August 30, 2012


What came to mind when you read the post title, Surfing? I think for most people it would be one of a limited number of things: the sport in the water, where waves and sharks are your biggest challenges; couches, where your friends and relatives can end up when they're between residences or relationships; the Web, where anonymity and trolls are among the biggest pitfalls; and the TV, before which people across the land relax to forget their troubles for a while...or learn about new ones.

All are valid, and I'm betting there are a few more that haven't crossed my mind.

For me, however, in the last eight months or so, surfing has meant something else entirely: I've been a Refrigerator Surfer.

Sometime last December, my refrigerator died. Overnight it shut down and by the time I realized what had happened late the next morning, every single perishable thing in it had defrosted or gone bad. It was a mess. Everything had to go and I was faced with the daunting cost of buying a new fridge or calling in a repair person who would likely charge me to tell me it was not worth fixing because of its age. Neither prospect was appealing.

So, me being me, I did nothing. Everything was gone, there was no rush to decide what to do and I really, really didn't feel I could spare the money to replace it. Time went by, a month, two months and it really wasn't all that difficult. Yes, I missed milk and ice cubes -- I really, REALLY missed ice cubes -- but apart from that, it wasn't too bad. I had butter and I had eggs, which really don't need to be as refrigerated as we've been conditioned to believe, and everything else was either shelf stable or I didn't have it.

The biggest challenge, apart from the aforementioned ice cubes, was leftovers. I've changed my eating habits and I very often eat only half a meal when I dine out. With my budget being tight, I wasn't about to start throwing away what could well be a whole other meal for myself! So I started fridge surfing, borrowing space in the fridges of friends and family, for short periods of time. Well, short periods of time except for my brother's fridge, because I decided being family gave me the right to keep things in there just a little bit longer. Have you seen my brother's fridge? Much of the time it looks something like this:

It was just begging for more actual food in it! And who am I to deny a beautiful fridge like that anything? In return, it kept me in ice and cold water every couple of days. A beautiful, symbiotic relationship, as far as I was concerned. I'm anticipating that B2W3 (that's "the Best Brother in the Whole Wide World" for those of you who may be new to my blog) just might have a slightly different take on it, but that's what the comments are for, right?

I digress, however. My groceries, leftovers, treats and I became a traveling exhibit, moving from store/restaurant to one fridge to another as needed for months on end. I've "borrowed" ice from more freezers that you can shake a stick at in that time, too. A lot of people thought I was nuts, to varying degrees, and if I had a dollar for every time I heard, "I could never do that!" or "How on earth do you manage?" I'd probably have had enough to buy that new fridge.

But it worked pretty well for me overall, I have to say. Not only did I not spend money I couldn't spare on a new fridge, I wasn't filling it with food that all too often went bad before I could use it, I didn't have any ice cream in the house to tempt me, and my electricity bill was the lowest it has ever been. In the back of my mind, though, I knew that it was a temporary thing. I just knew that somehow, some way, I was going to get a fridge that wouldn't cost me much, if anything, and this personal experiment would be over.

Today is that day. Tonight I plugged in my brand new, used refrigerator that came to me for absolutely nothing through a friend, Freecycling at its best. It has been sitting in my kitchen for a week, waiting for me to start using it, once I got it all cleaned up. But I wasn't ready quite yet. I found I wasn't eager to jump right back into the regular world of refrigeration and give up my surfing days. I needed a reason, a push, an impetus.

Tonight I came home from an evening out with a leftover box, no desire to go find a fridge for it and not wanting it to go to waste. So I plugged my new friend in, listened to her hum, then filled her with everything I had available to me, which, admittedly, wasn't much.

It's only fair that I present to you, in the finest tradition of my family, my new used fridge, ready for action and the cleanest it will probably ever be from this day forward:

As soon as those bottle are actually chilled, let's have a toast, shall we?

March 31, 2012

Suits Me To A Tea

Tea. Such a short, simple word. But one with such a sense of history, as it has been around far longer than coffee, and has played a memorable role in at least a few important scenes of our past. Boston Tea Party, anyone?

Nowadays, however, tea always seems to take a backseat to coffee, at least here in the U.S. I can only surmise the reason is primarily because of the extra caffeine boost from coffee, in a society that drives itself to the brink in pursuit of money, status and the "perfect" life. Once espresso was introduced to the masses, the quest for buzz only got more intense...and we Americans are nothing if not really good at excelling at overindulgence!

But that's not really what this is about. No, not on this very last day of the month of March, when I'm again squeezing in a post that has been brewing (pun intended, of course) in my head for days.  No, it's about how much I have come to really enjoy and appreciate tea, and the new role it has begun to play in my life.

I'm not a coffee drinker and never have been. I watched almost all of my friends get addicted to it in college and be complete grumpyheads in the morning without it. It took me longer than it should have to realize why so many people complained about "getting going" in the morning and I found myself grateful to have avoided that particular addiction. It smells good when it's being prepared and I'll drink it if I have to, given a lack of choices or a social situation where it's simply called for over demurring, but it has to be all tarted up with enough sugar and cream to make it palatable to me. I'd really prefer a nice cup of tea, all in all.

I've always loved iced tea, but as I've gotten older and coffeehouse culture has exploded, I find myself meeting people more and more for "coffee" and having quality hot tea readily available. I have to admit that the tea market has also benefited from our obsession with coffeehouses because the ones worth their salt are sure to have good tea on hand, too. It's not just a Lipton world out there anymore; if that's what you think about when you think tea, you're really missing out. There's a whole slew of varieties at the ready that make those flimsy bags filled (essentially) with tea dust little more than a bad memory.

Though I find more and more people's kitchens with a whole shelf full of tea in their cupboards, it doesn't seem to have the cachet with most people that gourmet coffee has. So imagine my surprise and delight when I found a group of ladies who enjoy it as much as I do, and celebrate it on a monthly basis!

Through, I stumbled on a local group that was just getting started to meet at least once a month to get together and enjoy all sorts of tea in a social atmosphere. I attended the inaugural meetup and have been loving it ever since. It's just so fun and refreshing to have a couple hours with an ever-changing, ever-expanding group of women who have this one thing in common. We're so different in most all other ways and come from so many different backgrounds, but all of the tea meetups I've attended have just been delightful and a real balm to the soul.

Not that my life is terribly stressful these days, it's not. But it's easy to feel a little alone and out of step when you have an unconventional work schedule and typically work from home. Now there's at least one time a month I can look forward to having a break that provides such a pick-me-up with so little cost or effort. It's so outside my day-to-day and with a completely different set of people, people I've found on my own (why that's important, I don't know, it just seems to me that it is), that it has become a real bright spot for me.

Reading this over as I've gotten to this point, I don't think I'm doing a very good job of conveying what it is about it that made me want to write this in the first place. So let me take one more stab: Finding a group like this to be a part of, a group that is based on something I already love, has given me back a piece of the community I lost when I left Corporate America and the cubicle life I'd come to dislike. And that makes me happy. We all like happy, right?

Two last thoughts: 1. If you are looking for your own bright spot and need something new, I highly recommend checking out There are many, many groups with new ones forming every day all over the country. I can almost guarantee you'll find at least one that speaks to you. 2. I want to end with a picture from one of my favorite t-shirts that my brother got from Woot, even though it's slightly off-target from a gender perspective. It just makes me smile and start singing Sting's "Englishman in New York" every time I see it, so I had to share.

