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

June 04, 2011

Mystery: Solved?

I can't really explain my daily blogging all of a sudden, except to say that it feels like some sort of dam has broken and I'm just enjoying writing again. It's also nice to know that people are reading and enjoying the posts, so thank you for your feedback.

Not that I expected anyone to catch it, but the title of the last post was a play on the title of one of my all-time favorite books, Some Buried Caesar by Rex Stout. There was a reason I chose it, as the Nero Wolfe novels played a huge part in that teenage desire to learn "real cooking." Aside from the fact that I have always just loved food and both my parents were good cooks, the lavish attention paid to the cuisine prepared by Wolfe's chef, Fritz, and the passion that the über-intelligent Wolfe displayed toward that food made an impression.

My dad, who was a big mystery novel fan, introduced me to Nero Wolfe around the time I was 12 and I was completely hooked. I read every one I could find -- which wasn't terribly easy at the time because the
vast majority of them were published prior to 1970 and many were out of print -- in record time and then dove into the 600+ page biography of Rex Stout over a summer vacation as I was semi-obsessed with all things Nero Wolfe by that point. Many of you might only know the series from the A&E show in the last decade, but I didn't watch much of it because it couldn't compare to the what my imagination had created out of the books. I did watch the short-lived series in 1981, and was crushed when NBC canceled it because it came a lot closer to how the world of Wolfe's brownstone existed in my head. But still, it was the books that held me in thrall.

It's hard to convey just how much influence these books had on me. In addition to sparking a desire to learn about food and how to cook, they got me interested in orchids (and flowers in general) and, more importantly, opened up a world of vocabulary and expression that had a major impact. The characters were created in the 1930s and continued on into the 1970s and, while they don't age in the series, they do adapt to the time periods in which the books were written, so you have a wide spectrum of language and a character who loved words and used them with precision. As Wolfe's confidential assistant and the stories' narrator, Archie Goodwin, once said, "Which he loves most, food or words, is a tossup." And he was unapologetic about his love for them both.

Nero Wolfe was, among other things, a blazing eccentric and I think the series taught me that it was okay to be my own person and have my own beliefs and way of doing things, and to stick by them, even if they weren't the way "everybody else" did them. That's a pretty powerful lesson as a teenager, I'd say. It probably took another decade or so for that to translate into genuine confidence because I don't know if any books can conquer teenage angst completely.

I do believe, however, that the books did one me one grave disservice, and it's something that has only occurred to me over the last few hours while I've been writing this. I fell in love with Archie Goodwin some thirty years ago and I think that I've been looking for him in real life ever since. Needless to say, I haven't found him.


June 03, 2011

Some Buried Scent

Last night while cooking dinner, I was overcome with such a strong sense memory that it almost brought me to my knees.

I had sautéed shallots and garlic in olive oil, then put in some broccoli florets and was pouring in some white wine, when the wave of scent hit me so forcefully and took me back some 30 years or so. It was the smell of learning to cook; "real cooking," as I thought of it as a teen.

It packed such a powerful nostalgic punch that I was brought up short and stood there, trying to capture the threads of recollection as they wafted on by in the steam from the pan, lost in memory for a few minutes.

Long enough to overcook the broccoli on one side, at least.

I brought my focus back to what I was doing, rescued my dinner and continued making whatever it was what you would call the concoction I ended up with. I had a bunch of ingredients and very little plan, making up each step as I went along until it just looked and felt right. I didn't taste anything until I had it on my plate, but I knew that the result would all come together and taste delicious. And it did.

But the gulf between that result and the structure of "real cooking" was as vast as the many years between being that teen who thought she knew so much (and yet had so much to learn) and the woman who tossed things in knowing it would work out.

