I'll load the whole series up in my suitcase and ship off to Mexico for a week and read about wizards and such on the beach. Or in the kiddie pool in the Valley. Then later I will file them away with my top-secret color coded shelving system!

Posted by laurie at 1:06 PM

July 11, 2007

Movin' on up, movin' on out...

I moved into the teensy house in Encino-Adjacent a few days before Christmas in 2004. It was during the deepest rainy season the city had experienced in a century and everything was grey, inside and out. Back in September Mr. X had said maybe this would be a temporary thing, but it had been three months since he'd walked out the door and he'd all but disappeared as the holidays encroached. When I moved into this little house I was heartbroken, disheveled and also just plain broke. I hated how small it was, filled floor-to-ceiling with the million boxes of my misspent marriage. I didn't care one way or the other about this house, I was just glad moving was over and it had a dry place outside to sit and smoke.

The boxes were stacked in huge piles in the bigger bedroom and they filled the garage, the living room, every space was overflowing with stuff. It took a long time to dig out from underneath it, but I did eventually get the clutter down to a livable amount. It still wasn't great, but by the end of 2005 you could at least walk around the place. Then I pared down to a more acceptable level, and I pared down again and again until my house began to feel spacious, all 800 square feet of it.

One day a few months ago Jennifer came over and said, "Wow. Just WOW. This looks like a whole different place!" and it was such a compliment. Things were tidy and put away. In 800 square feet I finally learned how to live large.

This little house in Encino-adjacent was my refuge for a long time, my little place to ponder and insulate and figure out my stuff. I loved smoking alone on the back patio -- I have never smoked indoors ever in my entire life -- and later after I stopped smoking I spent more time inside cleaning aggressively, trying to make it a home and not just a dumping ground. This is the place I weathered my divorce, and it's also where I had my first post-divorce kiss, had my first real houseguests in a decade, grew my first zucchini, wrote my first novel, figured out the person I have been trying to be my whole life. The cats and I were pretty comfortable here. I learned how to be alone and be fine with it, mostly.

But things change and surprised as I am to say it, now it's time to go. This place is full of ghosts and memories and I don't smoke anymore and I have only 75% of my fur-covered divorce settlement left and we need new memories and a fresh start and I found one! And we are moving there today.

I have never enjoyed moving (you spend an entire childhood moving from place to place and you get tired of moving real quicklike.) It's always been the most stressful thing EVER, I have had actual nightmares on a recurring basis about moving, packing, and never being ready enough. But this time I chose. I picked the time and place, this time I want to move, I am ready to move, and I'm excited. I need this change. I need to be in a fresh place with fresh memories to make.

Of course, moving has only been possible because I spent three years here in this little house unpacking.

My relationship with stuff is a complex one, and revising that relationship has taken a lot of work. Sometimes letting go has been so painful it almost physically hurt. When Roy died, I had to restrain myself from running out to the curb to retrieve his little tiny self-heating blanket mat out of the bin before the truck came. I sprawled on the bed and cried like an idiot as I listened to the truck empty the big cans, taking away forever that little blanket.

But that old mangled up piece of fabric which had seen a lot of washloads and a lot of fur was not my beloved cat. It was just an old blanket. Sure, he loved it. But up until he left me I never really thought of the blanket one way or the other, just washed it once a week and put it back inside his little tent and I was happy he was happy. I did not love and miss the blanket, I loved and missed Roy and I WANTED HIM BACK GIMME THAT BLANKET RIGHT NOW.

But I had to let it go. Things carry energy and memories and he only used the mat because he was frail and sick and cold a lot of the time. It reminded me every time I looked at it how hard I tried to keep him alive and still he left and I was sad. And holding onto a grubby scrap of cloth just will not bring him back.

Other times letting go has been easy. I don't care at all about saying goodbye to pants that are too big for me now or towels who have seen better days. I loved passing on to the Goodwill a pretty duvet cover and matching pillow shams that I bought when I first moved into this house. They were still pretty, but they represented my attempt to rid myself of married linens, re-take the bedroom as it were, and frankly ya'll that is a war I have long since won. Yay me! And yay to the person who finds this treat in the Goodwill store.

Last time when I moved it required a full-size grande moving truck, a team of three men and still it took NINE full hours to load and unload. NINE hours, not including breaks and driving time. And that was on the day after four of my girlfriends and all their respective vehicles had spent a whole Saturday loading and hauling stuff to the house before the movers even arrived. I look back and I am embarrassed at how much stuff I had, how much of my life I wrapped up in clutter and accumulation.

But when you know better you do better. I forgive myself. I held on because I didn't have a lot of material things growing up and it felt like comfort and security to accumulate stuff as I got older. I held on even tighter when my marriage started to fade. I shopped hoping to finally buy something that would make everyone happy. Now I know they do not sell my brand of happy at a store. I appreciate everything I have. But finally, finally, nostalgic and sentimental me has realized that in the end it's just a blanket, it's not a soul. And when stuff begins to crowd into your life, there's not a lot of room left for people and adventures. I wasn't very portable just a few years ago. I couldn't have people over very often, either, because it meant spending ten hours of prep time sorting, stacking, managing the clutter.

I used to think the solution was to buy new things to hold my clutter, so I had all kinds of cheap cubbies and cubes and plastic bins, filled and overflowing. I also used to be in debt thanks to my try-to-buy-happiness-on-sale approach. I still think it's true that you can buy things and they give you a happy feeling or make you pleased. I adore my handbag, and I use it every day. I love pretty yarn. But nothing I buy provides me with the ability to be in my own company and enjoy it. That was something that came from somewhere they don't have sales.

So, moving has been a piece of cake this time around. I boxed and labeled and disassembled everything myself in just two days and moved a lot of my assorted doodads in the Jeep. I had time to get the new place thoroughly cleaned beforehand. I know what's in the boxes and how easy it will be to unpack. I lightened my life this week, selling everything garden-related (my new place has a patio and it's a relief, I am relieved to be free of the responsibility of that giant yard). Old furniture and old computers and old stuff that had cluttered this house are gone on to new homes. The kitties will have stairs now to run and jump on, and I have sunlight and finally really pretty floors. (I loved this little old house, but not so much the hi-lo sculptured poop brown shag, circa 1978.)

The biggest surprise of all is that I am excited to leave and move on. It is just not been in my nature to enjoy change. And here I am making change happen! Crazy, I tell you what.

I guess it's because alongside the contented and good memories in this house are the sad ones, too. I am so ready for new, happy memories. I am tired of ghosts.

I'm ready for something new. And to get to wherever and whoever and whatever is new, I can't just sit here holding on tight to the past.

Posted by laurie at 1:40 PM

May 22, 2007

Mystery solved!

I loathe calling in sick, but most particularly I loathe calling in sick when I am actually sick. It's no fun at all to waste an entire day. I didn't even do laundry yesterday or complete a single item of my 48-page To Do List (single-spaced, alas).

The only thing I accomplished at all was discovering how Bob copes with such terrifying things as "sunlight" and "air" and "sound." Bob is the most scaredy of cats until night falls, then he emerges from some secret daytime lair fully rested and ready to attack bed mice ("feet") under the covers, beat up his sister Frankie and generally make life unbearable for Sobakowa, who hates cats and really despises Bob. She needs plenty of beauty sleep and he's always jumping on things at night, disturbing her kitty fung shui. It's very dramatic at my house, someone please alert the media.

Anyway! During the daylight Bob is a complete weenie, scared of all things real and imagined. I discovered his hiding spot when I left the bed to lay smellily and forlornly on the sofa, which while not as comfortable as the bed is much closer to the TV, and ya'll that is all I accomplished yesterday. TELEVISION WATCHING. I did not even do it well, mind you, falling asleep during my stories... by which I mean Storm Stories. But then I went back to bed and discovered his underground lair. I wonder if he spends all day every day there. He is so weird. I can't believe I live in this house with so much weirdness.

may15bed1.jpg
That is my messy rumpled bed.

may15bed2.jpg
It is more rumpled in one particular spot.

may15bed3.jpg
Cute, peculiar small animal lives under here.


Today I'm feeling better today and am even dressed in something other than a shroud made of sweatshirt material. I am planning to milk everyone at the office for sympathy. I am sure they will find this trait just adorable. They might staple me to something later if I'm really annoying.

And happy Tuesday to you, wherever your hidey hole may be. sniff.

Posted by laurie at 9:26 AM

April 21, 2007

I guess we don't send out greeting cards to celebrate Earth Day, right?

Are you green?

What shade of green? kermit green? Kelly green? (Who is Kelly and why does she get her own green??) Celery green? Limeade green?

I don't think I'm very green. Maybe green around the gills, a little. I definitely recycle because it's so easy ... the city gives you a giant blue can just for recycling and I get a weird thrill separating it all out because I'm a nerd that way. My recycling is mostly wine bottles, cat food cans and newspaper.

What else? I take mass transporation, that's got to be kind of greenish. And that's about it, I think. However, in honor of Ms. Earth and her Big Day coming up tomorrow I'm making a shopping list because as we know, all problems are best solved with shopping! I'm going out to the Wal-Mart in Woodland Hills where hopefully they'll have those compact lightbulbs a little cheaper than Target (always and forever with the budget, sorry Earth! I love you, but I love me a bargain, too!)

I'm going to replace the lightbulbs in my house, except (and I feel weird asking this) isn't it wasteful to get rid of my current lightbulbs that all work just fine and haven't burned out yet? Are you supposed to wait until they burn out or what? I'm never sure where the line is between being ecologically acceptable and weirdly wasteful. Southerners don't like wasteful. How on earth do you think scrapple was invented, or pork rinds, I mean really!

The most enviromentally friendly thing I plan to do, however, is KNIT. When I was at Stitch 'n Bitch on Thursday, I met a gal named Jessica who was knitting a rag rug made entirely out of cut-up old T-shirts and it was THE cutest darn thing I've seen in a long time. Later today I'm going to cull through my closet and dresser drawers and see what I can find. She was using a size 19 knitting needle, circulars with a quite long cord, and she said she cast on about 42 stitches. I watched her cut up a blue T-shirt, just making about 1" wide strips, and T-shirt material doesn't fray so there's no big mess when using it as yarn. She was knitting each stitch which I have been told is called garter stitch. heh.

Now that is some recycling I can get my behind behind. Know what I mean, green jellybean?

Posted by laurie at 9:37 AM

April 14, 2007

Changes in the yard and in me.

Since I met Mrs. Lee and now I see her and talk to her every single day, I have become a little more comfortable talking to folks in my neighborhood. A little.

When Francisco the gardener didn't show up for a whole month and the yard was shaggy and a health hazard, I called the landlord. As funny as the stories of Francisco are, I can't have knee-high weeds in the yard, it's unseemly. And it's a breeding ground for bugs and ... stuff.

"Well," said the landlord. "If you could find me the name of a new gardener I'd be happy to replace him."

As if finding someone new were so easy, and as if it were my responsibility. But the idea of Francisco murdering my new little seedlings or "trimming" a pepper plant makes me break out in a cold sweat.

So on my evening walk yesterday I decided I would ask folks on my street who their gardener was, and if they had his number (you'd be surprised how many people do not know how to contact their own gardener!) and all of this fact-finding would mean I would have to actually talk to strangers and make eye contact and while I do this sort of thing at work all day long, I have made it a policy not to be sociable and friendly and chatty to anyone near my house.

Why is this? I have no idea.

Just keeping my home insulated and private, protecting myself from anyone asking questions, maybe. Didn't want to tell people I was the sad divorcee. Didn't want people to give me that look,you know the one. Or say "Oh, you're still young, you'll find someone." As if that is the only goal, as if a woman alone is a terrible thing.

But now I'm not that sad divorcee. Now I'm just the girl with the dandelion farm in the front yard looking for a new gardener. And if talking to a neighbor leads to conversation and they ask me questions, I won't cry like I used to.

I was a little surprised. Because that was it, wasn't it?

I hadn't realized until right then, lacing my shoes, getting my house key out, zipping up my hooded sweatshirt, hadn't realized that the divorce had made me retreat from the world because I couldn't answer all their questions. I couldn't talk then about my situation. It made me feel judged and lacking and broken and I would get so upset, because I did feel judged and less-than and failed.

Now it's just details. Yeah I got divorced. No biggie.

God, I love California in the spring! Nights are always cool and the air smells like grass and orange blossoms and that white jasmine that grows on my neighbor's trellis, spilling over the gate and onto the ground perfuming the entire evening. I walked slowly down the street. At that time of night people are often out on the lawn, watering, getting home from work, collecting the mail. I stopped a few houses down from me where a man and a woman were unloading Target bags from the back of a minivan. They had a really pretty lawn.

"Um, excuse me?"

They smiled and said hi. Their cat came over and rubbed against my leg, I reached down and scratched it on the head.

"Usually she doesn't let anyone pet her, that's so strange!" said the lady, pretty and dark-haired. A little tiny version of her peeked out from around the side gate, a small girl maybe seven years old.

"I was wondering, if you don't mind my asking, who does your lawn? Because I ... well, I live here, I mean a few doors down, and the gardener stopped coming. And I kind of have to find a new one. Who hopefully doesn't like to trim trees."

"Oh, we like our guy, what is his name?" she paused and looked at her husband. They must have been married a while, they were in that comfortable place where they finished each others' sentences, trains of thought.

He couldn't remember the name either.

"Well, I'm just down the road so if you happen to remember and wouldn't mind putting it in the mailbox? I mean if it isn't too much trouble?"

"Oh, just come on in," she said. "I'm Sara, this is John." She pronounced her name Saw-rah, she had a really pretty musical accent, later she told me she was from Mexico. I liked their family immediately when she said her daughter's name was Sara, too, of course it made me smile. I'm a Laurie with a Laurie.

But I'm new to the whole neighbor thing. I spent so long locked inside myself it feels weird and scary to get out of my quiet, safe place. I'm rusty at it. For two and a half years I have been a ghost in this neighborhood, just some girl who keeps odd hours and never speaks to anyone.

So when we were sitting there -- I had been standing but she insisted I sit, would I like a glass of water? -- I tried to pretend I was a normal Southern gal back home where I know people, knew people, and this was just another day. I tried to pretend I wasn't nervous and a little uncomfortable.

She and her husband were just chatting with me, curious I'm sure and also just being friendly. "Do you have children?" That one is easy, but I was wary because often this question is followed by, "Oh, really? Why didn't you ever have kids?" and I never know how to answer it. I am constantly shocked it is being asked aloud, of me. I exhaled a little in relief when she didn't ask me, didn't pry. (You'd be surprised how many people do ask.)

"Do you have a roommate?"

"Nope," I said. "It's just me."

"Oh! Don't you get scared?" She was concerned for me, crinkled her brow up like a mom. "I would be so scared all alone."

I used to be. I used to walk the floors all night every night, listening for every noise, listening for something else to go wrong.

"Actually, I'm fine," I said. And it was true. "I was a little scared when I first moved in but after a while I started to feel more comfortable. Now it's great, I like my space."

She finally found the number and wrote it down for me on a sticky note. No more questions, so I must have sounded final when I answered her. That's good, a good sign.

She showed me their backyard, I got to pet their dog, too, and admire their huge tomato plants. We talked about cilantro, and was I the girl who had the yardsale that time?

Yes, that was me. Buy my memories for a dollar.

"Well, thank you so much for getting his name for me, I'll have the landlord call him as soon as possible," I said. "I do appreciate this and sorry again to bother you..."

"Oh, no worry, no bother," she said, "Come by any time, it's so nice to meet my neighbors." Her little girl hugged my leg on the way out.

And I went on my way and took my evening walk around my neighborhood. My neighborhood. Later I called the landlord, and the new gardener is coming on next week to see the yard and get a key to the back gate.

New gardener.
Met the neighbors.
Questions ... but not that bad, really. The answers are just adjectives. No biggie.

Posted by laurie at 8:56 AM

April 10, 2007

There is a weird smell in the back yard

Francisco has disappeared.

He hasn't come by to blow the leaves around in circles or kill any shrubbery in over a month. Things are actually beginning to grow. It's weird and frankly scary. There is an actual FRUIT tree in my backyard, folks! I did not know this because Francisco cut it last year right around this time when it began to flower, and so it sat there bare and sad all summer.

This year it has little blossoms and baby fruit of some sort. I am surprised Francisco cannot hear its siren song of lushness and be drawn to shear it dead.

So, with the missing Francisco and all the (new! lush!) growing greenery and over-long grass, I have spent a little more time in the back-backyard making sure weeds don't eclipse my okra. And when I was back there last week I noticed a smell. Not a sweet orange blossom smell.

A bad smell.
A poo smell.

This is the conversation I had with myself:

"Gosh that stinks, who farted!!" Then I laughed. At myself. "The yard farted! HAH HAH I AM SEVEN!"

"Really though," I said back to myself, more grownupedly. "That is some stinky smelling air."

"Maybe it's pollution," I countered.

"Well," I replied, "if that's the case then it's just a toxic cloud over the back backyard. The front yard is fine. WEIRD!"

"Fart!" I said outloud. Because as we have all seen, time and time again, I am very mature.

So at first I thought perhaps one of the neighbors had fertilized, sometimes people dump compost on their lawns and it smells poo-ish. (Yard fart!) But usually it goes away, and the poo smell has been wafting around for a good long while. I took a walk on Friday evening after work, checking out the neighbors' yards on the next street over, especially the house that backs directly up to my own backyard, occupied by The Yelling Family. Nothing.

On Saturday I was in the back-back-yard watering my okra and marigolds when the wind changed and the very very pervasive poo odor returned. Now, there are no major animals hiding around in my backyard pooping in hidden areas of the yard. I know this because my backyard shares a fence with the yelling neighbors, and they have two giant pit bulls that will eat anything, including the Department Of Water And Power guys who were trying to repair a line one day and threatened to call animal control on the neighbors. DWP used my yard instead.

So the barking dogs drive away most of the wildlife and all people.

And the question remained. WHERE IS THE MYSTERY POO SMELL COMING FROM???

It was a mystery until Easter Sunday when a freak gust of wind blew down the barely-standing bamboo screen that had been precariously attached to my side of the chainlink fence I share with Yelling Neighbors.

Turns out that Yelling Neighbors have not exactly been cleaning up after their dogs properly. Instead of picking up the poo and throwing it away, they appear to be throwing it into the small concrete area between their garage and the chainlink back fence. Which is... RIGHT UP AGAINST MY YARD.

There is a mountain of poop back there. HOW DO PEOPLE LIVE LIKE THAT?

I saw the mountain and sighed the long, sad sigh of a person who has discovered rather late in life that she is not a people pleaser after all. She actually kind of hates people. As far as I can tell, the main drawback about living in a city and in a neighborhood that contains humans is... the humans. Sometimes people are gross. Sometimes people forget that they are not the only ones inhabiting planet earth and the rest of us have to live here also. Sometimes people do things like let their dogs roam off-leash or they play techno music all night long or yell at their kids for four hours or are so damn lazy they can't throw the poop in a bin, instead they throw it up against the fence by the neighbor's yard.

I NOW UNDERSTAND WHY PEOPLE MOVE OUT TO THE COUNTRY. It is because there are no pesky "humans" nearby to ruin your good-smelling pollution.

And ya'll, I don't know what to do. I would politely knock on the door and ask if they would please stop building a mountain out of a poophill ... except. They seem kind of awful. And they are so lazy they cannot be bothered to dispose of their voluminous dog crap. They yell. What if they start a neighbor war? You know how people can be. And my gut instinct is that these folks are Neighbor War types. They'd start tossing the poo into my yard just for kicks and giggles. And then probably holler about it.

It would be one thing if I didn't have to live there and deal with them daily. But these folks are yellers, and if they scream at their own kids in such a vile and hateful manner, I cannot imagine what they would start doing to me if I stopped by to visit. I thought about leaving an anonymous note on the door, but if they are the sort of folks who will live in a pile of dog crap, will a little polite note make any difference at all?

So I'm thinking that if the Governator found it super important to pass legislation regarding my cats and their scoopable cat litter, perhaps someone in the state of California, city of Los Angeles, county of same, can help the neighbors see the vital importance of not stockpiling dog poop for the apocalypse.

Also. HOW DO PEOPLE LIVE LIKE THAT?

IT STINKS.

I love this city, I do, but I don't always like the people. Didn't their mamas raise them better? Don't they themselves get tired of the smell? Isn't it kind of cruel to make your dogs stay in a yard near that? And isn't it a giant health hazard? And WHO ON EARTH THINKS THIS IS THE SOLUTION TO PICKING UP AFTER THEIR DOGS?

I wonder if this has anything to do with the disappearance of Francisco. Maybe the toxic fumes got to him. It's been good for the fruit tree, but not so good for general outdoor breathing.

If you happen to know offhand who I should call at the city, let me know, will you?

The mountain isn't getting any smaller.


* * *

another pic that makes no sense with this column
These cats do not smell bad.
But they are indeed spoiled rotten.

Posted by laurie at 9:17 AM

April 9, 2007

Smaller = Not so bad!

It started slowly, right around last Christmas when I found a perfect small tree and was able to decorate it (starting from scratch!) for a lot less money than I thought. A small tree takes less ornaments to look pretty and full.

I remembered then how all our married holiday trees were giant 9-foot monsters, covered head-to-toe in ornaments, filling up the greatroom.

I don't have a greatroom anymore. I have a "this is my living room/dining room/treadmill room/library/hallway!" And for the very first time I began to see that maybe my tiny house was a stroke of sheer luck. I could have found an apartment somewhere in my price range that was bigger than this house, but I needed this house.

Decluttering has been a personal mission since the day I moved in. At first it was sheerly out of necessity ("cannot find the cats or doors") and later, as I got better, I needed to get rid of the past. I think it would have been a huge mistake to move into a bigger place; all the clutter would have stayed and I would have just buried it under a new layer of stuff, stuff for my new life, without purging the objects of my old life.

Because purging is hard for people like me. It is not an easy task, feels sometimes like you're losing who you are. (But it just FEELS that way, it isn't true, of course. Your stuff does not love you back.)

And in the two and a half years I have lived in the little house in Encino Adjacent, I have pared down to about 1/8th of what I used to own. My closet is tiny, so now I only have clothes I LOVE hanging inside it. If I buy something nrew, something old has to go -- so I think twice before buying. My kitchen is barely big enough for two people to stand comfortably, so I had to say good-bye to unused gadgets, a serving platter I used once as a newlywed, all those cookie sheets with rust and spots.

I still have too many books (oh well) and yarn (ditto) and cats (heh) but I no longer trip over fifteen piles of doodads each time I try to get the window open in the guestroom.

AND THE GUESTROOM! Is! A guestroom!

It used to be the junk repository, my "office," a dumping ground for everything that didn't fit elsewhere. And let me tell you, that was a lot of "everything else." Poor cats having to walk through a maze to find the cat pan. I never used that room as an office, it was too junky. When guests came over I gave them my room (the smallest and always cleanest area of the house) and I just gave up and slept on the sofa.

It was filled with stuff I couldn't yet say goodbye to, my old computer, a lamp I'd bought when he and I moved to the North Hollywood house, all the stuff I had back when I shopped to fill up my life. It used to sometimes spill over into the hallway of the Tiny New House and even thinking about that room made me feel a shriek of panic deep inside, how would I ever fix it?

I fixed it!

It took two and a half full years but now it is a real room. That upholstered chair folds out into a twin-sized guest bed, and the stuff on the floor is the last of the clutter in the whole entire house. THAT IS A MIRACLE, FOLKS. After months and months of sorting, packing, selling at yard sales, getting rid of stuff, uncluttering, recluttering, purging once again... I think I have finally gotten my house under control. OH MY GOD.

