Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Shake it easy

I make things way too hard.

I mean, this should come as no surprise. But surprise! I am tired of it. 

This feeling has been growing all day. This morning, I put one of our Lunch Bots into the dishwasher. I mean, first of all, let's start with the Lunch Bots. They're stainless-steel containers that I bought so we don't have to use plastic baggies for sandwiches. I mean, seriously? OK, so, there's that. And then, even though they're dishwasher-safe, I decided that I prefer that they be hand-washed. That was easy for me to say; Jeffrey does the dishes. But this morning I finally thought, you know, either it goes into the dishwasher or we don't own it.

Then tonight I was separating out the blacks for the laundry. I separate them into 3-4 categories, typically. Black delicates, black utility items (socks, et cetera), faded black items, and then stuff that falls through the cracks. It's completely ridiculous, because we never have black socks clean at the same time as our nice black pants. And then there's the 97-step process that is doing the laundry. I carefully worked out each step to make it the most ecologically sound or the best for the clothes or whatever.
But you know, I'm just tired of it. So I threw all the blacks in the laundry with (gasp!) just plain detergent tonight. Unheard of.

I just want to do things more easily. I remember feeling this way one time before, in second grade. I was just starting to grasp the word "thought." I could spell it, but it took me some actual, hard concentration. What the f* was that g doing in there, anyway? And I knew other people were not busting their asses to spell "thought" right. So one day I decided, what the f. I just threw caution to the wind and wrote "thot." But Mrs. Randle shot me such a look of disappointment.

And that was the end of that.

Monday, December 28, 2009

From both sides now

I've been writing for the paper a little bit. It's in addition to being an editor, so I'm not incredibly prolific. I'm covering social services in the city, which is sort of perfect for me.

*Sort of.* This week I wrote a story about a city program that gives respite care for caregivers. That is, if you're living with someone you're taking care of (and 44 million people in the United States do), you can have someone come in and sit with that person for a few hours at a time so you can go to a doctor's appointment or lunch with a friend or whatever. Hardly anyone takes advantage of the program because no one knows about it. So I wrote a story about it. Last week I interviewed an amazing woman who takes care of her husband, who has a progressive neurological disease. At the end of the interview, when everyone else was gone, I started to cry. You know, it's the holidays, and everything. She was great; she hugged me, but I left quickly.

Then today, a woman called me to thank me for writing the story. In a high, shaky voice she told me her story; she had taken care of her mom for 10 years. This time, I didn't cry. I listened.

There is this incredible sisterhood of caregivers. I say sisterhood because it's vastly women who take time out of their lives to care for loved ones. It's every single caregiver I've ever known. And even though our stories are each unique, we know a lot of the same feelings. We're all in different stages of mourning and recovery, and if we're lucky, rebirth.

What really amazed me about the woman who called was how much more difficult her experience was. I mean, mine was as hard as you think it is: watching my mother, who spoiled and loved me, die, minute by minute, for 6 months. So, you know, hard. And I still carry the marks. But in that 6 months, I was able to find a job in my field so I didn't have to worry about money. And she had insurance, so we didn't have to worry about medical care. And I had some family members around who helped.

This woman who called me had none of that. She couldn't find a job that paid more than $7 an hour so she was trying to navigate a maze of poverty while taking care of her mom. And she was taking care of herself after she was rear-ended and t-boned in an intersection; she still doesn't have full use of her hands. And she didn't have much family around; she had to put her dad in a home because of dementia.

And despite all her best efforts, her mom died. Just like mine. And she was telling me how she felt lost, like she didn't know where to start again, and she had lost her identity. I told her the truth, that I had felt the same way. That I had landed this job, which I'd wanted for so long, on the day that my mom died but that I roamed the halls for months. I told her to give herself time, and to just try to recognize this great thing that she had done.

We talked for about a half-hour. She thanked me for listening, and again for writing the story. And I felt so good that I could give her the 10-years-out perspective. It feels good to have made it this far.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

And I'm free!

Last year, during my homemade naan obsession, I bought one of those big, iconic KitchenAid stand mixers. I went to several stores, armed with coupons and ratings and sales fliers. Did I want one with a bowl that swiveled up? Or did I want one with a head that swiveled down? How much "flour power" (not my phrase) did I want? I chose, and put back, then chose, then put back, several models. And that's saying something, 'cause those suckers are heavy. But I finally decided on one and brought it home.

Then I used it maybe 3 times in a year. Our kitchen's configuration is such that in order to use it, I must heft the mixing behemoth from one counter to another, where it blocks access to the measuring cups and spoons. You see that it takes a lot of planning and commitment.

We also have a hand mixer, but it's some powerless off-brand piece of garbage that I bought many years ago, before I realized that buying rubbish for a small amount of money is no bargain. That one I really never use. I'm pretty sure the attachments are all rusted out, though I'm not sure where they are.

So yesterday, when I got an e-mail from my good friends Williams and Sonoma telling me that a Cuisinart hand mixer with fantastic ratings was on sale for just one day, I called and had them hold one for me. It would be far more convenient, and it was on sale, and Jeffrey and I had a gift card that covered the amount and then some.

And off I went. I checked out all the hand mixers they had, with the functions, and the brushed chrome, and the power. They were all on sale, it turns out. But about two minutes into my typically joyful research, it hit me: I don't need one of these. What the heck am I going to use it for? I haven't used my hand mixer in years, and I have one of those big, expensive stand mixers. I'm going to drop 50 bucks to make something that I never do slightly more convenient?

So I said, "Enough." I don't need another redundancy, no matter how high-quality, in my kitchen. And I walked out. And I felt more free than I could ever remember feeling.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

A couple things that make me crazy

First, I'm looking for a new word for technologically savvy to replace "wired." Who actually uses a wired network these days? So last century. The other day Paul and I were trading technologically disparaging comments about someone we know. He said, "I bet he uses Internet Explorer." I said, "I bet he uses NCSA Mosaic!" Ahahaha. I just love geek humor.

