Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Christmas memories, vol. 20

It's that time of year again. Time for you to learn more about how I ended up this way, how I've spent my Christmases lo, these last forty-odd years. This year I expect we'll have some sad ones - it's my first year with both my parents gone, and it's bound to make me kind of melancholy. Heck, I just started crying by the flatbread at Whole Foods because I used to buy it and bring it to my mom as a treat. But the thing is, the reason I miss my folks so much is because my life is filled with happy memories. They were people worth missing.

I'm sitting in public right now, so I think we'll start off with something kind of innocuous. Public tearing-up garners worried glances, and I don't want to stress out that nice man at the next table who's selling Comcast subscriptions to unsuspecting callers who think he's in an office somewhere. (SECOND time I've see one of these guys out in a public place - last time it was in the waiting room at the tire place.)

If you know anything at all about me, you know I am an eater. A savorer of food. An explorer of interesting treats and new deliverers of deliciousness. (You can also tell this about me by looking at my picture, but that is another issue.) I come by this honestly. My people, they're eaters...both my biological and chosen families can strap on a feedbag like no one else, and from roughly November 15 - January 1st most folks I know practically draw maps of the treats they intend to enjoy before the austere deadline of the New Year makes them look like gluttons. Here are some of my favorites, and the logic behind them.

Pillow and ribbon candy - Back in the days of contractor gift showers, we almost always got a fancy box of candy from Harry and David, The Vermont Country Store, The Swiss Colony or some other purveyor of fine mail-order food items. Although they're really just hard suckable sweets, somehow they seemed to have weird Christmasy powers and an added sweet deliciousness that spoke of the holiday and all its promise. Plus, they were hard but kind of soft, too, and if you gave them a little time in your mouth they were chewable, almost like taffy. Which is another tasty holiday treat, that peppermint taffy stuff.

Oranges stuffed with cloves - Wait a second, Mindy, you say. They're not food, they're decorative scented balls of love that children all over the world have created for their parents in second grade. Well, I'm not your every day genius, I'll tell you. Oranges are food. Cloves go in food. Ergo, they are edible. They do not TASTE good, mind you, but my eight year old self had high hopes for them. (This is perhaps the same year I licked the spoon that I thought was covered in hamburger casserole residue but was actually covered in Alpo remnants.)

Mulled wine - I was not a drinker of the mulled wine until I moved to England, but I am now firmly sold on its fine fine warming properties and spicy goodness. I had my first mulled wine at a lovely pub called Ye Olde Swan with my friend Mel, shortly after my move to the UK. Who knew cheap red wine could have such body and depth? I was immediately hooked, and I used to keep a bottle of M&S mulled wine in the cupboard for emergencies. (I preferred to mull my own if I had time, usually with a Tesco's Finest red and Penzey's mulling spices.) It has become my Christmas go-to drink for festive tree-gazing and fire-sitting. And the stuff they served us in boots at the Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza wasn't half bad, either.

Mince pies - Another treat revelation from my time in the UK. Before I moved to England, a mince pie was an 8-inch pie full of raisins and nuts and cherries and brandy stewed with traditional spices, that got the skunk-eye from children and a bit of drool from my Dad, and that always inspired conversations about whether there was meat in the mix. Post-England, I think of them as personal little parcels of Christmas, with sweet flaky shortbread crusts and crystals of glistening sugar on their little lattice crusts. They are tiny - two, maybe three bites per pie, and they're even better when they come free after your meal at a country pub. Or straight from the box to the oven from M&S. That works, too.

Eggnogg Lattes - My first year in Seattle, Tom flew up for Thanksgiving. We needed to pick up a few things at Safeway, so we headed out into the not-cold Seattle weather. We tried to dance the steps on Broadway (which are completely inaccurate and hard to use, FYI,) got the items we needed, and decided that, on accounta we were in Seattle and were obligated to at least one latte a day, we had to stop for coffee. So we found a little street cart, another novelty to our Midwestern sensibilities, and saw the little hand-printed sign that said eggnog lattes had arrived. Hmm, thought we. That sounds gross, but oddly delicious. Let's try it. And we did. YUM. I now allow myself one eggnog latte per season, usually on a day when I can't stand the thought of Christmas and feel like just sleeping my way to January - it always picks me up, gives me visions of sugar plums, and reminds me how lucky I am to have Tom in my life.

The Swiss Colony Cheese Food Spread - Sometime during one of our epic shopping trips, Mom would make a stop at The Swiss Colony stand in one of the malls. She would stock up on cheese spreads to serve on crackers on Christmas Eve. As an adult, I understand that these can hardly be called cheese nor are they any sort of gourmet treat, but the five year old in me thinks they are the finest of cheese and the height of sophistication. Especially if they come in a crock, and are served with a Beef Log.

Michelle's Toffee - Seriously, my sister-in-law makes the best homemade toffee on the planet.

And finally, the latest addition to the secret joys of Christmas eating - Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe Joes. I was skimming the Trader Joe's flyer last year to see what was new or recommended for the holidays, and they made mention of these delightful little oreo-like cookies with peppermint candy in the filling and a thick layer of dark chocolate coating as though they'd just created a fire wheel that could slice bread. I thought, "Hmm. Sounds fine, but seriously. How good can they be?" So I spent some of my precious last dollars on a little tube of cookies. (Last December was a bleak bleak month for my finances.) Well, I ate my words. And the cookies. Boy howdy, these things are pure Nirvana as far as the packaged cookie goes, kicking chocolate gingerbread and pfefferneuses' sorry asses right out of the park. The kid at Trader Joes says that people actually buy these things up at the end of the holidays and sell them on ebay for $10 - $20 profit per box. Perhaps this will become my new cottage industry. Who needs a job when you know the secret of the Joe Joe?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Plate o' shrimp, vol 8

The 2 millionth Eagle Scout

The world's most famous Senior Wilderness Guide

Sometimes life does imitate art. Squirrel!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Hey you. Straighten up.

I live by a code - a clearly defined set of policies that specifies which personal behaviors are acceptable, which are rude, which are annoying and which ones are deal breakers. I've been like this for some time now - in fact, sometimes I wonder how I got this way, because it's not actually normal. And, since I sometimes come off as a bohemian lefty what with my flyaway hair and funked up trendy style, people are often taken aback by my standards. They expect this sort of judgment to come with a string of pearls and a twin set.

The good thing about policies is that they give me a very specific prism through which to analyze the world. For example: my policies protect me from people who only have friends from the present stage of their lives - they are not to be trusted with your heart, ever, because you're only as good as what you can do for them right now. My policies tell me that hoarders are trouble any way you slice it - not only is hoarding likely a symptom of some big dark psychological monster lurking in the shadows, even in the best case scenario you'll eventually end up cleaning up after them, and that will really suck. (You can only imagine how I feel about people who don't clean their bathrooms.)

I follow my own rules and policies, so it's really easy to trick myself into doing things. For example, I believe that cheating is always bad. Always. So, let's say I don't want to finish folding my laundry...left to my own devices, I'll just stack it on my cedar chest for a week or two and slowly wear my rumpled clothes. However, since I'm watching a Cubs game where the score is 8-2 in the middle of the 9th, I can make a bet with myself that if the Dodgers win I have to fold my laundry immediately. Chances are I'll soon be folding my clothes because to leave them in a heap would now be cheating. Stupid? Yes. But you'd be amazed at the things I've made myself do just because I was playing some game of chance with myself.

My policies help me set priorities, make me socially savvy and help me get more from my interaction with the world. And they make me more open to other opinions and ideas, too, because there aren't actually that many of them when you get right down to it. Policies only apply to things that are of extreme importance to me...most other things are open to discussion and I'll give a wide berth to all manners of eccentricities and behaviors. (Plus, there is the over-riding policy that, in general, fighting and grudge holding should be reserved as a final option, so I generally give people a lot of rope before I tighten any nooses.) Of course, our world is yin and yang, so there's a dark side to having policies, too. And here's mine: because policies are reserved for things that are really really important to me I have a hairpin trigger where policy violations are concerned, and in the past few months I've found myself completely tweaked off by strangers violating one of my deeply entrenched policies - and when I say tweaked, I mean really, really pissed off.

The policy in question: You, as a person, are 100% responsible for politely interacting with others, and part of this entails responsibly taking up appropriate space in the world without thoughtlessly imposing on others. Violation of this policy will get you a serious verbal reprimand, usually with place-putting precision to be sure there is no ambiguity that an offense was committed.

Violation No 1: I believe you may have heard me bitching about mommies and their baby barges? It's a public walkway, not your personal parking spot. Or your private classroom to teach skills your toddler can't comprehend and won't use for another 15 years. Or a virtual phone booth for you to stand and have your pointless conversation about what to have for dinner. Move over, Babyweight.