I can't believe it myself, I just walk from room to room in total amazement. It's been two weeks now and still the clutter hasn't mysteriously re-appeared, my house is cleaner than it has ever been.

Until this very minute I had not realized I lived under a constant cloud of anxiety about my home. I would pray nobody wanted to drop by, I had fewer and fewer people over, when I was dating that one guy for a while I would sometimes hope he'd be too busy to come over because it was so stressful to get the house looking just perfect and still hide all the junk.

There's nothing to hide now! The constant stress of house-cleaning has still got a hold on me, it's like I'll start having the familiar feelings of anxiety but then I remember the clutter is (mostly) gone. It's not perfect, but it doesn't have to be PERFECT. The house is clean and mostly organized and while the fridge could use a good scrubbing and the pantry is a little jumbled, and okay, I should probably mop (gah) ... the giant, monumental hurdle is over. My tiny house has just enough.

Finally, my life fits inside my little home.

It's because of the tiny house that I was forced to pare down. And over the past couple of years I've gotten better at it! Sometimes I will even find myself looking at an object and asking what it means to me, does it remind me of the past, or marriage, or what? Evaluating. Making sure I'm not holding on just because. Things have energy and I've learned to hold onto to the good memories, or make new ones, but for the love of God get rid of all the junk.

I think I could invite someone over right this very minute and I wouldn't be the least bit embarrassed of any inch of this house. Well, maybe the crisper drawers. But who in their right mind comes over and looks in your crisper drawer?

It's not perfect, no. But that's still pretty damn good.

Posted by laurie at 1:12 PM

March 27, 2007

Proof I am alive: I am still able to eat cake!

My neighbor, Mrs. Lee, has adopted me.

On the day she turned sixty years old, I pulled into my driveway after four hundred hours of driving and she handed me a plate with some "Korean Cake" on it. A lovely green and white cake, I don't know the flavor. It was beautiful and tasty.

She shared it with me, she said, because her husband was working and she has no children. She told me how she was alone that day, missing her family back in Korea, she is year of the pig, too. And it did not matter that we were thirty years and an entire culture apart because I understood her like I understood myself.

Mrs. Lee was lonely.

I used to feel upset and weird when the lonely would seek me out. I thought it was my broken-ness that drew them. I was tired of being broken. I wanted to be whole.

Now I choose to see that lonely folks want to feel a gust of happy, a breath of life, maybe just get some chitchat and Lord knows I have that in spades. I love life, want to eat it whole... Korean cake and all.

"Mrs. Lee? Do you want to come inside?"

"No, Julie." She calls me Julie, the same name as her bird. I have learned that to Mrs. Lee, everyone non-Asian is a Julie.

"But next weekend if you no need to go see mama," she said (I had told her my folks were in town), "we go to the Korean market? You want to see Korean market?"

"I would love to see the Korean market!" and I would. Sounds fun to me! I love Los Angeles, a city full of people from all over the far flung corners of this planet. Mrs. Lee is my new neighbor-mom, she checks in on me every day, she brings me fresh strawberries or lettuce from her garden, wants me to have her cellphone in case of emergency.

I gave her my cell phone number, too. On the post-it note I wrote, "Julie from next door." (I'll answer to anything except "shithead" ... and if said lovingly enough, I might answer to that also.)

"At Korean market, you will be very strange," she informs me. "Blonde hair. But you will like, I know it."

And I know it, too.

Crazy city.

Good Korean Cake.

Posted by laurie at 11:52 AM

March 21, 2007

V is for Victor, and also Very Sleepy

I would like to apologize for my remarkable lack of humor lately. I am tired, and sleep-deprived, and full of visible panty lines and unplucked eyebrows. However, I have been able to eek out some time to spend with my family and it's been awesome! Well, awesome for me ... not so much for my coworkers who have had to experience my tired humorlessness.

These past few weeks have been one of those Crazy Times I will look back on in retrospect one day and see where I got my grey hairs and pickled liver.

For example, on Wednesday of last week I walked into my co-worker's office and asked to borrow his security badge.

"Why do you need my security badge?" he asked.

"I left mine at home," I said. Exasperated. Because... duh!

"You left your security badge at home? You know this building is like the Pentagon..." he wagged a finger at me.

"Look," I said. "I need a security badge so I can go down and get coffee. Yes I forgot mine. I left my house at 4:45 a.m. I have had four hours of sleep and IT IS A MIRACLE I EVEN HAVE PANTS ON."

(awkward silence)

"Was that too much information?" I asked.

- - -

On Thursday, my co-worker popped his head into my office.

"Chitchat la la blah blah blah?" he said.

"Busy, so busy, can't chitchat with you right now unless said chitchat ends in either sex or coffee..." I said.

(awkward silence)

"Was that too much information?" I asked.

- - -

On Friday, Co-worker knocked before daring to enter my cave of grumpy, and then he tentatively sidled around the edge of the doorframe, offering up a wan smile.

"Hey, don't mean to bother you... know you're swamped... but Starbucks is giving away free coffee until noon..."

I got out of my chair and walked to the doorway.

"Coworker, I am going to inappropriately hug you now."

And I did.

(awkward silence)

"Uh," said co-worker. "I'm really happy you have pants on today."

- - -

And that is just how things have been lately, and it really is a miracle each day that I show up without my shirt on backwards, or with a post-it note stuck to my cheek, and of course... fully clothed from the waist down.

It is also a miracle of life that I walked into my kitchen last night, a room I had somewhat forgotten, and noticed that my only vegetable resident had grown a second story:


I have lost my damn mind.


The thing is, I know I KNOW I should just toss this old yellow onion and move on, but I saw it, its little green sprouts of hope, and I marveled at how anything could manage to flourish and grow inside my kitchen. It was like... a miracle. A MIRACLE OF LIFE, PEOPLE. I was maybe drinking.

"Little onion with green stuff on top, as God is my witness I will not throw you into the trash!" I proclaimed. I often get myself in trouble with the proclaiming. Especially late at night. Words to the wise: Stop with the proclaiming when you are two drinks to the wind and 28 hours behind on sleeping.

So anyway, I don't know what to do with this plant-thing. I know one of ya'll out there is an intrepid gardener or farmer, or at least someone who can grow more than mold. (Hey! Did you know that cucumbers can actually liquefy! In your crisper! Who knew! I have all sorts of sciencey things going on over here in my kitchen. Want to come over for dinner?)

Help me, will you? I want my Victory Onion to live. His name is Victor. I even named him for chrissakes.

I don't need to grow real onions or anything, I just need for this one little shooting sprout of oniony hope not to die. It's kind of symbolic in that sleep-deprived wine-drenched way I get sometimes. How anything in my house managed to flourish these past few weeks is a magical mystery, but I want to keep it alive! So if you know what I should do to keep this baby growing, please let me know. I will put it in water, or dirt, or chant to it, or buy it coffee. Just help me keep Victor, and hope, alive.

And also, just keep your fingers crossed I manage to keep showing up at work for the next few days in pants. I feel it is such an accomplishment each day when I remember to wear them.

Or is that too much information?

Posted by laurie at 9:35 AM

March 8, 2007

After posting this, I will likely never be asked on a date again. But I have my health, and my crazy, and that is something to be happy about.

When Drew first came to the my humble little Cat Hair Castle a few years ago, I made him drink lots and lots and lots of wine. And we would stay up late just drankin' and carrying on and philosophizing, and he had an interesting theory back then that I didn't really embrace until ... well, about seven minutes ago.

Also, my life has been so full lately of huge personal epiphanies and growth and all that, and sometimes I want to share it all with everyone in the whole world but then I remember to hold back a little and just let it cogitate and form fully and, also, there's that little problem of people thinking you have gone batshit crazy.

Because some of my philosophizing is just a teetiny bit touched with the nervous stick, but still. It is all very true and enlightening. (Also, "Nervous" is a Southern euphimism for "loco in la cabeza." In case you were wondering.)

So, here is the theory first posited by Drew:

"Laurie, if you broke your personality and soul into four pieces, each one of these cats would represent a part of your identity."

Are you still with me or have you changed the channel and are on notcrazycatlady.com yet?

Well, I myself didn't really follow Drew on this train of thought for many years, but then last weekend he and I were on the phone and it clicked. Or, you know, I crossed a line. Tomato, tomahto.

Bob does not miss any meals.
Bob is simple. He forgets stuff all the time, and is always surprised. He falls over a lot, and he is afraid of everything including air. He sleeps under the covers of the bed because the sound of air is scary. He has a little emotional overeating problem and puts on a few extra pounds in times of stress. But once you win him over he's the sweetest face. He bites when he's scared.


This cat is for sale on ebay for waking me up with love meows at 4 a.m.
Frankie is just happy. She is in love with the whole world, and loves everything so much she wants to just sit around purring and loving stuff all day. She meows and whines because she needs so much love. "Love you, shoe! Love you, water glass! Pet me, world!" And she likes pretty things, such as ribbons and earrings.


Sobakowa hates cats.
Sobakowa is often underestimated because she's the smallest cat, but she is the alpha leader of the pack. No one challenges her because she will give THE BEAT DOWN, and even a sideways glance from her will send the others running. She rules the whole house with an iron paw. She's smart and mean and has a deep-seated sense of justice and is currently writing a manifesto. Her evil nemesis is everywhere. She will conquer all. The world revolves around her. She is very particular. She likes to sleep late and her water glass is getting tepid. She is hateful mad about it.


Please don't leave.
Roy is sensitive and emotional and he hangs in there, never gives up, keeps on keeping on. He has stories no one will ever know. His past is kind of shrouded in secrets and shame. He's very needy and snuggly and gets sick a lot and he will hold a grudge if you accidentally step on his paw when he is underfoot, which is ALWAYS, because he needs love and attention. He likes everyone. He would like very much to have some good dinner now, then a snuggle. He likes to stay close to the ones he loves. He was old the day he was born. When no one is home to hug him, he stays in his crinkle cave where he is safe.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

So. Hi! Is anyone still reading this? [My parents are hopefully not seeing this on the road with their Wi-Fi. Yes, my parents have WI-FI in the motorhome. They have the techmology. Represent! And uh... if ya'll are reading this, Hi Daddy! No, do not search the google yellow pages for places to commit me. I'm fine! Just philosophizing! Not talking into my bra yet!]

So, do you think your pets reflect a part of your personality? People without pets may call it anthropomorphizing or projecting, but my animals have real, fully-formed personalities. You can see it in just fifteen minutes of observation at Camp Cat Hair.

And if you have children, I wonder, do your children exhibit pieces of your own soul, your own personality? Do they reflect back to you pieces of who you are, too?

I think all this is a great little wine glass philosophy, anyway, and it's made me look at my animals in a whole new way. If I manage daily to appreciate them for their pure little furry selves, shouldn't I be just as open to appreciating all my different qualities?

Well, except the crazy ones of course. Those we just pretend belong to the neighbor's dog down the street.

crazycatlady-nap.jpg

Posted by laurie at 9:56 AM

March 3, 2007

In lieu of astrology, I present: Awakening (because I am tired, but awakened)

I had a yard sale at my house today, the third and FINAL EVER yard sale. Faith is a yard sale specialist and encouraged me to have this one. She and her husband Michael live in a house so clutter-free you'd just feel a zen calm wash over you the minute you walk in. She's been a big cheerleader in my desire to de-clutter.

About two months ago I started putting things in the garage. Specifically, anything that started with "Mr. X and I..." as in, "Mr. X and I bought this on vacation in so-and-so..." or "I got this table when Mr. X and I moved into the condo in Studio City..." Anything that was mostly tied up in "Mr. X and I..." went into the garage.

Today when we were having the yard sale, people arrived early (darn earlybirds!) and I was still hauling stuff out of the garage, box after box afterbox after hefty bag.

"Oh dear," said one crazed earlybird attendee. "You have so much stuff! Is there even anything left in the house? Are you moving? Is it empty?"

And in that moment I looked out on the driveway, the yard, the whole sidewalk covered in STUFF. I saw so clearly in my exposed bags and boxes of junk store and tag-sale clutter the pain of my unhappy marriage, all the times I shopped to make myself feel better, even if all I could afford was shopping at Big Lots or a thrift store. I shopped. I bought to fill up the empty. I shopped and shopped and shopped and hoped for a better life, to finally fill fulfilled, to be whole and surrounded.

And later in the day my friends arrived at the yard sale, my oldest friend Jennifer and her sister Penny, and also my newest friends, too, women I love and admire and am so proud to know. I found people to be surrounded by, somehow, in my good luck and blessed life. People, not junk! I love my friends, I love not needing to buy something to make me feel worthwhile.

I'm so happy that I can actually invite them into my house and they are not eclipsed by my junk, having to avoid whole rooms ("the office.") It's weird ... I was so scared to let go of some of that stuff today. Would I be sad? Would I feel lonely? Would I feel poor again, without, less than?

But I felt so FREE! And ya'll, I am proud to tell you I made a dollar off selling someone a frame containing the picture of me and one Mr. X.

"Here, buy this pretty frame, that's me and my ex-husband, you take him! One dollar, bargain at any price!"

Amen, ya'll. AMEN.

Posted by laurie at 7:52 PM

February 27, 2007

Poop, the Aftermath

Well, I'll be.

I did get an email back from the Clump 'n Flush parent company, although it wasn't exactly the email of my dreams:

-----Original Message-----

From: Norm_Peiffer@AndersonsInc.Com [mailto:Norm_Peiffer@AndersonsInc.Com]
Sent: Monday, February 26, 2007 12:12 PM
To: Laurie
Subject: Fw: Clump 'n Flush

Laurie, first a correction: it is not something in our litter which required the stop sale, but a problem with the sea otters living off the coast of California. The California legislature has placed a ban on the sale of all flushable litters due to something in the cat feces which is harmful to the otters.

Since we decided not to redo our bag art for the sake of California and the risk of a fine is great we have decided to not offer the product for sale in California. There are customers for whom we produce which is available in CA. Please visit Petco and look for the Nature's Miracle brand, or the arm an Hammer High Performance label or at Wal Mart under the Fresh Results label. All the bags advise how to dispose of used litter properly.

Hope this helps!!

Hmmmm. I'm not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, I am happy that someone wrote me back. On the other hand...

I realize we are a bag of mixed nuts out here in California, but I didn't think you, Cat Litter Company, would be so willing to isolate your litter-ish business from the most populous state in the union, all 36,457,549 of us, some of whom are cat owners with pooping issues.

Now we get to embark on a whole new world of poop-related challenges at Chez Despair, all because you won't put a sticker on your bags. I would now no longer buy your product if you paid me to!!! (Read: That is a total lie, I would so buy it! If you paid me! Or put a sticker on the stupid bag!)

But on principle I will find some other company to support because COME ON. It's a STICKER on a BAG. Get over yourselves! Hire a lawyer! Work out the language! Then put a sticker on the damn bag!

Do I have to think of EVERYTHING?

Also, is it just me or do ya'll also get fits of indignation, like when you are at a store or restaurant and someone is rude to you or they have some weird policy and in a big jolt of righteous forthright disdain for idiocy, you will immediately declare to ANYONE in a five-mile radius that AS GOD IS MY WITNESS I WILL NEVER PATRONIZE THIS BUSINESS AGAIN.

Or maybe it is just me and I am prone to dramatics?


bobsomething.jpg
Bob thanks all ya'll for the helpful tips and ideas from yesterday. We will soon be developing an underground supply chain network, the Iran Contra of Cat Litter. Watch out Fawn Hall. I have a Fawn Bob and I am not afraid to use it!

Posted by laurie at 7:32 AM

February 26, 2007

Dear Governator, this poop is for you.

Today I went online to place my normal, usual every six-weeks delivery order with Drs. Foster & Smith.com to get my fancypants cat litter, Clump 'n Flush, the only brand I have EVER FOUND (and trust me, I have tried whatever brand you are about to suggest) (yep! tried that one, too!) that doesn't make Roy sneeze and cough and carry on and yet still pleases the other cats' delicate pooping sensibilities.

After placing my order and proceeding through checkout, my cart said "We're sorry, this product cannot be shipped to California."

I figured it was an error, seeing as I have had this SAME EXACT ITEM shipped to me for well over a year. I called the venerable Doctors Foster and Smith. I got seriously THE nicest phone help ever, who had to check and double-check and check again, and as it turns out, the Governor of California has signed some law which prohibits some ingredient in either the cat litter or the cat litter packaging from making it to California.

After much searching and discussing neither she nor I nor anyone at the Good Doctors could find this mystery ingredient, but this cat litter is still on the banned list. How is this possible?

The item description says,
"Clump 'N Flush Cat Litter effectively eliminates cat box odor and makes cleaning easy and dust-free. Completely harmless to plumbing, sewer, and septic systems, this highly absorbent natural cat litter is made from processed corn cobs. Does not stick to litter box. Biodegradable and compostable."

Shouldn't the State of California be pro-biodegradable stuff?

I was not very interested in our Governor until RIGHT NOW. I hope his life is full of nothing my cat poop and toxic pee forever, or until he lets my cat litter be shipped to me. If you have his email address or phone number please share. Because my cats need a happy and harmonious pooping surface or they will find alternatives. Alternatives, people! Not good!

So I wrote a letter to the president of the company that makes the cat litter we use at Chez Poopsalot. They are a whole huge grain and industrial and blah blah blah company. I am sure my email was of vital importance to their business model:

-----Original Message-----

From: Laurie
Sent: Friday, February 23, 2007 1:56 PM
To: 'jkapnick@andersonsinc.com'
Cc: 'hostmaster@andersonsinc.com'
Subject: Clump 'n Flush


Hi there.

I realize that as the president of a huge corporation, you may not be super bummed out about a cat litter crisis. But I am a huge fan of your company's Clump 'n Flush litter and have ordered it online for years -- even though it costs approximately one billion dollars to ship -- because my cats love it.

Now there is apparently some ingredient in the cat litter that has been banned by the State of California, where I live. I am so sad. I almost cried when Drs. Foster & Smith refused to ship it to me.

I don't know how you can get off the list of banned items, but please try! Your cat litter is the only one on the planet that is practically dust-free and not smelly and my cats need a harmonious pooping surface. Thanks so much for reading this email. It's not world peace or anything, but poop is still important.

Thanks,
Laurie


They haven't responded yet.

I'm anxiously awaiting with baited breath.

I have to figure out a solution to this dilemma soon, we only have two bags of this elusive and enigmatic pooping surface left in the cupboard. And my parents will not exactly be happy to discover I am shipping a thousand pounds of cat litter to them and expecting them to drive it out to me.

Because that crosses a line. Many lines ... even state lines. I MEAN REALLY.


frankie-legs-crossed.jpg

Posted by laurie at 9:51 AM

February 20, 2007

Welcome to the crazyhood.

Finally, finally, someone bought the house next door to me. It had been empty for months and months on end, growing spookier and scarier by the minute. I sometimes sit on my back patio late into the night writing on my laptop or just thinking my thoughts, and that house next door became the repository for scary noises. I swear there were night gnomes back there burying bodies.

So, anyway, a nice retired couple from Korea bought the house and moved in. They have a bird named Julie. I know this because the woman half of the couple walks around with this big bird on her hand, and she's always saying, "Julie, give me a kiss." She once wanted Julie to give me a kiss but I said, "Oh! I don't kiss birds!" then because I thought that was a rude and dumb thing to say I apparently decided a good save would be to add, "... because I have cats?"

Nice one there, slick.

In the spirit of being less hermity and also more neighborly, I wanted to get my new neighbors a little housewarming gift. After some hemming and hawing I decided that a small handmade fruit basket would be just the thing. People like fruit! And baskets! Then I was at Trader Joe's loading up my buggy with assorted fruit when it dawned on me that I actually know zip, zero, zilch about the Korean culture and I might be unknowingly buying them fruit that has meaning, bad meaning, like... THE FRUIT OF DEATH!!!! or something.

And you know if some dumbass, and I mean "dumbass" in the finest and most loving sense of the word, would end up accidentally inadvertantly handing their new neighbors a basket full of THE FRUIT OF DEATH!!!! it would be me. Hello, Good intentions! I will follow you on your paved road!

(This is a logical train of thought if you're from the South. I mean, Lord knows you do not spill salt without some type of superstitious action to correct it, or break a mirror or walk under a ladder or open an umbrella inside the house. And if you a feel a possum walking on your grave, everyone you tell the story to will get shivers.) (We love our spookiness down south. We are very in touch with our ghostier selves.)

Anyway. There I was standing in Trader Joe's frozen in mid-reach with a Meyer lemon in my hand. I looked around but I felt odd questioning the first Asian shopper I happened upon for random fruit-related Korean superstitions. So I called Coworker L., who is Chinese but lives with his Girlfriend C., who is from a rather traditional Korean family. Besides, Coworker is used to my cracked-out questions. Nevermind that this one was happening over the weekend and did not involve work.

Coworker: Hello?

Me: Hi Coworker! It's Laurie. How are you? Having a nice weekend? Hey, is there a bad luck fruit in Korean? Like a fruit of death or anything?

Coworker: Hi Laurie.

Me: Because I want to buy my new neighbors a housewarming gift, a little fruit basket, but I'm scared I might accidentally pick the wrong fruit and send the "I am a psychotic white girl" message instead of the "Welcome to the neighborhood" message.

Coworker: Let me ask Girlfriend. (Holds his hand over phone) (likely saying, "My coworker is a weirdo.")

Coworker: She said there is no fruit of death, you should be fine.

Me: Thanks! Seeya!

And we hung up and I assembled my basket and took it over to their house. Said my hey-to's and all was well.

Except I'm not sure they knew this was a one-sided thing, welcome wagonning. Because just today the nice lady and the kissing Julie came over to my house to give me a lily plant as a thank you for the fruit basket. Which was sweet ... except am I supposed to give them something as a thank you for the thank you to my basket?

ARGH!!!!! It is much harder anti-hermiting than I thought. Yes, having my new neighbors is better than the imaginary gnomes rustling in the bushes at night, but we need some kind of printed, bullet-point list of etiquette that we all follow and there are no lingering doubts for the etiquette confused (read: me). I had to put the lily plant outside because I learned my lesson the first time around, on Cat Death Watch episodes #368 and #369. I don't think I will send them a thankyou to the thank you gift because if I do we might spiral out of control and it will never end, so I am hereby stopping the cycle of thanks. It is far too stressful.

I am going to just sit here and eat my hand. But not the lily. Because that would be wrong, and probably fatal.

Posted by laurie at 7:25 AM

February 9, 2007

Tragedy Narrowly Averted (or "How I talked myself out of those shoes and saved $78!")

There is one reason why getting out of debt is so important to me: That debt I'm paying off isn't from all the pretty shoes I bought, or from yarn, or from anything at all hanging in my closet or decorating my house. That debt is the last remaining vestiges of my marriage and divorce, the sum total of a whopping $32,000 I found myself owing at the beginning of 2005.

About $10,000 of that was lawyer fees, the rest was from my marriage. (No, I will not go into details; yes I tried what I could legally; yes, I tried that, too.) In the end, this was my situation and so I had two options: cry in a corner and eat my hair, or face reality and figure out a way to pay off $32,000 worth of debt. You can complain about a thing, or worry about it, or make yourself anxious over it all day long. You can bitch and moan and carryon like nobody's business, telling yourself how it's all wrong, you don't deserve this, it isn't fair. But that doesn't pay off your bills. Eventually you have to face it, and accept your part in the accumulation of such a debt (he wasn't the only one spending while we were married) and you just do the best you can with what you've got.

So I made the budget and started learning how to handle my money, and I devised a repayment plan that was slow and painful but manageable. I had a fixed amount I repaid each month, plus anything extra went toward the debt. My bonus from work that one year? 100% went toward my debt. Yard sale money? Pay down the debt.