Second, I'm tired of the phrase " thrown under the bus." It would be a Herculean task to actually throw someone under a bus, since there's typically nothing under a bus but ground. How about just "in front of a bus"? I think that would do plenty of bodily damage, and it's much more practical.

OK. That's all I got tonight. I'm running very low on sleep because I've been up the past few nights making sea salt toffee for a bake sale benefiting The Joy Fund. But today Jeffrey said, "I think you shouldn't do The Joy Fund next year. It makes you too morose." And I think he's probably right.

You, you, you oughtta know

In Vietnamese, if you don't like a certain food, it's said that you don't know how to eat it. I resented that when I was young and picky about my food. I didn't want to not know anything. I simply did not like onions.

But now I at least appreciate them. And I can appreciate the cultural value the saying reveals. I think it's more about a willingness to expand your horizons. I find that when I meet people who have a long list of things they don't like to or won't eat, I judge them a bit harshly, and probably unfairly. Like it's not really just about the food. You know, like how bad tipping is not ever just about the tipping, it's generally a sign of some greater lack of generosity? I sometimes equate the fussiness with willful ignorance. And I find that some people have the long list of no-no foods not because they have tried everything and simply don't like it; it's an excuse to not try anything new at all because of the potential to not like it.

Now, I'm not saying this about everyone who is a picky eater. Also I know it is incredibly hypocritical of me to say; there are things I don't try. I've never seen an episode of "Lost," and I know a lot of people who like it. I just have never tried it. No reason. So I'm looking at myself too.

And let me spin it a positive way: I'm impressed with people who are willing to try new things. It shows the spark of an adventurous spirit, and I really respect that. In the food realm, that spirit is very important in our marriage. We go anywhere and try anything, particularly if some ethnic group really loves it. I always think, hey, millions of people can't be wrong.

I guess I'm thinking about this right now because I found out that my friend Mary is moving to Malaysia (!) to help a company establish the first nationwide broadband network. It's going to be an amazing adventure, and I could not be more excited for her. Way to go, Mary! I respect the hell out of you.

Monday, November 30, 2009

It's the most wonderful time of the year

I'm not being ironic. I really do love this time of year. I know it's an incredible luxury, that I love people and I feel that they love me back. And I know that a lot of people don't have that. There's postmodern isolation, there's bad timing, there's a growing inability to create real connections. And that's just here in the western world. There's also war, and extreme, deadly poverty, and just evil manifest.

I get all those things. And I know that amid all of that, I have these luxuries: the love, and the friendship, and the mindfulness of all that at this time of year.

Wow, this post has taken a turn I didn't expect. I was just driving home from Michael's, and I was musing about how, although I love this time of year, it brings so many of my deficits into stark relief. Like the fact that I'm terrible at stocking stuffers, and that I can't shop for ribbon without wondering who the f* I've become. I mean, I *think* I can't shop for ribbon without wondering who the f* I've become; I've only ever shopped for ribbon this once, so I don't really have the data to back that assertion up. Check back with me in another 34 years, when I will perhaps have shopped for ribbon again.

So I planned to come home and write a little self-deprecating story about how every year I disappoint Jeffrey with his stocking gifts because the first ones we did as a couple were the first ones I'd ever done. (And also because I'm staunchly anti-trinket.) Also I might have included in this story the fact that we have wildly divergent views on Santa Claus, and I'm not looking forward to having that argument in stage whispers while the children are, you know, nestled all snug in their beds and the like. And maybe I'd sneak in the fact that I think that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer sends a terrible, terrible message about differences and borderline Stockholm syndrome.

Instead I am suddenly and unexpectedly thinking of people who have the worst type of poverty: loneliness. And I'm grateful for the argument about Santa Claus I may one day have with Jeffrey, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to figure out what the heck those stockings are for, and I'm thankful for the people who are so. fricking. tired. of me preaching about Rudolph.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Poultry in Motion

OK that doesn't really mean anything. But it is Thanksgiving Eve, and I'm thinking back on some of my favorite adulthood turkey-related memories.

Ever since I read the aforementioned "Omnivore's Dilemma," (thanks, Mary!) we've been trying to eat as locally and farmishly as possible. Last year, that meant driving out to a local farm to get a pasture-raised turkey. This place is run by a wholesome couple and their 9 freakishly adorable kids from the Opie Taylor mold. When the dad was trying to convey to me how good the gravy made from their fresh hams was, he gently exclaimed, "Oh my land, that is good!" You see what I'm saying.

So I waited in line for about an hour for the turkey -- complete with the neck attached -- and then a sweet-faced boy of about 7 offered to carry it out to my car. The thing was about half his size. As we walked, I said to him, "Now, what do you do on the farm?" And in a high-pitched boy voice he said, "Oh, I feed the chickens! And ... I used to feed the turkeys."

I could feel my eyes widen and the rest of my face fall. Heartbreak.

This year when I returned I was a bit nervous that I'd somehow get my heart broken again, but no one offered to carry out my turkey. Thank goodness. However, a cow did get loose and a few kids ran after it for four very exciting minutes. Those free-rangers run fast!

The other memory I love is the year my friend Julie and I co-hosted Thanksgiving together. We planned for weeks in advance, getting the menu perfectly balanced, making sure we had enough plates, forks, chairs. She hadn't cooked a turkey before, so we did a ton of research. To figure out how long to defrost, first she counted on her fingers: "OK, Monday-Tuesday, Tuesday-Wednesday, Wednesday-Thursday." And then I counted on mine, to check her math. 1-2-3. Yes. It all checked out.

So on Monday, she ceremoniously moved the turkey from its home in the freezer to the refrigerator way station. She e-mailed me. That week we talked every day, laughing, planning, smiling.

And Thursday morning, she called me at 7.
"Hi Judy, you up?"
"Um, yes!" (a lie is softened by um, don't you think?)
"I think there's a problem. I can't get my hand in there."
"I'll be right there."