Violation No. 2: Parking spots are first come first served. Or, more precisely, first CAR, first served. There is no such thing as saving a parking space. You do not, ever, get out of a car and run into a space on the opposite side of the street and stand there to save it while your driver goes another block or two to turn around and come back at it. You do not, ever, go downstairs when your friends call you from the Kennedy to tell you they're at the Irving Park exit and stand in a space to hold it while they are stuck in Cubs traffic. Holding parking spots is not like holding movie theater seats while a friend gets popcorn. It's like queue jumping at Ikea on a Saturday afternoon. You deserve to be trampled by angry Swedes.

Violation No. 3: While cars do not interact with their surroundings once parked, going to a movie is generally something you do with friends, and therefore it is reasonable to want to sit with the people you came with. However, if you know a theater is going to be crowded it is unbelievably rude to sit your group down with one seat on either side of you. This means that later, when a couple comes in and looks for seats, they are going to have to split up and bookend you and your lazyass friends. Is it that difficult to pay attention and move your group over a seat to give people a chance to sit together? Or do you just like being a complete tit?

Violation No. 4: I realize you are on your front porch and should be able to have any conversation you wish. But must you shout into your phone? It's making me uncomfortable, because in the time it takes my dog and I to walk from first to last earshot of you I learn that you have a yeast infection, your friends don't like your boyfriend, and you don't like having sex with the cat looking at you. This is not information I needed about you. You're a stranger.

Violation No. 5: Back to the seat saving thing. Let's say you have a large group coming to a concert/movie, etc. with open seating. Sit someplace that obviously has room for all of you, and make sure you save that space if you want to sit together. Don't go sit someplace that has almost enough space and then try to cram your late arrivals in next to the people that got there before you, because now the early birds have to be considerate and try to accommodate you, but in doing so they will get stuck with bad seats that have obstructed views and no access to the aisle. This is all your fault, and it serves you right if the old lady in front of you has smelly silent acid farts all the way through the program.

I'm giving you notice. Stop this behavior immediately, or it is completely within my rights to start enforcing. And it will NOT be pretty. According to the policy, all bets are off.

And FYI, the Cubs lost. This draft was saved mid-way, and my laundry is now put away.

Always on the edge of controversy

Susan Boyle didn't win Britain's Got Talent, but predictions are that she's going to be a worldwide mega-star and make millions of dollars. Maybe, maybe not. Personally, I think she's a singing Rubik's cube, or possibly more of a Chia pet that can carry a tune.

I'm not suggesting for a second that she isn't talented...on the contrary, she has a lovely voice and a story that underdog-lovers and people tired of picture-perfect-looks as a requirement for fame eat up like it's candy. But I just don't see that her pretty voice alone is going to make her a mega-star. There is no one like her out there making records, and it's not because she is such a unique talent but more because there isn't a big market for her style of singing. Opera people want real opera. Pop people want pop music with a bit more rhythm and a trendy style. Easy listening people have Barry Manilow and greatest hits albums from Paul Simon. Showtunes folks have original cast albums. Rockers wouldn't touch her with a ten foot pole.

But then again, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Andrea Bocelli and Josh Groban fans need a female voice in their collection. In which case, Susan Boyle is mere moments away from riches the world has never known.

Making temping more charming

I'm amending the post below with italics so I can get my frustrations out before I go to work tomorrow. I figure if I can tell someone (you) what I think should be done differently, then it will be easier to let it go and just enter the dang data like a good drone.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Oh, the charms of temping

Let me preface this post by saying that I am really pleased to finally have a temp job. I am getting closer to an actual job, as well, but in the meantime I'm really happy to have income again. But I'd forgotten how truly ridiculous temping can be. Here's what I walked into:

- I'm doing data entry at an insurance company, though our actual client is a law firm I think. We're bar coding every file in the history of the company so they can find the relevant hard copy should it be required to defend them in a lawsuit. Data entry itself is never interesting. But that's part of temping...the work is SELDOM interesting...and so it is what it is and I'm fine with that.
- I was told that the company is business casual but that I should dress closer to business since it was my first day. In reality, we are not working in the main offices and all 30 temps AND the supervisors were in jeans, sweats, and other casual clothing. But I looked nice in my trouser suit. This job is not pleasant, and I think my temp agency knew it was not pleasant. Therefore hiding this fact by disguising the dress code doesn't help. Better to prepare me for what I'm walking in to. In some ways, being told you're going to work in a casual environment is a selling point for a temp job.
- The reason for the casual attire is that we are digging through files in various states of decay. Some are just dusty and full of residue from the carbon copies (or worse, the carbon-less copies) of forms in the files. My lovely trouser suit now needs dry cleaning. This was the more important detail for full disclosure in advance of me confirming that I'll take the position. I'm sure they left out this information because they feared people would turn the positions down and they really needed to fill them...a valid concern. However, they were assuming that the fact that this job is a manky, dusty mess would generate automatic refusals, and that is not necessarily true. It's just as likely people would view it as a challenge and dive right in...and if they really were turned off and unwilling to take this on then they would say "no" upfront, never be introduced to the client, and the agency could be sure they're sending in people who will stick with it, thus preserving their credibility. Of course, they did NOT share the details of the work, and now I have a security pass, a dry cleaning bill and I feel completely duped. I'll be switching temp agencies as soon as I can, partly because the one I'm currently working with will blacklist me if I cut out of this assignment early, and partly because I now don't trust my employers.
- Luckily, they have gloves and breathing masks available if the crap gets to you. I will look like a dork as the only one wearing them, but my allergies and asthma require it if I'm going to stick with this.
- The room is set up with boxes around the perimeter and folding tables and plastic study hall chairs at the work stations. As part of my orientation my supervisor said that she knows the chairs are horribly uncomfortable so there's no need to complain to her. She doesn't want to hear it and it won't help because she won't get us something else. (Screw you, OSHA!) You'd think a lawyer who's acting as the project manager would know enough not to say something like this, what since it exposes them to all sorts of legal issues. In the strictest sense, the employer should realize they're breaking every ergonomic work standard in the book and be making an effort to change this, rather than keeping the end client's cost low by compromising the workspace health standards for their employees. As far as I'm concerned, this is an absolute and a huge error in judgment. That said, if they really ARE going to intentionally allow this sort of work environment, they should at least make employees feel they can bring up concerns and that they will try to help if they do...most people will look the other way anyway so they won't have to do a thing.
- On the upside, we have windows. Of course, we don't have access to water coolers, office coffee, vending machines, refrigerators or microwaves...but there are restrooms so at least that's something. A small fridge and a microwave for the duration of the project cost less than one week of my time. If they don't want to advocate for access to the main kitchen for the temp workers, then it wouldn't be that hard to set up a makeshift one temporarily. Heck, even just a fridge and a water cooler would be enough.
- So what am I doing with my MBA you ask? Well, I get a box of files. I go through each folder or document, find the policy number and type it into Lotus Notes to print a label. I stick the labels on the folders (which means I create folders for the loose papers,) and then I put a shipping label on the box and stack it in another corner. Repeat. Not interesting, but in itself not criminal.
- I do this from 830 - 530 every day. We do get breaks...there are mandatory 15 minute breaks from 1015 - 1045 (teams are divided into two groups and take turns,) a mandatory unpaid lunch from 1230 - 130, and another round of 15 minute breaks in shifts from 315 - 345. These times are when we are allowed to use the restroom, unless of course we have an emergency and ask a supervisor. And there is no deviation...don't even think about asking to work through your lunch to leave an hour early for an appointment, or to take your break in the other group's 15 minutes of rest. I mean, we have standards and rules, people. Every one of the people working on this project are paralegals, lawyers or other professionals. Having rules that can be bent when necessary should be completely allowed. There is no real benefit to this military precision, unless creating a sweatshop environment is helping the project.
- The upside of this is that with all the saved podcasts on my iPod, I should have plenty of time to get caught up on my Manager Tools. Of course, iPods, radios or other distractions are not allowed. Ditto for internet access or excessive chatting, because we need to concentrate. See my point above...this would be a simple way to improve employee morale, and the likelihood of it affecting our work is slim considering the backgrounds of the workers.
- They frown upon requests for time off or absences for interviews and other things that might indicate you aren't dedicated to three straight months of this. Don't be ridiculous. Of COURSE no one is dedicated to three months of this. Personally, if I were the project manager I'd lay the expectation with the temp agency that we expect the employees to be there, but that requests for absences would be allowed within reason with prior notice. The temp agency could then establish rules/timelines of notification, etc. for absences to keep things under control, which would give them recourse if a temp abused their good will. This would actually encourage a lot of people to really commit to this...it would be guaranteed work for the summer, at a reasonable wage with flexibility for an afternoon off now and again when you need to go on an interview. So what if the work is messy and a bit dull...at least you have money coming in and can still keep your job search going. For someone like me, that kind of policy would make this job go from necessary evil to opportunity.
- And did I mention that most of the 30 other temps in the room are lawyers and paralegals? If this group is any indication, it's the short guys, minorities and women that are getting laid off at the big firms. This is my problem. I mean, they can't help it that they're lawyers.