I had setbacks along the way (all the cats got sick AT THE SAME TIME. My car died, and then died again. And so on.) but I kept plugging along, even when it wasn't fun.

There were two months when I paid only the very bare minimum on my debt -- January and February, 2006. I saved that money to pay for my trip to Paris. It was the only way to go on vacation without going in deeper debt. I know some people thought it was frivolous of me to go to Paris when I had so much money I owed, but you do not get through three years of debt repayment without a little happiness. And I needed that trip. Some people need a new car, or a nice coat, or a great handbag. I need travel, I love travel. I needed that trip for my head and my soul, and it worked: it was when we got back from Paris that I knew it was time to finally open up to new possibilities, and finally start dating. Two weeks later I was on my first date in years and years and years.

So when I stood there yesterday at the store, eyeing those beautiful buttery-smooth leather open-toed heels, I had to remind myself why I don't want to spend eighty bucks on some shoes right now. Because that is eighty dollars closer to freedom, because the debt hanging over me is the last remaining shackle of my marriage and divorce, because I deserve to be free more than I need a pair of shoes, because buying them won't make me feel better that I had a cruddy day which is how I found myself shopping to begin with, because one day I will be free of all this and I will have worked hard for every single penny and my cats will get the finest catnip on that day, and I will drink a bottle of Veuve Cliquot in celebration, and we just have to hold on. (Cue Wilson Phillips, please.)

I have a fraction more to go, and while the sum left would seem like a crazy amount of debt to some people, to me it's the least I have owed in ten years (!!!). We were not fiscally responsible or mature when we were married. I pretended it was okay for him to "do the bills" while I managed the house. I thought I wasn't capable of money management, but boy was I wrong. Women -- with our excellent attention to detail and very determined natures -- tend to be very good at surviving and thriving, and that includes budgeting. I have made huge progress, all on my own. And I am so ready to be free! I want to be free of the last remaining obligation of sadness and divorce, to be free of a marriage that in the end was outlasted only by its debt.

So I put the shoes back and went home and mentally calculated how long it would take to get out from under this last chunk of debt.

It's close. It's so close I can feel it.

big ol' stoner kitty
Bob is dreaming of this alleged catnip.

Posted by laurie at 8:58 AM

January 12, 2007

Clean crazy

I am so happy today is finally Friday! That means the weekend is rapidly approaching and my big plans to declutter and clean and organize my home office are drawing near.

See, this is just the sort of big-city, glamorous, sexy action you get from your Crazy Aunt Cat Lady on the weekends. Maybe later I'll tell you all about other exciting things such as vacuuming or making toast.

But I really am looking forward to attacking the home office and finally organizing eleventy-seven billion pieces of paper and junk into clear plastic bins and file sorters. Before I went on my no-shopping thing I bought a label maker so I can really get my freak on with some mad organizing! Boy I make the single life look so appealing. Nothing says excitement like a label maker.

I am not usually frenetically overjoyed about cleaning and organizing (unless it's yarn, I loooove to re-organize my stash). It's one of those things that will sneak up on me, kind of like a rash. All the sudden I'll have an overwhelming need to clean and organize stuff.

Even under ideal circumstances I am not the tidiest person you'll ever meet. That's not to say I'm a complete slob, I like the dishes to be clean and the bathroom to be serviceable but aside from that I'm not what you'd call a neat freak. Not by any stretch of the imagination. My theory is that our time on earth is limited and while it may be fulfilling for some people to scrub the sink or dust the bookshelves, I prefer to use my free time to be productive in the fields of chitchatting, carrying on and shopping.

Except when I get slightly crazy. Clean-crazy. And now since there is no shopping, the clean-crazy has intensified!

There is no telling when the clean-crazy mood will strike. It isn't related to PMS or the cycles of the moon or even the weather. It must be psychological. Or perhaps... supernatural. But one day, for no reason whatsoever, I will wake up and feel the urge to vaccuum the toaster.

This time it hit me on a Wednesday night. I began eyeing the dodgy area around the cat food bowls and what started as a simple little task became an entire kitchen scrub-down. Like a madwoman, I washed and polished and swept and scrubbed and tidied for hours. Last Sunday I did laundry and cleaned my closet and dusted my shoes and vacuumed the bedroom floor and tried to suction the loose fur off my cats with the brush attachment (unsuccessfully). Then, seeing as it was only one p.m., I decided to tackle my Jeep.

My Jeep, the sludge magnet.

It is difficult to maintain even the most cursory illusion of cleanliness in the Jeep. But during winter, when it spits rain often enough to muddy the protective layer of dust, it is almost impossible to keep the interior clean enough for human transportation (not to mention the exterior. The word "pigsty" comes to mind.)

Armed with a bucket and a sponge, I washed and polished the outside, and then I cleaned every interior surface with Windex and those little Armor-all car wipe thingies. (Note to self: never armor-all the steering wheel. It gets too slick to hold onto and could cause an over-cleaning-related accident!)

Next, I dragged my beloved Dyson into the driveway and showed my true crazy self to all the neighbors as I proceeded to vacuum the interior for about an hour. AN HOUR. I spent an hour of my weekend cleaning the floor of my car ... for the love of fat Elvis will somebody please call a doctor? Anyway, I was so pleased with my little personal car wash that I zipped the windows out and took my temporarily clean Jeep for a spin just to appreciate the dust-free interior. (Of course on Sunday it was about eighty degrees. Today it is something like minus-eleventy. Our weather has gone haywire in Los Angeles.)

The evening was rounded out by a thorough cleaning of my bathroom and a long hot shower, thirty five minutes of soapy bliss. I realize that I could solve world peace in the time I spend showering during my lifespan, but what with cleanliness being so close to Godliness and all... I have to do what I can. And what I can do is shower.

What makes my clean-crazy moods so outstanding is that they are completely unprovoked, unpredictable and out of character. When I was in junior high, my dad used to take pictures of my bedroom at the height of messiness and threaten to show said pictures to all my friends at school. It was an effort to shame me into tidiness, which failed miserably. I was perfectly happy with a messy room.

As an adult with more rooms available to mess up, I try to balance my natural urge to pile, toss and horde. I keep my place tidy enough so the cats don't get lost and clean enough so that my friends aren't offended when they visit. I do this by putting everything that doesn't belong somewhere into the office and shutting the door. My house stays tidy because all the junk is hiding in the home office.

So the clean-crazy mood will take over now and then and I become possessed, a woman on a mission, a lemon-fresh fanatic with a sick attachment to the vacuum. During these phases, you better get out of my way unless you're wearing plastic gloves and carrying a mop. And now the piggy little home office is on my radar screen, and I plan to kick it's butt from here to Cleendom Come. HAHAHAHA. Boy that is just the sort of witty joke you would expect from a glamorous, single, big-city gal who spends her weekends vacuuming the keyboard and lint brushing the cats. I DO NOT BELIEVE SEXY IS A STRONG ENOUGH WORD TO DESCRIBE ME.


bob-fits-pi1.jpg

bob-fits-pi2.jpg
This cat is not clutter.

Posted by laurie at 9:27 AM

January 8, 2007

Stop Buying Crap: My One Week Progress Report

Don't worry, ya'll won't have to hear weekly news bulletins on the exciting process of not buying stuff. I'm just saying, preemptively, in case you were skeered.

At the first of the year I made a resolution to stop buying all non-essential stuff for three full months, from January first to April first. The whole premise of this resolution is to see how much money I can save by just not buying stuff. Whenever I want to buy something non-essential, like shoes or something new for the house or yarn, I'm putting it on a list to "Buy Later." It's funny because some of the things on my list from Day One aren't things I still want to buy. For example, I had a fleeting urge to get one of those scrubbing bubbles automated shower cleaners. Saw it on a commercial, ya'll know. The urge passed.

The hardest thing for me to do is break my automatic habits. And I have lots of them! My brain likes to run on autopilot as much as possible to free up energy for daydreaming and fantasizing and worrying.

My autopilot controls all the basic stuff so I don't have to even think on it: I park in the same general area at the mall. I put my keys in the same place, have a morning routine, that sort of thing. And apparently I shop on autopilot, too! I was at the grocery store yesterday -- the REAL grocery store, not the 7-11 -- buying groceries for the week. This is a kind of new experience. I generally don't plan very well for weekly shopping. In many ways I am like an ADD-addled 7 year old child, wandering the aisles looking for a puppy, or maybe Oreos cereal. (In other ways I am a 78-year-old wino looking for the best price on cabernet... or pinot... or cava... or whatever...)

So the real grocery store is kind of overwhelming, with so many choices and all. But recently I started reading "You On A Diet" by that cute Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Roizen, and they say it's perfectly fine to automate your breakfast and lunch, eating basically the same thing every day.

This was the happiest news. I tend to go in food phases, finding something I like and eating it every day (usually at breakfast). For a while it was Trader Joe's yogurt with blueberries and walnuts. Then it was yogurt with granola. Now it's Cheerios. I could eat Cheerios for breakfast every day for the next three months and be perfectly happy, but sometimes I feel self-conscious about being so... boring. Who eats Cheerios every freaking day for breakfast? Aren't you supposed to mix it up? Is this even normal, or healthy?

But Dr. Oz says it's a good idea to automate simple meals like lunch and breakfast, because it takes the guesswork out of eating and food prep. Plus, this gets me eating a decent breakfast every day (better than McMuffins, anyway) and it's cheaper. So he's smart and cute! I love that Dr. Oz.

Anyway, that is how I managed to find myself at the real grocery store, buying enough Cheerios and milk for a week plus stuff for lunchtime turkey sandwiches and a few things for dinner. And as I was standing in line waiting to checkout, I browsed through a few magazines and automatically added them to my groceries. Just like that.

Luckily, no check out lines in the entire city of Los Angeles move quickly so I had time to realize what I was doing. I was on autopilot -- just shopping like nobody's business -- adding about $12 to my bill. As soon as I realized it, I put the magazines back. Then I scanned through my grocery pile to make sure I hadn't accidentally added in a new coffeepot, or some flip-flops, or a DVD. They sell all that stuff at the big grocery store! No wonder I like the 7-11 ... it's smaller, and you have less temptation to buy fuzzy house slippers along with your Cheerios. And new pot holders.

So, aside from that little blip at the grocery store, my no-nonessential-shopping-until-April-1 thing is going fine, mostly because I didn't go to any stores this past week. I sort of cheated before January 1st and pre-shopped a little, going to Target for all the household stuff and Michael's and Unwind for yarn (bad, bad, bad) (but so good!). I even had more time for doing other stuff since I didn't have to go run my normal errands first thing Saturday morning, shopping at Target and BevMo and the pet store and wherever else I always thought I just had to go.

I read a story last week about a group of friends who did this for a whole year (!) but I will be happy to make it to the three-month mark and re-evaluate. Mostly I want to just save a little money, get out of the shopping habits, and figure out what is really essential as opposed to what I'm just buying to make me feel better. I figure you can do just about anything for three months. And I need to get back to the budgeting basics so I can pay off all my debt this year. I almost cannot imagine what it will feel like to be debt-free, not having anyone you owe money to. Lord, I'll probably fall over with happiness.

Then I'll probably go buy some yarn. Or Oreo cereal. Or fuzzy slippers... WITH CASH, of course!

Posted by laurie at 7:25 AM

December 8, 2006

Christmas on the cheap?

I love ya'll and the fact that you are so happy I am actually stringing a light or two this holiday season. Of course, you have not seen the War Of Christmas which is occurring on my street, and so my attempts to cheer up Chez Dust Ball are really feeble and frankly just quaint compared to what is happening on my street.

My neighbors are insane.

It started on November 17th -- a week BEFORE Thanksgiving -- when I arrived home after work to find that my neighbors a few doors down, we'll call them the Jones family, had strung up eleventy hundred lights on every outdoor surface of their yard.

Then, the folks across the street from them who we will call the Keeping Up Withs family, spent all day on Thanksgiving outfitting their house with inflatable stuff, like a giant inflatable nativity set, plus a santa and something that looks like Paul Bunyan, I have no idea. It might be an ethnic snowman. Or an inflatable sherpa.

So the Joneses saw what was happening over the the Keeping Up Withs house, and before December arrived they had retaken the torch by placing a big lighted train with wheels that spin around on their ROOFTOP. The Keeping Up Withs then plastered their whole yard and gate and tree with lights. So the Joneses bought a herd of anamatronic reindeer, and then other neighbors got into the mix and before long I looked out on my street and it appeared Santa himself had come to my neck of the woods and vomited Christmas all over the place.

It's very competitive here at Encino-adjacent. Someone might lose a reindeer if they aren't careful.

Me? I had purchased one (1) string of icicle lights and one (1) small front door wreath. I took the lights back because my participation would have just been pathetic by any standard, and now I just let people see my beautiful tiny tree from the windows at the front of the house.

It's a small contribution, yes, but then again, I have been the crazy cat lady recluse who never decorates or says "Hi!" to anyone, except the cute gardeners, and so people will about fall over in shock that I celebrate something other than Wine From 7-11 Day. That's how I see it anyway.

Now, Christmas is hard on people for all sorts of reasons, and one of them is of course of a financial nature. And dear reader Vicki had mentioned in the comments the other day, because we love also dear reader Risha, how she had some ideas on keeping the holidays manageable from a budgetary perspective. Vicki wrote:

To RishaMoonshadow

I'm so sorry for the troubling time you're going through. I know what you're feeling because I've been through it too. My husband's been out of work twice in the last 10 years, once for 1 year exactly and once for 15 months. Both times covered the Christmas season. But we made it through and so will you.

You're right to tighten your belt and stay on a strict budget but here are some things I did that might help you find a little Christmas spirit.

Do what decorating you can with things you already have to make the house look festive. Be creative and use things like toys to make little holiday vignettes. For example, one of the things I made was a sleighing scene. I made a cardboard sleigh and leather shoestring harness and used them with an old Barbie doll and Breyer horse, decorated it with bits and pieces of stuff I could find around the house and set it on a book case. Pull out stuffed animals or anything that you can turn into a decoration.

Play any Christmas music you have or find a radio station that's featuring holiday music. And watch all of the holiday movies on TV that you can as a family.

I still hosted my family get together but we made it a potluck, I just provided the place. My family knew what a hard time we were having and were glad to help after I was straight with them about our situation. We also agreed to just enjoy each other's company and not exchange gifts.

I made a few easy gifts for my husband and children and gave I.O.U's for fun things to do together.

This was all easier for me than for you because my children were older, in their teens, and were more understanding, less disappointed. But perhaps you could do some special things with your child like bake and decorate a batch of cookies together, curl up and read seasonal books together, etc.

Good luck! I hope you can find a little holiday spirit even though I know how worried and depressed you must be. I'll be holding you in my thoughts.


Vicki, those were very good ideas! And Lord I do not know how on earth you ladies with children manage to do it, manage to make it through all the holidays and so on when sometimes you want to be alone in a room with a bottle of wine and a very strong pie.

So, I thought maybe we could all share some good ideas for decorating and gift-giving and general happy-making that are either very cheap or very free. (And by "we" I mean "you all.") I myself would find such ideas very useful, as I am always two days and sixty-two dollars short. Well, currently I am a full $3.50 richer, which is the money I got for returning my one (1) strand of icicle lights.

Also, if you have any ideas for co-worker gifts, um. Some of us would be very appreciative. I've been working some late hours and shopping has been way down on my list of to-dos. Especially because everything is closed by the time I get home at half-past hideous.

But I cannot bemoan coming home so late. My street is really safe to walk on at midnight with the BRIGHTNESS and all. It is so festive and cheerful and crazy, and full of lighted reindeers that bob up and down all night long. Of course, if there are rolling blackouts in the Valley come Christmas Eve, you can be pretty sure Encino-Adjacent is to blame.

I really hope the 7-11 with the good wine is on a different power grid than my street.

nativity-scene.jpg
Not the actual nativity scene from my neighborhood, but eerily close.

Posted by laurie at 10:19 AM

November 28, 2006

Deck the halls and the doors and the cats, if they stand still.

I'm actually decorating for Christmas this year. Wreaths! A tree! Lights on the eaves! Christmas shall arrive at Chez Cat Hair with much sparkling and twinkling and probably a fair amount of "Bob, dammit, GET OUT OF THE TREE."

Decorating for the holidays is usually not the sort of news that warrants a memo and proclamation, especially not if you're a woman who used to place a tiny miniature tree in each room of the house, string the staircase banisters with holly, have your husband haul in a 9-foot Douglas Fir each year the day after Thanksgiving. I would wake up every morning and check on the tree just to inhale the smell of Christmas.

But when that all ended, the holiday season became something untenably frightening, a vast dark pit that could swallow me up. Anxiety that was barely manageable during the daytime would intensify at night and I paced the house, walking room to room until finally I would escape the boxes and memories and the sight of my single, messy, empty life and sit on my patio until dawn. It rained so much that first year, I'd watch the water slink up to the edge of the porch and think of nothing but driving away, anywhere, how to go back in time and make him love me.

There's an opt-out clause on the holidays if you need it (I felt guilty about it back then, but now I see it was just the right thing to do at the time.) I did opt out, two years in a row, puddled into shame and sadness and a lot of rum sans the eggnog. Back then I wouldn't have been able to picture myself wandering the crowded and chaotic aisles of Michael's craft store with Jennifer and buying a red chinaberry wreath and some ribbon for the front door of my little house. But that's exactly what we did a few weeks ago, and I thought of all the new ornaments I get to buy (I let go of all my "married" Christmas stuff, sold it at a yard sale last autumn), wondered out loud what my decorating style will be now with no husband to placate and no one to please but myself.

Later, when we got back to my place, she held up the red wreath to my front door so I could see how it would look and I grinned ear to ear in spite of myself. For all my complaining about Christmas decorations popping up in stores in July (October), I'm secretly excited to make my house look like Santa himself threw up on it. And Drew is coming to visit soon, someone who understands why holidays are so hard for me and why being alone is troublesome at best, and he's cheerfully agreed to be roped into decorating my house, adding his impeccable taste and designer vision to all he touches (which better be the lights hanging from the roof, I'm just saying is all.)

I can't believe this is me. That this is my life. That I will decorate my house for Christmas, and yes, I might feel a little maudlin and wine-drunk that I don't have a non-feline someone to snuggle with under the tree, or who knows, maybe I will have someone, and either way it doesn't make me feel so anxious.

Last year, I said I was going to mail off this box of Mr. X's old Christmas Ornaments, the few things I didn't sell at the Great Purge since they were his before he met me, and it seemed like the right thing to do. I didn't send them last year, I couldn't. I couldn't address that box, write his name, let go of those tiny things that once decorated our Christmas tree. I let go of so much, everything, but when it came time I just put the box in the garage and shut the door.

I mailed it to him yesterday, to his new address where he lives with his new wife. Then I had a glass of wine and made a bow for my new wreath. White, to match the trim on my house.

It's lovely.

Posted by laurie at 8:56 AM

August 30, 2006

Two socks plan an insurrection.

Laundry day is a sad time in my home. The entire process begins long before the actual trip to the laundry room (a.k.a. my garage). Several days beforehand I contemplate the Great Underwear Crisis, weigh the options, poll the troops. Is it better to buy more or break down and wash what I have? Supplies run low. The troops get uneasy. The backup panties are called onto the scene.

Like all wars, this one is fought out amidst a backdrop of financial need. The perilously low bank balance signals our leader that the time to launder is now, since buying new underthings is just not a practical expenditure. Sacrifices must be made.

Laundry must be done.

The sleeping giants (a.k.a. housecats) have to be roused from their comfy perch atop Mount Laundry. Clothes hangers have to be untangled. (Did I tell ya'll I have a theory about this? It involves missing socks. I believe that all missing socks turn into coat hangers. Think about it. Have ya'll ever had a coat hanger shortage during an abundance of paired socks? The two do not intersect. It is a laundry day vortex. We are its innocent victims.)

Finally, the casualties of Laundry Day find themselves clinging perilously to the bottom of the pile: barrettes, movie stubs, gum wrappers. Like an archaeologist I sift through the remains, hoping to uncover a treasure. I once found the remote control there, fraternizing with a pair of jeans. It was a happy day.

The spoils of war get lugged off to the laundry room, where they wash and whirl and fluff and dry. Laundry Day comes to a close, with the Final Folding Summit. I survey the damage, and realize how close I came to being vanquished by a tower of dirty clothes that threatened to trap me inside my house forever.

I sigh with relief.

I have clean underwear. I am victorious. I have won the battle... for now.


frankie-loves-laundry.jpg

Posted by laurie at 9:02 AM

August 24, 2006

Clean up in aisle four please!

I loved all the responses to yesterday's ditty about Jack and Diane and oh, yeah, my eleventeen tons of junk. Unfortunately, I spent nine hours in an off-site meeting so I couldn't respond until late last night and by then I was maybe too tired and cabernet to make any sense. However, I picked out a couple of things to follow up on today and if ya'll have advice you want to share on how you find inspiration and motivation to declutter, please spill it!

I love to talk about decluttering way more than I love to do it, but I find it inspires me enough to keep trudging through.


roy-declutter.jpg

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June wants to know: "So... are you throwing away? Donating? Yard sale?"

I am throwing away the junk I don't need (Goodbye, ValPack mailer from four months ago!) and donating some things and then having a yard sale with the rest. The books go to Dutton's Used Book Store for credit. I do tend to buy books both for myself and as gifts for others, so this one makes sense for me. My goal isn't to live a monastic life with zero posessions, it's merely to have less volume, so I am sure I will still buy books and continue the cycle of accumulate-declutter until I up and croak.

Selling things on ebay and amazon works for a lot of people, but if you are maybe one of the kind folks still waiting for me to send you something I promised back in, uh, April? 2005? Yes. You know why these options don't seem very logical for me, She Who Mails Infrequently.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Mia says: "Norton's? NO NO NO NO You are not allowed to throw that out. It contains the best bits of our language. Just joyfully enjoy your stuff. Isn't that enough?"

I love the idea of joyfully appreciating my things.

I used to think that if my life's posessions could just anchor me to this world a little longer, I'd be so thankful. I felt a comfort and peace in being surrounded by my stuff, and I loved the weight of it all. Maybe that's why I accumulated so much? Maybe that's why I shopped when I was lonely, and Mr. X and I moved to a bigger house every few years, ready to be filled with even more stuff. As if it could hold us to a promise.

Somewhere along the line, though, something changed.

Maybe I reached Maximum Stuff Capacity, or maybe I got less sad inside, or maybe I just got old and lazy, or maybe I just had TOO MUCH STUFF but I am no longer enjoying it. I want my life to be lighter. I'm not passing judgement, Mia. I know what works for me doesn't work for you, or maybe anyone, but I really need this right now, to be a little lighter, a little freer. Mostly, I want less stuff to maintain, clean, repair, dry clean, hem, dust, and wash. I want to keep the lovely things that I cherish, but I also want to entertain visitors without having to deep clean for forty solid hours ahead of time.

I might miss Mr. Norton, true, but he and I haven't been intimate since 1992 anyway. I was such a slut back then! I was with all the Mr. Nortons. Even the poetic one -- sheesh!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Cursingmama says: "Oooh - and do you ever watch Clean Sweep and go all crazy for like 15 minutes on something trying to get it organized and then give up and leave a bigger mess than when you started? Me neither."

Ha! You have just described an average Sunday afternoon in Chez Crazy! I do this all the time. I am a silly woman.


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


I thought this was really a great way to think about de-cluttering: "I must go back to my original thought of, 'If I were to move to France (my ultimate goal) what would I have to take with me?'" That's a quote from Molly who apparently has read my mind.