I zoomed through the neighborhood, which was mostly asleep, to find that the bird was frozen rock solid. I mean, you could totally brain someone with it. I felt a burning indignation; she did everything right! She doesn't deserve this! So I called around and found another bird a few blocks away -- a fresh one. No defrosting. And you know, those things are pretty cheap when you buy them right on Thanksgiving morning. I got it back to Julie, who honest to goodness cooked it into the most beautiful turkey I'd ever seen. And after that little turkey-shaped speed bump, the party went off beautifully. No one could know that, just hours before, we were assaulting a bird with a hair dryer.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Scenes from a marriage

It's noon. I get an e-mail from Jeffrey, from his lunch break. Just one line:
A couple minutes later, I'm washing my lunch container and it hits me. I text him from the office sink:
And then him:
And a few minutes later:
And on and on. We've been playing this iTouch game called Word Warp. And by "we," I mean that he is obsessed with it and periodically calls me in for back-up. You get 6 letters, and you have to figure out the word it spells out in a certain amount of time, though he's figured out a cheaty trick to pause the game. Right now we're in a high-score situation; He's calling out letters from the other room, in sets of three, like at a spelling bee. They're getting harder.
T-K-A! A-R-S!
Honestly, could I have found anyone more perfect for me?

More thanks

Today I give thanks for forgiveness, and in its absence, selective memory.


I keep everything. It's in my blood; my dad always kept everything, too. He'd go to second-hand shops, buy up what they had, and stow it around the house. He loved utility; he kept everything that might one day be useful. He had great faith in that future use. He never threw anything away.

I'm trying to break myself of that habit. Tonight I cleared out our flatware drawer of all the junk that was in there. Goodbye, college forks with cracked plastic parts. So long, knives that only cut our fingers as we reach for the good ones. Adios grimy flatware organizer. Why did I keep you so long?

There was just one thing in all my life that my dad didn't keep. In college I bought a black studded leather wallet with a chain attached to a black leather loop. It had Northwestern's seal on it, and I always thought that was incongruous and funny. And you know, it was college. And all that. So anyway, I wore it in my back pocket, with the chain hooked up to my front belt loop. When I got up to my first job, in the Pacific Northwest, it went with the ensemble.

And then I got this job at The Pilot. And for some reason, I decided that maybe I should not wear a wallet with a chain hooked to my front pocket here. And as I mused that aloud one evening, my dad ran to the kitchen, got pliers, and unchained the thing. And then he ran back, and threw the chain right into the garbage. Just like that. I was shocked. It went against almost everything I knew about him. I mean, it could have been really useful one day! I think he was just afraid I'd change my mind.

I thought of this last week when, for the second time since I started my new job, I had to call V., our office manager, and ask her to look around my desk to see if my wallet was there. And for the second time, it wasn't. I was in my car, heading to lunch with a friend. My wallet, it turns out, was chilling at the restaurant equipment shop where I'd picked up flatware for the office (no more plasticware for work functions! Yes!) that morning. 

So when I got back to the office, all sheepish, V. said, "You really should get a chain on that thing."

If only she knew.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Friends and influences

Editor's note: This posting used to be called "Frenemies," until I realized that that did not accurately reflect its content. OK, then.

So I've been catching up with This American Life lately. It's an amazing collection of stories told each week around a theme. And sometimes, as with other awesome things, I lose sight of it. Like sweet potatoes. Every time I eat sweet potatoes, I think, my god, these are the best things ON EARTH. And then I eat dozens of them, relishing my delicious recommended daily allowance of beta carotene and vitamin A. And then one day I just forget about them and the last batch I bought languishes in the place in our kitchen where root vegetables go to die. There's no reason. It's not like I ate a bad one or anything. I just move on.

And so it is with This American Life. But now I'm back to it, in the crest of the sinusoid, listening to all the ones I've missed. Today I listened to "Frenemies." I'm sure I don't need to explain the concept here; it's obvious and I'm sure we can all point out the frenemies we've had in our lives. And I have definitely been a frenemy to others, I'm ashamed to say. I don't need to get into that here, either. Because what can I do about that? There's only learning and moving forward.

But the show also made me think about the positive roles my friends play in my life, and the role I play in theirs. This is a common theme for me. I thought about my friend Adam, whom I absolutely adore. Adam has your back in a bar fight, even if you were the asshole, because he's your friend. We interned together a lifetime ago, and we share a sense of humor and an obsessive and analytical memory. But we live very different lives. When I was home and quietly single during our internship, he was out having a good time, meeting many, many women. I mean, he's not a jerk. He's pretty, and funny, and women like him. And we would talk about those women. And then his long-term girlfriend. And the breakup. We talked about it all.

I don't know how it happened, but somehow we lost touch. Anyway, I'd been thinking about him recently and found him on Facebook. He had been married and divorced, and moved to a foreign land with no job. And now he's out having fun again. He chatted me the other day, telling me about a bit of drama he was having with a woman. And I told him he needed to be honest with her and break it off -- the hard thing. It was exactly what he knew I would say.

And I thought to myself, Adam comes to me because he knows I'll kick his ass. This hard part of me, which I try to soften and hide, is something he actually likes and trusts. I mean, I'm sure he has a lot of female friends he talks to. And maybe we all tell him variations of the same thing. And maybe he doesn't even take the advice I give him. But still, he asks. And that makes me feel wonderful.