I'm glad I had one Friday to work and now I've got the weekend to prepare for next week. I'll come in casual clothes with non-perishable food items to avoid an expensive purchased lunch, and a bottle of water so I don't have to buy it in the expensive store downstairs. A person's got to do what a person's got to do, after all, and I need the money so I'll do this. But fingers crossed Whole Foods or the Art Institute come through for work to get my by instead.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Life's downs and ups

My long absence from this blog has mostly been driven by the circumstances of my life. My days have been looking pretty much the same for the past few months, and I just haven't felt like there was anything to say:

1. I get up at 8AM. There's nothing that pressing to do so I don't need to be up earlier, but if I sleep much later I feel like a complete loser. Plus on Mondays, it's important to call the temp agency to let them know you're looking for work.
2. I do some wake-up surfing for news and other info while watching a bit of cable TV. There's a constant cycle of Gilmore Girls on ABC Family at 10AM on weekdays, FYI, or if you prefer they repeat at 4PM. Of course, until just now they've been stopping at the end of the sixth season so I could never find out how it ends. Curse you, ABC Family!
3. On the days she works, I usually take Beth to work at 11 so I can use her car during the day. That kills an hour.
4. From approximately noon until 4PM everyday and sometimes stretching into the evening, I'm scouring job sites, Crain's, the FT and WSJ, LinkedIn, Vault and various company websites to figure out who might be hiring for what. I attempt to identify trends in business, look to see who I might know who can help me get a name or phone number at a potential employer, or am making phone calls and sending emails to contacts I've been lucky enough to find. I'm writing cover letters, tweaking my resume to fit a job description, submitting applications and following up on them, you name it.
5. When the oppressive frustration of constantly hearing people tell me I'm wonderful but they have an external hiring freeze on indefinitely, I have to get out of the house. Plus, by this time Cali is usually boring holes into me with her soulful pouty eyes...this means we both get a break by taking a walk. We have a standard 3.3 mile route through the neighborhood, and we're averaging an 18 minute mile as our leisurely pace.
6. Now it's time for a little MSNBC and dinner.
7. Two or three times a week, I go to yoga which means that there's a 50% chance any given day that I've discovered a new muscle that's crying like a newborn when I sit/stand/move.
8. I fill evenings with television, more internet time or a good book.
9. And when Beth is working, we (Cali and I) leave mid-way through Letterman to go pick her up. My mother would be furious to know that I sit in the car and read by streetlights at midnight while I wait for Beth to escape the ER.
10. I've also added some volunteer work here and there, but not nearly as much as I should with this amount of time on my hand.
11. Social occasions are few and far between, not for lack of invitations but mostly because I worry about every penny I spend.

See? Not that much to blog about. And while I certainly could be using my spare time more productively to be researching new things and writing and trying out things I've always wanted to, my routine seems to have taken over and I haven't been as productive with this as I could be, either.

The good news is that things are finally picking up on the job front. I have a temp job as of tomorrow AM...a good sign for the employment market since there haven't really BEEN temp jobs since the new year. I've got several promising conversations going with potential long-term employers, and while I am not in an offer-pending scenario yet, I am getting good responses to my resume and there are indications that by the end of the summer I will be. I really do think that my gap year is coming to an end, and I will kind of miss it when it does.

I will say I've learned a LOT about being unemployed, and since many of you have not actually faced this in your mature adult lives I'm going to give you some hints for interacting with your unemployed friends and loved ones.

1. It is depressing and self-esteem deflating not to work. Even your most confident friends will be having self doubt and some unnatural sadness when they have been without work for awhile. (Unless, of course, their lack of work is by choice. Those people are REALLY happy.) So keep in mind they may be more sensitive than usual.

2. It's still okay to sit and bitch about your job. To a point.

3. Even if you've been unemployed before, you have no idea how bad it is out there right now. The rules have changed, and things people used to do to get a job just don't work. And while your caring advice is well meant, your unemployed friend may not always see it that way.

Imagine you're installing a flat screen television with a blue-ray and surround sound theater system that hooks to a cable DVR box that connects to every tv in your house so you can watch recorded American Idol shows in the bedroom or the kitchen or the office. And even though you have done everything the diagram says and checked it three or four times, you just can't get the picture to pull up on the television. Now, imagine that your spouse comes home and, seeing you frustrated and at wit's end, asks you if you remembered to turn the tv on.

That's kind of how it feels when employed people who've never dealt with this negative-growth job market tell you what you should be doing to get a job. Even if they're right, you still want to slam a brick through their head. It's probably best to let your unemployed friend tell you what they're doing and where their frustrations are before you tell them your sage pearls of job-seeking wisdom. This also shows that you have enough respect for them that you assume they are doing a good job in their search, which is better than reinforcing the idea that they suck (see no. 1) and that you are some benevolent savior condescending to help them.

4. Unemployed people need to not spend money, but they also need to get out of the house and have a normal life with social plans and a bit of fun. Obviously it's their responsibility to manage this, but it helps if when planning things you suggest low-cost or free activities so they don't have to point out their lack of income every time you get together. And while it's nice of you to offer to pay for a splurge if you have the income and want to do it, a) you certainly do not have to do this, and b) if you do it too often it's a little humiliating for the receiver because it makes them feel like a leech. This is not to say that I don't appreciate each and every drink, dinner or movie that someone has covered for me in the last 8 months...my friends rock, because most of them seem to know instinctively where the line is...in fact, some of these $5 movies and $10 curries are the best gifts I've ever gotten because they've made me feel normal in a time of abnormality.

Oh. And if you're splitting a check and you notice your unemployed friend skipped appetizers and cocktails and dessert, then they are on a budget and you'll get huge thoughtfulness points by being the one to say, "Hey, we had way more than XXX so he/she should owe a little less than the rest of us." It may be they'll say not to worry about it and you can revert to the normal check division, or they may secretly thank God for you and your kindness.

5. Networking for jobs is a pain in the ass and, frankly, it's exhausting. If you know someone who is unemployed, one of the nicest things you can do for them is to think about who you know that might be able to help them and to volunteer their contact details if they'd like to speak with them. As per no. 3, though, offering the contact if they want it is not the same thing as telling them they have to call the person.

This all probably seems like common sense to most of you, but you'd be amazed at the number of people who have no clue. In fact, I'm sure I didn't back before I was unemployed...I've never not had a job when I wanted one, and I can be really self-focused even if I don't mean to be - I guarantee you I have inadvertently steamrolled people and made them feel like crap. Man, I wish I could undo that. But at least I know now.

So now it's onward and upward. I don't think I've seen this Gilmore Girls episode and I've got yoga in a little over an hour. It's the last day of my routine, after all. I need to make the most of it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Empathize this

I've got two things on my mind today.

First off, I really like Sonja Sotomayor. And I especially like that when discussing his selection criteria for Justice Souter's replacement, President Obama brought up empathy.

Empathy is not the same thing as sympathy, compassion or emotion. Empathy is perspective. The idea that our laws have strict, specific definitions that should be considered without perspective is ridiculous. Laws mean something, but they must also be considered in context. That isn't to say they should be applied arbitrarily, or to advocate making exceptions left and right to suit a judge's whim...suggesting laws should be considered in context simply means that the courts must consider how our laws should be interpreted, and how they can make our society a better, more habitable, more functional one. How they can help Americans live their lives without impediment to their personal liberties. Empathy provides the perspective necessary to do this.

Judge Sotomayor is honest about her personal history and how it informs her perspective. We're kidding ourselves if we think that somehow strict constitutionalists are without bias. Everyone has a bias, and you're a fool if you trust someone who claims they don't. Godspeed, Judge Sotomayor.

Now, On to my second issue.

I have a thing or two to say about the Prop 8 decision. I'm pleased that the union of my dear CP and PG has remained intact. Back in October when we did this whole whirlwind wedding to beat the election, it seemed crazy that a week could make the difference in the legality of their marriage. Turns out it wasn't crazy at all.

So here's the thing. For the life of me, I just don't understand what the big problem is with same-sex marriages. I don't understand why two people of opposite gender in a partnership are more valid, more important and more deserving of privileges than two of the same gender. I don't understand why a relationship I have can be recognized as a valid union, but Tom and George's shouldn't be.