I do secretly fantasize about moving to France, or Spain, or Norway, or Boston, or more specifically I fantasize about moving to Gloucester, Massachusetts and becoming the filling in a George Clooney/Mark Wahlberg/Perfect Storm sandwich.

I am not right in the head.

Yet, that is my fantasy.


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Reader "K" wants to know, "And by the way, if you have any guidelines for getting rid of things that work in the real world, would you pass them on?"

Yeeps. I think you have to find some sort of system that works for you, but here is what I have discovered is helpful for me in my ongoing Quest To Not Be Pinned Under Eight Tons Of Junk.

1) Get inspired.
This sounds dorky, but ya'll consider the source. Anyway, for inspiration I will Tivo shows about decluttering, cleaning, decorating and even travel shows (because, hey, if I had less stuff maybe I would travel more! right?). I need to see a world of possibility outside the confines of my own home and get out of my head long enough to size up the situation. My favorite source of televised inspiration these days is "Small Space, Big Style" on HGTV. I love it!

But nothing is more inspiring than a trip to the biggest bookstore nearby, where I go with the sole intent of not purchasing a single item -- but to sit on the floor surrounded with books on decorating and organizing and decluttering and cleaning and simple, gorgeous living spaces photographed in luscious color. It makes me want to go home and prettify the house in whatever way I can.

2) Inertia can be cured by doing one small thing.
I never, ever have energy for housecleaning after work. I might do a load of laundry if I'm desperate, or I might wash the cat bowl or a wine glass, but generally speaking I don't rush home after working nine hours and commuting three hours and break out the mop. (Do I even own a mop?) I will vaccuum because of the fur issue, but I like vacuuming. More correctly, I am in love with James Dyson and have been lobbying unsuccessfully for months to get the marriage laws changed so I can get hitched to my Dyson. It's purple.

So weekends are my best shot for a declutterizing frenzy. Tell that to my ass, however, which prefers to be seated comfortably on a patio chair with a book and a glass of wine. Therefore, to overcome my inertia, sometimes I pick one small task to get my declutter engine running. This has to be something VERY simple, so I don't get distracted and end up at Ikea two hours later shopping for placemats and magazine holders and a new rug. AS IF THAT WILL SOLVE THE PROBLEM.

So, pick a tiny task such as: Organize the Q-tips. Clean the silverware drawer. Throw away all socks with holes/bad elastic/that you hate. Same with underwear drawer. Something small and completely achievable, so you feel like, "Cool! Look how freaking productive I am!! I rock!! I shall go forth and conquer the vegetable crisper now!!" And you do this consistently over time and let's pray in unison it works, because I'm a work in progress myself. Amen.

3) Put it out of sight
For the first round of my decluttering, I was maybe not ready to say a permanent goodbye to things. So I packed them in boxes, placed them in the garage and wrote YARD SALE on labels for each one.

Two months passed.

Then three. And then five. Then came yard sale day and I just hauled out the boxes and let it all go. By then I had forgotten what was packed away, and since I hadn't needed it in almost six months it really had no purpose in my overstuffed life.

This works for me because I have a scary garage I rarely go into, and because packing up little bits and pieces at a time and storing them in the dark garage did the trick. Your mileage may vary. You may need to get it out of your world THIS VERY MINUTE so you don't re-hoard it.

4) Why am I doing this?
The final and most important thing for me is to remind myself this is all about having a better life, a good life, a happy and low-stress and low-maintenance life.

I will die one day. I don't want to lay in the hospital in a ratty gown with tubes in my arm and wonder if folks will be horrified by the boxes of crap in my home office. I want to pass on thinking I lived my life the best I could, and that I was free to move to Gloucester and ... uh. You know. Perfect Storm sandwich. I was free to be smooshed between George and Marky Mark because I was traveling light.

Traveling light! With a slight patina of cat hair.

That's the goal, anyway.

Posted by laurie at 10:07 AM

August 23, 2006

Clutterella and the four furballs of the Apocalypse

Dear People Who Clean House A Lot,

Want to come over? And clean house in a new, exciting place that has interesting, exotic wildlife and many nooks and crannies?

I have wine.

Your pal,
Laurie


What happened to me? Me of the frantic married-life vacuuming and cleaning the toaster and dusting the ice cubes? OH HOW TIMES CHANGE. I blame my fallen housekeeper status on the long commute, and maybe also on Mr. X, because that is always convenient! And probably on politicians, too, so we have all the bases of blame fully covered.

Hey ya'll. My house is a mess.

Every day I blame this mess on the aforementioned issues but really it might also kind of have to do with the fact that I live in a teetiny place with a whole lot of stuff and cats who don't lift a damn finger to help me out.

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

Mostly I am speaking of a decorator peeping tom here. Like, more of a peeping Christopher Lowell.

Luckily, there is this new thing called the internets where people will freely post pictures of their whole house! I discovered this on flickr, where I spent way too much time last night looking inside people's living rooms and feeling like I really, really need to move or perhaps not spend time online looking at pictures when I should be cleaning and de-cluttering my house.

One day in the bookstore I was poking through the selection of knitting books when I found this:

scaling-down-book.jpg


It was misplaced, obviously, but because I am Crazy and believe in things like Signs (and Gnomes), I took this book to be a Sign and walked right up to the register, purchased it and went home.

(Ha ha! Don't you think it's rather odd to purchase a thing so you can learn how to get rid of your stuff? Boy, some people will buy ANYTHING. SUCKERS!)

This book, Scaling Down by by Judi Culbertson and Marj Decker, is subtitled "Living Large in a Smaller Space." Hey, that describes me to a tee! I live in a small house, and I have a large backyard, if you know what I mean. And I think you do.

A few months after I moved into Chez Clutterbug, I began the long and arduous process of scaling down. Well, it was a necessity, really, since you couldn't move in the office what with boxes stacked floor-to-ceiling and I couldn't find anything, and I sort of feared that an earthquake would come and bury me, four cats and eleventy hundred pairs of shoes in a tomb of marital accumulations. (You can read about some of those adventures in paring down here, here and here.)

In the 19 months since I have lived in this little house, I have managed to pare down my stuff by almost half. Half! And I don't miss any of it, to be honest. The paring down kind of stopped after my last big yard sale last year, but I wasn't really done... I was just at a place where I could stand still for a while without junk nibbling at my ankles.

Then Drew came to visit last week. It was maybe the first time I had really looked closely at my house in months, and I am insanely busy with work and have no time to clean house and I stressed myself out about the level of ick and dust and all of it, and that is when I made the decision once and for all to get rid of ONE HALF of all my stuff.

Except yarn and cats of course.

It's not that I will actually accomplish this (I may have made the proclamation to clear my life by half while drinking. I am now fully cogent and assure you, it's not realistic) but it's a great goal. I need goals! Goals keep you moving ever forward, zenward, clutterlessward!

So, last night in a fit of anticlutter brought on by my internet peeping tomism, I cleaned out my bookcases and actually eliminated half of the books (Do I still need my Norton's Anthology of Literature from freshman year in college? No. I do not. Ditto "Let's Go Spain: 1996" and "Hotels in Prague, 2001") and afterwards I felt free and light as a feather.

I am going to keep doing this and paring away, scaling down, until I reach a place where it is no longer hard to clean my house and where I can move to another house or city without requiring assistance from the Army Corps of Engineers.

And if you want to come over and clean, hey -- I wouldn't turn you away. Cabernet with your clutter? Check! Pinot grigio with your swiffer mop? check check!

Exotic wildlife? check, check, check, check. Meh.

Posted by laurie at 8:42 AM

August 14, 2006

Like Motel 6, only fuzzier

laurie-drew1.jpg

Why people want to traipse across this great nation and stay with me is really just a mystery. Because try as I might (which, to be honest, might not be enough) I truly am a poor excuse of a housekeeper and someone someday is going to have to haul in the Jaws Of Life to unclench me from a furball in the darker recesses of my house. But whatever. I have plenty of booze, so I guess folks will put up with four cats and some other oddities because the drinks are flowing and the hostess thinks she's Blanche Dubois. Which can be damn funny if you drink enough.

Although it did sort of reach a new low in the "Welcome, guests and weary travelers" department when I told Drew, who was possibly tired and hot and covered in travel goo, that he couldn't take a shower until I washed a load of towels. Nice! Followed by, "Oh, darlin, don't go in that room... it's scary in there."

Then of course I plied him with alcohol and put on a load of wash and all was right in the world. Welcome to Chez Colorful!

While Drew was here, we went to the West Hollywood Saturday mornin' Stitch-n-Bitch. It was so much fun! We had coffee and chitchatted and I spent most of the time making a center pull ball out of a big yarn thingamajiggy and I oohed and aaahed 'em with my powers of BALL MAKING. Hey, I never claimed to be a great knitter, but I am a great ball maker. It's an underappreciated talent, ya'll.

On the left, there's Ellen and Ana and Christine posing for the camera lady, and on the right there's Cory and Kendra enduring my stalkage.

(Click for bigger images):
   

I have to tell ya'll, I may be shy and dorky and not good with saying normal things, but I do really enjoy seeing folks at s-n-b. Please be patient with those of us who are bad at socializing, like perhaps me. OH MY GOD, also, Annika, I am so sorry I am a dumbass.

Me: Oh, I've never seen your little baby!

Annika: Yes, well, I usually leave him at home with Will.

Me: Oh, right. Yes. Well, of course. Because babies aren't formed yet. So I guess they can't stay home by themselves.

Annika:

Me: He's a cute little booger, though. Isn't it funny how all babies look stoned?

Annika:

Me: (silently to myself) Holy shit I need to stop talking outloud. Right now.
Me: (out loud) I need to stop talking outloud. Whoops.

Then I remembered I had video taking capabilities on my camera and promptly began to stalk people with the camera in a whole new way, which once again reminds me that I should just STOP TALKING in general, what with the generally squeaky and redneck nature of my voice and also, I do say some staggeringly dumb things. Oh well.

Video #1:
Wherein cracker crazy camera lady terrorizes nice people who knit and crochet.

Video #2:
Wherein Ellen is a good sport and talks to me about crochet, except I stood too far back and ya'll can barely hear her for part of it but that's my fault because I am not so good with techmology. [As of noon, this one says "still uploading" and I do not know why. Hopefully it will magically heal itself and start working soon.]


Video #3:
Wherein I SWEAR TO GOD I said the word "LEI" not "LAY." I mean really people. I even manage to embarrass myself when I am talking to myself. THAT IS TALENT.


So he left yesterday and of course I cried all the way home from the airport, I just hate good-byes. I miss Drew when I don't see him and somehow even more when I do see him, because it reminds me he'll be leaving again soon.

This weekend, however, I did try to convince everyone about sixty-two times to either A: Make him move here or B: Begin a mass migration to some new city where we take over an entire neighborhood and/or city block and start a compound of knitters, crocheters and crazy people and we could have a yarn co-op and rotate cat-sitting for each other and generally drink and carrouse and carry on in the kinship of friends. In a city we take over by sheer force of will. Who's on board?

And speaking of carry on, I think one day we'll all be boarding airplanes in our underwear and paper surgical gowns and they'll have to give you a valium and/or bourbon IV just to help you endure the flight, but Drew was a good sport and didn't bitch and complain about the whole OH MY GOD TOOTHPASTE COULD EXPLODE nature of airplane travel. Unlike me, who complained freely about it all weekend even though I have no travel plans at all for the next 800 years.

But I do have clean towels now, and ya'll that is a glorious thing.

Posted by laurie at 11:50 AM

July 29, 2006

Neighbors

My backyard is long but narrow and butts right up against the back neighbor's yard, who lives one street over. This entire area is called Encino Park, and it's a warren of tree-lined streets set out in a grid, each filled to capacity with post-war homes, two-bedroom, one bath stucco houses with old crank-style windows. A lot of people ask my why on earth I want to live here, all these families, and the house is so old that I had to sign some sort of legal document when I moved in assuring the landlord and anyone else that I wouldn't eat the paint, which is apparently made of pure lead, so toxic it's a wonder all babies born to returning soldiers didn't have three heads and a glow-in-the dark disposition.

But this neighborhood reminds me of a smalltown place, one I might have lived in as a child, not the newer, bigger houses built in planned communities on the edge of town with names like "Sunnyside" and "Manor Glen," but the older part of town with houses built for families who worked "down at the plant" or the dairy or tannery or whatever else passed for industry in the South during the '60s and '70s.

The houses are small and you can see into your neighbor's kitchen as you look out the window while brushing your teeth in your own bathroom each morning. But because we live in a big and crowded city, or maybe because it's just the way folks in general have adapted to living so close to each other, we all pretend we don't see or hear the things that go on in our neighbors' homes.

Someone in the house behind mine is yelling.

She yells a lot, actually, I never make out all the words, and I'm glad, just her tone makes me on edge and I know she's inside her house and maybe the doors and windows are shut tight but I can hear her anyway.

Sometimes she's yelling at a man, and that usually ends with a door slamming and a car peeling out of the driveway, often so loud it sets off someone's car alarm nearby.

Sometimes she's hollering at a kid, and sometimes the kid cries or hollers back.

I guess I'm lucky because my father was never a yeller, he is a quiet man, so I don't know where my own volume comes from but let me tell you, there was a night when me and my husband (ex-husband) were living in that big house in North Hollywood that we couldn't afford, right after the dot-bomb and I was anxious and looking for work and I had found some things a wife does not ever intend to discover about her betrothed, and I let loose in a fairly good imitation of a wild banshee.

Oh, it's in there all right. I've often said that us Southern women are just Mack trucks disguised as powderpuffs.

I don't like feeling untethered, unglued, ready to pull tight and snap like a savage. I hear this woman yelling and I know she's right there, or maybe I'm just imagining it because I'm not from a yelling family so when it comes out loud and hard you suspect there is a nervous breakdown just under the surface, and maybe the bodies will end up stored in the fridge between the cold cokes and the glazed ham for dinner.

So anyway, she yells a lot. And she's doing it right now, carrying on and pitching a hissy and I feel terrible for her children but I also wonder what on earth brings us to such a place where that's the last resort, the only way to be heard, the sheer frustration in her voice makes me remember every single time I myself have felt that way, the stress or heat or pure futility of a thing.

I read an article last week that talks about how we save our worst behavior for our spouses or loved ones, treating them with less compassion and kindness than we would our assistant, or our co-workers. I vow to never do that, think maybe that was one of the contributing factors in the downfall of my marriage, I don't know, I never will know. But if my neighbors ever overhear me making noise, I want them to be hearing my laugh or my friends cutting up or middle-of-the-night sounds, and never, ever the yelling.

After all, no one wants to be wound that tight, no one wants to wonder what's packed in foil between the cold cokes and the glazed ham.

Posted by laurie at 7:19 PM

July 24, 2006

Fried Okra

okra1.jpg


Now I know that a big, hot plate of fried okra may seem like an odd dinner when it is well over a thousand degrees outside (after all, shouldn't we be eating a popsicle followed by an ice-cold beer? Or just skip the popsicle all together?) but something deep down inside me was saying "Give me okra or give me death!" and one cannot deny their most base and animal instincts. Especially not where food is concerned, because it could be the harbinger of a giant okra shortage, or perhaps my body is crying out for the nutrients found only in the combination of fried cornmeal and hot oil. We may never know. The body is a mysterious thing.

So yesterday I drove to the store and scouted around for okra, and although the selection was limited to some slightly not-fresh overpriced pods, I snapped them up and took them home and ate a late dinner of nothing but fried okra, because I am fully committed to becoming a giant clogged artery disguised as a functional adult. I had a cold beer to go along with it too, it is summer after all.


Southern Fried Okra Recipe

You will need:
• A fair amount of okra
• Milk or cream
• flour (any kind, even rice flour or corn flour works)
• cornmeal (yellow or white, I use yellow)
• oil
• big heavy-bottomed frying pan

Select okra that is small and fresh, if you get the giant pods they'll be tough and not as tasty.

Before you do anything else, mix up your breading. I use about one part flour to two parts cornmeal. Maybe a little less flour. Season it with salt, pepper, Tony Chachere or any other all-seasing stuff you have on hand (season salt is fine in place of regular salt). I also add a little dash of cayenne pepper because YA'LL I AM CRAZY AND IT IS EFFING HOT OUTSIDE. May want to crank up the air conditioning.

Wash your okra, and slice each piece into little rounds, less than half an inch thick or so. Put the sliced okra in a bowl. Don't do anything else until you get your pan ready.


okra-cut.jpg


Put your oil in the frying pan and start warming it up. I use enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan about a quarter of an inch. This is probably not diet food. But! Crucial nutrients for ass-building are involved in the chemistry of deep-frying.

Now, while the pan is heating up, go back to your bowl of cut-up raw okra. Start adding a tee tiny bit of milk to the okra, and stirring it to coat it. It will instantly perform some kind of food-science thing that makes the okra get sticky. When all the okra is coated very lightly with milk, sprinkle in your breading mixture, and stir to coat all the pieces. Some of it will stick together in clumps, that's fine. I use a lot of the cornmeal breading.

Your oil should be hot enough for deep-frying -- test with one piece of okra. If the oil sizzles around it in little bubbles, you're ready. If the oil swarms around in a GIANT HUGE FRENZY to scorch the okra, your fire is too hot.

Add the okra to your pan in a shallow layer. Resist the urge to turn it immediately. Wait some more. After a bit, check on one or two pieces with a fork to see if it's golden-brown yet. If not, let a little while pass, and resist the urge to turn it again. You turn it over too quickly and you'll lose the breading. Once the okra is golden on one side, begin turning it over with a big spatula. Fry the other side up really good and drain the whole mess on a pile of paper towels.

okra-pan1.jpg

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Eat and enjoy!

Posted by laurie at 9:42 AM

July 1, 2006

Praise thy air conditioner

It was one hundred and eight degrees today. Spent the entire day shuttered indoors blasting the icy, artic artificial air from what must be humankind's greatest invention while splayed on the sofa, giving thanks to the world's second greatest invention, el Tivo, with whom I shared six back-to-back episodes of Gilmore Girls. Then realized I had become a shut-in who views "catching up on TV" as an actual to-do list item.

Have given up on vaccuuming the cat hair off the couch (too hot to vaccuum), have resorted to lint-rolling the cats directly. They are not amused.

Posted by laurie at 8:44 PM

May 25, 2006

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Hissyfit Cafe

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Ingredients:
  • a few green tomatoes
  • cornmeal (yellow is my favorite)
  • mix cornmeal with salt, pepper and other spices (I add in some white cornmeal, too, and some Tony Chachere seasoning)
  • bacon grease or vegetable oil

Cooking:
Slice the tomatoes into about half-inch slices. Dip in whipping cream or egg wash to make the batter stick. Then dredge each tomato slice in the cormeal mixture. Place in a hot skillet and fry until golden on one side, gently flip them over. Done when both sides are a nice golden brown. Then eat up!


- - - - -

During this morning's "Fun With Felines: A French Farce With Medication And Claws" I sat in the hallway and bawled. It's a good thing I don't have kids, I would SO be one of those "No more wire hangers!!!" mothers. Anyway, I'm going to take a (much-needed) few days off for the Memorial Day l-o-n-g weekend. Have a good one!

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Posted by laurie at 9:41 AM

May 8, 2006

Hello! We are crazy.

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If anyone has a nice, comfy storage shed that could accomodate one lady, four cats and mucho vino ya'll just let me know. Because over here, we are outfitting our wing of the Sherman Oaks Veterinary clinic. But it will be a lovely wing, everything will be gilded, or possibly covered in velvet, dripping with luxury and all the ingestibles will be flavored with tuna and catnip. Me and the cats would like to move in, please. Please?

I would also like to point out that I am revising my Hor-O-Scope forecast downward. For the street. Earnings are down at Chez Pox On Your House, and possibly unlucky stars are nearby. However, it is not dull ... ya'll, it is only May 8th. Think of the possibilities! A tree could fall on the roof. We could have an earthquake that runs on a little-known Encino faultline conveniently located under my kitchen floor. I could get scabies. Gas prices could reach the three-dollar-forty-five cent mark. Oh wait. What was I saying, again?

So! Very exciting weekend. It's not a party until someone is being plied into a cage and hauled to the vet. Roy and Soba are on medication, and now Bob and Frankie are both in the kitty hospital. Where they are being hydrated and probably given eucalyptus steam saunas and daily massage therapies. I imagine Frankie coming home manicured and wearing a Gucci collar. One can only hope that Bob is so stoned on the good kitty drugs that he is seeing multiples of his cute paws, which I do believe would make him happy. It is all very sad and tear-stained here at the house of despair and also, drinking.

I have only called the vet about eleventeen hundred times, "Hi! It's Laurie. Again. Hi! How are ya'll? How are my cats? Are you being sweet to them? Is Bob sleeping under his blanket? Is Frankie being validated today with affirmations of her supermodelness? Are ya'll charging me for this phone call?"

Needless to say, they love me. They are maybe trying to get an unlisted number.

The general theory is that Roy, what with his compromised immune system and love of making me crazy, picked up some kind of cat-sneezing, money-costing, sadness-inducing bug at the specialist and then incubated it for a sufficient amount of time before sharing it with his friends. Now there is nothing I can personally do to change or affect any of this, so I did the normal take-control thing yesterday and tore my house top to bottom, washing every towel, sheet, sock and surface. I Magic Erasered until the paint was coming off the walls. I vacuumed everything, including Roy, accidentally. Whoops. I washed all the pillows, the down comforter and the cat toys. I was standing outside the laundry room door at 1 a.m. this morning, LOOKING FOR THINGS TO WASH. I am maybe crazy. None of this will have any effect whatsoever on the health of my felines, but I have resorted to Mr. Cleanism for sanity's sake. I am dying to go home so I can Clorox the bathtub. Ya'll. I have lost my damn mind. Send wine.

Posted by laurie at 9:58 AM

April 19, 2006

Do you think my house will seem bigger if I get skinnier?

My house is very, very small. This house is exactly one-third the size of my previous home, the one I shared with you-know-who, and when I moved here I had mountains of boxes and extra furniture and stuff. Stuff everywhere.

Serious downsizing has occurred in the year I have lived at Chez Spinster. My home office/spare bedroom used to be almost impassable, with boxes stacked floor-to-ceiling all along the walls, and a path to the computer and the catbox. Now I have two file boxes for "stuff" and the rest is either put away, given away, or in the Future Yard Sale pile in the garage.

But even with the downsizing and de-cluttering, I still have A LOT of stuff. Decluttering is a continual process, and it goes in waves. At first I couldn't let go of much -- too many memories. I needed them. (cue strains of Wilson Phillips... "Hold on for one more day...") (oh ya'll shoot me, I have just made a WILSON PHILLIPS reference).

The second wave of decluttering trimmed books and a few clothes and some clutter packed away for last summer's yard sale. The third wave (after summer yard sale #1) was more aggressive and cut-throat: I even threw out tons of old vacation pictures of Mr. X. That took serious nerve and serious wine, and ya'll afterwards, I felt so shiny and brand-new that I took some of those pictures and went outside at two-in-the-a.m., lit my barbecue grill and had a bonafide Ex Husband Photo BBQ in my pajamas. There is nothing like getting your crazy on right on the back patio at 2 a.m.!

The hardest wave of decluttering was the Christmas stuff -- FIVE huge green Rubbermaid totes full of holiday decor. I grew up in a family that decked the halls high and low at holiday time, and when I got married I took that tradition to heart and me and Mr. X acquired quite a pile of holiday stuff. I had a small decorated tree for every room, with the big (live) tree in the living room and lights and fake greenery everywhere. It was like Santa Claus threw up in our house. Colorful! Festive! Gag-inducing!