Picture borrowed from Woot. It belongs to them, wholly.

February 29, 2012

Hard To Say

I've only had the opportunity to blog on Leap Day twice before today in my blog's history, and I was surprised to find out that I actually did blog on both those days...mostly because I used to blog a lot more regularly. So doing it today probably makes it the most consistent thing I've ever done here. There's an exception to every rule, isn't there?

I had planned to finally do my post on how I condition my hair following my baking soda cleansing revelation and the subsequent questions in the comments, but it's once again not to be. (If I'm not careful it's going to become the One Ping Only equivalent of Kimmel's No-Time-For-Matt-Damon gag...) Unfortunately, it's not for a particularly happy reason.

This past weekend, my cousin, Michael, died while on vacation in Hawaii. He had been scuba diving and something happened (I don't know what, so I'm not going to speculate or elaborate), and his body was deprived of oxygen too long for him to survive. It was sudden and stunning and so, so saddening. Coming just a year and a half after losing my mom (almost to the day), it is just so hard to comprehend and digest.

Michael was the last person left who had known me all my life. He stepped up and was so there for me and my brother when Mom died; he was never more than a phone call away and he made sure we knew we mattered to him. He wasn't one to talk about that kind of thing, but there was no doubt in my mind that if I needed him in any way, he would be there.

He had a special place in our lives because, when I was 7 or 8, and he was 18 or 19, he moved from New Jersey to California and came to live with my family while he got settled. I remember feeling like I knew what it was to have an older brother for a while. Though we moved back east within a couple years, he had an influence on me during that time. It was from him that I got my love of classic rock, because that's what he listened to and I just absorbed it, and I can never think of Dan Fogelberg without thinking of Michael because he had a t-shirt from one of his concerts that he used to wear all the time. I remember talking to him about how sad it was that Fogelberg had died so young just a few years ago. This is especially hard to remember right now because Michael was a year younger at the time of his death than Fogelberg was.

My mother was especially close to him, as he was her first nephew, and she was really involved in the early years of his life. I think it always meant a lot to him that she provided a place for him to go when he needed a fresh start and she was always in his corner. There was the typical amount of family drama to contend with over the years, but there was an unbreakable bond there that mattered. When we moved back to California, it was a comfort to have him nearby and more a part of our lives again.

He wasn't a perfect guy, by any means -- his smoking drove me bonkers but I was so proud of him when he quit a few years ago and stuck to it -- and he had a weird fondness for gnomes that left me scratching my head, but he was honest, caring, and a good guy, and I thought the world of him.

I'm going to miss you terribly, Michael. You left your mark and you won't be forgotten.

February 14, 2012

The Not-So-Confirmed Bachelor

My brother's last guest post was well-received and, as he's still on a writing kick, I wanted to share another offering from him just in time for Valentine's Day/Single's Awareness Day (whichever works for you). I kind of like this turning-the-writing-over-to-someone-else-and-just-editing-their-work thing! You know, for now.

So, I have something to get off my proverbial chest...

There are some people out there who say as I approach age 40 and find myself never being married, that one of the following is true: A) I probably never will marry, B)I am in the closet, or C) I am afraid to commit to a long-term relationship. Naturally, no one besides me knows the full story, even those I date or have been close to for years. Hell, I don’t know that “A” isn’t true, but deep down I know (I hope!), it is not assured at this point. This is my retort to the skeptics and an affirmation to myself.

I will dismiss “B” and “C” right off since they are very easily explained away and are not really worth much attention.

If someone ever says to my face that they suspect I might be gay, I know exactly what my reaction would be without even having to think about it. “Have you ever met me?” would fly off my lips faster than a particle smashing in CERN’s collider. This is not a denial or any commentary on that lifestyle, it’s just who I am. I love women and have only ever found myself attracted to them. There is little that I actually do or say on a regular basis to make any rational person think I come across as a charade or that I am anything other than a straight up hetero (no pun intended...ok, maybe a little...) If you ever spend time with me you will find I genuinely love the female form and only ever see myself being with a (naturally) female partner. Anyone who seriously postulates such a theory would only make me question their orientation. Deflection isn’t just for shields. I’m just sayin’...

Next then...I’ve often heard, mostly from one person who was emotionally invested in the discussion, that I am afraid to commit. In only one small respect was she right. I am afraid to the wrong person. Sadly, this particular woman was the wrong person for me. I took a long time to discover I didn’t want to marry her, so I could be sure of that decision. I do not want to marry more than once and spending my life with someone I know is wrong, for any reason, is just not how I choose to spend the rest of my days. In traditional terms though, I am not afraid of commitment. Quite the contrary as I spent nearly ten years with this woman. I was always faithful to her and invested all of myself in our relationship. For a lot of that time I had my doubts and I spent heaps of time trying to figure out how to make it work. A significant part of that was dedicated to deducing what was wrong with me that prevented me from walking down the rose petal-lined aisle. I thought maybe she was right for part of the time, but even though I knew I always wanted to be married, ultimately it just was not to her. Suggesting, then, that what I sacrificed and put into the relationship was anything short of commitment is highly insulting and plain wrong.

Ok then on to “A.” This is the most agonizing and depressing possibility for me, honestly. I am also convinced with every passing day that it may very well come true.

One thing I can admit to myself now is that I don’t like how I am outside of a relationship. I will do just about anything to be in one, except settle. I am not entirely sure why I do, but I do believe in getting myself a traditional marriage. Most do not appear to work these days, granted, but it is thing I aspire to someday. It is rather shocking how much I am surrounded by friends in divorce. Some of them are marriages that I never imagined would dissolve but they have, sadly. It is scary, intimidating, and demoralizing when I think of them. I’m pretty sure my parents’ marriage would have ended in divorce if my father had not died shortly after my mother separated from him.

Hollyweird marriages or ones of convenience I can accept failing. However, people I knew for years and never saw a hint of trouble telling me they are getting divorced really rattles me. So then, it would be so easy for me to look at those getting divorced and say, “Whoa, maybe I don’t need to get married.” I would be right; I do not need to be. The difference here is I want to be married. What is strange is even with my dogma, I couldn’t evoke a cogent argument in support of marriage when my best friend challenged me to convince him why he should ever get married.

Notwithstanding all the negative evidence, one fact remains that I don’t question (which for me is quite an achievement): I plan to get married someday. So doubters hit the road. The willingness, the means, and the desire are there. I will admit that there is one thing consciously holding me back; I will not settle for anything but the right woman. I am not a player, completely dysfunctional, or romantically challenged. I am simply highly selective and perhaps too romantic. I hold out hope for “the one.”

I could so easily settle for the next random girl that agrees to a date or conceivably even acquire a foreign bride. I do often feel despondent enough to cave to such actions. In the end though, my principles and better instincts prevail to keep me looking for “the one.” However, it is important to note that I am not just sitting around waiting and hoping for my princess to fall in my lap (literally or figuratively).

Recently, I took it upon myself to look at life differently and work on growing myself after I came to a realization that there were things that I could improve upon in my interpersonal relations. Some extraordinary interactions with friends opened my eyes to the fact that perhaps I had some things to learn before getting myself in a relationship again. Just finding Ms. Right was not the only solution. Mr. Me needed to get in shape and not just with his P90X DVD.