I've heard people say they oppose same-sex marriage because they don't like the idea of homosexuality. They say the idea of two men or two women together sexually is repugnant to them. For a second, let's just say their opinion of someone else's sex life is relevant and not just creepy. I didn't realize that the point of legal marriage was to validate or endorse the sex happening in the relationship. Does that mean that ugly people shouldn't be allowed to marry because someone might find their sex distasteful? Don't be ridiculous.

Others will say that God says homosexuality is a sin, so our government shouldn't recognize it. I'd ask them to show me exactly where God says this, but I know they'll drag out that Old Testament law and then we'll have to start banning polyester blends and shellfish and it will get us off track. Instead (separation of church and state aside,) I'll just ask....Really? Then I'll also assume you are for fining and jailing people who take the name of the Lord their God in vain, making it illegal to forget Mother's or Father's Day, or for punishing the people whose covetous behavior has put them into thousands of dollars in credit card debt, or who have taken out mortgages that they couldn't afford just because they really wanted a nice house like everyone else. I mean, these are actual commandments, people. If we're going to base our legal system and privileges on God's word, let's at least cover the Big Ten first.

Then there's the argument that keeping the definition of marriage limited to a man and a woman protects the family, the sanctity of marriage and makes our society a better place. I think what they're getting at is that marriages establish stable homes, encourage positive economic activity, build communities and connections, and create a nurturing atmosphere for both the children of a union and the parents who created it. I'll certainly agree that marriage does all of this. But I need some facts to prove that same-sex couples don't do this, too, because my experience of them indicates the opposite. (Do you also need me to cite divorce statistics and Britney Spears to debunk this myth? I didn't think so.)

As to the people who claim same-sex marriage opens the door to polygamy and bestial marriage, well, you're morons and I think you know it.

I understand that for a lot of people, homosexuality is foreign; it's not something they are entirely comfortable with, and until relatively recently they didn't even have to acknowledge it existed. I realize that this is difficult for them, and that before they decide if they agree with same-sex marriage, they'd like some time to just get used to knowing about the same-sex couples who've been living amongst them. I empathize with their struggle. In fact, I'll go so far as to say I sympathize with the trouble they're having getting used to this...I mean, I don't agree with them on this issue, but it does really suck when the world throws a set of rules at you that are completely different than your norm, and I know that they don't mean to be bigoted - they just want some time.

But here's the thing. Their discomfort with change is not a reason to withhold rights from other citizens so they can take their time getting used to things.

Legal marriage is about civil rights, plain and simple. Our government allows married couples to choose the most advantageous tax filing status, shorthands dozens of legal privileges that would take thousands of dollars and reams of paperwork to finalize without the marriage license, and bestows legitimization to the partnerships and families that couples form. To suggest that only some of our citizens should have access to these rights is pretty unfair. In fact, it's downright un-American. Even Iowa, a state full of traditional values and AARP memberships, gets this, and has done something tangible to change it. If they can do it, so can everyone else.

I mean, come on California. It's going to seem pretty ridiculous when the gay children of Los Angeles and San Francisco dream of the day that they're old enough to flee the small-mindedness of their childhood home for the more accepting, gay-friendly pastures of Des Moines.

Get with the program.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Not dead

Hi Tim. I know I owe you a phone call. I was over at my friend John's for dinner and some Wii when you called the other night and so I thought I shouldn't actually talk too long. Figured I can do this rather than email, since everyone else has given up on me. I'll write a newsy post soon. And maybe I'll catch you on the phone over the weekend?

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Sinus infections suck, and the jury's out on online dating

I've been felled by a sinus infection. Pleh. I should have known I would be afflicted...my mom was sick when I was home a few weeks ago and Bethany had it the week before I left. It was only a matter of time until it took me down.

It's been a miserable week to be me. Head stuffy. Glands swollen. Neck not turning. Headache. Fever. Lots of drowsiness. Yuck.

And because I am a moron, I decided that while I was in the throes of this mucus-y hell I should take another stab at online dating, so I registered a profile on chemistry.com. I hate these things and I don't know why I do it. Maybe I was just planning ahead for the next time I get sick, hoping to have someone on deck to make me soup and read me books and bring me cups of tea. In any case, I've filled out a profile and now people are being told they should meet me.

So far, no bites. I used the picture to the left..even though it's not technically "recent," it still looks like me. I elected to call myself "curvy," because it seemed more neutral than "big and beautiful," a term that annoys me anyway. I took the personality test, which states that I am a Director/Explorer - the site matches me with same, or with Negotiator and Builder combinations of Explorer, too.

I had to write a 2000 character personal essay and I had no idea what to say. I thought about asking a few male friends to do it for me, what since they probably have a better idea of what men might actually need to know about me, but that seemed like a cop-out plus it would force them to say something nice and I didn't want to put them on the spot. Instead, I wrote key facts about me that I believe a potential date should know...I am opinionated, I have a head-thrown-back booming laugh, occasionally punctuated with a snort, and men who like quiet women probably won't like me. I got ordained on the internet so I could marry CP to PG. Most days, I wear french perfume but not much makeup. Ambition is sexy but pompous doodieheads will be sorely ridiculed. I like men with hobbies and friends and who are close to their families. My people are eaters, and not picky ones, either. I am not a morning person and I am a very good speller.

I wonder why there aren't any takers yet? I think I sound HOT.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Back in Chicago

I'm back after a brief hiatus in Iowa. I hadn't seen my mom since Christmas and I missed her, so I hopped on Amtrak last Wednesday and spent a long weekend with her.

Amtrak is funny once you leave the east coast. It's the strangest mix of people...students, hippies, people going short distances, people afraid to fly, and a bunch of Amish. It's actually quite comfortable for the short trip home, and it gave me an excuse to eat strange snack foods like the cheese and cracker thing I bought at the Kwik Trip in Caledonia on the way to the station Monday morning. (Note to self - go to the co-op the day before you leave Decorah and get something healthier.)

I also got a lot of reading done. I finished The Omnivore's Dilemma, and I confess I really enjoyed it. I am more convinced now than ever that vegetarianism isn't the only ethical diet, but am now checking for grass-fed animals and finding local producers, because it just seems that this is the best way to eat. It made me extremely sensitive to the giant loads of corn in my diet and now I'm bird-dogging for all those hidden corn products in processed food and trying to limit my intake. I'm also on a tear about gum arabic, what since I'm not keen on Saudi Arabia and don't want my money going to them just because in a moment of weakness I have a hankering for some chocolate. (This is not mentioned in TOD, but instead is just a food-related obsession that seems tangentially related to the corn squeezin's thing.)

My next book was Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. I loved this book. It's a collection of short stories examining love, family obligation, relationships and the tensions and triumphs inherent in acclimating to a foreign environment. I've always loved Lahiri's work. I think her characters are beautifully subtle and complex, and she's adept and pulling intense emotions out of simple things. With this book, I found that it especially resonated with me, maybe because I've just moved to a new place, maybe because of my expat experience or maybe because of all this plus the fact that I read it on a trip to my mom's. Who knows. But I do a lot of thinking about the fork my life just took, and how I will be different now that I'm back here in the US from what I might have been had I stayed abroad and built my home in the UK. In UE, Lahiri masterfully illustrates the things I feel...when you've left your homeland and built a life somewhere else, the new place becomes as much a part of you as your original home. You develop a hybridized identity, and "home" becomes less of an external thing and more about living an honest, happy life. I think the New York Times' review said home was where you were able to truly be yourself, and that is exactly it. I'm not taking the time to write a well-thought-out review that makes sense, but suffice it to say I highly recommend this book.

I had a great time with my mom. We basically hung out, went to dinner, played Scrabble. Nothing exciting. But my mom is always good company and I needed a break from the endless days of job searching and it was an excellent way to spend my weekend. And now I'm back, and I'm starting to make little inroads that may lead to something that may lead to a job someday, and it all seems a little more hopeful and a little bit better and a little bit easier to deal with.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The book you're looking for

If you're looking for the book mentioned here, it's Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres. It's a memoir written by a woman who was raised in a strict Calvinist family in rural Indiana and chronicles the racism directed at her adopted brothers (they are black in a sea of white rednecks,) the hypocrisy of parents who give lip service to Christian values while creating a hell at home, and her years with her youngest brother in a Christian reform "school" in the Dominican Republic. It's a brutal, compelling read.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Short updates on a long day

I have a to-do list a mile long. I've kind of been slacking this week, either getting tons done or doing absolutely nothing, depending upon the day. But since it's Thursday now, what would normally be an even-paced week of to-dos is now a crunch-time-get-it-done to-do day. Therefore you get a numbered list.

