Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Needed Diversion.

I am deeply interested in politics and greater social forces, big ideas and consciousness-raising. I am. But sometimes you just need to read a little news that is hardly news, and the day before Thanksgiving is that day.

So this article about last night's first Obama administration State Dinner... ahhhh, that's the ticket.

Michelle Obama selected hydrangeas, sweet peas and roses for the centerpieces!? I knew we were kindred spirits! (That was what my wedding bouquet was comprised of.) They served food from their garden, and Jhumpa Lahiri was a guest?! I want to corner her and make her tell me a story over White House eggplant!

Plus a gold gown on the First Lady? Just perfect. And now, on with your day before a four-day weekend.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fake it 'til you make it?

Since you don't have to answer this to my face, be honest... what's your worst personality trait? (You don't have to tell me here.) But what I would like to know is how you work on it... how you remain true to yourself and who you are, while attempting to smooth out the rough edges of this unsavory trait which you possess?

Do you read helpful books, go to church, solicit feedback from colleagues or friends? Do you journal, do you avoid certain situations? Do you have no bad trait? Do you ignore it or just think of it as an aberrance that doesn't capture the real you?

This is on my mind a lot this week, and I also wonder if we even can know our bad trait/traits. It may be something we're not aware of - for if we are aware of it, we try to fix it. It's those pesky quirks, those little tics that we don't even see - those top the list of "bad" traits.

I, for one, can be mean. I can be mean without thinking, in the name of honesty. Sometimes, I am busting through denial, and I don't consider that mean. It isn't "I'm just sayin'!" but it is that I won't sit quietly by a person I care for, as they hurt themselves or others with unneeded mental gymnastics. When my honesty is done right, it sees right to the heart of a thing -- which is vulnerable and scary, and which can look like mean to the ego, but isn't.

On the other hand, at times it IS mean. And while I've sometimes been bewildered about when, it also can fly right out and I want to push it all back in; too late. So in an effort to go beyond apologizing for meanness (with sincerity, and that itself is an ongoing lesson/struggle), I am thinking of ending every other evening with a series of questions, where "it" stands for a thing I expressed an opinion about, a thing I spent time thinking of, a thing I let affect my actions that day:
  • Does it affect my life?
  • Does it affect someone I love?
  • Was my opinion solicited about it?
  • Was I trying to influence change?
  • Was I deeply in the moment when listening/discussing it?
  • Can I be honest about my biases in regards to it? Once I can, is it emotionally safe for me to share those first and THEN get to the heart of it?
  • Why do I care about it? (Because maybe I shouldn't.)
The last one, of course, should be asked first.

And a cursory examination of these questions and some lingering "it" items of the past week reveals that 7 out of 10 are things I have no dern good reason for carin' about. So that shortens the list - yay! But the other 3 linger.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Your Recipe?

A long time ago, I read a story in a magazine about someone's children who called a certain cookie recipe by the name of the family friend who baked them. Emily Cookies? How great would that be?

Well, last week I made what I am now calling Rouse Bread after this easy and successful recipe, and I am thinking of rechristening the ugly-named "No-Bake Cookies" to "Micheal Cookies." No, not because he makes them, but rather because he loves them so -- even when I don't let the milk/sugar boil long enough, and they don't set up properly!

These thoughts of honoring people through recipes ties into my oft-repeated statement that the one true religion in which I was raised was Food...

My aunt laughingly recalls her younger sister, about age 6, who grew up to be my mother, rubbing her hands together and whispering excitedly, "Rolls, rolls, rolls!" on Sundays when Parker House rolls were made and baked for dinner...

My family is well-known for sitting over a lovingly prepared meal, to then ooh and aah and then? Soon start talking about the NEXT delicious, lovingly prepared meal we'll have. Or one we had in the past...

It's a true, deep and endless love, this love we have for food, for breaking bread together, for showing love and affection through the oven, the stove top, the grill...

So this Thanksgiving, I am making Butternut Squash Gratin, maybe to be called Bill Gratin -- but then does that sound like he is the ingredient?! -- Rouse Bread, and a Brussels sprout dish that was learned largely from Leighton. We could market Leighton's Sprouts, couldn't we? Kids would suddenly start loving them! (Though the bacon lardons don't hurt.)

So what are you making? Who taught you how to make it? Do you like to cook on Thanksgiving? Or, like me, do you like to supplement? This year I am 28 and a married woman... and I have yet to cook the turkey. Leave it to my mom, my dad, to Megan and her famous second Thanksgiving. (To which I scored an invite again this year! Yeah!)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Good Thing Friday: The Fry Edition.