To that end, I am launching to Sean 2.0. Here’s hoping dreams really do come true!

January 30, 2012

Guest Post: Vader Is My Father Too

As promised, today is the day for the first guest poster here at One Ping Only. You may as surprised as I was, when he first asked about doing this, to learn that the author is my brother, Sean. I hope you'll welcome him and support his efforts in the comments.

I was asked an innocent enough question today that neither the person asking it, nor myself, could have known it would elicit the reaction it did in me later in the day. 

A little background context: Recently, started I dabbling in literature exercises. The reason for doing most of them is as cathartic therapy to express and/or release pent-up anxiety or frustrations. Some are just for fun as I decipher some creative manifestations rolling around in this ponderous head of mine. Sometimes the batter that oozes out onto the keyboard resembles a talent.

In this vein of thought, I was asked if I ever considered submitting something I wrote for publication. The answer was a quickly registered “No.” I enjoy writing (my sister would say that I write too much and you may agree by the end of this) and I have for a long time, but I stopped many years ago for a variety of reasons. In fact, creative writing was one of my favorite classes in high school. As I considered this, I wondered why I stopped. Sure, I never had any real interest in pursuing a career in journalism or writing, but I just stopped writing around college. It didn’t help that when I was 17 or 18, I just didn’t see myself in a modern author lifestyle or having any real talent that I could make money from long term. I wanted to become a psychologist because the human cognitive systems and their malfunctions really interested me as I was deciding what to study at college. I was inspired by events in my younger life to learn how to “fix” what was wrong with people’s mental faculties. I later gave that up, but that story is for another time.

The more I thought about it, while driving around some of the most beautiful California countryside the Bay Area has to offer, I remembered why writing as a career was so distasteful to me back then. It still is to some degree even now, if I am honest. The reason is … my father. You may not understand that simple a reason if you don’t know me well. Even if you do, it is neither something that I talk about much nor something I am likely to bring up in most conversations. I am finding lately that I can open up and be more honest about issues with my father though. So I hope you allow me to share more here and continue reading.

I had a very complex relationship with the man that was my father. Lots of people do, so I am not in any way unique in that respect. The reasons why are not unique to me either and really are not worth outlining here. It simply boils down to this: when he died I had no love lost, no tears shed, and I was actually relieved it finally happened. This may sound cold, heartless, and maybe even pathetic. However, you should know that I was very disappointed in and angry with that man. He was very sick and that had a lot to do with why he did everything he did that upset me. He was also killing his heart and liver with alcohol. He had resorted to drinking mouthwash to get his high and this may well have led to his early death at 52.

Yet, he was still my father and I should have been able to look up to him and love him. The problem is he never really found a way to remove himself from the clutches of his mother’s mental illness and family dysfunction. Despite years of therapy, numerous prescription drugs, mental health treatment facilities and friends/family working to help him out, he ended up a lonely corpse that I hated. Those are strong words, but it is the simple truth. His best contribution to my life was serving as an example of what NOT to do.

That being said, the reason I lay it out there is because due to whom he was, to me, I vowed and actively work to avoid doing anything that I associate with him. The list is not really all that long and over the years I have been able to whittle it down so that it doesn’t take over too much of my life. When I come into “contact” with one of these associations though, my immediate and involuntary (self-learned, not naturally instinctual) reaction is to make a 180 away from doing/being that “thing.”

I avoid going anywhere near it, if possible. This is a defense mechanism I use to protect myself because I know most of what troubled him, and not a specific mental illness, could be passed along to me as a learned behavior. It is my belief that in many ways this is what happened to him; learning from his damaged mother. I do not recall exactly when I did it, but I made a very solemn vow to myself that I will NEVER, EVER become my father. I can accept that there are certain similarities, but very key traits I never want to have in my life. I cannot catalog all of them here and I do not think it would help in anyway besides. 

Apparently though, writing anything more than what is necessary for an email or work became lost in my subconscious. What you need to know now is what my father did for a living is forever ingrained in my memory as a writer. A technical writer, before he retired, to be precise. So, when he died that is what I remembered him as being. Therefore going into anything relating to writing was verboten. Now, this wasn’t the only reason, but it was a very high priority one at the time.

OK, so now you have the backstory. You may now be asking yourself, “What was the reaction to your friend’s question?” Well, I became very upset. I even started weeping so much I had to pull over, compose myself a bit, and take some time to figure out why this affected me so much. Why now? I’ve never had that kind of reaction to the conflict with my father’s memory. I usually just got tense and determined to stop.

Yet in this case, I suddenly found my perception of my father conflicting with something I enjoy and want to do more.  In essence, I was afraid beyond words what it meant for my life. Could I be a writer and not associate it with him? What you would need to understand is that while I am not seriously thinking I can become a novelist or anything, I have really been enjoying writing again. Also, I very much want to find a new occupation soon and, at the time I realized the association, I was considering choices involving more writing. Having this awakening about the association with my father and a possible shift in my life, I was now facing down one of my biggest fears and most serious vows to myself.

I now need to learn whether I can overcome that fear, forgive him (another project in the works), and continue to pursue something that other people see as a talent in me. I do not want to limit my options based on what can possibly be seen as some loose association with my father. The important take-away here for me is: I need to open myself to the possibility that I could at least find a new hobby and not have to walk away from something I might be good at AND enjoy just to spite him. If I do pursue writing further though, I will definitely need a really good editor! (Maura agrees, especially since she gave this a good once over.)
Life-altering epiphany and subsequent impending changes to improve my life aside, there is also the atmosphere surrounding my life that is helping me work through this all. 

I need to see talent in me first and doing just that has been another recent realization for me. I apparently fail to be aware there are things in myself that I cannot see that others do. For the introverted and self-aware individual that I believe I am, this is something I fail to comprehend well at all. I believe that I know full well what I am and what I do well. However, recently very good friends have helped me understand I have some blind spots to my abilities and a of lack confidence that I should not maintain.

Final point, it is a very strong trait of mine that I need explore and understand something that is such a fundamental flaw for me to be content. In a way, these revelations all relate back to my current endeavor of learning, growing and being a better all-around person.

Sitting there, you may think that’s just what it means to be an adult. I cannot disagree with you at all. 

It’s about time damn it, isn’t it? :-)

January 29, 2012

Happy New Year From A Forgetful Mo-Fo

I'll be damned. I missed yet another blogoversary here. For whatever reason, in my head I think I started this in February or April and almost every year the date comes and goes without me taking the time to mark the occasion. Bad, baaaaaad blogger!

The 22nd of January marked eight years (eight!) of blogging here. That's longer than some marriages. Yet here I am, still checking in at least once a month and still tipping my cap to those that do it more frequently, even daily. Kind of like some marriages, I assume. ;-)

When I think of all the different home computers, work computers, laptops, phones and tablets that I've written posts on, the mind boggles a bit, not to mention the people who have come and gone in that time -- from my life, that is, not from the planet. I am all too aware how the advent of Twitter and Facebook have changed the blogging world and how people relate to blogs; I will be the first to admit that I read so many fewer blogs now than I did back around the time I started this. But the consistency of having it there matters to me more than I believe I realized until now. Even when I find myself putting off a post until the very last minutes of a month, it's not because I don't actually want to do it, it's because procrastination is in my nature and I'm being true to who I am by blogging My Way, without compromise.