1. The alternating balmy to freezing days we've been having are making my hands freaky dry. And the windows in this place are these heavy double hung ones that come down from the tops as well as up from the bottom, and now that we've broken their winterseal they aren't totally closed, which means wind really whistles and cold air gets in. It's chilly in here.
2. I have an azalea plant that I seem hell bent on killing. Plants and I, we are not made for each other.
3. I am going through a phase where I hate cooking. Hate it. Think it's tedious and annoying. This is not ideal.
4. I've decided that there are benefits to wearing a plus size. For starters, they don't make us walk all over the store looking for things to try on...all our items get shoved in one corner, usually at the far end of the top floor of the store. I guess they figure we should probably be forced to work off the big lunch we've likely just had. Plus, there is generally not the overwhelming selection you see for the smaller ladies, and the really cute stuff is often still available because so many larger gals hate their bodies and are busy trying to look frumpy. And if you wear anything from a size 14 - 18, it's likely that at least half of the other women that size would rather spend twice as much money on something, anything that is from the "normal" section of the store, therefore the styles are yours for the picking.
5. I am embracing the whole "cheap is chic" thing. I have downgraded my moisturizers to drugstore brands, bought a Covergirl lipstain the other day, and as soon as the supply of Lush bath products is gone it's getting replaced with something from Walgreens. As you can tell from item 4, I have been wandering the Mile, but not spending money even though I badly need new jeans, a couple of spring tops, workout clothes and some sandals. It is a bad idea to lose weight when you don't have the resources to replace your too-big clothes.
6. I am reading The Omnivore's Dilemma. I know most of you are probably thinking, "Sheesh, Mindy, that's SO 2006." Well, in 2006 I was a) in England, and b) in graduate school, therefore books about the US food chain weren't a priority. But I'm using my library privileges to get caught up on NYTimes Best Books of 2004 - 2008, and it's on the list. I thought it was a bit of a slog at first, but now I'm sucked in. I tweeted something like this yesterday, but I am fascinated by the whole River of Corn and industrial food thing. As you know, I grew up in Iowa, ground zero for the corn empire. I didn't grow up on a farm nor did my family really have any ties to farming, yet I still know quite a bit about corn growing and fertilizer and crop rotation and feedlots and agricultural policy. When the author started explaining these things, my initial reaction was, "Well, DUH," but now I realize that I have specialized knowledge that city kids simply didn't get. I also hadn't really ever thought about all the ways corn is turned into not-corn things that are taking over the world. And I REALLY hadn't considered the amount of petroleum involved in the corn industry. And I'd NEVER considered corn an anthropomorphized into a Machiavellian devil set on taking over the world, let alone freaky mutant grass. Well, I'm here to tell you. Eyes. Opened. Wide. Very interesting stuff.
7. I went to Tango Sur with my friends Will and Sarah last night. Loved it. Great food, great prices, and huge portions. I have at least two meals from my $18 steak, plus it's BYOB so it's easy to keep the tab low.
8. I'm sure it's difficult to imagine that I occasionally did not do all of the reading/coursework in my casepack during my MBA. Well, I didn't. So now I've decided to get caught up, and am doing a bit of review each day. How geeky is that.
9. Totally suckered in by American Idol. Totally.
10. I've also become quite the fan of Vanilla Silk Creamer in a cup of decaf coffee in the evening. Of course, now that TOD has got me thinking about the power of corn, I realize that I am really adding a bushel of corn and a gallon of petroleum to my coffee to make it creamy and sweet, but for now I'm turning a deaf ear to that voice screaming, "Gross out!" in my head.
11. Ask CP to blog about Jesus Land.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Pet peeves, vol. 873

You know what I hate? I hate commercials that use the music, the graphic style or, worse, BOTH from the hit movie Juno staring that delightful ingenue Ellen Page. What is charming and clever in independent film is not when you're trying to push me to buy something. 

Comcast and the Atlantis Resort can suck it.

What a nice day

It's gorgeous here in Chicago today. A bit overcast and a little windy, but still. Warm is warm. I've had a productive day, moving my little office to the back deck so that I could enjoy the fresh air. It's so nice not to be inside.

Cali had a big ball chase this morning, and now I'm taking her back to the lake and we're doing a little training run. I have it in my head that fitness is a great new goal for this gap year, so I am doing a little run/walk alternating training schedule with the intent that I can be running 5Ks later this summer. I'm also doing yoga most days, and some weight lifting on the balance ball for good measure. I had a knee injury from last summer that has been troubling me all winter, but I'm taking things slow and it's getting stronger.

In the meantime, Beth and I had this brilliant idea that we would go on South Beach together. It all started because we've been pretty much justifying treats non-stop for the past two months. Oh, I really really want a pizza for dinner tonight. Oh, the only thing in the world that could possibly make me feel better today is a brownie. I've been dreaming about sherbet for the last three nights...I better have some and get rid of this craving. And on and on. Between us, though, that meant that pretty much a day didn't go by when we had some sort of food we really didn't need. In an effort to stop, we decided that cutting white carbs would be a smart idea. That became South Beach.

We did pretty well the first week. By pretty well, I mean to say that we only ate a few fruity yogurt cups, I avoided white carbs when I went to dinner with my friend Will and only had a bite of his flourless chocolate cake, and on Hot Dog Day I only had a bratwurst. But then the other day, we decided that we needed a break. We had pizza. And oatmeal. And thai food. And chocolate, all within two days. So, BANG. We started again. Great day one, except for the left over pad thai that could not make it to the bin without some snacking. Great day two, except that I was miserable because I kept getting hungry. Great day three, except Beth had a vegan muffin, I didn't eat snacks or lunch because I had a meeting downtown, and we had burritos and ice cream for dinner. Today is Day Four, and while breakfast was exactly what we should have, I have no idea how Beth is doing and I had a bagel for lunch because I happened to be near Beans and Bagels and I could simply taste that whole wheat bagel with the chive cream cheese and I needed a latte anyway and, well, you get the idea.

I've lost weight, though I attribute that more to the exercise than the lack of dieting. And we still agree that it's a good idea. So tomorrow is Day One, aka Third Time's The Charm. And while I will stop phase one 10 days in again when Tom and George are here, I'll try not to let it be a blowout, and I will definitely get back to phase one when they leave for another 10 days. It's not that this is so hard, it's that it's a pain to have to cook meals all the time and to eat the volume of vegetables required not to feel hungry. But that's what gap years are for. Doing things you've always intended to do. Right?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Thai food overload

We've discovered a fabulous new thai restaurant.

We'd taken the Scots to the airport, and by the time we got home we realized that we were pretty hungry. A kashi multi-grain waffle and yogurt will only take you so far, and since it was already 330pm we figured we'd just order dinner. and eat at old-people time - we hopped on Grubhub.com to see who was delivering. Grubhub is great, because it lists tons of restaurants you might not know deliver to you, it has every kind of cuisine imaginable and you can even order online instead of calling someone, often an advantage when ordering ethnic food because phone orders usually just result in some sort of misunderstanding and an hour later a plate of gelatinous goo with chili peppers shows up at your door. Online orders definitely simplify the whole language barrier problem.

We found King Noodle on Argyle Street. It got raves on every one of the reviews, so we thought we'd give it a try. Everything on the menu looked good so we ordered way more than we needed for lunch. It's really a lunch/dinner thing anyway, and then we can have a snack later, we reasoned. Good thinking, but this food was MARVELOUS and the next thing you know we'd pretty much snarfed it all down. I am now belly-distended-tick-about-to-pop uncomfortable.