Monday, November 16, 2009

And speaking of things that are ridiculous,

I saw this at BJ's today. It's a Chocolate Milk Maker by Hershey. Let me say that again: A chocolate milk. MAKER. By Hershey. It's a little plastic low-powered mini-blender that runs on batteries to "mix the perfect glass of chocolate milk every time." Luis would call this a dust-attracter. I call it pre-garbage. And I know that it's pre-garbage because I have bought plenty of things like this in my time. I mean, not this ridiculous, but things that were ridiculous in their own right. I'm staring at a stack of them right now. Things that I thought were funny that I could have just taken a picture of or made a note about instead of actually owning them. A Gargamel figurine (not even posable). A Northwestern University Barbie doll. The entire collection of The Monkees TV series on VHS. See, now these things are cluttering up my home. But at least they're teaching me not to buy sh*t like a chocolate milk maker.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sure, when it rains it pours

And I am not talking about the nor'easter that came through here. I am talking about Morton's Salt products. Specifically, Morton's Popcorn Salt. It's regular old non-iodized salt that is ground super-fine to stick to the popcorn. Now I know that probably seems ridiculous, buying a salt that is essentially the same as any other salt (and doesn't even protect against goiters!). And believe me, I'm the first to call something like that ridiculous.

But you must understand the role of popcorn in our household. It's not a food item so much as it is a way of life. We eat it maybe once a week or more. It's as simple as can be, and it's really really good. I use organic kernels and peanut oil (a higher smoke point than other oils and also delicious), and pop it in a dedicated cast iron dutch oven. Like, put it on the heat, shake shake shake, put it back on the heat, shake shake shake. Then I pour it into the biggest metal mixing bowl we have, and salt it while it's hot. I even have a special method for tossing it to distribute the salt.

I had never made it on the stovetop until a few years ago; it wasn't something my parents did when I was growing up or anything. But microwave popcorn was just one of the many processed-food casualties in our household after I read "The Omnivore's Dilemma." And I do not miss it at all. This popcorn actually tastes like corn. And you know, coming from Iowa, that means a lot. So the flavor's better, the texture of the kernels is better, and it's not any harder to make, once you get the hang of it. Jeffrey sometimes goes rogue and makes air-pop popcorn, but it's just not as good. He usually does it when I'm not in the mood to make it my way or I'm not home. Then I'll come in the house and say, "I smell that!" and he'll look sheepish about the cheater's popcorn. But that doesn't happen very often, and I'm quick to make a batch of the good stuff.

So OK, back to the salt. It does what it's supposed to, therefore I believe it is somewhat not ridiculous. But it seems to have disappeared from the shelves in our local stores. I went to 3 of them today and couldn't find it. Unh!

I learned about product lifespans in college. Before that I didn't know why things like Jell-O Pudding Pops disappeared; Maybe the gods were angry? And I understand that the demand for popcorn salt must be minimal since most people eat microwave popcorn, and if you salt that, you must shrivel up like a slug.

But I still want it. Sure, I can grind my own salt finer, but then I'd have to somehow modify our salt shakers. And if they discontinue it entirely, I will likely resort to that. I even went online this afternoon to order it from Morton's, but the shipping is ridiculous. Luckily, I discovered that there is one store in the next town over that carries it. So that is where I am headed. And I will buy up their entire stock.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Jeffrey and I were talking today about the nature of research, and how the internet has changed it so much. I mean, that's nothing profound or anything. And I have to say that for me, the internet has stolen away a tiny bit of joy.

I love to do research. I love taking circuitous routes and finding information from different and obscure sources. I love to dig, and dig, and wash my hands and dig some more. I think it fits my personality exactly.

So at first, having all of this information readily available was great. I could learn anything about everything, answer any obscure question, order anything and have it at my door. But lately I've realized that the internet has eliminated for me the satisfaction of the medium-long search. Not like Call me Ishmael-type stuff or anything. It used to be that I would look for an answer for days, or weeks. But now, if I don't find the answer within a couple minutes (hour, tops) of dedicated searching, I hit a wall. There's nowhere else for me to look, and I know it's unlikely I'll ever find it on the internet.

The crazy thing is even having that expectation that you can answer any question so quickly. It almost gives the impression that the internet is infinite somehow, when it is really finite.

And you know, even those questions to which I CAN find the answer don't give me the same satisfaction they used to. I mean, a couple minutes searching is nothing. Monkey's work.

So now I go low-tech when I really must solve something. I actually will pick up the phone and call someone if I have a question that I can't answer. And there is a little satisfaction in that. Until everyone starts putting all their collective knowledge into a database. Then where will I be?

Ethnic Week, 2K9

Today we went to the Sons of Norway Christmas Bazaar, Part II of the Le-Eldred Celebration of Heritage. Part I was the Lotus Cultural Fest "Where East Meets West," last Saturday. I put that clause in quotes because aside from the three Vietnamese monks throwing the shindig and a few women working the food line, I was about it for the East representation. There was a preponderance of hippies and the hippie-like. And to be honest, aside from the fashions and random misspellings, I could maybe be a hippie.

Anyway, rambling on. The Lotus Fest was pretty fun. I covered it for the paper, which meant I had to interview the monks. They spoke very little English, and I spoke a little Vietnamese to them, inviting mockery. Yup, I got mocked by monks, complete with bald heads and long, flowing robes. It wasn't mean-spirited at all; they were super-nice and it was pretty funny. I would hear one saying behind me in Vietnamese, "She doesn't speak Vietnamese." And I'd turn around, and he'd be grinning, and I'd say in halting Vietnamese, "Well, I do understand that!" This happened maybe three times. And they kept coming up to me and talking to me, all excited, like kids. And they'd argue, "Did you know she was Vietnamese?" "She looks Filipino." "No, I knew right away she was Vietnamese." "Are you sure you're Vietnamese?" Turns out they sponsor a Vietnamese class. I'm thinking of taking it when the holidays are over.

The Christmas Bazaar today didn't offer as much, I'm afraid. And I think I was more excited to go than Jeffrey. He's a quarter Norwegian. There were a couple  food items that made him say, "This is a taste of my childhood." And I know how important those things are to me, so I was really pleased to hear that. I want to make sure we take advantage of these opportunities to celebrate/learn about our cultures. Maybe I'll learn to make some lefse.