I had toyed with the idea of doing a giveaway to celebrate this year's milestone (before I once again forgot when that milestone actually was), but those have met with mixed success here in the past and they're kind of, well, a little "over" in my book, I guess.

So, what to do?

Have my very first guest blogger, that's what! In all this time, no one has ever offered (or, at least, offered and followed through on providing) a guest post for One Ping Only. Hard to believe, I'm sure, what with all the traffic I generate, but it's true. I kind of thought that, eventually, one of my blogging friends would want to sort of "hide out" here and publish something they didn't want to post on their (more successful) blog but it never happened.

Therefore, tomorrow I will have the first guest poster here for your reading pleasure. I'd be honored if you came back to check it out and I think they'd appreciate it, too.

December 31, 2011

Another Auld Lang Spinster?

I sat down last night with the intention of NOT waiting until the last day of the month to complete my December post. But then I got all introspective and down and sad and decided that it would have to wait until today after all. You're welcome.

I'm not feeling absolutely perky today or anything, however, because this time of year is (as it's so often said) difficult for those of us who have lost someone or who aren't in a special relationship; put the two together and it can be downright miserable. I'm not miserable, but neither am I brimming with that New Year joy that we all try so hard to achieve. I am simply turning the page on another calendar, just like the year before it, and pretty much the years before that.

I have managed to find happiness here and there in the last year, the first full year since my mom died, but it isn't at my disposal every day and I don't expect it to be. I'm just glad to know I've made and continue to make progress and I know it will get easier, at least in some respects. Sometimes, though, the days just stretch out in an endless progression of hours, minutes  and seconds that don't really seem to change apart from the number on that calendar. Those are the hard days.

The good news is that is the case less often, and there are more times when things look brighter. I keep working toward making that the norm and not heading into the unhappy place my title would suggest, and I have great friends who keep me moving in the right direction. And for those friends, I promise to address the questions that were asked in the comments of my last post; it just wasn't in me today.

While I'm not really into celebrating this New Year, I do wish you all a happy one and I hope that it's filled with good things for us all. My wish is that a year from now I'll be more up for putting a bit more cheer into my end of year post. Like a friend and I always used to say, Hope Springs Eternal.

November 29, 2011

The Voice Didn't Stand A Chance

My observational research tells me that either my no-shampoo routine is not nearly as interesting to people as my no-soap routine, or that Thanksgiving is a terrible day to publish a new blog post. Pride kind of demands I assume it is the latter. Whatever the case, I'm happy to be able to talk about these new ways of doing things in my life, whereas before I wasn't mentioning them because I wanted to get people's unbiased opinions and reactions.

This next one is a little different, though. This is something I haven't told a soul I was doing, for two very specific reasons: 1. I hate (HATE) talking about weight loss and "dieting" and I feel like that is what most people will take away from it, and 2. I don't like having anyone "monitor" what or when I eat unless I ask them to. And I'm not asking. :-) This is all on me.

So, for me, this really falls into the Operation Eleanor model of doing something that scares me because I know I'm opening myself up to comment on something for which I don't particularly seek comments. But hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that, right?

Potentially Surprising Personal Revelation #3: I don't eat after 9pm.

Nothing, unless it's simply impossible to finish eating before that time, but absolutely nothing after 9:30pm. All I'll have is water, preferably as cold as I can make it, or sometimes hot tea. I've been doing this for six months and although it wasn't easy at the start, I can count on one hand the number of times I've breached the rule and only one of those times was a moment of complete forgetfulness. The results have been really positive, so I have no plans to change what I'm doing.

Why am I doing this? This will require a little personal back story. In case you don't know me in "real life," I'm overweight and have been since I was child. I've never been a big one for diets because I'm convinced they don't work plus I just get bored. I'm not a real fan of exercise, though I do enjoy walking and hiking; I just don't do them enough. I have something called Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), which makes it easy to gain weight, and a sluggish thyroid, which makes it difficult to lose weight. Diabetes has been a health threat that looms over me, given my weight and family history, but I've never had that come to pass. What I do have, however, are high triglycerides. They have been a little high when tested in the past, but nothing serious. By May, however, they had shot up to over 400 mg/dL, more than double what's considered the normal range.

I felt like I was on a fast track to a heart attack, so I decided to act but, being me, I wanted to do it my way and on my terms. I took a good hard look at what I was eating, what exercise I was (or wasn't) getting, what I was willing to do and what, realistically, I felt I could do. I love food and I don't think life is worth living if I have to deprive myself of things I really want to enjoy, so I needed to figure something out that would let me eat what I want, but help lower my triglycerides. I decided that it was pretty much the late-night snacking out of boredom that was hurting me the most. I live alone and that's the time of day when I feel the lack of someone special in my life most keenly, and I used to let myself "eat my feelings," as they say.

I actually have a lot of willpower (when I choose to exercise it!), but it's a lot harder to stop once I've started snacking than it is to simply not start snacking. It's too easy to say, "Just one more..." and let that turn into a dozen "one mores." So I had to pick a reasonable time and make it an iron-clad rule not to eat anything after that time had passed. I found that the more I exercised the willpower needed to make this work, the easier it was to exercise it at other times during the day. I snack, in general, very little during the day now.

I've pretty much managed to change my relationship with food and, while I haven't quite mastered the art of conscious eating, I'm a lot closer to it than I used to be. This is different than dieting, because I'm making the rules and they are ones I can live with, long-term. I eat when I'm hungry, not just because the clock says it's time to eat, and I don't let myself eat out of boredom; I don't deprive myself of the treats I really want, I just limit them a lot more; I try not to eat full portions at dinner when eating at a restaurant, because usually half a meal is more than enough and I get a second meal out of the leftovers; and I have tried to slow down when I eat, in order to really enjoy what I'm eating -- this has proved to be the hardest for me because I don't like eating hot food when it gets cold, I don't get up early enough to have a real breakfast every day and, because I'm eating less, I'm really hungry at mealtimes!

There's more, but I think you get the idea. So, what has the result been? In the first three months, I slashed my triglycerides almost in half. They were still above the normal range when tested, but a hell of a lot closer to normal than they have been in years. I've lost 25 pounds, though I have also tried to increase my exercise by walking more, I just don't do it consistently. I've learned that I can survive the feeling of hunger and I don't need to feed The Voice every time it pipes up. (Remember this post? That was the day I started this.) I've re-learned something important I found out a decade ago but managed to forget: Just because something is delicious doesn't mean you have to eat it until it's gone; the last cookie isn't any more delicious than the first one, so enjoy the first one to the fullest (or, okay, the second one, too) and you don't need to finish the pack.

Have questions? Fire away. But first, it's time for lunch. I'm hungry!

November 24, 2011

(Not) In A Lather

I'm running out of days in November, so if I'm going to get this done, I'd best get to it. And, really, what better day to post than Thanksgiving? Most of America has little better to do today than eat copious amounts of food, watch football on TV and surf the Internet!

In addition to being Thanksgiving in the US, today is also my 44th birthday. Yay me! Some days, I'm not entirely sure how I got to this point in my life and other times, it just seems so right. A dichotomy of life, I suppose.