Woe is me.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Slacker

There's been an intervention, and it has been pointed out that my excessive use of twitter at the expense of this blog is a cop out, a sin and all around lame. I have been instructed to remedy this immediately. The intervention came from this guy:


I know what's good for me, so I apologize for my excessive lameness and will begin my regular and frequent full-length blogging with a bulleted list of updates to bring you to speed on my days in Chicago. (I will, however, act out passive-aggressively by mumbling something about how Simon should probably not wear yellow on days when he's that hungover.) Now, for the updates:
  1. The job search continues. I've revised my resume seven times since I first sent it out. First to Americanize the content and language. Then I had some feedback from a very generous soul (my landlord's mother, who showed us our apartment back in November,) who made me shorten it up and helped me tailor it to management consulting. Of course, in December I got a temp assignment at a recruiting agency that specializes in helping displaced workers find new jobs (paid for, of course, by their former employers,) and I got all sorts of formatting tips to make things stand out. Whew! You'd think I'd be done, right? Nope. More changes, first at the request of my landlord's mom before she sent it to a few people, and then to tailor it to other types of jobs (3 total) so that I can expand my search from management consulting and change implementation to project management, event management and business development. BUT, with the economy as crap as it is, I also have to start looking at jobs that are perhaps less responsibility, less pay and a bit mundane compared to my ideal - rent needs to be paid and a girl's gotta eat - so I made a version that leaves off my MBA and dumbs down my experience so that I do not get tossed out as overqualified. I think I have used up all remaining hard drive space with the various versions of me.
  2. I'm trying to figure out how to use social media to network my way to a job. LinkedIn helps me find people to speak with about various positions, but I just know that twitter has potential, too. So I spend a lot of time online researching ways to use twitter, ways to load your resume online, and other ways to meet people who might be able to help me get a job.
  3. I have cut out most white carbs and alcohol. Not all, mind you. We live near a bitchin' pizza place with a wood-fired oven imported from Italy, so it's foolish to pretend that I'm never eating flour again. Plus, as a rule, I like bread now and again, and it's fun to watch Cali drool when you eat a piece of toast, and you know I like me a cocktail now and again. But for the most part, we're solidly low GI in this house.
  4. Have you ever been completely obsessed with sherbet? Delicious, tart, tangy, creamy sherbet? Well, I have. And that was the tipping point of #3.
  5. I switched my computer to US settings. This means my clock says 3:23PM and spellcheck now knows not to add all those "u"s to my words, but that I no longer have the symbol for GBP on the shift-3 and the @ is back on the shift-2 where " used to be. My computer is like a minefield for people who can't touch-type.
  6. I have been blessed with many visitors. I got to spend several days hanging out with my friend Sue-Bee and her handsome poet while they attended a conference. It was absolutely wonderful. We went to see a really cool show at the History Museum highlighting high fashion in Chicago's history. We also had a delicious dinner at the aforementioned pizza place, and since the wait was so long we got little bites of truffle pizza and ricotta bread while we waited. Oh! and since the mini-canoli were gone by the time we left, we got white roses on our way out instead.
  7. Then it was autoshow day! Little Sister and I met up and had a big day out in the city. We sat in tons of cars, and I have decided that I will be rewarding myself with an Acura TL once I get settled in my new job. And FYI to American automakers - I no longer want to bail you out. Your cars are cheaply made and pale in comparison to your European and Asian competitors. Yes, I'm talking to you, Chrysler and GM. (Though those Town and Country Vans redeem you a little bit.) Ford, you get a pass because that Fusion and the Taurus are pretty nice. But the Flex? Really? Did you really think we needed something dumber-looking than a PT Cruiser?
  8. Next, my friend Will arrived for a whirlwind meeting, and I got taken out to dinner at Coobah.
  9. And then the next day, the mean yellow man showed up and lectured me. About several things, but since he is my co-coach from Cranfield I listen to him. He knows me pretty well, and he's usually right. And there has also been much fun had since he arrived. He is travelling with a friend and we had a big day out yesterday. Went to many hot dog stands and ended up meeting a friend for cocktails and dinner. I hear they had a huge night out, but I was obligated to stay sober and leave by 1030 so I missed the biggest part of the debauchery. I will say, however, that Simon's friend Marco is delightful - he's handsome, smart, funny and he knows damn well that he's sex-on-legs. Quite the handful, actually. But he seems nice enough, so on him it ends up charming and not callow. Not that I would tell him this, because he would use it to mercilessly taunt me.
  10. Plus they have Glaswegian accents.
  11. Today I have two phone calls to make and then I'm off to do yoga before I take Cali for a walk. So we'll stop here, and I will see you again tomorrow.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Pre-Valentine's post

So yesterday I wished you Blossom. Today, I am offering you this video...my dear Poor George emailed the link and petition, and I want to do my part to help spread the world.

There is not nearly enough love in the world. Why try to kill some of what we DO have?

Public Service Announcement

Men, don't believe the ads. Unless you're dating a 13 year old, it's unlikely your girlfriend will be thrilled with a Vermont Teddy Bear.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Rest in peace, Blossom

Blossom Dearie died Saturday.

This makes me incredibly sad.

One of my best memories ever is seeing Blossom on my 40th birthday at Danny's Skylight Room. Blossom was magical - incredibly talented, with a soulful voice that encapsulated innocence, experience, love and heartache in every breath. She will always be my go-to-girl.

Take a listen. This Valentine's Day, I wish you Blossom.









Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Pandora is out (again)

Back when I lived in the UK, Lulu turned me on to Pandora Radio, and I loved it. I listened to it all the time, especially when I was studying...with the headphones on to block out noise, I'd be immersed in my own little think tank and my productivity soared. Of course, the folks in the music industry started smelling blood in the water and pretty quickly they had to shut off any accounts using the feed from a non-US IP address. I mean, they might lose a penny or two of profit, and therefore it had to be bad thing. So I switched to my iPod, deleted my bookmark and forgot about it.

Now, however, I am tuning in from Chicago and nobody can say anything to me. Lucky for me, then, that Pandora came up in conversation over Christmas - my mom's "hip" friend Jim listens to James Taylor and Jimmy Buffet via Pandora - and it reminded me to renew her acquaintance.

Today I've been at the kitchen table getting caught up on job applications. And Pandora has kept me going with a diverse playlist, tailored specifically to my musical taste. The last 20 songs:

Nanci Griffith
Lovage (Stroker Ace is a bitchin' song)
The Raconteurs
Beck
The Fratellis
SCOTS
Reverend Horton Heat
Batmobile
The Hollisters
Jack Johnson
Everclear
The Clash
Elvis Costello
Hem
Radiohead
Everything But the Girl
Bitter:Sweet
Thievery Corporation
Thin Lizzy
Tom Waits

All good.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Dry be gone

It's pretty much criminal how much winter takes a toll on your skin. I've wanted to cry, my legs are so itchy and dry. So dry that it stings when I put lotion on them.  Ditto my back, my arms, my feet...you get the picture.  I prepared myself for the snow and the temperatures so cold that you can't take a deep breath, but I somehow blocked out the nasty dryness of winter.

Out of necessity, though, I have developed a combat strategy, mobilizing seven, yes SEVEN moisturizers (actually, make that eight because I'm trying a new one) to keep the hounds at bay. And so far, we seem to have reached detente. Here's what I'm reduced to, simply to survive the winter:

AM:   Shower. Don't dry off, but immediately slather Vaseline Intensive Rescue moisture-locking lotion on skin. Then towel off (This, of course, means washing one's towel every day or two.)  Now coat face with Avon's Anew 10% Vitamin C Serum. Then apply Kiehl's Ultra Facial Tinted Moisturizer SPF 15. (My normal mineral foundation brings out the flakiness in my skin in the winter.)

At regular intervals throughout the day, hands must be treated with L'Occitane Shea Butter Hand Cream or Burt's Bees Almond Milk Beeswax Hand Cream, whichever is convenient. (We're talking three or four times a day, or the side of my index fingers will snag my clothing.)

PM: When getting ready for bed, slather Kiss My Face Olive and Aloe lotion on skin before donning pajamas. Now coat face with Exuviance Evening Restorative Complex or Kiehl's Abyssine Cream, and you're ready for bed.  (I never thought I'd be one of those women who needed a different moisturizer in the winter. But now I am. Yikes.)

God help me, I'm missing the dampness of England. My skin was supple, my hair was curly, and though I was occasionally chilled to the bone, at least I looked good.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ways other than Paul Blart and lipstick to combat economic depression

They say that, when the economy tanks and you can't see any way through your pile of bills and are wondering who you'll look wearing one of those barrels with shoulder straps, women buy lipstick and everyone goes to upbeat, escapist movies to take their minds off their troubles. But I'm here to tell you that any lipstick worth having is nigh 'bout $20 or more and you'll just end up regretting it, and Hollywood has not caught up with the times yet. Plus, it's Oscar season, so once you've seen Slumdog Millionaire your choices are sexy Nazis seducing children, attractive suburbanites mourning the death of their dreams, and nuns and priests talking about child abuse. (That said, I hear Gran Torino is a good diversion with a message, and if you don't hate Brad Pitt as much as I do you could probably sit through that Owen Meany movie where he ages like he's from Ork.) And while I'm as big a Kevin James fan as the next person, you can't ask him to shoulder the whole burden. It's another few days until the Valentine's Day romantic comedies start hitting theaters....and you may need help before then.

Well, here comes the New York Times to your rescue. They have two great features that will fill the void, and they're both free as long as you have a bit of imagination and are willing to share a bit of demographic information by registering as a user.