It's an easy way out, but I'm letting Stephen Fry speak for me this week, in the UK's Guardian:

"I would not say that I lost faith in Twitter, I would say that I lost faith in my ability to negotiate it. I don't know about you but whenever I read a blog I do not let my eye drop below half the screen in case I accidentally hit the bit where the comments reside. Of all the stinking, sliding, scuttling, weird, entomological creatures that inhabit the floor of the internet those comments on blogs are the most unbearable, almost beyond imagining. Their resentment, their desire to be heard at the most vituperative level, at the most unpleasant and malevolent, genuinely ill-willed malevolent, level is terrifying and I am very often simply not able to cope with that. Twitter is usually not like that... [but] I found that the @ mentions were just getting... I could see these comments that would just make me upset."

I think, with the exception of (where the comments are on topic, not trolling, etc), I am going to try to skip reading comments on anything online through 2010. Can I do it??

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I forgot.

The promo tagline on for an article called "It's All A Blur To Them" is "Crossing between men's and women's fashion aisles feels right to young customers today."

Pfft. Yeah, right, I think. No it doesn't.

But, oh yeah. Oops. I'm not a "young customer" anymore.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Good Thing Friday: Tattling.

Here in Portland, the newspaper today published an account of a 30-year old man sexually abusing his 6-year old daughter in public, in a movie theater. A 14-year old high school student enlisted the help of another woman in the theater, her daughter and the manager, to call 9-1-1 and have him arrested. Security cameras showed him touching her inappropriately, and the world has another registered-sex-offender for life and a little girl taken into protective custody.

You can read the article here.

It's hard to pull a Good Thing Friday out of a story like that, but as the comments on the story show, everyone agrees that 14-year old Nichelle McKinney is quite a young woman. She saw something wrong; she sat near the man to confirm what was going on; enlisted extra help; was ready to take his license plate down should he leave. At 14, that level of confidence and ability to take action are commendable.

It isn't a gray situation of course - what she saw was disturbing. (Read: this isn't a parent yelling in a grocery store or giving a light spank; situations where maybe one should speak up and maybe one should shut up. This one was extreme.) But how many people would convince themselves they weren't seeing it? I can admit I'm not sure what I would have done. That sort of blatant abuse in the open... it's shocking, it makes you want to turn away, and Nichelle moved from being shocked to helping very quickly.

So, like all the commenters at the Oregonian, I applaud Nichelle. And I think of times I should have, or should in the future, remember that tattling can be a good thing. Sometimes, someone has to stand up - in school, at the store, in the office, at the park. Has it ever been you? I'd like to hear about it. And have a happy, authentic, aware Friday - in thanks for Nichelle.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Doctor Day.

I like going to the doctor and/or dentist. I like the "clean bill of heath" feeling. I think hospitals and offices feel safe - I've always thought, heck, if something goes wrong here, this is a good place to be, a good place to get it fixed!

Yesterday: Dentist first. I was told I am a very good brusher. And my gums are looking good. Ahhh. (Did you know floss only gets to 3mm under your gums? That's why once you get 4mm deep parts around your teeth, you have to floss like crazy. And that's why once they're at 5mm, there is no turning back. You've got periodontal disease at that point.)

I really think that if I could pull it together and floss everyday, suddenly I'd finish writing a novel, my house would always be clean, the car would never break down, I'd sleep like a baby every night and lose twenty pounds. It is the key to life that I can't manage to do EVERY single night. And speaking of...

Visit number two yesterday: clean bill of health at the doctor. (Ask me about ZoomCare if you're interested; it's an incredible model for health care and really, really awesome for those with or without insurance.)

Except for one thing.

I was told to lose 15 to 20 pounds.

By a doctor who was approximately 13 years old, 5'2'' and 100 pounds. But she gave me a few suggestions to make weight loss easy - things I had never heard of before! If I only I'd known this the last five years! It was great! Thanks, Doc! You're a genius!

She suggested eating more fruits and vegetables and getting 30 minutes of exercise 5 times a week.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The New Yorker (magazine)

I think it is arriving twice a week now. That's the only explanation.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Good Thing Friday: Tableau

Sometimes it's too good to be true.

Woman in Costco, pushing one of the carts (which are ridiculously huge, really) in front of her.

Six items inside. Four gargantuan bottles of NatureMade vitamins. And two hot dogs from the snack stand.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Convenient Inconvenience.

I have never locked my keys in the car. Knock wood rightnow, eh?

I have never locked my keys in my car... before yesterday.

I have great excuses! I do! I was at the mechanic and my new car has one key to unlock and another for the ignition. I jumped in with car with a friend, tossed down the unlocker and used the other in the ignition. Off we went.

I know, I know, shoulda just put 'em back on the key ring immediately. But what if I broke a nail? (That's so me, right, worried about nails? No, I was just focused on getting the errand done as soon as possible.)