I meant to pull out the green tubs and sort through them bit by bit. (Note to self: If Chinese Water Torture isn't available when you need to kill yourself slowly, just go through piles of holiday memories! That'll do the trick!) Instead, I ended up dragging the full tubs out to the lawn on Yard Sale day and sold the entire pile --including the green plastic tubs -- to the cutest two little newlyweds. They were so excited, it made the whole thing painless, a happy accident. Life is a mysterious thing.

So, anyway, lately I've been thinking a lot about size. The smallness of my house, the size of my life, all those ponder-your-bellybutton things. Not the least bit funny, I might add. I mean, really. I have been on a Funny-Free writing kick like nobody's business. (See: Wilson Freaking Phillips reference, above.)

But after everything that went on back home with the hurricanes, with so many people losing everything they own in natural disasters, my stuff, my little pile of stuff under this roof, feels embarrassingly materialistic. At the same time it all feels so comforting. How is that?

Of course, there's the care and feeding and upkeep of The Stuff. I don't have any intention of coming home after fourteen hours away and cleaning house. I hate that I have to deep-clean and declutter for days to have guests. I think... if I just had less stuff, then would all this be easier? Would my house seem bigger? Would it be easier to clean? What things can I do without?

Is living smaller the answer?

Without crossing over into hairy armpit territory, I'll tell ya'll I want to live simpler, more in harmony and less in a consumer frenzy. I don't want each weekend to be a litany of, "Oh, I have to run to the pet store, then to Target, then get gas, then go to the grocery and blah blah blah...." I'd like more free time. I commute, and work a lot, so my free time is limited and precious. I want it to be relaxing, not stressful and full of things I must complete before the weekend is over and work starts again.

I don't want a cabin-in-the-woods-manifesto kind of life. (That's the Sobakowa's dream.) But I also don't want to be a slave to my stuff, unable to move through life easily because of all my anchors. I know there's a balance somewhere between the comfort of things and the freedom from stuff.

Maybe I need some more late-night barbecuing to fire me up. Heh. Fire up.


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Posted by laurie at 9:39 AM

April 13, 2006

Have you heard the good news?

My current knitting project is really Angelica Houston. Ya'll know. Where you sometimes think it's perfect and unusual and gorgeous, and then you look at it later and you think, "Then again... maybe not."

I'm calling it the Paris Scarf, even though all the materials for said scarf were purchased here in the Valley, and all the knitting was done right here, and there is frankly nothing Parisian about it, except that when we were in France I saw all these women walking around wearing wide scarves, and I started this scarf -- a wide Paris-inspired scarf -- the Saturday we got back from a bazillion hour flight because I was unable to get back to sleep after what can only be described as The Time I Probably Made The Emissaries Of God Real Mad At Me.

But ya'll, I was tired. And jet-lagged. And just discovered I owed taxes, and the finances, it's stressful. So the Friday night after we got back, I had myself a beer or three, and took a Tylenol PM and zonked out on my pillow with a cat on my head. The next day was Saturday, and I could sleep in, and be rested and happy and right with the world.

Knock.
Knock knock.

At first I tuned it out. Then I tried to open one crusty eyelid, glued stuck with mascara from the day before because I was hateful tired and no, I did not properly remove my mascara (Whatever Happened To Baby Jane!) and I dragged myself out of bed to peer through the window for signs of the intruder. When I wake up I'm completely blind without my contacts, and no amount of squinting or sighing makes things clearer.

Knock. Knock knock.

I thought it might be my neighbor Tommy. Tommy lives right next door and he's very nice, I like him a lot. He and his wife are tolerant of my loud dinner parties and slightly parched front lawn. Every now and then he'll decide that 6 a.m. is the appropriate time to knock on my door to deliver misaddressed mail or to ask me if I noticed a possum in the neighborhood. I used to answer the door, because I assumed it must be an emergency ... nobody knocks on the door before 10 a.m. unless the sky is falling! Now I know better. (Of course, Tommy goes to bed at 8 p.m. So, from time to time, I'll find myself having to knock on his door at 11 p.m. to ask about, um, possum eating habits or something truly pressing.) (Ya'll know.)

But on this particular Saturday morning there were two people on the doorstep, and neither of them was Tommy, unless Tommy had started wearing a flowered dress and navy blue pumps. My visitors did not appear to be leaving anytime soon, so me and my Baby Jane mascara answered the door.

"Hi," said Cheerful Lady #1. "Have you heard the good news?"

"No," I said. "There's good news?"

I began to perk up a little. Because, good news! Maybe some distant, unknown relative has left me ten million dollars! Or maybe Oscar de la Hoya has moved in next door and we'll start borrowing sugar from one another and before you know it I'll be wearing a white dress and picking out china patterns! Or maybe, just maybe, the city of Los Angeles has finally decided to re-pave the street I live on! (There is a greater chance that I will become a multi-millionaire and marry Oscar de la Hoya than getting the street re-surfaced. But I am a dreamer, and also I am delusional. And tired.)

Good news! Why, that's a reason to wake up!

"Right on," I said. "Good news. So what is it?"

"Well," said Cheerful Lady #2, "Jesus Christ died on the cross so that you may live eternal life!"

"You're kidding me?" I said.

"Oh no," said Cheerful #1. "Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ gave his life for you."

"So there's no suprise inheritance?"

The fog of sleep hadn't cleared yet. Surely she wasn't waking me up at my house on a Saturday morning before 9 a.m. and this is her good news? I've read the papers, ya'll, and Jesus died a while back. I mean, I'm Catholic, I'm pretty aware that JC isn't running a taco shop on 7th Street. This is not news, people. You do not need to go around waking up strangers to state the obvious. I'm not going to show up at their house next Tuesday evening at midnight to announce that Paris Hilton is still tacky. You know?

Nobody said anything for a minute. So I asked them again. "There's no million dollars?"

"Um..." Cheerful #1 looked confused.

"There's no Oscar de la Hoya?" I asked.

"No...." she said.

"There's no sugar and white dress and little rosebud bouquet?"

They looked at me. "Well..." "Ahm..."

"And you mean to tell me that no one is paving my street today?" I was having trouble with this one. This was not what my tiny sleep-addled possibly hung-over jetlagged mind could compute.

"Um, no, honey, maybe we'll just come back at a better time when you're..ahm.. more... " said Cheerful #2.

"... yes, yes, when you're more, prepared..." chimed in Cheerful #1. Who, by the way, wasn't looking quite as cheerful as she had upon arrival.

But I was awake by now. I was! "It's the potholes, really..." I said, "I mean, I would put forth some prayer on that subject, if ya'll drove here and all you should have seen 'em, and so maybe ya'll could ask JC about it? Because multiple calls to the city have produced zero results and ya'll I do believe in reviving Valley Seccession if... hey. Wait a sec, where ya'll going? I mean we should talk about this...."

They left so fast they were practically running, with their flowered dresses flapping and their navy blue pumps clopping off on the sidewalk.

"That wasn't good news," I announced to their rapidly shrinking backs. "That wasn't good news at all!"

And I was awake, so I made some coffee, and I started knitting Angelica Houston. I'll put up some pictures when I'm done. And, in case you're wondering, we still have potholes on my street that could swallow a small child. That is not good news at all!

Posted by laurie at 9:50 AM

March 14, 2006

Los Angeles, Crazy-Adjacent

Last week I decided in no uncertain terms ... it is FINAL. The time has come. I HAVE GOT TO MOVE.

Now ya'll know I love my little house, and I love the Valley, and I love my yard and even my crazy neighbors, and best of all I love that my real address is not actually in Encino, California, but is Encino-Adjacent, as if that were a real place. And yet in Los Angeles, it is perfectly acceptable to tell people you live in Encino-Adjacent, because people get it. They, after all, are living in Sherman Oaks Adjacent, Beverly Hills Adjacent or Hollywood Hills Adjacent.

But this was IT. I'd just had enough and I HAD TO MOVE.

Because of traffic.

After spending TWO FULL HOURS commuting the 20 miles to downtown on one rainy day, I was FED UP. Done. Ready to pack up and haul all four cats and a disturbing amount of Patons Up Country to an overpriced loft in downtown.

But then on Saturday evening I came home to the sounds of my neighbors to the left having a backyard boogie with a pinata, while my neighbors directly behind me were playing the soundtrack to "Hair" and loudly discussing their DOG'S agent. No. Really. Their DOG HAS AN AGENT. And I looked around my yard, and I decided, once and for all again, to stay at my house for the rest of the year for three very compelling reasons.

1) I am lazy.

2) It would be fiscally irresponsible of me to move when I am trying to dig myself out of debt. Moving = first month's, last month's, deposit, pet deposit, moving expenses, new stuff from Ikea, new shoes to match the new handbag I bought while on my way to Ikea, etc.

3) And, finally, the primary reason to stay put is that I have become completely and totally OBSESSED WITH GROWING A SQUARE WATERMELON and to achieve this goal, I must have a place to grow said watermelon. Such as my back yard.

That's right, you heard me. I HAVE GONE INSANE. And now, apparently, square!

It all began innocently enough. I was having lunch with three of my coworkers, all of whom are Asian. We were talking about... I have no idea what. Because what sort of conversation naturally segueways into square watermelons? Oh, I remember! One of the guys was telling me about his most recent trip to Japan and about the expensive cantaloupe he'd eaten there.

Me: How expensive is 'expensive' in melon dollars?

Coworker A: It was about $100 for the cantaloupe.

Me: For how many cantaloupes?

Coworker A: One. $100 for one cantaloupe.

Me: Did you feel really dumb after you bought a $100 cantaloupe?

Coworker B: Was it square?

Me: Now that's normally the sort of cracked-out question I ask! Way to go, Coworker B! I've rubbed off on you!

Coworker B: Well, they do have square watermelons in Japan, you know.

Me: They DO NOT. Stop fibbing. This is just like the time you told me that all cellphones have a GPS locator in them!

(All three coworkers at the same time): They do.

Me: I do not believe you and your square watermelon story.

So, of course after lunch we all returned to Corporate Job, Inc., and focused on the important and dedicated task of ... researching the existance of square watermelons. And happily I report to you that I WAS WRONG, because they do exist, and I completely stole this image from the internets to show you:

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The Japanese are magic people. They manage to invent the most extraordinary things, and now I have become obsessed, OBSESSED! with growing myself a square watermelon. I have discussed with every engineer at work the possible growing/shaping container options and what the building materials may be, and what will be hinged or removable and I have decided to set out on a path of SCIENCE and also, probably drunkenness, because nothing goes better with gardening and mad science experiments than a nice cold beer! And I am going to make the backyard in a growing wonderland of square fruit.

I feel I may have finally found my life's calling: Drinking beer and writing about failed attempts at gardening. Because already this little adventure of mine is starting out on the crazy foot, and the crazy foot leads to funny stories about stuff I have messed up, usually while drinking.

Exhibit A: My Gardener Laughs At Me

As I have mentioned somewhere else in this website, one of the inneresting quirks about people in L.A. is that none of them do their own yardwork. No one mows their own yard (no one washes their own car, either, but that's a whole nother column) and so my little rented piddlysquat house in Encino-Adjacent comes with a gardener, who is named Francisco.

Francisco and I have talked about my desire to create a garden, and also how I don't want to cut off my foot with a roto-tiller while digging up the back yard. He suggested creating raised beds for the garden and offered to bring me some scrap lumber and dirt which he will sell to me for "muy cheap."

Me: Ok, so we're all set on the dirt?

Francisco: Si, el fin de semana... el ocho de abril?

Me: Thanks, sounds great! Oh! Francisco? Um ... is it organic dirt?

Francisco: ...?

[Long pause.]

Francisco: Si ... sure, miss ... es organic dirt.

And we looked at each other for one long moment while Francisco studiously tried not to burst out laughing. Then I walked inside and as I closed the door I heard his helper say, "ORGANIC dirt!" and they had a hearty little chuckle courtesy of one crazy white woman.

I can only imagine the conversation that Francisco will have, maybe forever, with other gardeners in the Greater Los Angeles and North Valley region. And the laughter. OH THE LAUGHTER.


Francisco: And then this crazy ass white lady asked me if the DIRT was ORGANIC!!

Gardeners from across Los Angeles: Hah hah!! You should charge her more for it!! Crazy white lady and her ORGANIC DIRT!!


And to you, Francisco, and to all gardeners who have heard the tale of the Crazy White Woman And Her Organic Dirt, all I have to say is ... WAIT UNTIL YOU SEE THE WAY I GROW A WATERMELON.

Posted by laurie at 7:23 AM

February 13, 2006

Movie Night, a.k.a. 'Glad ya'll liked the shrimp, sorry about the drunk picture-taking!'

This weekend I hosted a little get-together for the girls who are going to Paris so we could eat French cheese and drink French wine and watch some French movies. (Can ya'll tell we are excited about this trip?) Shannon couldn't make it, and we were very sad, but we soldiered on and before long the wine was opened and cheeks were pinkened and all was well. But we did miss you, Shannon!

Jennifer and Gloria and Amber came over, and we commenced with the merrymaking, bonjour beaujoulais! The last time I had even a drop of alcohol was on Shannon's birthday, so needless to say cheeks were pink here at chez wino in no time flat. Although this was allegedly a wine and cheese party, as a Southerner I have trouble serving only cheese for dinner and at the last minute I marinated some shrimp for kebabs. An excellent choice because I got to use my new grill! I do love my new baby grill, which is propane and little and cute as a button. AND IT COST ME $19.95. No lie. I understand why the rest of the nation is in love with Wal-Mart, because even though I had to drive all the way to Panorama City for this little grill, it was well worth it.

[click images for a bigger view]

Prepping in the kitchen, man do I love to take pictures of food.


The cutest grill, my patio at night, shrimp!



Some crazy pink-cheeked lady under intense flash with (from L-R): Amber, Gloria and Jennifer.

Also, I have the worst post-party anxiety. Does everyone do this or is it another fine Neurotic Girl trait? You know, the party ends, people leave (or you leave, if it was hosted elsewhere) and you smack your forehead for all the dumb things you said. You wake up the next morning vowing once and for all (again) to shut the hell up next time and refrain from A) talking about the bird flu and B) Telling everyone how in love you are with Dr. Andrew Weil and C) Showing everyone pictures of said doctor to which they say things like, "Oh." and "He'd make a good Santa Claus." and D)THE TALKING.

But there is nothing better in all this world than the company of your closest girlfriends, and hopefully they will forgive me for the talking, and also the drunk photography that I somehow always mange to force people into when we look our worst. Love you! Can't wait for Paris! And maybe next time on Movie Night we'll actually watch a movie, whoops!


Bob has party anxiety, too
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Posted by laurie at 7:36 AM

December 9, 2005

If this doesn't put you to sleep, nothing will.

I have nothing to say really, no cars were stolen, no muppets were skinned so their hides can be made into ugly scarves, no divorces today. Will that stop me from talking? Does the pope wear a funny hat? Does a bear poop in the woods?

While the answer to those compelling questions may be "yes," the answer to the compellinger question of will I shut up is... uh, did someone say compellinger? Like that is a word? Oh wait ..it is a word? Awesomer!

Hello. I am crazy. How are you?

Work is insanity, everyone is going on vacation and would like to please see mockups of their January projects... now? Please? And I am avoiding the holidays, and have completed 0.00009% of my holiday knitting, and I cannot find my black lace-up boots. So now I will talk to about the following Vaguely Crucial Items.


i. Panty Paranoia
Hah, you thought that was a typo, right, and I meant paRty paranoia? As in Holiday Party Paranoia? No. No typo.

I suffer from Panty Paranoia which I fully blame on my mother and her Worst Case Scenerios, which always involved underwear: "You have to wear nice panties! What if you were in a car accident? What if you had to make an emergency trip to the doctor? What if a tornado came and whipped your skirt off?"

It could happen.

Imagine this sense of ratty-panty paranoia combined with my total loathing of laundry. I DETEST doing laundry. Ya'll, I would prefer to stand in line at the pharmacy surrounded by hunky guys while an equally hunky salesclerk does a price check on my economy-size box of tampons than do laundry.

So I am the sort of girl who, when faced with Mt. St. Washmore and a clean laundry shortage, will actually drive to the store, park, go inside said store, shop, select new panties, check out and return home rather than just do a load of wash. This has happened more than once. My parents are now embarrassed and telling people who just read this that I am adopted.

I AM NOT ADOPTED.



ii. Saturday is Judgment Day, or "We shall go a'washing."

I've been trying the Heat & Pressure (TM) method of laundry... that's where you desperately hope the heat and pressure from the top of the pile cleans the clothes at the bottom of the pile. It does not appear to be working. Instead, in the darkness and solitude, the laundry appears to be mating with each other and spawning new dirty clothes. Someone call Discovery Channel.

My laundry is now spilling out of the basket and onto the floor and threatens to take over the hallway. I fear the socks will be staging an insurrection.

Maybe I'll go shopping.


iii. And she cooks, too. Alert the Fire Department.
Last night I once again successfully set off the fire alarm in my house with my exceptional cooking skills. It led to a cooking catharsis of sorts ... I finally discovered what the problem is (aside from the fact that I'm a lousy cook).

I suffer from Advanced Cooking ADD.

Cooking is boring, and I get distracted. For instance, last night I put some grean beans in a pan and set them on the stove to simmer. It's not haute cuisine, but after six paragraphs describing my laundry, aren't you sort of impressed that I managed to open a can of vegetables without a soliloquy? So, beans firmly esconced in pan. Add olive oil, garlic powder. Leave kitchen. DANGER WILL ROBINSON DANGER.

Apparently, once I leave the kitchen, I completely foget that I even have a stove, or a mystical "cooking room" in the house and before long I am back in the guest room painting my toenails (um, yes. no clean socks = wearing Mary Janes to work) and watching Entertainment Tonight and also flipping through the mail, because I am a badassss multitasker.

And then before you know it the alarm is going off and dinner is burned to a crisp. And EVERY SINGLE TIME THIS HAS EVER HAPPENED, which is a lot, I am completely shocked and freaked out when the alarm goes off. "Why is the smoke alarm going off? Is there a fire? Did someone break in? And start a fire? Why would someone do that?"

I'm not sure what was cathartic about that experience, except for finally being diagnosed with Cooking ADD and also ... huh? What was I saying? Is something good on teevee?


iv. Scientific Theory Makes No Headlines
I have probably 12 mate-less socks sitting in the drawer, the last lone holdouts in the clean laundry world. Where did their companion socks go? Did the dryer eat them? Are the cats hiding them in their secret lair?

I have a theory. (I always have a theory). Lost socks turn into coat hangers. I have exactly eleventeen and twenty-two coat hangers and not one clean pair of matched socks. COINCIDENCE? I THINK NOT. And if you think that is not science, sir, I would like to see your hypothesis explaining The Great Disappearance Of Many Socks.


IN CONCLUSION

If this exciting column hasn't put you to sleep yet, just think.... tomorrow you may get to read about My Adventures in Ironing (as if! because .... do I even own an iron?) or maybe I'll film myself doing something really cutting edge like Folding, Sweeping or Cleaning The Catbox. Can you hear strains of Shiela E's "The Glamorous Life" playing in the background? That's me. It's nothing but a big party at Chez Spinster, especially with the dirty clothes getting it on in the dark recesses of the laundry basket.


P.S. Send wine. Obviously I am crazy. If you see my boots, please tell them I miss them.


(gratuitous cat photo)
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Posted by laurie at 10:14 AM

December 4, 2005

Found it.

After many emphatic prayers to the Gods of OH PLEASE TAKE ANYTHING ELSE YOU WANT JUST PLEASE GIVE ME BACK MY CAMERA, indeed my little Kodak DigiCam For Dummies was returned, and we reconciled and celebrated with a cheap organic Shiraz from Whole Foods. After making my bargain with the devil, I'm sure my left leg will be missing tomorrow. (Whatever. I can hop.) At least I have my camera back.

The sneaky camera had somehow rolled underneath the passenger-side seat of my Jeep. Perhaps because the last photograph I took before it disappeared was this:

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Yes, I was taking pictures while driving. Again. Are you wondering why I was so excited to capture this delicious little beige Toyota Corolla from the 1970s forever with my camera? Take a look at the close-up of the left back panel:

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Oh yeah, ya'll. LUXURY EDITION. That's how I roll.

Yesterday I met up with Christine at Unwind, my favorite local yarn shop, for some retail therapy. They are having a BIG 50% Off SALE, so hurry down there. In fact you should go now, go! I'll still be here when you get back. One of the greatest things about Unwind is that they have frequent shopper cards, and you get a punch everytime you buy full-price stuff, and over time it does add up. Then when the card is full, you get a whopping $30 off any purchase, even off sale stuff.

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They're so nice they don't even mind the crazy camera lady.

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I bought all this yarn at HALF OFF, folks, and then used my $30 card, and it was practically FREE and definitely the best retail therapy I have had in a loooong time.

Also, now that I have my camera back I can document for you the CSI-esque crime scene that has become my bathroom. The veterinarian gave me a new antibiotic for Roy The Cat -- a liquid this time. I squirt it into his unwilling mouth twice a day. He hates me. This liquid antibiotic is dark magenta, so when Roy fights me and spits it out, the dark pink medicine ends up like so many murder-scene blood drops on my formerly white walls.

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We're now calling the bathroom Scene Of The Crime.

Gil Grissom would find the spray pattern fascinating. Warrick Brown would look sultry and wonder where the perp was. Sara Sidle would be bored, she hates cats, but Nick would feel badly for Roy and want to take him in. Catherine would roll her eyes and go on to the next dead body as the camera zooms in on her butt.

Ok, I'll stop that. Sorry. Got carried away.

Roy is feeling much better, I can attest to his improved STRENGTH and STAMINA and did I mention STRENGTH? Even mummy-wrapped in a towel he manages to struggle free during antibiotic time and he is as we speak plotting my death. I could not be happier!

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Roy is 25% of my divorce settlement, you know. I need him to live long and prosper.

The other 75% of my divorce settlement have been busy with the usual pooping and sleeping and so on. They are so worn out from sleeping all day, they have to take a nap. I woke them up for the photo shoot.

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Except Sobakowa, of course, who had found a patch of sun and was warming her magnificent self in its presence.

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She did manage to wake long enough to deliver a message.

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Posted by laurie at 12:30 PM

November 8, 2005

Ya'll, just ignore me. The clutter is in my mind.

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These cats are not considered clutter.

I have a very unusual approach to cleaning the house.

At some point I'll realize the house is a complete mess. After about twenty minutes of looking at the mess room to room, I begin to rationalize that the house would never be messy again if only I had more organizational items, like shelves and wooden magazine holders, and I must immediately rush off to Ikea because that is clearly the only solution to the messy house situation.

And then I repeat the entire cycle again in a few weeks and I have all this stuff from Ikea like little cardboard boxes with blue and seafoam green polka dots and still there are papers everywhere and mail all over the kitchen table and a pile of post-it-notes obscuring the bathroom mirror and THE CLUTTER IS TRYING TO KILL ME.

There are also some rather ADD-like issues involved in tidying up. For instance, I'll decide to tackle a pile of unknown paper items and I'll have a good, strong start... tossing out last year's Halloween party invitations and receipts from the gas station, and then I'll hit a roadbump. Usually in the form of a magazine. Ya'll know. I have to flip through it and see if I've read it all the way through. Or then I find the article I was saving, which reminds me I need to call so-and-so, which prompts me to get up, make a cocktail, but there are no ice cubes, and then I remember that they had cute little ice trays at Ikea, and I'd surely remember to make ice if I went to Ikea, and so on.