As I sat down to eat my dinner, I thought about what the difference was between 30 years ago and now. Then, "real cooking" meant "gourmet" and was straight out of a cookbook or serious magazine. The directions and measurements were to be followed precisely and to the letter. Those shallots were chopped by hand, as was the garlic, and each piece of broccoli was cut to almost the exact same size so that they would cook evenly, as instructed. The wine had to be dry and there had to be wine in it for it to be grown-up. There was a list of herbs that had been tracked down and purchased, then lined up in order on the counter along with the ones that were scooped out of the cupboard. Once the mise en place was set up, things were added to the pan with a double-check of the cookbook. The timer was set as accurately as possible on those hand-turn dial ones from the 70s.

And always, there was the scent that rose up as the wine went in and started to evaporate. Heavenly.

The resulting meals? Not always so heavenly -- probably killed by over-attention to the letter of the recipe and not the spirit of the cooking -- but they got better and sometimes were even good. I think.

The technique for this meal, however, had been about 180° from that starting place: Glug some olive oil into the pan and crank up the heat. Spoon up chopped shallots from a jar out of the fridge and toss them in; repeat with the garlic and throw in some salt. Hurriedly finish cutting up the least expensive boneless chicken I could find at the store and slide that in. After a few minutes of cooking, decide that starting with the chicken wasn't really the right move; it will be petrified by the time it's all ready. Scoop out the chicken, put it on a small plate and set it aside.Grab the bag of frozen broccoli and a handful goes into the pan. Realize there's not going to be enough liquid and go back to the fridge. A-ha! I have some Riesling in there, might as well have some of that with dinner, too. In it goes.


That's when the scent hits me and the little trip down memory lane starts. Cue the broccoli beginning to overcook; scoop that out onto another small plate and re-assess. Chicken goes back in...hey! There's a lemon; squeeze half of it over the chicken and pluck a few spices from the cupboard to sprinkle in. Thyme sounds good. More garlic? Why not?

Some rice, mix it up, back in goes the broccoli, add some tomatoes that I destroyed with a not-sharp-enough knife. Oh crap, I forgot all about the mushrooms. Make a hole in the middle of the pan (where the hell is my wok?), add a pat of butter and do a quick sauté of the pre-sliced mushrooms. A little more salt, mix it all up...oh, right, I was going to add egg to make it more of a stir fry and get some more protein in it. Make another hole (there's just enough room, the pan is starting to get kind of full...where the hell is my wok??) and crack in an egg. Use a spatula to scramble it a bit...crap, the chicken and broccoli are falling into the middle, pull them out; as I do, more fall in. Oh, forget it, just mix it all up and hope the egg is cooked enough because I'm hungry and I'm sure these are non-salmonella eggs, right? Right? Okay, let it cook for another minute. Done!

As I take my plate out to the living room, I spy the cipollini onions that are still sitting in the bag, forgotten.

So now I'm chowing down and thinking about all of the above. How did I get from there to here? What happened to the recipe-following girl who was determined to do it "right"? When did precision and structure break down into whatever comes to hand? Where along the line did I start to believe that I could improvise and make it up as I go along and expect it to actually work? And why does it taste so much better, virtually effortlessly? (Effortlessly if you don't count the three plates, two chopping boards, one pot, one pan and multiple utensils that now need to be cleaned, that is.)

The answer was so obvious and so simple: I've become my the kitchen.

And I couldn't be happier about it.

June 01, 2011

Me vs. The Voice

Note: There's nothing a writer likes hearing more than "Write more!" so thanks, Neena. (She said "blog more!" but that's how I heard it :-) It inspired me to go ahead and come back today to get down the post that was rattling around in my head all day.

Out running errands after lunch, I spy Specialty's Cafe and immediately the word pops into my head: Cookie.

That voice. The relentless voice of impulse.  

Cookie. Cookie. Cookie.

"Hush. I'm not having a cookie right now."


"No. No cookie."

Cookie. Cookie cookie cookie!

"I don't need a cookie. I know those cookies are really good, but they're also really big, really caloric and kind of expensive."


"No. Cookie. Not gonna happen."