We didn't get up and going right away this morning; I was feeling a bit logy from having gone out for Lauren's and Leo's birthday last night. It was a lot of fun; we went to dinner and then did karaoke at a new place, where they're a bit more serious about it. The cast of a musical showed up, and some regulars hogged the mic. Leo tried to teach me how to break dance a bit; I think I really got it! I was feeling pretty goofy because I'd had a drink, which I very rarely do, but it was a cap to a fairly stressful week. We had a bad nor'easter come through that left bad flooding, trees down and 178,000 without power for a while. Some still don't have power. We were fortunate enough to keep electricity, but our water heater was underwater so we didn't have hot showers today. Even after Hurricane Isabel we had hot showers. At any rate, I was helping coordinate coverage of it, which I'd never done before. Still learning, always.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thanks again

Today I am thankful for not knowing what I don't know, and for the opportunity to learn.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thank you kindly

It's the month for giving thanks, so here I am. Today I am thankful for the people who know me very well, and/but love me anyway. I love you back.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

3-2-1 Contact!

I wear my wedding ring on my middle finger. It's not some anti-establishment hippie thing, it just doesn't fit on my ring finger anymore. But I wonder if that confuses strangers.

I mention this because for some reason I've had, by my standards, a ton of contact initiated by random guys lately. First there was that guy at Walgreen's trying to chat me up in different languages, then a guy in the BJ's cheese aisle, and then the next day, a guy at the gym. And they all seemed nice enough, so I was nice enough back. Because I think to myself, what if this was Jeffrey, and it was before we were together, and he was just trying to meet someone? How would I hope someone would treat him? I mean, I don't think it's a crime to try to talk to someone. It's just not going to work out in this instance.

It is particularly awkward for me because it just happens so infrequently that I don't know quite how to navigate it. Also there's my admittedly weird conversational style. I don't ever know the appropriate time to say, hey, I'm married. And not like that's even the entire reason, but it's sufficient. But you know, I don't want to be presumptuous.

Like this guy in the cheese aisle. I was wearing my press badge, which I should always take off but never remember to. So there I was checking out the grana padano (at a really reasonable price!) and the guy asks me what media I work for. So I tell him. And he asks what I do, and I tell him. And then a few more seconds with the cheese, and then he says, "You look very smart." Of course, I don't even know any other response to this, so I say, "What does that mean?" He repeats. So do I.

And then he says that I'm pretty too. And maybe this is the time I should say that I'm married, but in my head that doesn't follow. Like, the two are not related logically, so I have difficulty putting them together. I'm just hoping that he drops it. So I just thank him and go back to the cheeses. At this point it looks like he's left, but when I turn the corner, there he is again. Not in a necessarily creepy way; just in a this-is-where-I'm-shopping-now way. So there's a little more halting small talk and then he says, "Can we talk again sometime?" And then I say I'm married, and he apologizes.

It was all pleasant enough (a little awkward when I run into him again in frozen foods but we both survive), or so I thought, until I had a menacing dream that night about him following me.

So any help? What should I have done? And seriously, do I seem that approachable?

Saturday, October 31, 2009


OK so it turns out that I am both a much worse artist and slightly better artist than I thought. I drew 2 apples today, of which 1 bore just slight resemblance to said fruit. And then I drew myself twice. One was really chinny. The other was much better than I expected! But Jeffrey said, "I'm glad I'm not dating that person." Hey thanks, babe. And guess what: We're married.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Thank you, Barcelona

Jeffrey and I were fortunate enough to spend 8 days in Barcelona. The city is amazing. It's completely full of art, without being self-conscious or fussy. It transformed me.

This trip was the first time I really enjoyed the museums we went to: the Contemporary Museum of Art, the Dali museum in Figueures, a Joan Miro museum, and a Gaudi museum. I think what really affected me so deeply is how distinctive -- and loud -- each artist's voice was. It struck me as incredibly courageous. I'd given up on art as a young child. In our family, we had a talented artist, and then a slightly less-talented artist. And neither of those spots fell to me. So I gave up. 

My sister is 2 years older than me, and very smart. But I was precocious, and maybe slightly better than her at Chinese Chess and a few other things, and no doubt shitty about it, so she sort of gave up on it. To this day she still underestimates herself and her intelligence, and I know it's my fault. It weighs on me.

So here I was surrounded by all this art, wondering if I had done the same thing to myself; abdicated any artistic inclination simply because I wouldn't be the best at it. And not even that I wouldn't be the best at it, but that I wouldn't be any good at it at all. It struck me as a remarkably cowardly way to live.

No matter how I earn a living, I have been and will always be an editor. I edit myself constantly, afraid to say or write or do the wrong thing. And long ago, I edited art right out of myself. But what I realized is that I must accept the possibility -- even the certainty -- of mediocrity. I think that until I do, it's impossible for me to fully accept who I am. My 20s were spent getting better at things I was already good at. I hope my 30s are spent doing things I'm terrible at.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Words, Part II

Last week I had a great and unexpected conversation. I was having lunch with a semi-wig from the company, someone I don't know very well. First I asked him about his life and how he got to where he is, and he told me that he basically had a blessed life. And I thought, hey, me too! I've felt that way for a very long time. I was born into a family that escaped a war-torn country, and grew up with what Roberto Benigni memorably called the gift of poverty. And because of the love and support of my family, we've all been able to get past that and are strong because of it. I've been given amazing opportunities, and the abilities to take advantage of them. I mean, things could be very different for me, or at least for a me-like character. And I got ridiculously excited about telling this person about it, because he was so excited about feeling the same way.

It was the first time I'd met anyone who had the same kind of charmed awe that I have. I mean, a lot of people feel fortunate and grateful. But there's this sort of wide-eyed feeling of specialness that I don't often see. It was an immediate connection that I didn't expect to make.

One thing he talked about that seems so obvious but felt revelatory at the time was responsibility for choices. I mean, I believe in being responsible, but he talked about being responsible for the good ones as well as the bad ones. And I was like, yes! I see! I had just never thought about it before. And he talked about choosing to be around people who lift you up. And I thought about the people in my life who lift me up, and who I lift up. It was really clarifying.