I'm particularly keen on this whole routine as a method of distraction from the billion and one things I need to do .... I'm too busy and harried and stressed, and I feel like I'm behind schedule every morning when I wake up. So I will waste enormous amounts of time vacuuming the sofa or dusting the remote controls or anything that resembles productivity to the naked eye but is, in fact, just simple time suckage.

I'd also like to know why time moves at different speeds during my day. The hour between the first ring of the alarm clock and the actual moment I finally drag my bountiful butt out of bed just flies by. But the hour between 5:30 and 6:30 on a Tuesday afternoon just seems infinite.

Is it just me?

Posted by laurie at 8:48 AM

November 2, 2005

Breakfast for dinner and the friends who eat it.

Shannon and Karman came over for dinner last night, and after hash brown casserole (not as good as Cracker Barrel, but still good!) biscuits, bacon and champagne (because champagne goes with a white trash breakfast-for-dinner dinner) (champagne goes with anything) we sat around and caught up and talked and gossiped and...

... and you know how talking and champagne drinking goes on a Tuesday night. It can either end up buckwildnaked in someone's pool, or it ends all introspective and tearful. We remained clothed, so there's your answer before you even ask the question.

I'm tired of my divorce. This is how they get you, see? They ("The U.S. Department of They") stretch out this divorce nonsense so long and painful that by the time it's all over, you're exhausted and ready to sign over everything -- even your ovaries and cute shoes -- just for it to please END ALREADY.

Is this fallout from my still-unmulled anniversary last week? Normal? Pity-partyesque? Maybe it's the looming holidays. Yes. That's it. Holidays are looming. Consider yourself loomed over! Either way, the final paperwork arrived yesterday along with the bill from my lawyer (My Final Bill = my firstborn, my life savings, and maybe my left kidney while we're at it). Everything will be officially dissolutioned on December 5, 2005. Merry Christmas!

Shannon and Karman are good eggs. They don't seem to mind the stink of sadness that follows me around sometimes. Also, they didn't mind that I made breakfast for dinner, and that this so-called breakfast had no eggs.

Shannon has a fabulous new Eurotrash haircut which I lovelovelove:
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Karman, so cute, sippin' champagne in a cup:
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Roy, my main man, holding down the kitty pi fort:
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In Very Important Knitting News .... my fuzzyfeet are afoot. HAR HAR. I'm in the remedial fuzzyfeet knitter's circle, as I have only one cuff and heelflapjack thingy completed on one foot:

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Posted by laurie at 3:55 PM

October 30, 2005

New words and new birds

I think I found a new word. A descriptive word. For... people. That maybe I know.

Retrosexual (adj., n) One who reminisces about the time, waaaaay back in the bloom of her youth, when she actually had sex.

In other news, today I discovered a small blue parakeet on my patio. I have named him Bird. I keep asking him questions like, "Hey Bird, what's your name? Where are you from? Did you escape? Did they let you go? Want to live here with me? Do you like cats?" and so on.

I have no idea what to do with Bird, since I can't put him in a cage inside my house (four cats, 'nuff said.) But he doesn't have the good sense God gave an acorn. For one thing, he was pecking at the bird seed on the ground, instead of hopping up on the bird feeder like all the other wildlife. At first I thought this was because his wings were clipped or something, but indeed he can fly -- he's just not used to being in the wild. (If you can call Encino, California "the wild.") And all this time on the ground can be dangerous for a bright-blue bird, especially with the amount of feral Valley cats that roam the neighborhood looking for KFC scraps and/or bright-blue birds for dinner.

So, I'm worried that he'll get eaten by a feral cat. Or that the other birds will be jealous of him and attack him. Or worse ... talk about him behind his back. He was pretty zen today, just sitting there on the patio while I asked him 21 Questions and tried to get him to eat birdseed from a bowl.

What do I do? Do any of ya'll want a slightly-used bright blue bird? I could maybe catch him and put him in a cage or something. I have no idea. I'm not a bird person. I feed all the outdoor birds with seed because my cats like to watch them from the windows and envision a day when they have opposable thumbs and can unlatch screens, and eat all the birds. It's "Bird TV" for my cats.

But I like Bird, and I don't want him to get eaten. He seems a little lonely, like me, the retrosexual. I'm waiting for the right moment to tell him I'm an almost-divorced person ... I was kind of dishonest with him this morning. Didn't tell him the whole story. Just birdseed and wholesome family talk.

Wait 'til he finds out I'm a spinster with four cats. Poor guy. Talk about rough landings!

Posted by laurie at 1:23 AM

October 24, 2005

There was much tomfoolery and carrying on and I did not mop, which caused great heartbreak for my mom.

I didn't mop. Let's just get that out of the way right now. My mom had to pour a cocktail when I told (confessed) this fact to her, and she sighed. The sigh which clearly conveyed HAD SHE TAUGHT ME NOTHING? WHERE IN THE UPBRINGING HAD IT ALL GONE WRONG? After all, a Very Important Guest from the East Coast had come out here to stay with me and I DID NOT MOP. What on earth could I have been doing that would take precedence over this crucial step to houseguesting?

Well, let me tell you. It's so exciting! And also, magic!

You see, I discovered Magic Erasers, the miracle cleaning product. They are these little white eraser things that you dampen and they remove anything -- ANYTHING -- on the walls or doors or countertops. Scuffs! Mystery marks! Schmook*! Gone! And I was so thrilled and also excited by the Magic, that I Magic Erasered spots both real and imagined on every surface of my house except the kitchen floor. For hours. Whoops!

(*This was a different word. It meant something bad. I am maybe not very smart. I changed it. Moving on.)

Then I had to clean about ten feet of ash off every surface of the patio for The Big Party, and there was much housecleaning and laundry-doing and, also, perhaps shopping, so I guess they'll have to revoke my Southern Belle card because not only did I neglect the crucial mopping, I CANNOT EVEN FIND MY MOP.

But! I did find my houseguest, the very lovely and funny and warm Annie Modesitt, who is out here in Los Angeles teaching classes and doing book signings for her latest, a collection of essays called "Cheaper Than Therapy." We met at the Yarn Garden in Studio City on Friday night, where she signed books and knitted and chitchatted and we saw Debra and Gaby there. And I met the lovely Yarn Garden owner, Tiffany, and her mom Cherie who is an AMAZING maker of knitted things, and Tiffany's daughter (who at three years old is a better knitter than I am. Really.)

Annie signed some books and told us some great stories, and we all sat on the patio at the shop and chatted. At some point, someone figured out that I was the Jack-Daniels-in-a-coffee-cup cat lady from the book, and after SO MUCH ARM TWISTING (ha!) I got to sign MY VERY FIRST BOOK EVER and it was so exciting, and thrilling, and I loved it! In fact, I loved it so much that I offered to sign all books! ALL books! I don't care who wrote them! In fact, I might just start asking people on the bus, "Hey! What are you reading? Hand it to me! I'll sign it!"


Send me anything, I'll sign it! Me, Tiffany and Annie with Tiffany's blanket; Cherie, with a gorgeous shawl of her own design.


Debra and Gaby; Girls Gone Wild; Inside the cozy Yarn Garden.


After we left the shop, Annie and I went to visit her friend James, who has an amazing house in Sherman Oaks that I kind of want to move into. With clear oak floors and huge built-in cabinets and a granite kitchen island. Then we went back to my house (which is no so much the granite island kind of place) and I drank wine and talked Annie's ear off, and she was very sweet even though you know she was about to fall over from tiredness.

On Saturday, I hosted a little gathering of knitters and friends at my house to meet Annie and have dinner. In fact, I called this gathering a "dinner party." All the elements were in place to make very fancy chicken kebabs and Jasmine rice with toasted almonds and so on. All the elements except... maybe someone to cut and marinate the chicken, and slice all the vegetables, and marinate those, and then clean the grill and light the grill and make the kebabs and toast the almonds and so on. That person was... missing? Not me? Tired? Perhaps drinking wine and visiting with Faith on the patio?

So, instead I made my guests a very fancy and delicious meal of the Italian persuasion:
annievisit-me-pizza.jpg


But everyone seemed to forgive me, and I got them liquored up and before long we were Knitting Under The Influence:

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Party at my house, ya'll! Bring... something to eat. Because apparently the cook is on strike. Again.


Click for big images:

All in all, a lovely weekend and so much fun. Especially if you were the hostess who didn't have to clean a single plate after the party. In fact, I may never cook for a party again, it's much easier for a nice man to bring you food in a warm box. Then you can sit back with your red cheeks and big red wine and offer to sign people's paper plates. Don't you agree?

Posted by laurie at 11:10 AM

September 12, 2005

No need for a guard dog here at Chez Wino.

When you live in a completely unnatural place like Los Angeles, you tend to forget that nature is all around us and even though we do our best to get rid of it, it is just waiting for its chance to sneak up on a person and EAT YOUR EYES. And then, EAT YOUR STASH.

And I know people who claim to like camping and hiking and other invigorating pursuits that take place outside the car, but I do not trust nature (it is trying to kill me) and frankly, I find that if I sit on my patio long enough with a glass of wine, nature will come crawling to me, or flying to me, and it will SCARE ME HALF TO DEATH, and yet I will be compelled to photograph it. I brave the nature, pretending I am working for National Geographic and my images will be the definitive work, the exposé, on the wildlife of the Encino patio region. And of course I can only do this while I am on the phone with Jennifer, because one can never EVER venture into nature alone, or dingos will eat your baby.

Me: OH MY GOD IT'S ... BIGGER THAN MY HEAD

Jen: What is?

Me: I don't know... it's ... a moth? A beast? Jeff Goldblum finally fully morphed into The Fly?

Jen: Where is it?

Me: In the rafters of the patio, oh oh oh I have GOT TO TAKE ITS PICTURE.

Jen: Are you outside with it?

Me: ... yes?

Jen: This can't be good.

mothbeast

mothbeast

mothbeast

mothbeast


This is what I get for hoarding all the Up Country. Someone must have circulated a memo to nature, detailing the specifics of one very large, very tasty stash of pure 100% wool. Now there are huge, yarnivorous moths with eerie eyes hanging out on my patio, trying to chew their way indoors. Crazy moth beasts! In the wild badlands of Encino!!

And ya'll wonder why I refuse to go camping.

Posted by laurie at 9:06 AM

August 24, 2005

Blame it on the cats.

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With jury duty safely behind me for another twelve months, I can get back to the beck and call of my cats and my job. It's a lot of poop. But someone's got to do it.

After Marnie pointed out yesterday that plastic knitting needles are allowed in the L.A. Superior Court jury system (according to their website, anyway), I feel less outlaw and covert, and I think I can show you my jury duty knitting without fear of being thrown in the pokey:

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Now that's a fair amount of knitting, especially if you include the seven inches of pure ugly stockinette I whipped out on the Mystery Cat Thingamajig. Thanks, Marnie for the L.A. Court link!! I think next time I'll print out a copy of the guidelines as proof (I also do this when flying but it doesn't always work -- if you get a Buster Big Pants TSA person, you are shitouttaluck.) I used bamboo circs and they didn't set off any alarms ... although the metal clasp on my official "Juror" badge set off the metal detector twice. GO FIGURE.

By the time I was excused from my civic obligation, it was already early afternoon and it felt wrong to drive all the way into downtown and start working. JUST WRONG, I tell you. So I went home and tried to unjunk the office/spare bedroom for a few hours.

Maryse once emailed me and pointed out that while I love to see pictures of other people's houses up here on the Internets, I don't post many pictures of my own house.

There is a reason for this.

That reason is my office.

It is a scary scary place. I suspect there is a fifth cat in there somewhere, growing out of the fur trapped between the piles of boxes. I fear that if I spend too much time in there I shall perish, never able to find the path to the door again. Like Hansel and Gretel, I have to leave a trail of post-its each time I journey into that part of the house.

It's just an everloving MESS. The rest of the house stays relatively neat and tidy, because all the mess is confined to this one room of packrattery, and in it are the remnants of almost a decade of marriage plus all my crafts, crap, files, papers, stuff, junk, and odds 'n ends. There could also be a leftover moving guy trapped behind the wall of boxes. We may never know.

Well, actually, we will know, in time. Because after the very successful First Ever Yard Sale, I became way more excited about paring down the office. For the past few weeks, I have unjunked a box or two during any spare time. Now there's just a pile of random crap on the floor and eleventeen million boxes in the garage for the next yard sale.

Only...

There are things. Embarrassing things. Things maybe you are SO SHAMED TO HAVE IN YOUR POSESSION that you are in fact debating about whether or not to KEEP them rather than sell them at a yard sale.

That's right -- items so pathetic that you are afraid for STRANGERS ON YOUR LAWN to see them.

But of course it's perfectly fine to share these items in pictoral form on the Internets with the whole world:

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That's right ya'll. I actually OWN both a MILLI VANILLI tape and a WHITESNAKE tape and I have KEPT BOTH OF THEM ALL THIS TIME.

You can see how I ended up in such a fix. I ... I blame it on the rain. And here I go again on my own! Going down the only road I've ever known! Actually, that Whitesnake tape is pretty good.

Girl, you know it's true.


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Posted by laurie at 9:32 AM

August 16, 2005

The Cautionary Tale Girl talks about money. Hilarity ensues.

Today is exactly the one year mark since Mr. X slammed the door on me and the cats. In that year, I have managed to stop bawling at my desk, stop smoking (so far, so good!), start writing stuff, discover the durable love of battery-operated devices and Face My Debt.

(Hi Dad! All the um, battery-operated flashlights are working great! They're just waiting for an earthquake!)

Of all the things I have accomplished this year, fiscal responsibility has been the most rewarding. It's like taking hold of my future and really, truly having faith in myself. Believing that I can live as a grown up, a real woman, one who brings home the bacon and puts it in the fridge. And then has a glass of wine and feels FANtastic about bringing home that bacon.

I can't control when stuff catches on fire, or when I'll bump into Mr. X in North Hollywood, or when the spontaneous belts and hoses and radiators may break on my car.

But I can control my money.


I can develop a plan, and have a goal. (In fact, my ONLY financial goal this year was... well. To develop a financial goal. Task solidly accomplished!) I tell you all of this because maybe out there somewhere is another girl like me who wants to hide in the closet and eat oreos every time their credit card bills arrive. Or go shopping. And we all know the best way to tackle your finances is to SHOP THEM AWAY.

The truth is, hiding from money and debt only increases your fear of money. And I kind of suspect that when you FEAR money, you will mistreat it. You may ignore it, strive for less of it, want it but feel selfish and greedy, or be completely emotionally strung out by the whole thing and your remedy is to go shopping. Or hide. Or pull a Scarlett and say tomorrow... tomorrow is another day. Pass the wine!

(And by "you" ... I mean "me.")

What we have learned, however, is that I AM A CAUTIONARY TALE. And if I can get a handle on my finances, what with my love of shopping and hatred of math and general ignorance of all things fiscal, than any human on the planet can get into shape and shake their little moneymaker.

To that end, I share with you my Remedial Adult's Guide to Money:


1) Never ever EVER lose track of your money.

So, hi ya'll! I was married. And in my fantasy life, I had a Barbie/Ken marriage and Ken was a Man (debatable, but still) and therefore imbued with the Ability To Handle Money. For years I worked and shopped and let Ken do all the manly money managing. Well. Not only was I wrong about Ken's personal predilictions, I was also wrong about his money-managing talents.

The Moral of the cautionary tale: While it is tempting to have someone take care of the adding and balancing and so on, never NEVER cede your personal financial power to anyone.
Participate in your financial well being.
Draft goals together.
Have a family money plan. Talk about savings and retirement and debt and debt repayment strategies and approach it as a team sport: two against the world.

Think about it this way: You wouldn't let anyone, not even your one true love, take total control of your yarn stash and do with it whatever he/she wanted at any time. Would you? Then why on earth would you let anyone have control over your finances?

2) Figure out what you owe.

Can't speak for all ya'll, but I was too scared at first to even know HOW MUCH DEBT I had. Sure, I had a pretty general idea ("general" meaning "a whole lot of debt" and "maybe I will cry" and "is there any ice cream?") but I did not KNOW the actual AMOUNT. And ya'll, that is sad.

The Cautionary Tale: Write down every bill on a piece of notebook paper. Or use my Excel budget (it's pink! makes it less scary!) Add it up.

NOW YOU KNOW.


3) Figure out what you make.

This should be pretty easy. Write down what you bring home for the month. See! Not too hard! You did it!


4) Spend less than you make.

Um, again. Things I have had to learn that most morons KNOW, yet me? With the hoarding habit and shoes and cats? Had to LEARN. Anyway. Moving on.

Spending less than you make will always be a smart goal, even if you make a bazillion dollars. Because when you spend more than you have, you're poor. You're endebted. You're unable to quit your job and join an alpaca herding community until you DON'T OWE PETER & PAUL.

Plus, debt clings to you mentally like a bad smell. The stink of debt permeates your day to day life without you realizing it, sucking the happiness out of every splurge (if you've ever had Acute Buyer's Remorse, ya'll know what I mean.) There's a psychic drain that comes from feeling like all you do is go to work, pay the bills, and toil away in the coal mines. That's why you have to spend less than you make. So when you DO spend, it's either to keep you living, keep you on the debt-repayment track, or keep you sane.

I started out with the budget but it took me SIX MONTHS of tracking my spending to figure out where it all went wrong. A month or so ago, I got a comment on my website that mentioned my allotted $550 was an awful lot for food & household items for a family of one girl + four felines.

I was a little ticked off at first. WHO ARE YOU TO TELL ME I SPEND TOO MUCH MONEY AT TARGET AND RALPH'S AND 7-11????

Then it dawned on me that maybe she was... you know. Right. Research on the Internets told me that an average family of FOUR spends $400 a month on household and food items. Ya'll. I was shamed.

Now I am down to $60/week at the grocery store, and extremely limited visits to Target for essentials only. My ATM spending was also out of control -- in one month I withdrew $360 from the ATM. FOR WHAT? Looking back over my receipts, I found out I was spending about $7 a day on lunch, plus more for gum, smokes, bottled water, and hi! $42 on MAGAZINES.

The cautionary tale: Track what you spend. Ya'll know that diet trick, where you write down every potato chip and carrot stick you eat? Treat your money the same way. Track it. Understand where you can cut back. And then, ya'll know, CUT BACK. You can use Quicken, your check register, a Word doc, a sticky note, or the back of a napkin. But figure out to the penny where the hell your money is going.

5) Pay off your debt.

I have massive consumer debt. MASSIVE. I'm still paying off my lawyer for chrissakes. But I have a plan now, one that involves calculating my balance and figuring out how much I have to pay each month to be FREE of debt in 24 months. Me! FREE! And when I say "massive" debt, I mean I could cry sometimes.

I have had consumer debt since I was nineteen years old, coincidentally when I got my very first credit card. Every day since then has been a payment. My paycheck, my life, it's all tied to a bill right now, and being free of that is my greatest achievable goal.

The cautionary tale: You have to stop accruing debt right now. This minute. DO NOT CHARGE ANOTHER ITEM. Research debt reduction online. Read what the experts have to say. Google "debt repayment." Find ways to lower your interest rate. Cut down on the lattes or movie channels or magazines, whatever you can, for a 12-month period and use every penny to pay off your debt. Start working on a plan, one you can live with, one that makes you feel in control of your own financial well-being.


So, those are my five Cautionary Tale pieces of learnin' when it comes to money. I don't know a lot -- let's be honest, until a few weeks ago my savings account was an old butter tub in the vegetable crisper -- but I'm learning. I keep thinking to myself... how do you knit a whole sweater? One stitch at a time. How do you become a financial grown-up? One dollar at a time.

Posted by laurie at 3:46 PM

August 11, 2005

The portable hermit.

Ah, the little things.

Today is... Thursday, August 11th. Pretend we're taking a leisurely stroll together, you and I, through Memory Lane. What's that? You smell smoke? Yes, those were the days, back when I was a smoker. Now let's you and I travel back to July 30, when Karman had her birthday party at my house... because now that I finally found my camera cord, I can actually post some images. Love you, Memory Lane!

(Also, cold turkey? So good! I have a cold turkey sandwich each day for lunch. Also... I am not a smoker. Being a nonsmoker is going really well! Although people at work may be stringing yellow tape around my cubicle and calling it 'scene of the crime' soon. But no smoking! Love you, Peter Jennings!)

[ click any pic for big ]

   
Alex, so pretty and poised; Jen and Penny so cute! David relaxes on the patio.

   
The burgers were well-done because I was, you know, busy with the wine; Jen made a beautiful and tasty Martha Stewart mac 'n cheese!

   
Jennifer smiles; my favorite picture ever of Jen and Penny; the self-portrait queen.


   
The birthday girl gets captioned; and captioned yet again; David has all the dranks.

   
Shannon upside down smiles; Shan right-side up smiles; a little perfect party.


So that concludes our stroll down memory lane, wherein a good time was had by all and Karman turned 26 again. In fact, we all reminisced about our own first and second (and third) 26 birthdays, it was very nostalgic. Except Penny, who has yet to have her first 26th birthday, and she looked at us like we were a bit touched. Young 'uns. Ya'll know.


Hermitation

That party was in fact the LAST party I will host or attend for... six weeks! On Tuesday I sort of spantaneously combusted (only, me! no smoking!) and decided that for the next few weeks, until October 1st, I would summarily clear the books of all social engagements, invitations, obligations and ALL OF IT.

This project? The one ending soon? Yes. Well, it's uh, it's gone over pretty well with the chiefs here at Corporate Job, Inc. They liked it... and .. uh. They extended it. Four more of these things launching between now and the end of September! Excitement! Hilarity! No smoking!

And ya'll know. I was thisclose to packing the cats in the Jeep and moving to Montana for a cabin-in-the-woods/manifesto sort of thing. Then the hermit thing appeared to me like a cold beer on a hot day. My friends have been really supportive of my temporary hermitdom, too, and they all reassured me that if I had a spur-of-the-moment whim at any time to socialize, they were available, which makes it so much better. Because I may calm the fuck down in a week or two and be lonely, but being all high-horse and principaled and stuff, you can't just un-hermit after making such a big to-do of it all.

The stress level is decreasing as the hermit bubble sinks in. Although the manifesto may still be forthcoming. Sheez ... everyone needs a manifesto.


Other completely unrelated news

I OPENED MY FIRST EVER SAVINGS ACCOUNT TODAY.

I'm not sure what it says to be thirty FOUR years old and to have had your entire savings up to this very day hidden in a Parkay tub in your fridge, but whatever. My retirement fund still consists of two Louis Vuitton Murikami bags, a vintage Chloe blouse that no longer fits and several boxes of Patons Up County. BUT. I have a savings account! With $32.50 in it!

It's the little things that count. Like cold turkeys and memory lanes. Love ya'll! Don't come over!

Posted by laurie at 11:06 AM

August 9, 2005

We sailed the yard!

On Saturday, a bunch of stitch-n-bitchers converged on my lawn to host a yard sale. My very first yard sale!

Ya'll. Really. Let me tell you.

1) The Night Before

Ok, so the night before your big yard sale, that you have no idea how to pull off because you have never actually hosted a yard sale before, you should definitely do the following:

get sleep

get organized

do productive stuff

Me? My nephew Brett and his cousin David (which makes us...? cousins twice removed?) made a surprise visit to LA for the X-Games and crashed at my house. Only... teenage guys? Have so much energy. So the crashing? Happens later. And I LOVE Brett, adore him, so I much preferred hanging out with him than silly stuff like preparing for the masses of crazy people who converge on your lawn at the buttcrack of dawn.

Recap: Caution! To the wind! Sleep! Not happening!