On to the business at hand. I'd like to thank everyone who commented on my last post. It was gratifying to not only have people be interested in what I had to share, but offer to deal with anyone who gave me crap. No one did, so I think you scared them away. I expected some questions but got none, though I did get some other great ideas, including a bunch of natural beauty ideas from Mary; go check them out if you didn't see them! This time around it's a related item that was alluded to in the comments, so this one may not come as much of a surprise.

Potentially (Less-)Surprising Personal Revelation #2: I don't use shampoo on my hair.

This is a change I made almost three months ago. Once the no-soap thing worked so well, I started looking at the other products I used and that we're exhorted at every turn to spend money on. Shampoo quickly bubbled (ha) to the surface as something I needed to re-evaluate. Some bloggers refer to this as "No 'Poo" but, personally, I can't stand that particular phrase. I'm just shampoo-free.

The most common substitutes I found were apple cider vinegar and baking soda, as well as some herbal preparations. The more research I did, though, the clearer it became that baking soda was going to be the most effective for cleansing, which my generally oily hair would definitely need. At first, though, I went overboard and simply used too much, too often, and it dried the crap out of my hair. This was remedied by one deep-conditioning treatment and then I resumed with a more reasonable proportion of baking soda.

What works for me is one tablespoon of baking soda mixed into one cup of warm water. Before I get in the shower, I just put two tablespoons in a measuring cup (I have this great, flexible one-cup kind that I highly recommend for this, available at The Container Store) and place it somewhere that will stay dry. I use the first tablespoon for my face, as I mentioned last post, then I fill the cup up with the running water and mix it a little with my fingers. I pour it onto my hair in sections, letting it get down to my scalp and massaging it in. I don't do much with the length portion because my hair is still relatively short (above my shoulders) and it gets taken care of when I rinse out the baking soda. I fill the cup up again with water to get any residue, then pour it over my head and rinse it all out. That's it.

A few times last month, I tried castile soap on my hair and, when it's really in need of a little something more, I can use it. But the baking soda is my usual routine and it works for me. It takes almost no time and it's super cheap, as you can find a box of baking soda for under a dollar (though the price of it has gone up in recent years and I've seen the brand name stuff for up to three dollars!) and that lasts for a good while.

Why do this? If you are interested, there is a TON of information out there about why sulfates aren't good for our hair. Here is one article that I think captures it pretty well, but there's so much more. In short? It's kind of like fast food. It's inexpensive, it's convenient, it's marketed to us by brilliant minds and it tastes/smells delicious. But it's not good for us in the long run; it's too harsh and it's wasteful. We simply don't need cascades of bubbles for healthy hair, no matter what commercials have led us to believe.

Has it improved the health of my hair? I've always had pretty healthy hair and I'd say it's about the same. I didn't go through a period of feeling like my hair was dirty for the first week or so, like I've read some other people experienced when doing this. Apart from the short period where it felt really dry, it just feels normal and I feel better about saving money and not using so much detergent.

There are some other things related to this, like conditioning and coloring, but those will have to wait for another post. Let me know if you have any questions or advice about this part of my new regimen.

November 16, 2011

Well, Eleanor, I Hope To Make You Proud

We're now halfway through November and I've managed not to start my sharing of personal things in the pursuit of doing things that scare me, at least from a blog perspective. (If you don't know why I'm doing that, please take a moment to read a bit of last month's post for that info.) Clearly, I'm not afraid of procrastination.

I want to share with you some of the changes I've made in my life over the last year. Some of these things I've told to very, very few people, others I've been a little more open about and still others I've never mentioned to another soul. I wasn't sure where to start, but I've decided to go with the thing that I've been doing the longest. So, here goes.

Potentially Surprising Personal Revelation #1:  I don't use soap on my skin.

That's right, I don't use soap or shower gel or anything like that on my skin. Let me be clear: I DO WASH MY HANDS WITH SOAP. (A lot. I'm a real proponent of frequent hand washing because I believe it's imperative to help prevent the spread of disease. Seriously, if you are going to take issue with this revelation, don't be stupid and mistake my meaning, okay?) I'm talking about the skin on the rest of the body, my arms, legs and torso, the vast majority of the skin on my body.

Why do I not use soap? It started right after I read this article on BlogHer called "I Went Soap-free and I Liked It." That was nine months ago. So if you've seen me in person since February, you've been around me since I stopped using soap. And I'm going to bet that you never noticed.

I'm not sure I can explain why this article really resonated with me, except to say that I found myself nodding a lot and thinking, "Why do we need so much harsh cleanser on our skin on such a regular basis?" Especially for someone like me who doesn't have a terribly active lifestyle and doesn't work up that much of a sweat, but who appeared to have somewhat sensitive skin. Also, the amount of money we as a society spend on soap and cleansers, which contain all sorts of chemicals and ingredients that we really don't understand much about, is kind of alarming. Add to that the cycle of drying our skin out with soap then spending more money to try to put the moisture back in with expensive lotions and creams. The money-saving aspect and the potential environmentally positive aspect (though admittedly, the latter is going to be a small impact from just one person) both really appealed to me.

Before I stopped using soap, I had very itchy skin on some parts of my body, most noticeably my lower legs and my back. There was a point a year or so ago when I was scratching my legs so much at night (when it always seemed to start up) that I was drawing blood and the constant itching was making me a little nuts. Lotions only worked for a while and I grew weary of constantly having to put them on. I also used to get a lot of ingrown hairs on my upper legs, which, if you've ever had them, you know can be rather painful. Finally, I had these uncomfortable and rather unsightly little red bumps all over my upper arms.

So, on that day in February, I ditched the shower gel and just used my little nylon scrubby puff vigorously all over where I would normally have used it lathered up with soap. I've been doing that ever since. As the writer of the article I mention above did, I do "use...cleansers for my face, hands, and privates" however I have all but stopped using regular soap in those areas. I will elaborate.

I haven't used actual soap on my face in decades. It's too drying and I have problem skin. I've used cleansers that don't contain soap during that time, but I've gradually phased out the heavy-duty (and expensive) kinds of cleansers I had been using as an alternative. I use a pre-moistened towelette (Neutrogena, if you're wondering) to remove makeup each night. Yes, they do contain some chemicals, so it's not a perfect solution, but it completely removes my makeup, including mascara, without tugging at my skin or stinging my eyes, in one easy step. In the shower, I use baking soda to cleanse and exfoliate my face. I take about a tablespoon and, in two passes, I moisten it with water and gently scrub all over. It's surprisingly effective and it feels really nice. As a mask, now and again I take baking soda and mix it with whipped honey and lemon, put it on for 10 minutes and rinse it off. My skin feels incredibly soft afterwards. (Baking soda will make an appearance in a few of my other revelation posts, by the way.) I will use a bit of medicated, non-soap cleanser that comes from my aesthetician if I'm having breakouts, but I need very little and use it only on the affected areas, and sometimes a stronger exfoliation product if my face needs it.

On the other areas of my body where soap would be needed (a.k.a. one's private parts), I now use liquid castile soap. If you're not familiar with that, it's made from olive or vegetable oil and is very mild, and fairly inexpensive because it can be bought in bulk. It will lather up, but just a little because it doesn't contain sulfates; it doesn't have the mounds of bubbles we've been convinced we need to get clean. And I'm pleased to report that my privates have no complaint whatsoever about this change.