He said that everyone has a word that defines them -- THE word. If you told your friends this word, they'd all say, yes, that's about right. I'm not sure if that's true, maybe it's more like 2 or 3. At any rate, the second he said that I thought, hmm, am I more unrelenting or relentless?

Saturday, October 10, 2009


This week I've interacted with a lot of people with whom I would not ordinarily, for some reason. And that's a really good thing. It gives me a lot of opportunities for growth.

Yesterday, I was at a TJ Maxx looking for accessories for my new iPod, which they keep up in the check-out line, which is weird, but whatever. So I walked up to the display, not in front of the line, but parallel to the line, just to check out the display. And a woman sort of behind me said, "Some people, they just don't understand English." I'm pretty sure she was talking about me. It really took me aback. The very first words that popped into my head were, "I'm an editor!" I know. Not very snappy. But I didn't say anything at all. Partly because I've escalated those types of situations before and I know that there's very little satisfaction in it. And partly because I was just so shocked. And partly because I've been calmer lately and I just don't respond in the same ways I used to.

But my mind was racing and I got defensive. I thought to myself, well, if you ever wonder why I use language the way I do, this is it. And when I got to the car, swear, "Your Racist Friend" came on my iPod with no provocation from me.

But then I decided that that kind of ignorance and paucity of spirit brings with it its own misery. And then I thought, poverty of spirit or paucity of spirit? I decided on paucity but I really could go back to poverty at any moment. See what I mean about the language?

I also realized that at certain points of my life (and maybe some that have not yet unfolded) I have been/will be guilty of such ignorance and smallness. So that's that.

Earlier in the week, I'd had a funny run-in that could be related:

Scene: Walgreens. Barbie is checking out. I just came along for fun.
Checker: Como esta?
Me: Muy bien?
Checker: You're Filipino, right?
Me: Um, no. And that was Spanish.
Checker: I know, but it's the same, right? It's OK?
Me: Um, no.
Checker: Wait. Ni hao?
Me: Nope. Wrong again.

As I read it now, it sounds a little harsh, but I was pretty nice to that guy. I wasn't mad or anything. I've really grown, I think. As I was recounting the story to Jeffrey, I said, "You know, if you were my college boyfriend and I was telling you this story, it'd be a very different story."

Thursday, September 03, 2009

What makes me think I can start clean-slated?

So I was talking to Nancy tonight, with whom I used to work very closely. I was asking her about this Pilates move I remember her doing in which she sits down, but with no chair. And she said, "I used to do that? That seems very annoying." And then she wondered what else annoying she used to do. Turns out a high school friend had told her last week that she used to talk about apartheid and the importance of divesting in South Africa. And Nancy thought that was probably pretty annoying, too. It made the friend feel inadequate, which of course she did not want to do.

So of course I started thinking about all the crazy things I've done in my life that other people have witnessed or been subjected to. And I said, "I'd like to just start over today, you know?" And she said, "Why? Because you think you wouldn't do crazy things again?" And she's right, of course. Every time I start over, every day, I still do crazy shit. Maybe I'm slightly more palatable now. I'm definitely calmer. But my essence is the same. I'm goofy and easily hurt and overly proud. There's just no escaping yourself.


Speaking of feeling inadequate, one of the reporters today told me he didn't watch TV shows. He wasn't trying to be superior or anything. He just wasn't getting the popular culture reference I was making. Instead, he reads news on the internet and watches news. He is what I mean when I say I am a news junkie. Sigh.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


I've been thinking about friendships a lot lately. It was always funny to me when people said we're "just friends," because it seemed like such a slight to friendship. Friends are vital to life as I know it. They leave an impression on me for decades. Forever, really. I still quote friends -- out loud and in my thinking -- I haven't talked to in many many years. And I hear from them and I realize that they quote me, too. And sometimes their memories even outpace mine, which is a mixed surprise.

So what I have to say is that if you have been my friend, you have left an impression on me. If we have shared a memory, there's a very good chance that I still have it, particularly if it made me laugh. And lots of things make me laugh. And if there are bad memories, I have probably blocked them out of my mind.

And I thank you.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In the darkness, the trees are full of starlight ...

So the joke always was that I love Dove Dark Chocolate, because it was "dark and bitter, just like me." But I've been riding this wave of happiness lately, sometimes sickening even myself. I've worried that it might change the dynamics of my friendships, since they didn't exactly become friends with this unpredictable and possibly permanent mood change.

But then this week I read a story about a 72-year-old woman who fell for a scam. And she was saying these things like, it took me 72 years to learn not to trust someone. And I felt bad for her. But then suddenly, I thought, maybe SHE'S a scam! Maybe she's scamming the system!

And then I thought, Yes! I'm happy, but I'm still dark! And I just smiled.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A few things

Jeffrey has been on his annual Colorado excursion this week, seeing his brother and his family and his best friend, Jeff. I love that he goes because he enjoys himself and gets to immerse himself in a different part of his world. But I miss him. So I'm glad he's coming back tonight. Also, the house is a mess. That goes almost without saying, no?

I discovered a new-to-me artist today: Kate Miller-Heidke. She's an Australian songwriter and she has an amazing voice and range. I first heard of her with her painful and hilarious song about ex-lovers on Facebook, "R U Fucking Kidding Me." But then I heard this song, "The Last Day on Earth," and basically fell in love. I love the lyric, "You know me, I love to lose my mind." It's like it was written for me, except that it doesn't literally apply to me at all. But I could SEE feeling that way about someone. I just can't stop listening to it.