But I got to hang with Brett and Dave, and we chitchatted all night and they made sandwiches and Dave played the guitar and all in all it was a great evening had by all.

[click for big]
   
Brett tries to endure Crazy Cam Lady; It gets to him, in time; David plays guitar.


   
Camera craziness takes Brett; late late late on the patio; Soba gets into the action.


 


2) The Early Birds

People, ya'll know I don't sleep. So, you know. I do things early in the morning. Sure, I may be at the 7-11 at 5:30 in the morning for a newspaper, or perhaps I'll do a little grocery shopping at 6 a.m., because I AM AN INSOMNIAC and also, CRAZY, but Good Lord in heaven you will not find me pulling my car up into someone's driveway with such a fervor I almost drive onto the yard itself, snatching clothes left and right, haggling, all before anything is even totally set up, because me? The one who never sleeps? It would not even cross my mind to show up at your house at 7:20 a.m. looking for a fucking bargain! And be rude to you! And also, steal things off your lawn!


3) Yeah. I said STEALING.

Is this a new thing or is this part of sailing the yard? Tell me. Enlighten me. Educate me. Because Jennifer and I stood there in fascinated horror as a vanload of women shoved clothing into their handbags. And then drove off like nothing in our yard sale had appealed to them, thankyouverymuch. A man walked off with my Fossil watch. Jen's pajama pants disappeared (she wasn't wearing them, in case you were wondering. Just for clarity's sake.)

Initially, my thinking was that if you were on bad enough times that you had to steal from a yard sale, well, then you should take it. Just take it! Please! I would have donated this to Goodwill anyway, and probably should have 'cause ya'll are freaking my shit out!

But then. I don't know. When I was little we were POOR. So POOR in fact that we were just plain PO. But stealing? Never an option. Especially not off someone's front yard. I'm just saying is all.

And people did this thievery in front of their KIDS. Teaching STEALING as a value. Is this just a California thing? Or is this what we have come to in America? Really?


4) Then it got better.

Because, ya'll know, the stealing hordes basically only came for the first hour, I guess they count on you to be half-asleep and still busy setting up. After that, it was nice folks, just nice people and families out for a day, doing some neighborhood shopping. And I made a little money! And I got to chit chat to all kinds of folks, and practice my Spanish, and make an ass out of myself asking everyone if we had THE BEST yard sale signs they had EVER seen. (Seriously though? Our signs kicked every other yard sale's ass!!) (Also, I may have a problem with being a wee bit competitive). And it was so much fun to hang out with everyone!

   
Sara, and Ellen is there, too; Carrie, Gwen and Jen; Sara points to the miracle tree that gave us shade.

 
The guys hit the road for more X Games and hijinks....

... but not before some yard sale self portraits:
   

5) And Inspiration hit me!

When I actually saw the diminishing pile of stuff on my lawn, I felt this huge HUGE wave of relief because ya'll. The stuff I have. The volume? So scary. I have one entire room of just... stuff. Clutter. I am not kidding, it is a horror. I have a desperate need to pare down, but it all seemed so overwhelming and hard and... hello, Faith! Faith suggested we have this yard sale, and it was BRILLIANT. Because I made a little money and got rid of so much stuff, and it definitely inspired me to pare down, pare down, clean clean clean. On Sunday afternoon, I packed up three boxes of stuff for the Next Big Yard Sale. And that isn't even the tip of the snowflake on the Stuff Iceberg.

The paring down has begun... and it is so, so good.

6) Meeting new people!
Peggy and Brantlea both stopped by the big sailing of the yard, and they were so funny! And nice! And they're knitters! And aside from the horrible faux pas I made about equating weddings with funerals, and ya'll know, Peggy had just gotten engaged? Whoops! But aside from that it was so great meeting them. Also, I was sweaty. But in my defense, I was sunburned, tired and it was five thousand degrees outside. Ya'll come back soon! On a day when I have maybe had some sleep, and showered, and also people aren't stealing stuff off my yard?



7) Finally .... a Bob the Crackhead sighting!!

Now I did not get to capture Bob the Crackhead on film, because I was too busy pointing him out to all the people at my yard sale (Hey, Sara! Look over there! It's Bob!! The Crackhead!!) and ya'll, it's like having a celebrity in your 'hood, you know, the infamous kind. Furthermore, I am thrilled to see he's finally cleaning up the putrid pile of burned-out stank off his front yard. But apparently it takes HazMat teams wearing masks and special suits to accomplaish this task. Can I just say one more time, for the record ... METH LAB!!!! I am not paranoid!!!


hazmat-crachouse.jpg


Posted by laurie at 12:05 PM

July 26, 2005

Talking trash.

The fine folks at the Los Angeles Department of Trash Cans came to my neighborhood and swapped out everyone's old cans for new bright shiny, cans.

Correction. They swapped out everyone's cans EXCEPT mine. They TOOK mine. Away. Gone. Farewell, lovely cans! It was nice knowing ya'll!

So after much searching on the Internets, I found the number and called up the Los Angeles Dapartment of Trash Cans. Raimundo answered, and we had a very nice exchange of pleasantries and how do you do's and then I told Raimundo my story and gave him my particulars and then, THEN, the part where the government tortures its victims happened.


Me: So, you see, it would be great if someone could bring out some replacement cans seeing as mine are, you know, MIA.

Raimundo: M-eye-yay?

Me: You know, Missing. In Action.

Raimundo: I thought you said you lived in Encino.

Me: I do. Encino, yes!

Raimundo: But you just said these were missing in Acton, and Los Angeles county does not cover Acton.

Me: Um, no, not Acton. I live in Encino. I was just making a joke about ACTION, the verb? not the town? But the joke did not go well as you can see and really, could maybe we just start all over again? And hi! I'm missing my black can, my blue recycling can and the green gardening can. Help? Please?

Raimundo: In Encino?

Me: YES!Exactly! I love you!

Raimundo: Uh, ok.

Me: Great!

Raimundo: Well I have made a note of this on your record. Thank you for calling the ...

Me: NO! Wait! Don't hang up! Please? Is anyone bringing me new cans? Because I have trash. The trashy kind of trash, and there might be things outside wanting to get at my trashy trash and I need my cans. Please?

Raimundo: I have made a note of it.

Me: OK, yes, and thank you so much! And thank you for filing the Missing Can Report, but is there another person I need to call at maybe, I don't know, the place where THEY GIVE YOU BACK YOUR TRASHCANS?

Raimundo: (mumble mumble hand over phone, speaking to someone beside him at the place where they are HOLDING MY CANS HOSTAGE) ... uh, Ok. You're on the list.

Me: The List?

Raimundo: Yes.

Me: I am so, so tired. I am aging. Please. When will I please, pretty please, get trash cans?

Raimundo: Uh, ok. Hold on.

Me: (silently, to myself) GOD I LOVE YOU PLEASE HEAR MY SILENT DESPERATE PRAYERS!!

Raimundo: Maybe three weeks?

Me: (whimper)

Aside from the rather obvious issue of turning my backyard into a dump, I have all kinds of paranoia about my trash just lying around.

For example:

1) Skunks. Strong paranoia -- indeed, FEAR -- revolves around skunks taking up residence under my house or coming to my house to eat my trash. Big skunks. Who could eat me. Or make me smelly.

2) Ants. All of Southern California is built on a big ant hill and the ants could rise up and eat the whole house, drawn as they are by the scent of decomposing trash bags. And thank you to all ya'll who pointed out that my secret anti-ant weapon, Chinese Ant Chalk, is not only toxic but totally illegal and will likely turn me and the cats into leprosy victims.

3) People. People -- random people -- or maybe the FBI, THE FEDS, ya'll, will come and rifle though my trash bags, all three weeks of them, and discover that the byproducts of my life are cat poop, kleenex, wine bottles and tabloid magazines.

And let us note that I am worrying what someone who would DIG THROUGH TRASH thinks of me. If that is not Southern, you tell me what is?

milk_carton.jpg

Posted by laurie at 8:56 AM

July 24, 2005

Desperate Housecats Chill Out

Dad: Well, did they finally get your air fixed?

Me: Yes!! Finally! It's been running continuously for hours, and I finally got the house down to about 85 degrees, which is like a cold front in here. I plan to get cold before the night is out.

Dad: Well, I'm glad, I know it's been hard on you and your animals.

Me: Daddy! I know! It was awful! I tell you what, this puts things right into perspective. I mean, divorce? Hard. But I can live without a husband... I cannot live without air!!! Who cares about divorce! Me and the cats survived that! What's essential in life is air conditioning!


He got a good chuckle out of that. His daughter, the eternally warped optimist.

So, yes, we have air! And it's cool air! Poor cats will get frostbite if I can get the temperature where I want it. I practically mauled the A/C guy with happiness, "Here! Have a bottle of water! No! Take two! I have beer! And sweet tea! And do you want a cat? They're free!"

As the house began to move from the 100 degree mark, to the 90 degree mark and then to 85, my glassy-eyed cats slowly emerged from under the bed and the darkness of the closet, perking up bit by bit, and then around 9 p.m. last night, the miraculous happened: I saw Roy actually batting around a cat toy! It just brought a tear to a glass eye. He regained the will to play. I may even have regained the will to knit. Life is good.

I love you, cool air. I will never stop loving you. Men are a dime a dozen, they can divorce me all they want. Because as long as I have central heat and air I will never be without love in my life.

Love, sweet love. You are the coolest thing I have ever known.


Posted by laurie at 9:23 AM

July 22, 2005

This just in! It's still hot!

Ah, yes. The second A/C repairman did arrive yesterday, he was not the least bit kissable but at that point, neither was I. Well, not unless you find copious sweat attractive, in which case... come to mama! I got all you need!

Anyway, Mr. FixIt #2 scurried up to the roof, pounded around a bit, then told me to turn on the air.

I did as requested, then walked back outside to get a status report, only to find the repairman packing up.

I sat on the front step, under the terribly misguided assumption that:

A: He was actually here to FIX the air.
B: He would pack up, return and give me an update on the repair status. Possibly come inside and check said air repair status.
C: And also actually FIX the air.

Silly me! As I sat on the step and waited for him to pack up, he got into the van and drove away. Without saying anything. I tried to chase after him, but it was then over 100 degrees outside and the thermometer inside had peaked at the end of the dial, the cats were lifeless, I was dripping sweat, and only hot air was pouring out of the air vents in my house. Plus, let's face it ya'll, I have the body of a writer. Marathon sprints are beyond me.

After several calls to the A/C company that were "accidentally disconnected" on their end, I called the household insurance company and had what can only be described as a Blanche DuBois moment, more reminiscent of the end of the movie, when she's crazy as a bedbug. It didn't take too much incoherent babbling to get the name of a new A/C place, and an assurance from Large Insurance Corp. that they'd fax an emergency work order to A/C Company #2 on the condition that please, ma'am, please stop crying!

Ya'll know. Blanche scares folks.

After all the phone calling, I went to Home Depot with half of Los Angeles and searched for a fan large enough to propel a small aircraft. I SCORED. The new industrial fan scared all the cats at first, but by 3 a.m. they were splayed out in front of it, ears blown back, looking like they were in a G-force WIND TUNNEL. I love my cats so much ... even though we had a touch-and-go situation with a small fur tornado, which I was able to conquer with my knowledge gleaned from hours of Storm Stories. Thank God for teevee. Saved my life.

The new A/C guy -- my third! -- is coming today between 1-4 p.m. There's no way for me to miss more work, and still no way for me to let the cats die. So missing work it is! These cats will thank me when we're all well and back to normal, but living in the storage shed. Plus, we have our industrial fan now. The storage shed will be remarkably well ventilated! I keep telling Roy in my most philisophical voice, "This sweat, too, shall pass." He stares at me with deep understanding. He knows I've lost my damn mind. I think he just meowed at me. It sounded sort of like... Blanche?

Addendum #1 Ya'll know. Pardon all the whining! It's not like I'm dead, just sweaty and that's a pretty regular occurrance. I'm totally fine. Maybe even losing weight! Just sweating! And so easy!

Addendum #2 I do feel bad for the cats, though. And also... um, I feel sort of bad for my neighbors, who have probably decided they live next door to a flesh-eating zombie of the night who was just this morning -- at 4 a.m. -- tying up her tomatoes with leftover bits of Noro and some Red Heart, muttering all the while about how scientific she was, what with her scientific experiment to see if the tomato branches tied with Noro would produce more fruit than those tied with Red Heart. Hi ya'll! Blanche here! Don't mind me! Yarn and tomato experiments! Wanna come over?

Posted by laurie at 6:13 AM

July 20, 2005

Studies Show: We're all spoiled damn rotten.

Scientists have carefully studied the effects of heat on occupants of teetiny post-war era homes with poor air circulation and concluded that said occupants are still sweltering and have reached a level of desperation heretofore unknown.

In preparation for another stifling Valley evening, I misted some washcloths and refrigerated them yesterday morning so when I came home last night to Dante's Seventh Circle of Residential Hell, I did some minor cooling.

heatstroke-me.jpg


You may wonder why I didn't just wet the washcloths like a normal human. Well, I'll tell you. Some of the residents here at Chez Swelter are just delicate and particular.


heatstroke-sobakowa.jpg
The Sobakowa. She is hateful mad about the heat.


heatstroke-roy.jpg
Roy, the Zenmaster, deals with dignity.


heatstroke-bob.jpg
Bob likes pink.


heatstroke-frankie.jpg
Frankie, passed out on the kitty tree.

As ya'll can imagine, there is no knitting happening here at Chez Sweaty. Just higher than usual amounts of whine and wine.

The A/C repairman is allegedly coming today between 9 a.m. and noon. I have already showered and dressed up in as cute as clothes as one can tolerate in this heat, and I have some sweet tea with Mr. FixIt's name on it, just waiting. Because unlike my experience with Javier the cable guy, if this repair professional can restore artifically cooled air to my home I will happily fling off my clothes and make sweet love to him. I am shallow, I am responsible for four fur coats who are mighty hot, and I am willing to use every inch of sweaty charm I can muster to restore the air conditioning.

Four out of five scientists concur that this method will be useful. Field study to follow. Reports will be issued. Stay tuned. Science is so fascinating.

Now where'd I put that washcloth?

Posted by laurie at 8:37 AM

July 19, 2005

The Hottest Ticket In Town: Chez Spinster

It's all about death and love around here.

You see, I am a wine lover. A lover of the wine, the vin de pais, one who has carefully bubble-wrapped some pinot noir for the earthquake kit, one who keeps the fine crystal (a sad reminder of my marriage) because the wine looks so pretty in it, one who makes up little songs about the elixir of life. "Cabernet! I love your way! You are so pretty! So I sing you this ditty!"

I wouldn't mistreat the wine, we have a win-win situation here.

But ya'll, it has gotten to this point: I had to put a full bottle of merlot in the fridge. I am chilling the red. That is how bad things have gotten, all because of Death.

The Death of my other deep love, air conditioning, came late on a sunny Saturday afternoon. This past Saturday, in fact. I mourned and grieved and called for support, but apparently they do not have A/C undertakers just waiting around in tight jeans on Sundays, waiting to come to the rescue of a woman in serious pain. And, also, serious sweat.

Of course, this is Nature's fault. Nature is trying to kill me, but that wench will never succeed. I know she brought this heat wave, and the 107-degree heat that killed my A/C, because she's still holding a grudge from all the aerosol Final Net I used in high school. MY BANGS WERE IMPORTANT, DAMMIT. And that is all I have to say about that.

I called my parents to tell them about the A/C crisis, not because I was in any pain (Ha! Nature! Fooled your ass! I work in a building that is cooled to Arctic Tundra conditions and one must be in the presence of a parka and mittens at all times to endure it! Ha!) but I was intensely anxious about the cats, since they have their little fur coats and don't get to come to Eskimo Corp. each day for work.

I called my parents, because ya'll know. Who else will still love you when you whine so much?

Me: I don't care about the heat on me [LIAR], since I don't sleep anyway [sadly, TRUE]. But the poor cats! They're so hot. What if they get heatstroke?

Dad: Oh, now, they're going to be fine. They're animals. They have their instincts, their natural methods of preservation.

Me: But Daddy, my cats are completely spoiled rotten and have lost all sense of genetic connection with the trashcan-plundering animals of the wild they are descended from. Their ancestors used to hunt and kill their own food and burrow out in the forest somewhere. My cats are too exhausted from sleeping all day to bother greeting me when I arrive home at night.

Dad: Well, yes. When are they coming to fix your A/C again?


And all this time I thought I would be a terrible mother, because I am sort of selfish, and also lazy and kind of absent-minded. But Lord when it comes to these cats I will do nearly anything. I called the landlord no less than ten times to get me an appointment with Mr. Fix It, and then I left work at 3:30 (3:30 ya'll!) to get home so I could check on them.

Once home, I hooked up the front garden hose and hosed down all the windows (to remove the cobwebs and big scary spiders) and climbed up a ladder and used a butter knife to un-wedge the painted-shut windows on the front of the house, and repeated the whole scene in 107 degree heat on the kitchen window and back window. I probably inhaled 50-year old lead paint and G-d Only knows what kind of bugs crawled on me, and ya'll, THE HEAT, I was dripping wet and not the least bit cute, and I did it all for my cats, who apparently I love more than wine.

Because my merlot is in the fridge. And that is a sad, sad state of affairs. But the cats are under a fan and the A/C guy is coming on Wednesday and we just have to get through one more day and night ... and Nature, I will not forget this.

And neither will my merlot.

Posted by laurie at 3:17 AM

June 20, 2005

Birthday Party, Post-Mortem


There is absolutely no drankin' goin on around here, nosir. Slur. Slosh.

So, the birthday party. Which by the way was not on the date of my actual birthday, because that is coming up on Wednesday (and ya'll still have days of birthday carrying on to look forward to here, mostly me whining about getting on up in years etc., etc.), but The Party was on Saturday and let me tell you, when it comes to the partying, this group is not dillydallying around.

Also, me? With the party preparation? All I can say is that the key to party success is to invite Ellen and Audrey because the amazing grown-up food they brought SAVED the party. There was salad and ambrosia and grilled eggplant and cheese platters and grapes -- none of which was provided by me, the hostess. Love ya'll! Want to come by for dinner? Every night?

(click for bigger images)
   
Larry and Jeff show off the food; Audrey shoots; Ellen and some red-faced girl.


Top ten party comicality:

1) At 3 p.m., one hour before the party officially begins, I have to make an emergency run to the grocery store -- not even the 7-11, the REAL grocery store -- for dip, ice and last-minute supplies.

2) Apparently some dumbass at the store forgot to put the bag containing the dip and salsa in my buggy and I left the store with no chip accoutrements whatsoever.

3) No one realized this fact until 4:15.

4) When my first guests arrived, I was still in the shower. Hi Carrie! Hi Gwen! I have to go get dressed now!

5) Carrie graciously offered to go run up to the store and re-purchase the dip and salsa I HAD ALREADY PURCHASED that somehow never made it home with me. Thank you, Carrie. Also, sorry about the stricken look of panic and the cussing that ensued once I discovered the missing dip. Whoops!

6) At some point, very late in the evening, a little group of merry makers and I were circled around on the patio and I shouted, in my most country rodeo queen of voices, "I declare! Let the ugly drunkenness begin!" Then I said it two more times for good measure, because apparently the ugly drunkenness had already begun.

7) As the evening wore on, there was a moment when we all sat around talking about how bad smoking is for you and how glad we'd all quit ... and we toasted to this by SMOKING. Everyone. I kid you not.

8) Oh the things people say. Karman: "This wine is INCREDIBLE. Apparently I have only had bad wine up until THIS VERY MOMENT. I love THIS WINE." Sara: "I knew we were at the right place when I saw the crackhouse!" Ellen: "I can't get him to leave ... you would think Larry is the Jewish one!" Me: "Faith is allergic to cats, so she and I can never make out." A very large potted plant got knocked over and someone shouted, "No more water for the plant! The plant is cut off!" Me: "Ya'll are all invited to my divorce!"

9) As people were leaving, I insisted that Karman and Carrie each take a bag of key limes, which I had purchased for the party and had no use for whatsoever.

10) I am not a singer. Some people have great singing voices. I am not one of those people. Did this stop me? What do ya'll think? All I can say is some inebriated blonde, red-cheeked girl stood up and sang, "The only two things in life that make it worth livin' are guitars tuned good and firm-feelin women! I don't need my name in the marquee lights... got my song, got you with me tonight!"

I'm just saying is all.


  
Amber, so pretty! Amy, here I go with the camera again; Amy turns the other cheek.


   
Audrey, photojournalist; Rebecca smile pretty! Carrie the dip-saviour.

   
Jennifer made me a cake! Regina brought cake! Sara made brownies! mmmmmm.

   
Ellen and I simul-shoot; chitchatting; Audrey's Jeff is so nice!


   
More chitchatting, Jen will hate me for this; meeting Mr. Ellen, a.k.a. Larry, was such a treat! He's a valley guy!


   
Jen brings Drew to the party; the merry band of party friends; Smile!


   
I love my patio! Regina and her mom, who I loved meeting; Regina's shoes.

I hope everyone had a good time. I was so anxious about the hostessing early on that I didn't break out my camera right away, and so I missed Sara and her husband, Gwen and Faith on camera. I also forgot that my home printer is out of ink and so no pictures of ya'll got printed out and flung around the party (with the ugly drunkenness, perhaps that's a good thing!) I only tried to hide from the party once. Ok, maybe twice.

The food was great and the gifts were amazing and the conversation was hilarious and I had a party! My very first birthday party since the 7th Grade! I'm not kidding, I have not had a big birthday party of people (other than family) since I was 13 years old. And we weren't allowed to get rowdy intoxicated or smoke or cuss back then, so this was a definite improvement over junior high.

Sure, I'm a little more OCD now than when I was 13, like perhaps maybe I refused to put birthday candles on the cake because when you blow out candles you could possibly get spit on the cake, and ya'll know, that's gross, so anyway, I improvised and blew out a voodoo candle instead. All in all a great day and good start to a whole new year. Happy Birthday Party!


---edited to add ----

P.S. Thanks Ellen for sending me your pictures! I didn't really have any good images of the food, thank you!!

   


Posted by laurie at 11:28 AM

May 24, 2005

Crazy Camera Lady Attacks BBQ Party; Film Footage At Eleven

Hi, I'm Minou. I'm in Los Angeles and all these humans will do my bidding because I am CUTE and whoops! It's so hot I am now also NAKED! But that's my David Bowie T-shirt beside me. And crazy cat lady let me chase her cats!

party-minou-perfect.jpg

. . . . . . .

Pictures! Pictures!

Normally I would take millions and millions of photos but did I mention it was hot? And I pounced on that Stella Artois like it was the serum keeping me from life and death? And did I mention that when I drink my cheeks may get just the tee-tiniest bit red?

party-jen-laurie.jpg

That's Jennifer, who will kill me for posting such an image, and me with the red face to match my red neck. Heh. To avoid the RED CHEEKS OF DEATH, be sure to fuel up in between cocktails with the manna of life, sweet tea.

Sweet tea recipe:
1) Make tea:
Boil some water. Put your tea bags in the pitcher like normal (I have a big pitcher and use 5 tea bags). Steep the tea in hot/boiling water.

2) Make the sweet:
Put 1 cup of sugar in one of those Pyrex liquid measuring cups with the pour spout. Add enough boiling water (like 2/3 cup or so) to fully dissolve the sugar. Stir real well.

3) Combine for MAGIC
Remove tea bags from steepage. Add hot sugar water. Then add cold water to fill pitcher. VOILA!!

[click for bigger images]
   
Jen and Amy hang out; Angie and Minou brave all these crazy strangers!