I want to mention that I have a separate scrubby just for my feet, in case anyone wonders. This is important in the summer when I wear sandals constantly. I scrub very thoroughly, no soap, then follow with a brisk toweling of each foot. There is much less dry skin sloughing off than there used to be, I have noticed.

Which leaves us with the hand soap. The hand soap that I do use. A lot. :-) Hand in hand with this no-soap commitment (pun intended), I made a commitment to using or recycling/repurposing the things I already have in the house as much as possible and not buying anything new if I have something else I can use. That means using up the regular hand soap that I have before switching over to all castile soap, which is my plan. That also means giving away any unopened soaps and cleansers to anyone else who uses them, such as the many products I received from the BlogHer conference in San Diego, some of which I got without being able to choose to avoid soap products. As I know I will continue to get free products that I won't use, I will continue to either give them to friends and family, or will donate them to shelters, where there's always a need.

So, that's it. My first big personal revelation. At least, it feels big, and a little scary, to expose this aspect of myself to the entire Internet. Have questions? Fire away. I will require that they be asked with respect or they will be either deleted or derided publicly. And I expect that at least a few people will delicately and inconspicuously try to sniff a bit when we next meet in person, just to see if they can notice any difference. It's OK, I understand...I'd probably do the same thing.

October 31, 2011

Who knows?

I don't know...

...why I'm so often compelled to wait until the last possible minutes on the last possible day to squeeze my post into the monthly format. I guess I just keep thinking, "Oh, I have time yet this month," and skip off to do something equally unimportant. But, as they say, it is what it is and I'm here now!

...if you feel this way, but I still really miss Lost. I'm really glad that it got to complete its story arc and that it wasn't cut off midway through or anything like that, but there are just weeks where I feel its absence in my TV viewing life. It seems to be most keen after watching Terra Nova, a new show on Fox this season. I keep thinking, "That was a very Lost-ian element there," and it brings back that longing.

Given all that, I was pleasantly surprised the other week when Michael Emerson, who played Ben on Lost, was on The View and they asked about the conclusion of the series. He gave the best explanation about the finale that I've heard to date, so I thought I'd share it for fellow fans:
Like most good writing, it's open to personal interpretation, but...everything that happened on the island on the first five years was real. It really happened. In the sixth season, there was a tear in the fabric between dimensions or realities. But the ending, the finale, was set in the hereafter, some time hundreds, thousands of years into the future, where the souls that were the characters on Lost are waiting to enter the afterlife properly, and they can only do it in pairs, just like in a Shakespearean comedy. They have to go off one by one, they have to find their mirror redeemer, and then go off into eternity with them. And my character has no mirror redeemer, so I'm left on a stone bench.
What do you think? I agree, it's subject to interpretation, but I like it better than a lot of what I heard at the time and what I came up with myself.  Somehow, it just gives me a new sense of closure.

...if you will care one way or the other, but my plan for November is to not wait until the end of the month to blog again because I actually have a theme and it will take more than one or two posts to make it come to fruition. My friend, Undomestic Diva, set forth the challenge of Operation Eleanor recently on her blog, where she encourages us to tackle our fears during the 30 days of November and do the things that scare us.

I honestly can't come up with 30 different things that scare me enough to do it daily like she intended, so I'm putting my own spin on it. I'm planning on sharing a number of things about myself here that some of you may possibly find surprising to learn. That's not something I do in such a public way; I'm not sure if it's actually something I'm scared of or simply a form of my personal reserve.  I guess you could say that I'm addressing my "blog fears" more than anything.

...whether you watch as much TV as I do, or if you like daytime talk shows, but I want to take a minute to mention another new show, The Chew. Now, like many others, I kind of dissed the name of the show when it was announced and they started running ads for it because it just sounded a little hokey. And, as it's an ABC show, it also sounded a little too similar to The View. I really like most of the people who were going to be on it, though, so I decided to give it a chance.

And. I. Love. It! I've watched every day, and I can't wait for the next episode each morning. It's not perfect and there are some perfectly awkward moments when they have guests on the show, but the five hosts have a great chemistry and make me laugh all the time. I'm enjoying it so much and it has once again sparked my interest in cooking for myself, which tends to wane, and cooking healthy. So if you have an hour to spare, give it a whirl and see what you think.

September 05, 2011

To The Person(s) Who Broke Into My Car

As you didn't stick around to see the aftermath of what you did, I thought I'd fill you in so you would have the whole picture.

Sometime last night, you smashed two windows to break into my car. When I went out to the car this morning and saw that the rear driver's side window was mostly gone, I think I stood there for a full minute trying to comprehend what I was seeing. I was that shocked.

When I came to enough to move, I noticed that the front passenger side window was also smashed. That seemed just doubly insulting. I will admit that I was especially flummoxed because there was really very little of value in my car. I don't leave much in it on purpose, just to try to avoid having people like you do things like that.

I had my arms full of stuff (the valuable stuff, like a laptop and a tablet), so I turned around and went back into the house to put the stuff down and grab my cell phone to call my brother and the police. In that order, because that's how I roll.

At some point, I realized what you had gone after and what it was that you actually had taken. I figure you saw the mount for a GPS unit that was in the center console and decided to make a quick buck. Only problem was, you weren't actually smart enough to find the GPS unit. Instead you took my work portfolio and a small coupon holder, things that will net you almost no money but were invaluable to me.

I have to be honest, I really wish you'd found the GPS and left my portfolio.

(I should note that the GPS isn't even mine, it's my brother's and he wouldn't really have missed it. I think he'll agree with me. The coupon holder is a tough call but I hope you use the See's gift certificate and free Starbucks coupons to make someone else happy, at the very least.)

The police officer who responded was really nice but we both knew there's nothing they could do about finding my property. You probably know that, too. I have a feeling this isn't the first time you've decided to help yourself to something belonging to someone else. Part of me feels bad for you, imagining that you are going through a rough time with the economy struggling and maybe too many mouths to feed. But the more practical side of me thinks you're just a kid with no respect for other people or their things.

The thoughtless nature of what you did is what makes me most mad. And I'll admit, I'm pretty fucking mad. What took you probably five minutes to conceive of and carry out will take me hours upon hours to deal with and try to rectify, if I even can. It's not the money involved (which I hope pisses you off); I can afford to pay for insurance, the inevitable deductible and other expenses, as I have been making a living with that portfolio you took away from me today. And without it, I will continue to do so because I'm a strong individual who's making her own way in the world while trying to be a good person.

I'm betting that you don't have the wherewithal to do jackshit with the portfolio, at least nothing honest or worthwhile. 

That's what I'm going to remember every time I see the piece of shattered glass from one of the windows that I kept. I haven't figured out yet how to display this little memento, but it's going to be my personal reminder that someone like you can't truly harm someone like me, at least not my spirit. Shit, you didn't even make me cry. You might have dented my faith in humankind at bit, but I'll get over that because for every one person like you, there are a dozen good people that will intersect my life and knock out that dent in no time.

So, once all the calls have been made, the estimates gathered, the shopping done to replace my belongings as best I can, the repairs finished and my upholstery thoroughly vacuumed again to get rid of all those little bits of glass, I'll be fine. And you'll still be a dick who has nothing to show for your lamentable efforts and a very small heart.

I win.