Shut the car door (at Costco) and walked toward the doors, thinking immediately, hmmm. Where's that pesky unlocking key? Looked, looked, looked some more, ignoring the distant memory of tossing in the change dish, and then remembered that for two years, we've had AAA and I've never used it. Called, chatted with a very friendly dispatcher, did my shopping, got the automated "We are 5 Minutes Away" call, met the truck at the front door of Costco, unlocked it, and went on my merry way.

They say there is no such thing as luck. That "luck" is merely being prepared for the opportunity you want. I love this idea, because it means career and creative-life advances don't bump you on the head. (Glen Hansard... an overnight success 20 years in the making.) Someone might offer you a teaching gig, a book deal, a photo shoot for a catalog... but if you haven't gotten your degree, written that novel or kept your body in shape, then the opportunity won't matter.

So I feel this experience - - - could have been a $100 mistake and giant pain in the ass, but ended up taking about six minutes out of my day and not a dime outside of our yearly AAA investment - - - is a great corollary to the idea that there is no luck. Because it means there is no bad luck, either. I knew, despite all that knocking-on-wood, that I would someday lock my keys in the car. Having planned a day to exist with a AAA card and 45 minutes to kill inside Costco meant it I just had quite possibly the most convenient inconvenience ever. And luck's got nothing to do with it.

Apartment Living: Notes from the Dark Side.

There are so many, many ways for strangers to annoy you on any given day. And sharing a laundry room equals guaranteed annoyance.

So yesterday, when some random neighbor stuffed at least 2 loads of wash into one of the small, 70s era, shitastic machines featured at the Terrace where I live, I joyfully pulled out all the clothes, speckled with dry laundry detergent that never had a chance to dissolve since it never had a chance to agitate. I stacked it on the dryer. Then, all the larger chunks which tumbled to the bottom of the washer... quarter sized rocks of white granules... well, I artfully scattered them over the wet laundry, in case the point got missed.

The other news... a 2-bedroom is opening for rent soon here. There are 13 apartments on the Terrace; we are now third away from being the longest-term occupant. Of all the people who have moved since we arrived, all but one have moved out to buy their own home. I hope it's something in the water. So if you're looking, it's a second floor 2/1, has a deck, gets some light, cats OK, I'll find out the rent, but in the ballpark of $775, give or take, is my guess. Great location that we love, if cruddy construction, but hey, opportunities abound for passive aggressive behavior in the laundry room! What's better than that?!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Anonymous Complaint.

I don't like getting people in trouble, so the names in this story have been withheld.

I belong to a CSA this year, and I love the idea more than I love the outcome. Other friends I have who belong to a CSA get weekly baskets of insane goodies - farm fresh fruits and veggies that overflow the fridge. I'm gonna join theirs next year if I can. Why?

Well, sometimes my CSA seems more eager to offer a wide variety than they seem willing to admit that 8 oz of potatoes ain't gonna feed a family of 2, much less the 3-4 it's intended to.

So, last week we got amazing peppers - sweet ones, hot ones, and skinny ones to saute - and a nice pound of potatoes. We got a beautiful head of cauliflower and two fresh, spicy, sticky heads of garlic. We also got "one head of lettuce" and please, if you will, check out the size of this lettuce:

It's adorable! It's crispy and fresh, even a week later! It's local and organic! But seriously. It's in miniature.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A slice of this American life.

So I have been working since I was 15. That's 13 years of solid work, with nothing but a little time off here and there for travel, and a sum total of probably 3 months when I was out of work by choice, playing a bit between jobs.

I've worked full time, part time, 1099, W2, under the table, you name it. I've held up to three paying jobs at once. Did you know that that top line on your income taxes, Gross Income, is not the same as Adjusted Gross Income?

You probably DO know this.

From your Gross Income, you take out things like 401(k) contributions and any of your bulk health care costs, maybe what you're putting into a traditional IRA. Then you end up with your Adjusted Gross Income, from which you pay taxes.

My Gross Income and Adjusted Gross Income have always been identical, and you know why? I've never had benefits. Not one. Not one paid vacation afternoon, not a single sick day where I didn't lose money because I couldn't work, not a dime into retirement savings* and don't make me chuckle with thoughts of someone other than me paying for health insurance. How weird is that?! I didn't know there WAS a difference between GI and AGI. I don't know what all that says about my working history, my understanding of taxes or the earning power of a Bachelor's degree in today's economy, but it must say something.

In the meantime, yes I have health insurance and the "*" above means that I put some benjamins into a Roth IRA, so I pay my taxes on this end instead of the retirement end.

But I was sighing and laughing last night when taxes were being kindly explained to me by my husband, which prompted me to exclaim, "It must be so expensive to run a small business!" He laughed. I hope you do, too.