Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Little Not-So-Light Sunday Reading

A few weeks ago I checked out several books at the library. I read the first two very quickly, Chris Grabenstein's Hell for the Holidays—an entertainingly fast-paced mystery thriller, though a little dark—and another Nora Roberts (Angel's Fall this time). Then I started on Stewart O'Nan's Songs for the Missing. That was nearly two weeks ago.

The story takes place in a small Ohio town and revolves around the abduction of 18-year-old Kim Larsen. Kim is only present in the first few chapters, after that the story is all about how the other characters deal with the absence of their daughter/sister/best friend/girl friend.

The story itself is compelling and it's easy to identify with each of the characters as they confront and examine their relationships with the missing Kim. And I think that is exactly why it took me so long to read—it's too compelling. Too easy to identify with the characters. There is no lens to look through to distance yourself from the characters—I felt the worry and hope and helplessness and isolation and frustration and resignation of each character and frankly, it was exhausting.

Not exactly your curl-up-with-a-novel-and-a cup-of-cocoa warm fuzzy read. It definitely took an emotional toll, but it is a good book nonetheless. And still, I'm relieved to be moving on to a new book.

Dozer kept me company this afternoon while I was reading.

Next up, Natasha Mostert's Keeper of Light and Dust. Also in the bag waiting to be read, Salvation in Death and My Sister, My Love. Although, given the reaction I had to Songs for the Missing, I may need to skip that last one since it's based on the JonBenet Ramsey story. I'm thinking lighter themes may be the order of the day for me, at least for the time being.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Post-Turkey Weekend

Well, we still have plenty of turkey left, so we're not technically post-turkey just yet, but since the carcass isn't taking up space in the fridge any more (it's simmering in the stock pot right now) it feels post-turkey.

I'm pretty sure I over cooked the turkey and it was a bit dry. It's a good thing I actually like dry turkey and I certainly didn't hear any complaints from Scoob aka the One-Man Turkey Demolition Crew, but some gravy wouldn't have been entirely unwelcome, but of course I didn't make any because I wasn't making mashed potatoes. Oh well. I'll try to get the recipes up for the side dishes I tried out soon.

Scoob's first plate.

We did head up to San Francisco's Union Square on Friday for the big tree lighting as planned. Our neighbor offered to drive, which was awesome and way more comfortable and enjoyable than taking BART. The Embarcadero Shopping Center was still packed by the time we made it up there around 5:00 pm and Union Square completely filled up as the tree lighting was about to begin.

Wreaths in the Macy's windows.

The crowd at Union Square.

The crowd at Union Square. You can't see it because of the bus,
but the other side of the street and across the intersection is just as packed.

The ceremony itself seemed something of a waste of time and effort on the part of Macy's, who sponsors the tree each year. Union Square is designed like a Maya pyramid with the center of the square elevated as the sacrificial platform. The stage was up on the platform area, and anyone standing on the tiers or at street level—probably about 85% of the crowd—couldn't see anything. Or hear anything for that matter because of the absolutely horrible sound system. There was one gospel choir that we could hear quite clearly, but unfortunately I've no idea who they were or where they were from because the emcee was unintelligible, even worse than being at an airport.

I felt like such a Scrooge for even thinking "Just light the damn tree already," but I know I wasn't the only one. It was fun, though, watching all the little kids. And the tree was beautiful when they did finally flip the switch.

Union Square Christmas tree.

Afterward, we headed to Belden Place for dinner. We had intended to eat at B44, but as we waited for the cocktails to arrive and to place our orders we realized that the staff seemed to have forgotten us in the corner as we watched them take orders from the table that had been seated 10–15 minutes after us. So we left and instead went to Petrinos in the same little festive alleyway. The food was good but nothing special. Scoob was of the opinion that our local falafel place has a much better kebab/souvlaki and at a much more reasonable price. But it was fun to try something new.

Belden place in San Francisco.

Belden place in San Francisco.

I found this fun infographic in the New York Times today that depicts the popularity of searches at for recipes leading up to Thanksgiving. I thought it was a little odd that they depict searches for sweet potato and sweet potatoes, and sweet potato casserole and sweet potatoe casserole separately since they're clearly the same thing. Same goes for cornbread stuffing and cornbread dressing, unless of course there's some intrinsic difference between stuffing and dressing that I'm unaware of. At any rate, it's entertaining to flip through and I suppose the infographics could be communicating one of two things—either these recipes are really popular Thanksgiving dishes in the shaded areas, or they could also be popular in the unshaded areas but those folks already know the recipes.

A couple more fun things. This Muppets video totally brought back memories. Why did that show ever go off the air anyway? (And when did Disney purchase the Muppets??)