August 31, 2011

I Am Become The Bay Bridge

At some point late this month, I realized that neither my brother nor I had changed our calendars to August. We hadn't talked about it and I just happened to notice that he hadn't done it, either, when I was at his house last week. By unspoken agreement, apparently, August is now our least-favorite month and I think that neither of us wanted to acknowledge that it was upon us.

As of last Friday, our mom has been gone for a whole year. My brother wrote this soul-crushingly good piece on Facebook that he posted that day, but I wasn't able to order my thoughts enough to put something here. I'm still not entirely sure I've got them together, but I felt I needed to get something down as we usher out this unfortunate month and move on to the next year of our lives without her.

I had to smile wryly as a friend on Facebook put in her status update that August 26th was her favorite day of the year because it was the birthday of three of her favorite people. It was one of those reminders of the Circle of Life and all that, a theme that has been popping up for me quite often, recently. As hard as it is to acknowledge sometimes, life does indeed go on, even when we lose someone so vitally important to us. That same day, babies are born, couples get married, people find the help they desperately seek, doctors heal the grievously injured and, as much as we feel like our lives have spun to a stop, the same things will happen the very next day. Though we move forward feeling as though a piece of us was ripped away, we do still move forward.

Last November, I wrote about how hard it was to go to places where Mom and I had gone, because in every corner were reminders of her and I was sometimes overwhelmed with how gaping the hole was in my life. I said that "I need to find a way or simply get to a point where these reminders bring me moments of happiness instead of pings of sadness." Much to my surprise, I have gotten to that point. I can smile when I am hit with those little reminders of her and think of them more fondly than sadly.

I'm building my bridge. Every once in a while a bracket or cable snaps (to further abuse that metaphor) and I'm right back in that ICU room listening to the machines go nuts that one, final time before she was gone. But I keep making repairs and shoring up my pillars (I'm done, I promise) and I'm inching toward the other side.

I couldn't be who I am and where I am without my mom's gifts to me and, even though looking back at them and weighing her loss in my life still brings me to tears, I'm infinitely grateful for her -- who she was, what she did and all she provided to me and my brother, tangible and intangible, while she was here.

August 10, 2011

In The Bag

BlogHer '11: I went, I hugged, I swagged.

Oh, and I almost fell into a giant toilet.

July 16, 2011

BlogHer Bound: San Diego, Here We Come

Once more, the behemoth that is BlogHer is almost upon us. If you have no idea what that is (or know what it is and don't care), I suggest skipping this post because you'll probably be bored silly. Come back again in August. ;-)

If anyone is still reading, I just have a few things to say about it. It's not so much advice for those who are new to it as it is a few cold, hard facts and realities about it from my point of view that I feel like sharing. If you're an old hand at BlogHer and agree with what I have to say, then I'd appreciate it if you'd share it with newer attendees. If you don't agree with what I have to say, the comments section awaits!

This will be my third BlogHer conference, so while I'm not an expert on them, I'm certainly experienced. And each time, in the period leading up to it and during the event itself, I see some of the same things being played out over and over again. A lot of it has to do with expectations, I believe. I think if your expectations aren't set too high, you can get a lot out of BlogHer and have a great time. If you go into it with a mile-long list of people you MUST meet or parties/panels that you MUST attend, or you're too scared to go outside the comfort zone of people you know, you're setting yourself up for some disappointment.

So here are a few things I think might be helpful to keep in mind as you plan to make the trek to San Diego and go to BlogHer for the first time.

1. "Big" bloggers are just people.
They just are. Some of them are nice, some of them are not so nice. If you put them up on a pedestal and approach them that way, your interaction with them is going to be stilted and one-sided and not very fulfilling. Most of them are there for the same reason you are: To hang out with the people they've met via their blogs/Twitter/Facebook and share some good times. They're (generally) not there to be fawned over. And if they are, well, that kind of shortens that pedestal anyway, doesn't it?

2. Not everyone cares about your BlogHer experience.
By all means, share it; Twitter is the lifeblood of BlogHer and some of the best exchanges ever come out of the confluence of all these amazing people in one location. But if you tweet your every move (i.e., "OMG I just met @PioneerWoman!" "OMG I just hugged @RedneckMommy!" "Time for lunch, I have to find my peeps!" "OMG I am talking to @mommywantsvodka and I'm swooning!") from the moment you arrive, there are two reasons to just stop and take a breath: A. It's annoying to hear every detail, even if you're there. I'm sorry, but it is. If you're not there (and especially if you want to be there but can't) it's torturous and will likely get you muted by people who otherwise like you. B. If you're tweeting everything you do, you're missing half of what's going on.

3. Do not be afraid to go with the flow.
Some of the very best things that happen at BlogHer are organic and unplanned, and just grow from coincidence and happenstance. While waiting in the lobby for a friend who's flat-ironing her hair AGAIN, talk to the person standing next to you who's waiting for her friend who's hungover (AGAIN) to get up and get dressed, even if she's a total stranger. Handing her your business card/social media calling card and saying, "I don't think we've met yet," is all it takes. (And if you're waffling on getting cards, do it. You still have time and they don't need to be fancy. They are the currency of BlogHer and you will likely regret it if you don't. Get free ones from VistaPrint if money is tight.) You may find yourself giving up on waiting on those friends and going over to the coffee shop to continue the fascinating conversation you end up starting. Your friends can always text you to find out where you are when they finally get their shit together.

A big group of people, some I knew, some I didn't, ended up sitting on the floor of the hotel last year on Sunday, waiting for it to be time to head to the airport to go home. Check-out was at noon, but our flights weren't for hours yet, and no one really wants to go home when there are still so many people to meet and so many stories to hear. So we sat with our luggage, introducing ourselves where necessary and just shared and laughed and talked, with people coming and going over time. Eventually those who remained divided ourselves up into groups of 2-3 to share cabs to the airport for flights leaving around the same time. I met and completely bonded with two women during that two-hour ride, women I didn't know in the least before we got in that cab, and they're now two of my very favorite people. We talk all the time and meet up whenever possible and laugh about the kismet that brought us together when we're so alike but our lives are so different.