My fitness goals changed this week when I saw some of the world track championships. I was at the gym, on the elliptical, watching these people RUN in a way that I don't really remember ever seeing. They were just at the height of their lives, working as hard as I've ever seen anyone work, really. Those Jamaican women were just amazing. And I loved watching the Brazilian women, standing in their tiny running uniforms (don't get me started on that), chests out, muscular, not skinny, proud. The gym guy said, not in a bad way, "Those women are beasts!" And I said, "I want to be a beast!" He was like, "Are you sure your husband's going to like that?" Later I asked Jeffrey, and he very diplomatically said, "I like you the way you are." So anyway, beasthood here I come! Not like I could ever run like that. I mean, come on. But I got him to teach me how to use the machines in the testosterony weight room. So today I went and did dips, pull-ups, and various other weight-related exercises. Then I went into the gym and did my typical jump rope routine, and a woman came up to me afterward and said I was a monster on the jump rope! It was so nice. I almost think she was somehow placed into the script or something. Thanks, writers!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

This license plate brought tears to my eyes today


Not because of how sweet it is. But because the A is redundant.

(shakes head)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Open letter

Dear Banana Republic vanity sizing,
I love you.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Funny ha-ha

I did stand-up a couple times in college. I had a tight 3-minute set, with just 1 good joke. For a very brief time, I thought about quitting journalism to go into it. That's in between thinking I could be a professional bowler and manual laborer. My mind wanders.

I got good feedback when I did it; people laughed. But I stopped doing it in July of 1997 when a co-worker's husband said to me, "Sure, you're funny. But what are you really saying?" Turned out, nothing.

So I never did it again. But today I got 2 separate e-mails from people telling me about an open mic night. And it has me thinking. I wonder if I can get back the sense of humor that drained out of me while I was news editor.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

It's getting hard to be someone but it all works out

Tuesday morning I woke up.

I don't know how it happened, exactly. But when I opened my eyes, it was as if I'd had an epiphany. I had this bright, bursting, enveloping feeling of gratitude. I was grateful for everything in my life, with big bubble exclamation points. (see next blog entry) I was grateful for the paintball bruises, still gigantic, for making me feel vital. I was grateful for all the opportunities that I have had, all the people I have loved and still love. Even for all the heartache. I felt like I was seeing things clearly for the first time in a very long time, maybe my entire life. I don't mean for this to diminish anyone else's experiences, but it felt the way people describe having religious experiences, except if you extracted all the religion.

And still, a couple days later, I feel much the same way. I mean, it's not like I'm a totally different person; I'm still who I am, but with some changes. I feel calmer. Yesterday I used the phrase "every day is a gift" in an e-mail without a trace of irony. When I told Paul that, he told me that he would never accept Alien Judy. I feel changed for no reason at all, except that I finally saw my life for what it is: A wonder. I just feel so fortunate. It's hard for me to describe, because a lot of the language used to describe these sorts of feelings has religious undertones.

A big part of it is my friends. Friendships are such a wonderful idea, really. You enter into a relationship with someone and care about them and they care about you. You tell your stories and laugh and contemplate together. You think good things about them and try to become those good things they think about you. And I have amazing friends who love me and put up with me. All through my shower I crafted messages I was excited to send to them about how much I love them. And I thought about people who don't have friends and how sad I am for them.

And of course, my best friend, Jeffrey. I feel like I hadn't quite seen him for who he is in a while. I'm not sure why that was the case, but now I do again. And I missed him so much.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Today I am grateful

for black skirts and bright solids. For my friends and my love. For this bruise on my carotid. For the bruises everywhere else. For these muscles, weak right now. For chocolate brown. For having been born in this blink, into this spot. For opportunities. For resourcefulness and resources. For persistence. For this day. For this gratitude.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Never surrender

Is it possible to be a weekend warrior if you work out throughout the week? Not sure. At any rate, I've somehow become one.

Today I got bruised up in paintball. It was the first time I ever played. We played at The Paintball Store in Hampton, because I'd read good reviews about it. When we first went looked around the indoor arena, it felt like we were in a video game, like Splinter Cell or something. A lot of intimate combat.

I was there with seven other people from the paper. Three were hard-core gamers, adept at first-person shooters. I have experience in Super Mario games. And there were no gigantic flowers spitting fire at me or any big green pipes to jump down.

At first I was pretty timid, shooting maybe two or three rounds before getting dropped. But somewhere around the third game, I just started shooting. I could say something like "I wasn't going out that way," but I went out all the same. It was just more fun. I shot so much that I was the only one who ran out of paint and air. In the last game, I even did a belly crawl in the gross, painty sawdust to avoid shots. And I survived that one after getting shot in the neck. It felt bad-ass, to be sure.

In total I got shot three times in the head, again, the most of anyone. It's a big target, I know. And I have three tight target-shaped bruises on my calves (thanks a bunch, Jon) and a few on my chest and back. I was soaked with sweat and paint through my shirt and jeans by the end. I didn't capture it very well, but here I am all sweaty and messy:

Saturday, August 08, 2009

To Kenny Harrison, wherever you may be

Tonight I am grateful to all the people who have made me a better person than whoever I was when I met them. Of course there are many. There are some, like my mom, whose influence is immeasurable. There are teachers, and mentors. Jeffrey makes me a much more patient person. Paul makes me a better friend. And I'm thankful for all of them.

Specifically, I'm thinking of Kenny Harrison, who unknowingly changed me in an instant. It was a million and a half years ago, and I was a graphics intern at The Times-Picayune in New Orleans. He was a talented illustrator in the department.

It was a tumultuous summer for me, professionally and personally. When I broke up with my boyfriend, Kenny asked, "Are you OK?" He said it with genuine, full-eyed concern, even though he'd only known me for a week. I was taken aback by his effortless gesture. I know it seems like nothing, but no one else who found out asked me that. It helped teach me how to be open and show caring, even to someone I don't know very well. It taught me the first question to ask.

I heard that question come out of my mouth tonight. My friend had gone on a surprise date-like social engagement with a guy she LIKES. SO MUCH. And even though I was so excited for her, I knew that the beginning of an undefined relationship can be difficult and confusing. So I called and -- among other things -- asked her if she was OK. And she said, "Oh, Judy, I love you." And I knew that she loved the person I had become in the summer of 1996 because of one question from Kenny Harrison.


OK, Simon LeBon, I get it. You're on the hunt, you're after me. But how do you smell like you sound?

Thursday, August 06, 2009


Well, no one seems to be reading this. No matter.