Cookie cookie cookie cookie cookie cookie cookie cookie cookiecookiecookiecookiecookiecookie.


[Rinse and repeat for the next embarrassing number of hours.]


"You're killing me. No cookie. We're three towns away now, in any case."


"Still no. It's time for dinner. Good, healthy food. No cookie."

Headache looming, I'm more than ready for dinner at my favorite Mediterranean restaurant. It was delicious and filling and I hoped that would be the end of it. As I'm leaving, I make the mistake of glancing at the display near the register.



P.S. I won. No cookie. No baklava. Nothing.

P.P.S. Tomorrow is another day...

May 31, 2011

My Days of May

Recently, my brother suggested that I might not be let into BlogHer '11 if I didn't get off my butt and post something soon. If there were a ruling body of blogging, I probably would have been drummed out ages ago, either for insubordination or insufficient production. Fortunately, blogging is a "make your own rules" game; or it is as far as I'm concerned!

But his point was taken, as I didn't blog last month and now May is already over so, really, I'm quite behind. Here's the thing, however: I don't feel like I have much to say. The last post I started, and abandoned, fell somewhere between whiny rant and self-indulgent crap. I'd rather say, or write, nothing at all.

The things that come to mind as the weeks go by mostly go on Twitter, even though I am trying to take the advice I wrote about earlier to not waste all the good ideas there. And, truth be told, I haven't really had anything terribly interesting to say there, either, of late. But I thought I'd go back anyway and look at my tweets from the last month to see if there were any gems or anything worth expanding on. Or maybe enough for a "Month in Review" kind of thing. Or something.

5/1 - Advice I retweeted: "Never pass up an opportunity to leave someone’s day BETTER off than you found it." I think that's something we could all work on doing. Give someone an unexpected compliment. Take five seconds out of your busy day and hold the door open for a woman who's clearly struggling to walk. Leave that extra dollar of tip for your waiter who is most likely not having a great day and is making a lot less than you might imagine.

5/1-5/27 - The San Jose Sharks run at the Stanley Cup finals. A number of my friends are big fans of the team and I support them mostly out of local pride, so I watched most of the games and even attended one. (They lost.) I was sorry that they couldn't beat the Vancouver Canucks, but they were clearly outmatched.

5/1 - The killing of Bin Laden by U.S. Navy Seals. Not much I can say about it that hasn't already been said, but it was truly a noteworthy night. I can't remember exactly, but I'm pretty sure Twitter alerted me to the fact that something was going on and I immediately put on CNN; that was fine while Don Lemon (whom I adore) was at the helm, but then they called in Wolf Blitzer (whom I don't) and I settled in for a few hours of him repeating over and over again the little bit of information they have. I really hate that part of the immediate news coverage cycle.

5/6 - #GettingOlder and my new dance with heartburn and acid reflux. After a couple of rough nights, I learned this month that I can't have certain things to eat after about 8:00pm. Things like chocolate. Dammit. But as much as I love chocolate and enjoy having a little morsel from time to time at night, I loathe in equal measure the sensation of acid reflux. Truly one of THE most awful feelings I've ever experienced.

5/8 - Our first Mother's Day without our mom. Not surprisingly, it kind of sucked but, because of good friends, it sucked less than it would have otherwise. The week prior was really difficult for my brother and I, with almost every ad everywhere you turned touting the upcoming day; it was inescapable. But even with reminders everywhere, I managed to forget what that Sunday actually was when I kind of invited us to our friends' house for brunch! But, being the awesome people they are, they embraced having us over and we had such a good time. Thank you, Chuck and Michelle, for everything.

5/12 - I started reading Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card after being told by more than one person that it was the best sci-fi book ever and that I had to read it. After having my head stuck in it for the next three days straight until I finished it, I'd have to agree.

5/21 - The big countdown to the non-materializing Rapture. No one went anywhere. Enough said.

5/23 - I got carded at the supermarket when buying beer. I'm 43 years old. That was a good day.