Real Estate Porn: The Grey Lady doesn't call it this, what since that would be kind of tacky, but that's what it is. They have endless slideshows about cool dream homes and real estate around the country....you can read the article if you're like that, but I usually just skip to the money shots and spend some time looking at what $1.5m will buy me in Colorado or what $440k buys in Maine. I think about how I'd decorate differently (I hate that pretentious fake-Tuscan-new-money crap,) or where I'd drink my coffee if I lived there. Sometimes I plan parties in these houses. Or make fun of the poor sap who paid $440K for a condo in Telluride but has to sleep in a loft over the closet. I mean, all that money and he has to climb down a ladder to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Oh. And FYI, exposed beams attract spiders and other nesting insects...think of THAT next time you see a vaulted ceiling in a tropical paradise.

Real-life Romance: They make movies about this, and they're not nearly as fun as the actual column. I am not one of those women who dreams of getting married and plans her wedding a thousand times and lives for romance and true love. In fact, I've become quite a cynic about it all. Somehow, though, the NYTimes wedding columns make it past all my attitude. I love them. For the uninitiated, each week they feature one couple with a compelling love story. They interview them and their friends and family, and they write a column detailing their courtship, the obstacles they faced, and the things about their relationship that will tug on the heartstrings of the audience. They seem particularly fond of the rich and famous, people who work with the homeless or drug addicts and long distance relationships. And there seems to be some sort of bonus if you've given up on love.

Next time you're craving an escape, give these a try. They're cheaper and a lot less time consuming, and won't be affected by your tan. Or try The Sartorialist, because it's always fun to see high fashion walking on the street.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Unsolicited product endorsement - Dorset Cereals

Food is a part of daily life and, especially as someone who treats cooking and eating like a hobby, it's a fundamental part of my memories of people, places and events. Pigs-in-a-blanket remind me of eating at a table where my feet didn't touch the floor, and my mom making a special meal just for my brother and me. Grilled fish reminds me of my friend Pam or of the time our friend Kip tried to make us salmon it took about seven hours. Muffins remind me of Uptown Espresso in Seattle, because they made a killer rhubarb one that was the size of your head. Grilled chicken reminds me of my dad, especially if it's a little over done. Dim Sum reminds me of Tom and George.

In every stage of my life, I make food memories that follow me, and when I want to really cuddle with that part of my history I simply find that food and savor it, and it's as close to being there as it gets.

In England, one of my favorite things was Dorset Cereals. They were an entrepreneurial group who made muesli and other wholesome-y cereals chock full of nuts and dried fruits and whole grains and flavor. I would have some for breakfast most days, usually with a bit of yogurt and a glass of pink grapefruit juice. Dorset Cereals are fine fine examples of what cereal can be. The flavors are complex, they are sweet without artifice, and it sticks to your ribs and gets you going for the day - an imperative where breakfast is concerned. When I moved back to the US I bid them goodbye, and though I tried a few things that seemed similar when I got here, nothing quite compared. It all tasted like something you'd get on a breakfast buffet at some low-end hotel in Switzerland. So I switched to toast.

And then about a month ago I decided to try making a Nigela Lawson bread, and I sent Beth to Whole Foods to pick up the ingredients. The bread's basically whole wheat bread flour, milk, yeast and muesli, so I asked her to pick one that looked delicious....it really does make the bread. And what did she bring back? Dorset Cereals simply delicious muesli. Yippee! Whole Foods carries the whole line! I am saved!

My favorites are the Berries and Cherries and Fruit, Nut and Fiber. But I've tried them all and there's not a bad one in the bunch, so go with your gut. They're about $4.89 a box and I know this seems high, but considering that each box is almost two weeks of breakfast it really isn't as expensive as it seems. And it is well worth the price, if you ask me.

Now my only problem is the package directions for enjoyment. I get the milk and yogurt options, but fruit juice? Who puts orange juice on their cereal?

Unwittingly a Fashion Maven

In these times of economic trouble, one has to find a few luxuries to make one feel special. For me, this usually means fat free, sugar free chocolate pudding and a glossy magazine. Specifically this week, I went for the Jello-brand Dark Chocolate and a copy of the February Lucky. The pudding is delicious. And Lucky? It has revealed that I am the epitome of February style.

I didn't even make it past the table of contents before I saw a picture of a sexy black lace cocktail dress. Lo and behold, on page 41 executive editor MK Rollins tells us about how lace is what she wants NOW! And while their stretch dress is from edressme.com and mine is not, it looks surprisingly similar. (Mine comes in chubbies.) I flip the page, and senior associate fashion editor A Brady is on about Navajo-inspired designs for a dose of relaxed chic. Look at my clearance sale sweater.

And the hits just keep on coming. Their market editor loves braiding to add interest to understated pieces, and I have a cool blue sweater that has a crochet/braided texture to it, which makes it feminine and pretty for a plain blue top. The foolproof outfit and bargain hunter sections talked about oversized, bigsturdy watches - I wear a stainless steel Kenneth Cole men's watch, which while it might be dainty on a gentleman's wrist is more a bangle bracelet on mine. Did I buy it because women's tiny watches are dwarfed by my big bones? Sure. But does that matter? Heck no! I'm a trend setter! By the time they started showing wedge heels, wingtip heels and motorcycle jackets I was beginning to think they'd just come to my closet to look for ideas.

Perhaps next month they'll be contacting me for their new feature: Ways to make odds and ends you've bought over the last 15 years into outfits that don't make you look foolish. I'm an expert at that. And note to Lucky...we'll be doing it WITHOUT harem pants. I mean, come on. Look at yourself.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mini-blogging is more fun

I'm sorry for my absence. I've been preoccupied by twitter. I like the mini-blogging format - I mean, ultimately, I'm not saying anything different than I do here...I just have to limit my irrelevant ramblings to 140 characters or less. And if you're following me, you can request that my tweets be sent to your phone so you never have to wait for my pithy observations. Lucky, lucky you!

And sometimes you can tweet to win things. No one ever gives me things for this. Wait. I take that back. Madame L sent me delicious caramels last year and is knitting me a hat, so I HAVE actually received things from this blog. Not that I'm in it for the money. Just saying.

I just finished reading Such a Pretty Fat by Jen Lancaster. (I believe Marni's book group was reading this, as well.) It was an amusing chronicle of one woman's weight loss journey, and it made me think that maybe I should try writing as a career. If I tried, I could be as funny as her. Stuff happens to me. She lives in Chicago, I live in Chicago. She has dogs...I have a dog, and ours looks like Marley and is afraid of strangers, so I have countless stories of strangers reaching out to pet a celebrity pooch only to have Cali cower as though they are raising a steel-toed boot. And I'm unemployed! And a temp! That's at LEAST two or three chapters of fun. Jen Lancaster and me, we're practically the same! Except, of course, she is a talented published author and I am a blogger who tweets. But otherwise. Twins.

On a totally different subject, do you have a mini bundt pan? If not, you really should help the US economy by running out to get one, preferably one made in the US of A. Bethany wanted cupcakes for her birthday and we didn't have any of those little paper liners so I elected to make mini bundts instead. They are marvelous. Moist and delicious. And when did you last have canned white frosting? Because it is also a tasty, tasty treat.

Grapefruit and leftover birthday bundts. Talk about a breakfast of champions.

Which reminds me. I need a library card. I am planning on rereading a bunch of Vonnegut. It will likely not resonate as it did when I was 15, but it's worth a try.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Unsolicited product endorsement - Boots No7 Lash 360

Ladies (and gentlemen who wear mascara), if you're looking for full, beautiful eye-popping lashes, get yourself down to the Target and make a beeline to the Boots No. 7 cosmetics.  Lash 360 is the mascara for you!

I became quite a fan of other No. 7 products while living in the UK. It's all really Chanel makeup and skincare repackaged for Boots the Chemist as a way to expand their line into a non-department store price point. In fact, it's still a bit of a premium price, but the products I have are well worth it.  I LOVE their liquid liner, and their lipsticks are divine.  With mascaras, though, I've always been a believer in the makeup artist tip that you're wasting money if you buy anything other than the cheap pink-and-green Cover Girl.

Over Christmas, however, I brought the Lash 360 sample with, and the magic it works on my lashes has shocked even me. I don't have especially long or thick lashes. In fact, they're only acceptable because they are brown and therefore visible. But NOW, my lashes are amazing. Strangers are commenting. Even my MOTHER noticed, for Pete's sake.

Perhaps it is my lashes that made the homeless man fall in love with me tonight. But he said I was beautiful, and homeless men don't lie when they're begging for change, right?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

My own personal heavenly bed

As most of you know, I've just come off of a ten year career planning corporate events around the world. This means I've slept in some pretty nice beds, and some pretty crappy ones, as well. If you are also one who travels for work, you'll remember about eight years ago or so when Westin started the bed revolution with the Heavenly Bed. Their theory: If you're traveling on an expense account you don't care as much about cost as you do about getting a decent night's sleep when you're away from home. So they invested in a branded package of high-quality, all white bedding on a perfectly firmsoft mattress with big, sumptuous pillows to suck you in and make you weep with joy. Their reps started hyping the Bed months in advance of the roll out, and they promised us it would be revolutionary. It was.