4. Keep Calm and Carry On.
Maybe it's just me, but I'm sick to death of hearing, "I'm freaking out!" constantly, especially at BlogHer. You're not freaking out. You might be nervous, you might be afraid, you might even be close to panicking, but chances are you're not actually freaking out. (If you are actually freaking out, please be sure to have your anti-psychotic meds in your pocket so we can get you some water and help, m'kay?) So try, just try, to calm down and deal with whatever situation is at hand. Being prepared will go a long way to avoiding unnecessary freak-out-ness. Some tips to being prepared:
  • Have the cell numbers and full, real names of the people you're rooming with but haven't met in person, and make sure your full, real name is on the reservation, too. More than once last year, people were stuck when they tried to check in at the hotel but didn't actually know the true name of the person who had made the reservation! A desk clerk is going to be sympathetic but unhelpful when you're crying, "I only know her as @TwinkleToesMama!"
  • Have enough cash to take care of emergency situations and a credit card, if at all possible. If you have budgeted exactly $50 for meals for the weekend and $25 for souvenirs and have only $75 in your wallet, with no cushion and no credit card, you are just begging for something unexpected to go wrong. Something like your roommate's plane being diverted to Cleveland and you not being able to get in your room because they insist on having a credit card to give you the key. (Please see the tip above about making sure your name is also on the reservation for this one.)
  • Take a big enough suitcase to take home all the swag and other free stuff you're going to end up accumulating. In fact, if you're flying in on Southwest, consider taking two, since they don't charge for them. I put a small one with my clothes and stuff inside a larger one, then use the larger one for all the booty, which I always have even when I say I'm going to be more selective and take only those freebies I really want or know I can give away.
  • Be selective when hitting the Expo hall and parties and don't take every free thing that comes your way. Companies have realized what a excellent opportunity BlogHer is to get their products into the hands of the most powerful demographic in America: The adult woman. That is great because it allows BlogHer to keep the cost of the conference down and we get the opportunity to try products and services we might otherwise miss. But it also means that the sheer amount of loot you can collect is insane. Having to deal with it at 7am on Sunday when you're racing to catch a 9am flight and you overslept because of that awesome party that went 'til sucks. So does paying extra because you took everything and your bag weighs 50+ pounds. Have a swag plan of some sort and stick to it. Or at least try.
  • Realize that your cell service may or may not work at all times in all areas of the conference. There are going to be dead zones. There are going to be dead batteries. There are going to be texts that never get to their intended recipients. There are going to be phones set to mute because having them ring in the middle of an intense panel is rude and embarrassing and you will not hear the call telling you that plans have changed. This will all lead to not being able to locate your friends from time to time, even when you really need to. Accept it and plan for it the best you can; perhaps establish a default meeting place so you can have someplace to go to look for each other or leave messages. (Note to BlogHer staff: a communal message board, like they often have at professional, career-related conferences, or a screen showing hashtagged tweets for people looking for each other would not be a bad idea.)
5. Accept that you will not fit in every single thing you want to and just enjoy what you do do.
It's only one weekend and there are about three thousand people there. You won't meet everyone you've ever met online and you are bound to miss connecting with at least a half-dozen people that you simply HAVE to meet. You will pick the panels that interest you for whatever reason and later discover that you spaced and didn't get to one you absolutely intended to attend. You will also hear that the panel you skipped so that you could actually have some lunch was THE. BEST. ONE. EVER. and how could you have missed it?!? Related: Make time to freaking eat. You will remember being passed out on the bathroom floor and having a famous blogger trip over you more than you will remember every word said in every panel. (Not that I know this from experience, of course.)

So, if you're going, I hope to see you in a mere three week's time and I also hope that you have a fantastic time at BlogHer. But if we don't manage to be in the same place at the same time, it's okay; there's always next year.

June 06, 2011

Grocery Store Observations

Now that I've started cooking again, I'm trying to eat at home a little more often. I had some leftovers in the fridge, but I needed a little something more to go with them, so off to the grocery store I went.

I enjoy grocery shopping. I know lots of people hate it, but I just love it. I can wander around, up and down every aisle (sometimes more than once), checking out what's new, what's on sale, that kind of thing. I also consider it exercise, given that most grocery stores around here are pretty big and I cover a lot of ground in a shopping trip.

I made some observations while I was shopping tonight and I thought I'd share them with you. And a recipe! Because I ended up making something completely different than what I set out to shop for, and it came out pretty darned well.

1. The price of frozen vegetables has gotten ridiculous. This won't come as a surprise to some of you, I'm sure, but it sure was a shock to me. I went looking for frozen chopped onions (because I really don't like chopping onions) and was stunned to see a low-end brand priced at $3.00 for one small bag...on sale! I looked at some of the other vegetables and they were all relatively expensive, even the in-house store brands.

2. A $3 bag of onions will make even someone who hates chopping onions go back to the produce section and buy a $.66 onion. Just sayin'.

3. The amount of processed foods in our stores is also ridiculous. I know we all value convenience but with all the attention being paid to childhood and adult obesity, it's not hard to see how we've gotten there. Don't get me wrong, I'm as guilty of it as the next person (if not more so over the years) but when you really start reading labels and looking at foods critically, it's an eye-opener.

4. Unless you buy a lot of it, fresh meat is really pricey when it's not on sale. This makes it challenging for a solo diner. I wanted to get a little bit of protein to go with my leftover stir-fry, as what was left had little meat in it. I couldn't bring myself to buy a $9 steak that was more than I could eat, or a pack of pork chops that was four times what I needed. (My freezer is maxed out, so freezing the extra isn't a good option.) So I started looking at everything, trying to find a deal. I ended up with a $2 package of pork for stew. Did you know they even had stew pork cubes? I can't say as I've ever seen it before. Beef for stew was over $6 for the smallest package...which wasn't all that small.

5. Having a smart phone with a data plan is a wonderful thing in a grocery store. I had the stew meat, so now I needed some stuff to, you know, make a stew. Having made few stews in my life, I wasn't entirely sure what I absolutely needed. I parked in an empty area of the produce section and whipped out my phone. Three minutes later, I knew what I needed to know and got to it.

6. Oblivious people with cell phones in a grocery store aren't such a wonderful thing. Not the most original observation, I realize, but it has to be said.

7. Some people are simply not cut out to use the self-checkout lane. They simply aren't. But, of course, they do. I won't bore you with the tale; suffice it to say that if the death stare worked, California would be minus one shopper tonight.

8. Remembering to bring your own bag in to the grocery store gets easier with time. I used to suck at it, to be frank. Stores that remind you to bring them before you get inside are hug-worthy.

9. Grocery store parking lots were designed by car insurance companies. They have to be. They're like white-lined death traps, preying on the unwary and the parking-impaired.

10. When you buy a bunch of ingredients and don't exactly know what you're going to make with them, the results can be fantastic.

That brings us to the recipe I promised. I found a few recipes when I checked on my phone, but none were exactly what I wanted. So I did what I often do: I combined parts from a few different recipes that sound good, to come up with something original. My friend, PsychMamma, coined the term "Frankenstew" on Twitter when I was talking about it, so that's what it's called!

If you try it, I hope you like it and encourage you to improvise and add or substitute ingredients you already have or like better; just know their cooking times and throw them in accordingly.


1 1/2 lbs stew pork, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 1/2 T. flour
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. black pepper
1 t. paprika
1 1/2 T. olive oil
8 oz. sliced baby portabella mushrooms
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 T. chopped shallots
1 T. chopped garlic
1 can reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup white wine (optional)
1 t. dried Italian seasoning
1 T. dried parsley
2 yellow potatoes, cubed
3 carrots, chopped
1/2 t. lemon zest or 2 T. fresh lemon juice
parsley (to garnish)

1. In a bowl, combine flour, salt, pepper and paprika. Toss the pork cubes in the flour mixture until completely coated.

2. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium to medium-high heat and brown the coated pork cubes in the olive oil.

3. Add the portabella mushrooms, sliced onion, shallots and garlic and sauté for 5 more minutes.

4. Stir in the chicken broth, wine and spices, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the potatoes and stir.

5. Cover the stew and cook over low heat for 45 minutes. Add carrots, re-cover and cook for 15 more minutes. Uncover, (add zest here if you’re using it) stir and cook for another 15 minutes or until the liquid thickens up a little.

6. Just before serving, stir in the fresh lemon juice (if you didn’t add the zest); garnish with fresh parsley (or cilantro, if you swing that way)

(Here is the original recipe that was the base for mine, from