5/25 - As I think I've mentioned here before, I love playing Bingo. I rarely get to play it because few casinos have it any more and sitting in a smoky church hall with a bunch of regulars who aren't terribly welcoming to newcomers (at least, that has been my past experience) isn't my idea of fun. So when my brother told me that our local Hooters has Bingo on Wednesdays, I was putting on my shoes and heading out almost immediately! I mean, beer, boobs, and Bingo, does it get any better? It was fun and I even won a round. They're doing it through June, so I think I'll be back.

5/26 - Gratuitous cat photo time:

He was snuggled in my lap like that for the longest time, looking like the king of all he surveyed. (Yes, the pale flesh-colored thing to the left is my leg; the tan, brown bit to the right is my chair. I'm just so white.)

5/27 - My brother and I went to Lake Tahoe for the Memorial Day weekend and it was really fun. We were pretty fortunate traffic-wise and had an enjoyable few days. Even though the people who live there are really tired of snow, it snowed big, fluffy, fat flakes on and off during those days and it was lovely to see one last time for the season.

5/31 - I finally got my rear in gear and I completed my May post just under the wire! Yay me. See you next month. ;-)

March 18, 2011

Forgetting And Remembering

Are you familiar with the saying, "You'd forget your head if it wasn't attached to your neck" and variations thereof? I often think that, if it weren't a saying that's older than I am, it could have been written expressly for me. While my maternal grandmother died before I was born, two of her sisters were very close to my mom and were like grandmothers to me and my brother. From them, I heard that phrase a LOT in my youth and, really, it hasn't changed much.

I forget and lose things everywhere. I've lost (temporarily and permanently) more jackets and hoodies than any one person ever should. I've had to drive back to hotels to get some vital item that I left behind (usually in the bathroom) on more than one occasion, and have had to ask them to mail things to me if I'd traveled too far by the time it was remembered. I've misplaced a drivers license, only to have it resurface months after I'd paid to replace it. I've lost enough earrings to supply a small store for one-eared people. I forget the names of people I've known for years during conversation and have had to explain a few times that calling someone "what's-his-name" isn't meant as a slight or any disrespect, I just can't pull the name out of my brain when I need it. I pretty much forget what day it is almost every day. I put things "away" in a really good place, then can't remember where that place is. I've forgotten to pay bills, take the credit card at the store, take the keys before leaving the house or the car, turn off the stove, blow out a candle, return library books, take my medicine and go to appointments; those things that all of us forget from time to time.

I have a knack for being able to remember only the first letter in the name of someone or someplace. I can almost guarantee that if you've known me in-person for any length of time, you've heard me say, "Oh, you know, that starts with an 'N'," or something just like that. Probably more than once.

One of my favorites is forgetting something I just said not five seconds before. That always makes me feel good.

Not far behind that is starting a post with an idea in mind and not remembering what the point was a few paragraphs in. Fortunately, this time I do recall what the point is, but my list of posts is littered with half-finished drafts that seemed like a good idea but then I went off on a tangent and made a complete mess of it before losing the thread completely.

The irony is that there are so many things that I'd like to forget but simply can't, no matter how much time has passed, how much rationalizing I've done over it, or how much I know something wasn't really my fault. Usually things that are a result of my having done something stupid.

Like being around nine years old and making an observation to my mom about someone at another table in a restaurant (quietly, I'd thought) and the feeling of utter mortification and shame that swept through my body when I realized that the person had heard me and someone at their table said, "How rude!" loud enough for me to hear.

Like being in middle school and forgetting something (I can't even remember what it was anymore) and being told to call my parents about it, but I either forgot to do that (duh) or just didn't feel like it. When I was asked about it, I told my mom that I hadn't been allowed to use the phone in the school office to call. She went back to the vice president and railed against my being denied the use of the phone and backed me up all the way. Weeks later, when it came up again, I admitted that I'd lied about not being allowed to use the phone. The expression on my mother's face when she realized what I'd done and the position I'd put her in left me feeling about an inch tall.