The first time I stayed in a Westin with a HB, I was in Seattle on a high floor in a suite with views of the Sound. I remember sinking into the fluffy comforter after a night out with my friends, falling asleep as I watched the lights of the ferries coming and going from Bremerton in the middle of the night. It was perfect. And though pretty much every chain has followed suit with their own version of sleep-wonderland, I am still partial to Westin. They got it right first, and somehow that makes them better in my book.

When I moved back to the US, the one big bit of furniture missing from my collection was a mattress. I'd sold mine to my brother before I moved, and so I had to come up with something quick. I googled Heavenly Bed. Turns out Westin sells the whole darn package as a turnkey route to perfect slumber. Of course, the whole thing was close to $3000 for a queen sized bed with 300 thread count linens, and what since I am trying to economize that wasn't the best idea. But the Google is mighty clever, and some of the other sites pulled up sent me to chat rooms and other sites pointing me in the direction of the individual elements - and I decided to build myself one from scratch.

Step One: The Mattress - if you build the right foundation, then the rest just follows. So I looked at the details of the HB, and it turns out it's a 13" Simmons mattress with a pillow top and 850 small pocket coils. When you start looking for this, it's not so hard to find. Everyone's got one, and it's just a matter of picking your vendor. I chose Sleep Squad, and I'd highly recommend them to anyone. You pick your mattresses to try, they drive them to your house in a mobile showroom. They set them up, pull the curtains, then leave you in privacy to try them out while they stand on the sidewalk. If you find the one you want, they'll process the sale and carry it into the house for you, setting it up and taking the packaging with them when they go. The Cairo is pretty much exactly this...it's a little thicker, and it's 800 coils instead of 850, but it feels divine and it's a bit cheaper than ones I found at other vendors that would have been a little closer in spec.

Step Two: The Pillows - Heavenly Beds come with four, so I added four good quality ones to my bed. I had two already, so I just bought one down alternative and one down to supplement (actually, they were a gift from my mom), and presto! I have the pillows, too.

Step Three: The Bedding - HB's are all white, and as mentioned above the go with a good quality 300 thread count. Now THAT'S an easy find. I already had two duvet covers that are exactly that...I believe in pristine white bedding...and I found 350 thread count sheets and a hotel-quality mattress pad on sale at TJ Maxx.

Step Four: Assemble

While the name "Heavenly Bed" is trademarked and therefore I am not allowed to call my bed that, I will tell you that what I have created is a thing of wonder. I sleep through the night and I wake well-rested. I have no aches and pains. It is toasty warm on the coldest night. The sheets are luxuriously decadent with the right combo of silky luxury and crisp-rough cottony goodness. Sometimes, when I'm walking past my bedroom in the middle of the day, I just go lay down for a second. It's a comforting, delicious moment to capture my thoughts and regroup for more networking and emailing for jobs. I love, love LOVE my bed.

And the best part? The whole thing came in well under $1300. That's still a lot of money, but I'm old now. I can't skimp on a quality bed anymore. And I could buy another one for less than the cost of one from the Westin store. I feel so smug.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Get-to-know-you-questions, vol 1

We all need ice breaker questions. Things to jump start conversations when they hit a seven minute lull, or to ask on a speed date to vet the crazies. Here's one you can use, plus when you ask it you'll have time to come up with a really clever response when they ask you, "how about you?"

(And please answer the question. Not that many people read my blog. Heck, I'll even turn off the no-anonymous-comments button for a week or so, just so readers who don't have google accounts can play. But it would be nice if you'd give me some clue to who you are so I can, in fact, get to know you.)

You're going to the Oscars and you know there is going to be a five minute tribute for some lifetime achievement. Whose tribute would you least like to sit through?

Two movies you should see, and other Golden Globe opinions

I haven't seen that many movies this year. But two of the ones I have seen are exceptional, and while I'm sitting here watching the Golden Globes I thought I'd endorse them.

One you've likely heard about - Slumdog Millionaire. I had high expectations...it'd gotten excellent reviews and the plot sounded intriguing. But my expectations were nothing close to how good this movie is. Don't get me wrong. It is at times brutal to watch - I mean, it's about a kid growing up in the slums of India, after all. But Danny Boyle and his cast manage to find exactly the right path through the madness, blending honest sadness and atrocity with humanity and humor. There is a scene early in the movie set in an outhouse that sets the pace and tone, and from that point forward you know you can trust Boyle with the story he's telling. And it's a doozy. Go see it. Pay full price. Don't miss out on this film.

The other is a bit of a sleeper. In Bruges. Perhaps you didn't hear about it until it got nominated. Or perhaps you heard about it and have the same sort of aversion to Colin Farrell that I do to Angelina Jolie (or anything associated with her, even Brad Pitt.) Or perhaps you live in a smaller town and it didn't come to your theater. I imagine it was a bit of an art film here. In any case, it's an absolute riot of a comedy thriller. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are hitman who are sent to Bruges to chill after a hit in the UK goes down badly. This is a classic buddy film with a mobster feel and a clever script and interesting plot. Ralph Feines is even good in it...he doesn't even seem like a Nazi, which somehow he always manages to do even when he's NOT playing one. I notice tonight that both Farrell and Gleeson are nominated for best actor. I think they both deserve it, and since the kid from Slumdog Millionaire got robbed by the GG, I hope one of them wins. Bruges is a beautiful city, and they capture it well on film. Gleeson is a clipped professional, and he gives one of the more nuanced portrayals of a character that's been done many times before. Farrell is a boy-racer of the gangster world, but he allows the bravado enough cracks to make his character authentic. But the real joy here is watching these two very different actors play off each other, creating a screen couple that will make me buy this film so I can watch it again and again.

And now, a few thoughts on the Golden Globes. With the time difference in the UK, I never got to see award shows whilst in the UK. It just wasn't fun to watch the edited versions later in the week. And while I probably wouldn't be watching this tonight if I were able to do something other than sit on the sofa, it's secretly delightful to see this.

  • My, were celebrities glib to the interviewers on the red carpet. I think Maggie Gyllenhal is going to punch the next person who asks her if Heath Ledger should win for The Dark Night.
  • Michael C. Hall should have won for Dexter. Have you seen Dexter? That show is unbelievable.
  • Johnny Depp never goes bad. Neither does Meryl Streep.
  • Why does Rumor Willis seem so awkward?
  • It would suck to be caught smiling in the crowd shots immediately after Heath Ledger won.
  • Drew Barrymore looks like she came in character for her Grey Gardens role, bless her. I think it's the hair.
  • It is a crime, an absolute crime that the actor that plays adult Jamal in Slumdog Millionaire was not nominated for that movie.
  • Emma Thompson's husband is a stone cold fox.
  • I bet Rainn Wilson has trouble picking up women. You want to think he's nothing like the characters he plays, but it's starting to look suspicious. And I bet Aaron Eckhart does, too, if they've ever seen that film he did about seducing the deaf girl and then dumping her.
  • I wonder if Seth Rogan is stoned. (That was rhetorical.)

GI distress on steroids

There's a stomach bug going around and, never one to miss a trend, I caught it with a vengeance. I woke up about 3AM Friday, and I felt like there was kind of an electric charge in my system. I was almost twitchy. It didn't make any sense. And then I realized that it was an adrenalin surge to get me up and running across the hall. Thank God for adrenalin.

This has been a flu of biblical proportions. Friday I actually considered just sleeping in the bathroom, but opted to just stay in bed and hope my sprints to the bathroom got further apart. Yesterday I made it to the couch, but that was an effort. Bethany tells me I have to eat something, anything...and so I've managed some applesauce, a half a packet of saltines and some dry toast. And some Squirt. I'd make jello, but I can't bear to be in the kitchen.

I haven't answered my phone because my voice is weak and it hurts to think. I started tweeting again yesterday, but it takes too much thought to respond to others' tweets on my phone. (That @ symbol is a pain to find on my phone.)

I've also noticed that TV isn't nearly as much fun when you're sick. There's a lot of programming you can't watch. I never realized how much I rely on Dirty Jobs and the Food Network to provide mindless entertainment. Instead, I've had to fill in with on-Demand programs and a day-long Monk marathon on USA. God knows how I'll get by today. I'll try reading, but I've already got a bit of a headache and I'm not hopeful. Plus my concentration is not great, so I'll need to find a book that requires none.