My big news this week is that Jeffrey and I are going to Barcelona in October! We considered staying in a hotel this time but decided that small room x 8 days = certain divorce. So I found an apartment in Eixample for even less money than the hotel we were flirting with, which was already quite reasonable. It's always sort of a gamble to book online, but I'm excited about this place. And so far everything has been smooth with the agency.

We bought our tickets last night for only a little bit more than it costs to fly to Iowa. For reals. Now I gotta get cracking on my Espanol. Jeffrey took it in high school, but I found out tonight that he also took French in college. And I don't remember any of that coming up when we were in Paris. I took Latin, of course. So when we need to talk about the farmer's pretty daughter in ancient Rome, I'm on it.

Now is the time during which Jeffrey and I will research restaurants obsessively. We'll be there for eight days, which means probably, at most, 16 meals out, since one of the best reasons to get an apartment is breakfast in. So we'll find maybe 100 restaurants, and read hundreds of reviews in a couple different languages, on many, many Web sites. Also books. Not to mention scouring the streets while we are there to find hidden treasures. I will be leaving my vegetarianism here in the states. It is the ham capital of the world, for goodness' sake.

I am looking at it with an eye toward economy, in case there are back-seat riders in our lives soon. For the same reason, Jeffrey thinks we should just spend the money we spend, because if there are back-seat riders in our near future we won't be able to take a big trip like this again. I guess I can see his point. Either way, I think it will be great.

In other news, I've self-diagnosed myself with nonfiction ADD, thanks to Barbie. A couple months ago I picked up this great Julian Barnes book about death called "Nothing To Be Frightened Of." It's entertaining, informative and funny. Everything you want in a book. But I just can't finish it. I just can't do it. And with that hanging over my head, I picked up "Everything and More," by David Foster Wallace. It's about infinity! Who am I kidding? I'm never going to finish it! I love David Foster Wallace, of course. But even his lightest stuff is dense. I have to admit though, I've never read a book about math with such raw vulnerability and humor.

But seriously.

Monday, August 03, 2009

A baby, a shield, a ball

I went to Iowa this weekend to see my sister and her family, including her brand-new baby, Minh-Phuong. See cuteness here:

She's three weeks old and thinks I'm hilarious, as you can see. She's incredibly mellow. I know my children would never be so mellow, so it's nice to see it in others.

I've been thinking a lot lately about openness. I always think that I am more open than I really am. I perpetuate this internal and external myth by giving up all kinds of information freely that doesn't matter at all. But since I give it up so freely, people think I'm open. And everything else is hidden away. But really I keep the dumbest stuff inside. I think it's because I'm so afraid people will find out how stupid, or small, or petty (or prone to redundancies!) I am. But that's hubristic because true stupidity or pettiness seeps out no matter how much you try to control it. Or should I say, no matter how much I try to control it. So I guess the smart thing to do is open up. We'll see how that goes.

In kickball news, I am still in the game! I had quit a couple weeks ago because I thought I'd injured my muscles and didn't want to do permanent damage. But a friend of mine suggested I stay in it and I'm impressionable so I did. And it was awesome! I am a not-bad kickball player! Of course this past weekend I was in Iowa so I couldn't play, and this weekend is paintball. But I'm so glad I stayed with it.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


I ventured into adult recreational kickball today. I hadn't played kickball since elementary school, and hadn't played a team sport since that unsuccessful season on Steve Stone's gay and lesbian softball team. But I am considerably more sporty than I was during either of those periods (though apparently I felt confident enough to throw my shirt off all Brandi Chastain-like after one of our softball games) so I figured this was a fun and good idea. And Good Brian was organizing it, so I knew it was going to be a fun group.

And it was a ton of fun. I played better than I had expected. I hauled ass and always at least made it to first, because f that, I ain't going out that way. In fact, I hauled ass to every base I was going for. And, round about an hour in, that was my literal downfall.

So I was sprinting to third. The ball had gone between third and second (left field, maybe?), so I knew my chances were slim, but where else was I going to go? So I just kept running, eye on third, try to get to third. And then I got tagged. And then I went down. I'm told it was a really violent fall. Unfortunately, it wasn't even a headshot, which would have gotten me a free base. All I remember was being face-down on the ground, everyone rushing around me, thinking, my god, just get up and tell everyone everything is OK. But my glasses had fallen off, and for some reason, that sudden facial nudity always boosts mild embarrassment into the realm of sheer mortification.

Now, of all the people on the field who might want to take me down, and I concede that there were many, I didn't expect it from this guy. I had never even met him, and we were not even taking score. He was embarrassed, too. Poor kid. I think that was the last time he tagged anyone.

Anyway, I got up and played on. It wasn't a big deal, except that my glasses are all messed up and crooked now, which threw off my depth perception. I'll have to get these fixed sometime this week. It was payback for the time I broke my roommate's glasses in a snow football game at Northwestern. Sorry, Marc.

I did get 2 more points (runs?) after The Incident. I should have taken Good Brian's advice and stretched more pre-game, though. I'm already pretty sore.When I got out of the car earlier, I had to use my hand to assist my leg. Pathetic.

I am looking forward to playing regularly. But maybe I should get some kind of face guard, like that guy in the NBA. Or some kind of helmet device. You know, to avoid embarrassment.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Black is like really, really beautiful

I brought in a few pairs of pants to the tailor today. Once again I was reminded of how adult I feel about the fact that I go to a tailor instead of just pulling up my pants all day. Of course, if I'd grown to an actual adult size, I wouldn't have to go to a tailor at all. No matter.

So round about the third pair, she says, "Lot of black pairs of pants, huh?" And I say, "What are the colors of pants that other people wear?" She says, "Oh, tan, grey. Other colors." And I was like, yeah, I don't really go in for those. And then I put on another pair of black pants, which I'd worn into her shop, and go to work. I just don't have creativity like that. I didn't even tell her about the 2 black skirts I'd bought this weekend, too.