Like being in college and forgetting about Mother's Day one year and knowing how hurt my mom was by that.

Like the last 48 hours of my mom's life when I practically lived at the hospital and every moment of her last few minutes is etched on my brain for me to relive again and again. Wondering if we could have done something different. Wondering if I hadn't left to go to lunch that day when she began to decline, could we have caught what was happening to her? Seeing the grief on my brother's face when we knew she was really gone.

But even with of all the things I've managed to forget over the years and will no doubt continue to forget, remember, and forget again, there is one thing that I will never, ever forget.

March 18th was the day that brought my mom, Betty Ann Burns, into the world and it was so much a better place for having her here.

February 28, 2011

A Bit Of A Photo Walk

Even though I don't really have a great deal to share at the moment, I was getting the itch to write (and as it happens more rarely these days, I ought to indulge it). Also, I didn't feel like letting the little, short month of February trick me like it usually does by ending so quickly and giving way to March before I'm ready.

I've been thinking a lot about photography lately. I'm considering taking some workshops and classes, more for processing and enhancement than composition and such, which had me looking through my pictures file on the laptop. I haven't posted any "just because" pictures in a while, so I thought I'd share some of my favorites from the last few months. I may have already shared a couple on Twitter, others I am certain I haven't but, really, how on earth can I remember? So let's let them have a home here for a little while, either way, and I'll tell you a bit about each of them.

This is one of my absolute favorites. It is, oddly enough, of a crosswalk in Los Angeles that just completely captured my attention. I really like geometrical designs and this really appealed to me. Even though orange is one of my least-favorite colors, it really worked here and was completely eye-catching.

Another one from the same trip to L.A., also somewhere along the same street, if I remember correctly. This one spoke to my childhood and I yelled, "Stop the car!" because I had to take a picture. Winchell's doughnuts were THE doughnuts when I was a small child in California (before I moved back to NY) and I was really sad to find out that they'd all but disappeared when I moved back as a much-less-small child. Next time, I want to get a shot of it at night, all lit up.

I have a well-documented love for Chihuly glass in this blog, and this is another example. This is part of the Fiori Di Como chandelier in the lobby at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, which I imagine many of you have seen. You could take me to Vegas, stick me in this lobby, leave, come back in a couple hours and still find me standing there, staring up at the glass in wonderment and trying to take pictures that capture its color and brilliance. Maybe if I ever splurge on a fish-eye lens I just might be able to do that.

Taken with the Retro Camera app on my Droid phone, this is from one of my favorite coffee and tea places in the area. The quality of the amber light from the setting sun was lost because of the filter this particular "lens" uses, but I still like the kind of haunting effect it had.

Not the best-quality picture you're ever going to see from me, but it was taken on my phone and while I was busy kicking myself for not taking my "real" camera along with me, I couldn't resist getting at least one decent shot of such an iconic sign. I wasn't able to get a single usable shot of the equally iconic Ferris wheel you can see a bit of in the background, but I like the slight grittiness of this one.

Ah, false spring in California. These cherry trees near my carport were throwing off the most intoxicating smell at the beginning of the month. The trees were just dripping in blossoms and, while it was difficult to get a really good shot with my phone (again, you'd think I'd learn), I just had to capture a little bit of their beauty to remember them by.

Thanks for indulging me and taking a peek in. Hopefully I can remember to use my better camera more and share some other pictures sometime soon.

February 08, 2011

Because Twitter Isn't Only About What You Had For Lunch

In his rules for blogging, a friend of mine admonishes, "Don’t let Twitter take your good ideas." I realize that I'm quite guilty of doing that very often. As in, all-the-time often. The links I used to save up to share here in posts now get shot off on Twitter for a very short shelf. After that, they automatically go to my Pearltrees, where they're always accessible but live in oblivion for the vast majority of you.