   
Carrie probably got a tan from my red cheeks; Carrie tries to hide but crazy camera ladies are everywhere!

   
Everyone on my patio; Jen feeds Minou some "ground" burger heh heh.

   
Jen decides to measure everyone's heads. Beer was involved. I am not saying who had the biggest head, but isn't Laina the prettiest thing? So cute.

   
I think these need no explanation. I didn't even try to photoshop myself into decent. It's just plain fugly, brought on by Evil Demon Alcohol.

   
Minou rests on her mommy's lap; That's my yard with a tee tiny puppy in it.

   
BBQ parties must have dogs, don't you think? I was so sad when they left. Look at the cute purse though! Bye, Minou and Angie! Thanks for coming over!

Posted by laurie at 12:49 PM

May 23, 2005

Crazy Lady BBQ: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Ya'll!!! I forgot my camera cord today so I can't put up any pictures and I am soooo mad! Promise me you'll come back tomorrow to see fifty million jillion pics of cute dogs and drunk knitters at my barbecue party. Promise?


(If I were not a totally absent-minded half-asleep zombie this morning with the hangover and all, a picture would go right here. So pretend there's a picture here. Thankyouverymuch.)


The Good:
1. All the girls came over and appeared to have fun (Oh, I hope they had fun! I have party anxiety. Want it to go well, want people happy! And I'm kind of militant about it. YA'LL HAVE FUN OR ELSE!! And also be sure to tell me a bazillion times, Laurie, I AM HAVING FUN!!! SO MUCH FUN! Now please stop asking me?) and everyone left well-fed and well-quenched.

2. Minou! Minou! Angela! Angela! Even though it must have been unbearably weird to come over to Crazy Lady's house in Los Angeles and meet Crazy Lady's friends, Angela braved it and came to the barbecue and she is wonderful! and GORGEOUS. Like a model kind of gorgeous. But so sweet and softspoken and she just radiates calmness. And Minou? Simply the cutest thing. Makes you happy just to look at her, and so much personality! I felt like I was meeting a movie star. It was WONDERFUL.

(Pretend there is the cutest picture here you ever saw of Minou on my patio.)

3. I did not run out of food or alcohol.

4. The house and garden managed to be passably clean and cat-hair-free.

5. No one died of heat stroke.

(Vivid imagination! So many cute pictures that should be here of everyone!)

The Bad:

1. I was so tired from cleaning my house that I lolled around during the party with a cocktail and smoke and did virtually no hostessing. I cleaned the house dammit, now ya'll roam around and enjoy it while I sit here admiring my drink.

2. Jennifer had to come over early and help me clean up because I spent so much time trying to get the patio pretty pretty that I completely ignored things like, oh, the kitchen and bathroom. Thank you Jen. I owe you BIG. And to that end, as part of my love for you, I will not post the pics I have of you at the end of the night re-enacting "Not Without My Daughter" with your garter stitch scarf on your head.

(This will be one photo I shall never post for fear of getting my arm chewed off by a 95-pound girl who is mad as hell.) (Hah hah!! Not Without My Daughter!!! No more beer for you!!)

3. At 11 p.m. last night Jennifer and I ate seven pounds of the chocolate chip ice cream that I also forgot to serve my guests.

4. One of my cats was so pissed off about The Dog Who Dared Enter The House (a.k.a. Minou) that she hid for hours and at 9 p.m. she had me, Jen and Carrie scurrying all over the house for 40 minutes looking for her, to no avail. She finally made an appearance in the middle of the night and scratched me. I probably deserved it. But Minou! Love you! Well worth it!

5. My head. My hurting, hurting Monday head. Bad. So, so bad.

The Positively Ugly

1. Ya'll ... I dropped the hamburgers before they even made it to the grill. ALL OF THEM. In my defense, it was not entirely my fault. The BBQ is about ancient and it kind of leans to one side or the other depending on how it feels that day and as I set the huge tray of uncooked burgers on the side of the grill, the whole thing shifted and they went sliding off in some kind of Horror Movie Barbecue scene. There was much shreiking and gasping and shock all around. I almost cried, but Shannon saved the day and did some necessary rinsing. THAT'S RIGHT WE WASHED OFF THE BURGERS AND COOKED THEM ANYWAY.

2. And we ate them.

3. Jennifer decided to "help" me barbecue. So she poked and prodded around on the grill (complaining the whole entire time about how awful hard it was to barbecue and how goddamn hot it was) and she perhaps poked or prodded a hotdog or two into the burning charcoal. But, to her credit, she did not drop ALL OF THEM like some people (see #1).

4. I bought lettuce, tomato and onion for the burgers but completely forgot to put any of this out for my guests. See "lolling around" and "many cocktails" in the Bad Hostess Handbook.

5. It was 3000 degrees outside. No, really, it was. We broke records in the valley for heat -- 104 in the shade. It was the kind of heat that makes you feel as if you are GOING TO DIE, and your insides are boiling and all your will to live is simply sweating out your every pore. Of course today it is a nice, normal 80 degrees. THANKS A LOT NATURE. I HATE YOU. Party ruiner.


So, in conclusion, I had a party on the hottest day of the year in which I served my guests plain burgers that were DROPPED ON THE GROUND, no ice cream and oh! also, no soda. Because all I had prepared was alcohol, more alcohol and sweet tea.

I cleaned my house for two days and there was still a mountain of boxes in the office, towering over everything. Plus, my best friend had to come over early and help me clean. I drank too much, smoked too much, and practically cried when Minou and Angela left because after exactly 2.765 seconds, I was IN LOVE with that dog. IN LOVE. Then I walked around asking everyone if they thought Minou's mom had an OK time. Are ya'll sure? Are you SURE?

Then I started questioning them all about THEIR time, was it good? Were they having fun? ARE YA'LL LYING TO ME? But I never actually offered anyone anything because dammit, I was tired and HOT and ya'll know where the kitchen is. Then I photographed every single moment and promptly forgot my camera cord because it was early and ow. My head. Hurts. So, so much.

So, all in all a perfect day. Except for my head, my camera forgettage and I am so, so tired. Oh! And if you want a slightly-dropped burger, or a charcoal dog, just let me know. I have some leftovers. Yum!

Posted by laurie at 11:35 AM

May 21, 2005

My Beautiful Internets

Finally, FINALLY, the Cable Guy came to my house today to fix the Internets. I have had to reschedule this appointment with happiness twice -- once for a wedding in which I spent a whole day crying and mumbling about the perilous nature of evil and marriage, and another day in which I had to stay late at work because there was a graphic design emergency. Who knew. "Gimme a logo... THIS VERY MINUTE! Or else the world will stop spinning on its axis and we will DIE!!!"

Art is hard.

So, yes, happiness. Working Internets. No more phone cord strung around the house that I have to try to hide with throw rugs, towels and laundry because someone tries to attack it (Bob, Frankie, Roy, Soba) (and my clumsy feet).

Today I also got to try out one of my new Life Lessons. Because if you've been reading any part of this website for 14 seconds you have discovered that me? I attract the crazies. My forehead, which is quite large, must have some pheremone-ish billboard of nuttiness displayed that attracts crazy people like ants to sugar. And I have grown to love it. It makes my normally boring, mundane life full of funny. It also makes getting the Internets fixed a real pleasure.

Back in December when I moved to Chez Spinster, the Cable Guy came and installed the Internets and gave me the hookup to my best friend, Teevee. Apparently he had quite a job on his hands, because before the afternoon was out he had shimmied up a tree and run a wire to the house and drilled holes in my floor and got underneath the house in the crawl space and naturally I was impressed with his dedication to cable. I can admire a thing like that. So I was pleasant and nice to him, as is The Southern Way.

But ya'll let me share something with you. Cable guys in Los Angeles named Javier? They do not know The Southern Way. They think some girl with boobs and a pack of cats and no man in sight is being nice because she is so hot for his body she can barely contain herself, and at any moment she may cue the bad synthesizer music and the Cable Guy porn movie will start for real. And if he's lucky the pizza guy will mysteriously appear, if you know what I mean. And I think you do.

But I did not at that time know jackshit about cable guys named Javier and the misinterpretation of The Southern Way. I did not know that being nice and friendly and offering someone a diet coke once they've been under your house is the same as flinging off your bra and yelling "MAMA IS READY!!"

This is but one of the many life lessons I have learned in my post-married months. And I feel that I must share these life lessons with you because it is simply not covered in any addition of "Don't Sweat The Small Stuff" (which, coincidentally, did not address sweating of any nature which is why I bought the friggin' book to begin with, but I digress.)

The exact moment I became aware Something Was Amiss was when Javier the cable guy tried to hug me. We were standing at the door after the completion of two hours of cable guy excellence, and I had to sign some papers and then ... he leaned in. And I leaned waaaay the fuck out. I gaped at him with this look on my face that must have said, WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE YOU PONYTAILED FREAK? And Javier said, "I would like to hug you now." And me, oh-so-cool-Laurie said, "Um, no, thank you."

Yes, in those early days of singleness I was just so incredibly suave. My big brush off? NO THANK YOU. Because nothing makes a strange man with slicked back hair and pliers respect your word more than a nervously muttered pleasantry. But in my defense, I was in shock. And also, I was just a little unsure if I was maybe hallucinating. No one had hugged me in six months out of any other reason that I was CRYING, nonstop, and bemoaning my personal meltdown. I cried a lot back then. Ok, still do, but WHATEVER. Not part of the story.

So fast forward to today. Me, brokedown internets. Happy happy! the cable guy is coming to service me. And when he arrived I stayed far away and offered nary a cold beverage (even though it was 394 degrees outside) and I made noncommittal responses and ya'll, this goes against the very fabric of my being. But I did it, with much success because he did not try to hug me even once.

And now that I have the Internets all I want to do is email and post and blogstalk everyone and I can't because I must MUST clean my house, because I am having a barbecue tomorrow! With actual people attending who will expect food and a relatively cat-hair-free place to rest their heiney. So it is 11 p.m. right now and I have dishes to do and vaccuuming to do and beer to drink and all the while the Internets will be calling to me. It wants to hug me.

And I hug it back.

Posted by laurie at 11:12 PM

May 10, 2005

Please ... won't you be my neighbor?

neighborhood-good.jpg

This is my neighborhood. Peaceful looking, isn't it? Idyllic. Placid. Just row after row of green, leafy tree-lined streets with charming, small World War II-era bungalows.

Now, meet my neighbors, the crackheads who set their own house on fire this weekend:

neighborhood-bad1.jpg


So of course it's story time! Gather 'round. Get a cup of coffee. This is a long one.

When I left the Studio City condo and found my own place to live, I wasn't the least bit excited. Moving day was five days before Christmas. Christmas, ya'll. And it took NINE hours to move my crap from the three-level condo into the teeny new house. NINE hours and a thousand dollars.

By the end of the marathon moving day, I had boxes piled from floor to ceiling, the bed frame didn't fit in the bedroom, and my cats were still back at the old place waiting to be caged and brought over. I looked at my checkbook, looked at the boxes, looked at my grimy clothes and sat down and bawled. Which is when Rebecca showed up. And then my crackhead neighbors showed up.

Rebecca is one of my closest friends. She's Canadian. I LOVE Canadians. And I adore Rebecca. She's very classy, and also very reserved. Polite. Good manners. A good friend. As she sat on the back patio of my new house with me and plied me with beer and smoking and let me wail and cry, we heard the doorbell ring.

My new doorbell. At my new house. Where I was crying and also dirty and also drinking a beer.

I ignored it for the first few times, and then I heard someone OPENING THE SCREEN DOOR of my new house, and heard a strange couple of voices saying, INSIDE MY NEW HOUSE, "Hey hey hey! Is anyone home?"

And this is how I met my neighbors, Crackhead Bob and Drunken Julie.

They came inside and Rebecca tried to cut them off at the pass as I dried my eyes with my shirt, making myself presentable for neighbors who, as it turns out, are complete fucking psychos. I realize this quickly as they are standing, uninvited, in the middle of my new house doing the following:

1) Stanking like a beer keg. They are drunk, and I mean the smell like a stale brewery pissant kind of drunk. In my new house.

2) The woman, Julie, has a cigarette! In my house! I have never smoked inside a house maybe ever in my whole life. But especially not someone's new house! A stranger's house!
Me: OH MY GOD DON"T SMOKE IN HERE, MY CAT HAS ASTHSMA.
Drunken Julie: Oh ok. (Throws lit cigarette on my front patio.)

3) Before even introducing themselves, they start walking room to room looking at all my stuff saying helpful things like, "You'll never fit all this in here." and "Shit! Look at all the stuff you have!"

Then Julie, the drunken neighbor welcome wagon, fixated upon me and somehow realized through her beer-breath haze that the more she pointed out my many boxes and my tiny rooms, the more watery and teary my eyes became. And boy did she love that. She started talking about how she knows, she KNOWS!, how hard it is "around the holidays." How tough Christmastime can be. Especially when you are ALL ALONE.

Drunken Julie: Oooooh, you're getting upset!

Me: (sniiffff) I. Am. FINE. Thanks for stopping by!

Julie: It's ok. I just went through a terrible divorce myself.

Me: WHAT? I'm sorry. Do you know me? How do you...?

Julie: Oh your landlord told us.

Me: Did he send out a memo or something? What the fu...?

Julie: Oh it's ok, I mean, I understand, I do.

Me: OK, thanks! Well, glad you stopped by! [I move closer to my front door.]

Julie: I mean... Bob's family and my family don't agree with our relationship, either. But love will find a way.

Me: Oh, ok. Well, nice to meet you!

Julie: They don't agree with us, but we're together anyway.

As I try to forcefully show them out the door, drunken Julie turns to Rebecca, my classy, reserved Canadian friend Rebecca, and says the following:

Julie: They don't approve of us because we're cousins.

Did ya'll catch that part? Two seconds after meeting me and Rebecca, this complete drunken stranger has just told us that she and her drunk boyfriend ARE COUSINS. And they are IN MY HOUSE.

Then Rebecca tuns to me and says silently with her pleading eyes: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD MAKE HER GO AWAY BEFORE I VOMIT.

Then Julie, who hasn't read Rebecca's silent, pleading eyes of dispair says: "The guy next door to you is divorced too. Oh, and did you know your neighbors in the yard behind you have two pit bulls? BIG ONES!"

So then I started crying and Rebecca made Crackhead Bob and Drunken Julie leave, at which point Jennifer arrived to find Rebecca horrified and trying to wash her hands (but unable to find soap or a towel) and me crying and boxes everywhere and no cats.

Jen: What on earth...?

Rebecca: Oh. My. God. NEED SOAP. FEEL DIRTY.

Jen: Uh...? I brought beer. What is going on?

Me: Apparently my landlord put out an APB in the neighborhood and now I live on the corner of Divorce and Incest Streets, and I'm one block away from Pit Bull Avenue. And I am dirty and my cats aren't here and I cannot find the toilet paper ARE YOU HAPPY? And there is no soap AND THEY ARE COUSINS.

So that is the story of how I met my neighbors from two doors down. And after meeting them, as you can imagine, I was in not at all interested in meeting the rest of the neighborhood. I just kept to myself, stopped answering the doorbell and avoided eye contact with everyone on my street.

All that changed on Sunday when the whole neighborhood was awakened at 2:30 a.m. to Crackhead Bob yelling drunkenly to himself as he tried to put out a raging fire in his house with a garden hose. He just stood in his front yard, beer in hand, didn't even call 911, and waved around the garden hose as flames were leaping from the windows. Before the evening was over we had 37 bazillion fire trucks and lots of curious neighbors out on the street. And all day Sunday the neighborhood was a'twitter with "What on earth...?" "What happened there?" "Are those people always drunk?" I must have met every dog-walker, nice old lady and soccer mom on the block.

And we all wanted the scoop. The full story on the fire of Crackhead Bob & Drunken Julie's house (which by the way has the worst yard in the neighborhood, as several folks pointed out.)

So, you know me. Ya'll know how I am.

I got in my car and drove off to the grocery store and as I was driving down the street I just so happened to pass by the crack den on my way. Bob, beer can in hand, was sitting on his front steps.

Me: Hey, are ya'll ok? What the heck happened last night?

Bob: Well, my drunk girlfriend was with her boyfriend, a guy she met in rehab when she was supposed to be getting sober, and I went on the roof to hide from them and then my house caught on fire.

Me: Ok! Well glad you're all right! Bye!

Perhaps it's best if one does not know the sordid details of one's white trash neighbors, after all. And when did this become Encino, ARKANSAS? Are my neighbors building a meth lab? Or are they just retarded?

Please won't you be my neighbor?

neighborhood-bad2.jpg

Posted by laurie at 12:09 PM

May 9, 2005

Not really an entry. Need more coffee.

5:15 a.m. Alarm goes off

5:15:03 a.m. Alarm mysteriously shut off by sleeping hand

5:47 a.m. Realize I have to get up. Cat snuggles in under chin.

6:20 a.m. Oh shit! Realize I was supposed to call Jen at 6 a.m. for wake-up call.

6:22 a.m. Get up, feed cats, clean catbox

6:30 a.m. Lay on sofa with blanket pulled up to chin, cats snuggled in. Turn on TV.

6:31 a.m. Call Jennifer. "Jen, it's me, sorry I'm late calling. Cats, oversleep, etc." We grumble chitchat. "I'll call you back in half an hour and make sure you're up."

7:08 a.m. Call J. Back, no answer. Still on sofa in pajamas with blanket up to chin and two cats snuggled up watching morning news.

7:22 a.m. Jen calls. "I was in the shower when you called, getting ready, cannot fucking believe I have an exam today." Me: "Well, you're doing better than I am. I have to leave my house at 7:45 to catch the last bus and I'm still on the sofa watching TV."

7:24 a.m. Realize have missed bus, am not in shower, and I have to give Roy his medicine

7:24:30 a.m. Complain aloud about having to make a CAT take not one but TWO pills

7:25 a.m. Try to reason with Roy. Explain that he must go in and take his cat pills so he will never have to go back to the vet. Also tell him how much cat pills cost.

7:26 a.m. Reasoning fails. Roy not listening. Must get off sofa and force pills on him.

7:37 a.m. Roy thinks I am trying to murder him. He hates me.

7:39-8:07 a.m. Shower, pull on only remaining clean clothes for work, leave house. Hair wet. Plenty of time to dry in the CAR since I MISSED the bus. Roy is in a corner telling the other cats about how I'm trying to KILL him and how they must band together and kill me first. They listen intently. Except for Bob, who is staring at his own paw.

8:15 a.m. Trying to pour coffee in a cup at 7-11:

     Guy next to me: Blah blahblah blah?
     Me: ...? Did you say something? I'm sorry. I'm not awake.
     Guy: Could you hand me a lid?
     Me: You have an earring in your chin.
     Guy: Uh... huh?
     Me: Did I say that out loud?
     Guy: Uh, yeah.
     Me: I have to go now.

9:05 a.m. Arrive at desk. Stare at keyboard.

     Boss: Did you get my voicemail about the blahblah blah blah?
     Me: No, I was late, there was a chin ring. And cat pills.
     Boss: You need coffee.
     Me: I have coffee.
     Boss: You need MORE coffee.

Roy speaks.

Roy speaks.

Roy speaks.

Roy speaks.

Posted by laurie at 12:06 PM

April 18, 2005

Because Weekends Were Made For Fun

Ikea had a big tax-free shopping event over the weekend, so you know where I was bright and early Saturday morning:

weekend-ikea.jpg
Hello, crowds!

Ikea Burbank was PACKED. You'd have thought they were giving crack away with the Billy bookcases, and although every cash register was open, the lines were still 15 people deep. There was also a lot of sneezing. (Have you noticed the amount of sneezing in public these days? Shameful. Germs! Germs!) but I persevered, all for my TAX FREE Ikea stuff that I spent the rest of the weekend putting together. ("Jennifer, does this sexless little Swedish drawing of a person look like he/she is putting the rolly thingies on the front or the back?") ("I am so confused. Can't someone just bring me a drink? This instruction manual will make a good coaster.") ("Ya'll, I'm tired. Ikea just wore me out.")

Here is Bob, being fabulous and furry all over the new Ikea chair which I plan to use as an office chair, not as a catbed:

weekend-bob-chair-yarn.jpg


Notice he is accompanied by four balls of Crystal Palace "Iceland" wool yarn in hot pink and orange that I got at Unwind. I plan to make a cable scarf out of the hot pink using Annie Modesitt's "Breakin' The Rules!" method of cabling without a cable needle. The orange is for Shannon's hat. One day Shannon will have an orange hand-knitted fabulous wool hat, and though she will likely see it created every step of the way here, she will act excited and surprised and oh my! Is that a hat? For meeee? Won't you, Shan?

One more Bob/Chair/Yarn pic:

weekend-bob-chair-yarn2.jpg
(Is there anything better than a still life
with cute cat, new Ikea chair and YARN?)

On Saturday evening, after spending a long day working my ass off ... oh, I mean shopping at Ikea and deciphering Swedish instruction manuals ... I decided it was time to move into the kitchen for phase two of Saturday: Evening Dinner Party. Unfortunately, by this time it was already 4 p.m. and the brisket I had planned to slow cook was still sitting in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic. Not a good start. It was too late to run out to the store for a substitute main dish, as I had already started cocktail hour (it's 5 o'clock somewhere, geez) and so it was into the freezer and pantry we go for the adventure I like to call "Diving For Dinner!"

You know, I need to interject at this point that when I was living with my husband, I cooked dinner every night and did the dishes and, OK, yes... granted, Mr. X. only ate three things (ravioli, pizza, hamburgers) but still. I worked within my boundaries. Every night! After he left, I tried to find at least one good thing about being single, and I decided it was the freedom to cook anything I wanted. Anything! I! Wanted! So, then ... what did I want? After much thinking and a glass or two of wine, I decided I wanted to cook something Mr. X really hated. Like scallions. He hated scallions. So, for two months, I put scallions in every single dish (not as easy as one might think.)

I was convinced that being single meant the liberation of my true inner chef, the one who had been struggling to break free of ravioli from a can. Well, we're still waiting for liberation. Inner chef, WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU?

Cooking seems like such a great diva thing to do ("Come on over! We'll whip up some Chicken Marsala and crème brulee!") but in reality cooking is hard. Oh for you, maybe not. But for me, who is suffering from a serious bout of CRS (Can't Remember Shit), cooking is a challenge. Which is why, once again on a Saturday evening I find myself serving guests a meal of trailer park proportions.

Green bean casserole and tater tots.

For dinner.

weekend-food.jpg


Jennifer is a good sport. She claims to love tater tots! Loves my green bean casserole! But really. I'm such an amazing hostess. Notice the paper plates I make my guests use at my house:

jen-enjoys-tatertots.jpg


Actually, this is all strategy, you see. I am setting their expectations low, so that when Inner Chef magically appears (ANY MOMENT NOW) my friends will be completely floored by the amazing meal I just whip up effortlessly (notice how obsessed I am with whipping things up. I yearn to be a whipper-upper!) One evening, my friends will arrive expecting the usual assortment of completely mismatched, overcooked dinner food I always serve and the will bow down to me in astonishment as I parade in front of them... something. Oh God, I'm so hopeless I cannot even think of a fantastic meal idea for Inner Chef to make. But anyway, something really fancy. Something that does not contain Lipton's Onion Soup mix, Ketchup or French's fried onions. That's right, folks. Not even a potato bud! I will make a meal out of real spices and hydrated ingredients.

And when that day comes, you will be the first to know.

Posted by laurie at 10:17 AM

March 25, 2005

Spoiled Cat Habitat; Bob loves kitty pi

spoiled-cat-habitat.gif

Posted by laurie at 10:37 AM