Tonight, however, I felt really inspired to take something from my day and share it here instead of "wasting" on a tweet. I may just revive this blog yet!

In case you don't already know it, food is one of my very favorite things. While I'm fairly picky about certain things, I'm willing to try things at least once and I eat a wide variety of cuisines now that they're so readily available to me here in the Bay Area. Where I grew up, Chinese food was for special nights out and Japanese cuisine was positively exotic, so having those plus Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Afghan, Greek, Mediterranean and more at my beck and call and gustatory whim is fantastic.

I had planned to go to a Mediterranean place that has my favorite hummus, but then I remembered I am supposed to go to a similar kind of place for lunch tomorrow. Right as I realized that, I saw a sign for a new restaurant in a plaza I go to fairly often and I turned in to try something I'd never had before: Korean food. There are a number of Korean restaurants in the area, but I'd never been to one because usually I don't try stuff I have no clue about without someone who knows about it to guide me for at least the first visit. As I had no guide, I turned to Yelp to make sure it wasn't someplace to be avoided at all costs. It wasn't, and people had good things to say about food I'd only ever heard of before, so I decided to be brave, soldier on, go for the gusto and all those sorts of things that really don't apply to simply having a meal.

Really, there was one thing on the menu that finally propelled me through the door: Bibimbap.  Never heard of it, you say? Let's turn to Wikipedia, shall we, since it's the most concise explanation I found: "Bibimbap is a popular Korean dish. The word literally means "mixed meal." Bibimbap is served as a bowl of warm white rice topped with namul (sautéed and seasoned vegetables) and gochujang (chili pepper paste). A raw or fried egg and sliced meat (usually beef) are common additions. The ingredients are stirred together thoroughly just before eating. It can be served either cold or hot."

The style served at this restaurant is called dolsot bibimbap, which is served in a very hot stone pot. The neat part of the stone bowl is that it both cooks the egg when you stir it into the rest of the ingredients and forms a crispy crust of rice along the bottom. I really like crispy, so that was a big appeal. 

I knew what I wanted, so I ordered quickly and got a nice cup of hot green tea right away. Before I had taken more than a sip, the waitress was back and started laying out small, mostly shallow bowls of different things, without explanation. I was a little puzzled because I wasn't sure if they were supposed to go in the bibimbap, like you do with all the things that come before you eat Vietnamese phở, or if they were merely accompaniments. I was hungry and there was no one else to observe how they went about it, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and just sample them all.

I was even more puzzled when I pulled out my chopsticks and they were metal. I wasn't expecting that, but they looked pretty cool and worked just fine, so I dived in. There was a delicious cold potato dish (no clue what it's called or what was in it but I loved it), a bean sprout dish that was refreshing, a transparent noodle kind of salad that I devoured, some zucchini that had been marinated in something and were quite tasty, a fishy kind of broth with seaweed in it (the only thing that I didn't care for and didn't have more than a taste of) and what I was pleased with myself for recognizing as the traditional Korean dish, kimchi. I will fully admit I was really hesitant to try the kimchi because I thought it was going to be super spicy hot; happily, it wasn't and it was rather savory and delicious.

Just as I'd finished my first cup of tea and had tried all the dishes that I can only assume are meant as an appetizer, the bibimbap arrived in all its sizzling glory. I'm a little annoyed that I didn't think to take a picture, but I was hungry and it smelled so good that I couldn't wait. (The first picture in the Wikipedia article looks almost exactly like it, though.) I stirred it up well with the chopsticks, making sure the tiny, raw egg got out to the hot stone where it cooked up instantly, and was relieved to note that the chili paste hadn't been put on top but was instead on the table in a bottle for stouter souls than I.

The taste was just wonderful, a fantastic mix of healthy, nutritious things served in a way that kept them hot the whole way through the meal. It was simply a delight to eat it and as I made my way into the bowl, the reason for the metal chopsticks became clear: they're to get all that luscious, crispy rice scraped up off the bottom of the bowl! Those cheap, wooden chopsticks you normally see would never be up to the task and it's critical to enjoying the dish.

The lovely waitresses kept refilling my tea (which was very good) and offering more of pretty much anything I'd shown an interest in eating, but the amount of food was just right and I got to the bottom of the bowl, happy but not stuffed. The owner also came by to see if I was enjoying my meal and offered to make me something to drink if I wanted it or get me anything that would help me enjoy it even more. They really made me feel at home when I should have felt out of my element and made the entire experience just that little bit more delightful.

When I had turned down another offer of refills of the small dishes, the check arrived with a little bottle of Yakult, another thing I'd seen but never tried before. I hesitated because I would have been disappointed if I ruined my post-meal "happy mouth" with something that was sour or unpleasant. I decided I might as well keep with the spirit of "nothing ventured, nothing gained," popped the top off and downed it. It was sweet and delicious and creamy and turned out to be a perfect compliment to the meal and chased away any thoughts of having dessert afterward somewhere else.

If you're in the area and are interested in giving it a taste sometime, the place I went for this culinary delight is called Kong Tofu & BBQ in Cupertino. (On their menu it was called bibimbab, by the bye. I'd always seen it with the "p," though, and it just sounds better that way to me. Go ahead, say it a few times, it's a fun word!) If not, keep an eye out for a Korean restaurant and give it a try sometime. If you're already a pro, feel free to tell me in the comments what all the dishes are that I couldn't identify or, better yet, invite me out to lunch and show me in person.

January 31, 2011

A New Leaf

I honestly didn't mean to let all of December get away from me without a post. I even started to write one on New Year's Eve and Murphy's Law bit me in the ass for being a procrastinator and I had computer problems that made it impossible.

I haven't done much better with January, obviously, but I'll be damned if I don't live up to my own promise to myself to get one post in before the month is out, even if I did manage to completely miss my own blogoversary on the 22nd. Unlike me, to be sure, but I've had a lot going on.

I don't exactly have a theme for the year yet, unlike the last two "Year of" ones, but we'll see how it progresses as I'm still playing around with a couple. But, big changes this year in my life. Clearly, last year was one of massive change, however I think it's what we do with ourselves after times like those that really define who we are and what we can be. I've decided to try to turn that change into as much of a positive as I can.

I came to realize toward the end of last year that I wasn't going to find a job that suited me, who I am and where I am right now in my life, in any meaningful way. So, because I have the time and opportunity to do something I've always wanted to do, I've launched my own business. As breathtaking as it is sometimes for me to say that out loud, it's what I've done and I'm going to make of it what I can.

It's a personal concierge service, which seems to be as challenging for people to grasp as it is for them to spell. (I'll admit, even I stumble over the spelling occasionally, after a lifetime of "i before e except after c" recitation.) Essentially, I am combination of personal assistant and errand runner for people. I can do for people what they're too busy to do during their workday or that would take them away from family time; anything from picking out gifts to dry cleaning pick-up, or pet sitting to sitting there waiting for the cable guy. It's kind of something I've been training for my whole life so it comes as second nature to me. Whether I can make a living from it remains to be seen!

Now, ideally, this would be where I'd direct you to my website so you could see exactly what I've put together and send excited recommendations to all the busy people and over-booked parents you know in the Bay Area. But. But, I haven't quite got that part done just yet, so we'll save that for (hopefully) next time. I need to finish reaching out to my network of Internet-savvy friends to get those last few pieces in place, but I couldn't wait any longer to share my news, since it's been bubbling along all month and it's happening, it's really happening.

If you have any specific questions about it all that go beyond something you'd want to put in a comment, feel free to email me, using either the "email me" link above or sending something directly to my Gmail address, if you have it.

Otherwise, I hope you'll peek in from time to time to see how things are progressing and whether I have any good stories to share as I'm out there in the "trenches" of Silicon Valley, on the other side of the commute lane.