And this very creative video from the New Zealand Book Council.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's noon and the bird is in the oven, all the prep is done for the side dishes, and aside from the neighbor who insists in working his wet saw today (and every single blessed day for the last two weeks) everything is just about as perfect as it can be. Maybe not Hollywood perfect or June Cleaver perfect or Martha perfect—I almost included Stewart, but I guess she's a is a one-name celebrity because I know you know exactly who I'm referring to.

At least she didn't go the J-Lo route 'cause Ma-Stew just doesn't have the same ring to it. Ma-Stew just makes me think of Ma Kettle from The Egg and I, one of my mom's all-time favorite books that I've strangely never read. Maybe I should. Anyhow, back to perfection…

Okay, so everything is perfect in the sense that the sun is out and the sky is a clear, cold blue, Scoob is on the back patio reading and lounging in the sunshine, the kitties are happy and cuddly (though that may have more to do with the smoked salmon I ate than anything else), and I'm on my second cup of coffee feeling pretty darn content with the world. And I'm grateful for all of it. And I'm grateful that that's all it really takes to make me happy and that it's attainable almost everyday, not just on Thanksgiving.

And I'm grateful that Scoob was so thoughtful as to hook up the speakers in the kitchen today so I could listen to my iPod and sing and dance as I putter. Bonus points for him, especially since he can't stand a lot of my music.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

T Minus 2

We’re staying home for Thanksgiving this year instead of making our usual trip to Mom’s house in Oregon. The upside—I won’t have to drive 14+ hours in holiday weekend traffic. The downside—I get to cook Thanksgiving dinner (and I don’t get to see mom, of course, though she’s perfectly welcome to come join us).

So for the past few weeks I’ve been harassing asking Scoob what he would like on the Thanksgiving menu. When we go to mom’s there’s always turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, and one favorite side dish for each of us. Scoob goes for the candied yams, I put the smackdown on anyone who tries to touch my green beans, and mom gets more stuffing. Oh, and there’s usually a peanut butter pie for my birthday, which isn’t until late-December, but mom feeds me at Thanksgiving since she knows she won’t see me on my birthday.

It’s a lot of food for 3 people, but we manage. Somehow.

However, I am not mom. I have about 2 feet of usable counter space in the kitchen (I seriously want to smack an architect or two whenever I try to do anything more complicated than boiling water) and no dining room or dining room table to speak of, so I will not be putting on quite the same spread.

So anyhow, I’ve been asking Scoob what he wants and he really doesn’t seem to care, which even though that should mean easy-breezy meal prep I am oddly disappointed. It’s a holiday for crying out loud, it can’t be just like any other day! So Scoob finally relented and said he wanted me to cook the Cornish game hens we’ve had in the freezer for who knows how long and I said, okay.

Then it dawned on me… If I make Cornish game hens for dinner on Thursday, I’ll be cooking all weekend because there won’t be any leftovers! Oh, hell-to-the-no. So last night I changed the game plan and braved the grocery store to fight blue-haired bittys over frozen turkey carcasses and Stove Top stuffing. I know, it’s sacrilegious, but I’ve never made stuffing from scratch and I’m not about to experiment with it for the holiday meal. It would never be as good as mom’s anyhow, so I’ll just stick with what I know.

I won’t be doing mashed potatoes but I did pick up some sweet potatoes for a recipe I want to try. And I found yet another recipe I want to try, similar to something that caterers brought in for sales conference lunch last week. So clearly, I’m not above experimenting at a holiday meal. I just won’t experiment with stuffing. It’s intimidating somehow. Probably because I know mom starts hers the day before and that right there just seems like way too much effort. One of these days I will have to figure out how to make it. Anyhow, I refuse to feel bad about it because it’s not as if we’re going to starve, ya’ know?

And if we can manage to peel our bloated selves from the sofa, we’re planning to brave San Francisco’s Union Square on Black Friday. I know. What’s become of me? I keep telling myself it’ll be fun and the crowds won’t bother me because I don’t intend to actually shop at Union Square. I’ll just keep telling myself that. We’re going for the tree lighting in the evening, but if I end up as a stammering madwoman pulling out my hair, Scoob can ditch me at Haight–Ashbury and I’ll blend right in.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Little Random for Your Sunday

We ran out to Target yesterday for kitty litter and a few other household staples and I was amazed at how packed it was—apparently the shopping crush has already started. It was just a little insane, and it's only going to get worse until January. So, for me that means I either need to get my rear in gear and get the holiday shopping done, pronto, or I need to do it all online. Me, I'm leaning toward the online option with wine glass in hand and music of my choice playing on the speakers at a comfortable volume.

Took an office friend out shopping during the lunch hour last week (she doesn't drive) and the shopping center was a ghost town. Maybe I'll try that tactic again if I do need to buy something in person, but in general I've found I'm much more patient when I'm browsing as opposed to shopping.

  • If you're thinking of taking the kiddies to see Santa this year, you might want to check out his financial situation before you go. I hear he's had to make some drastic cuts because of the economy.

  • So my best friend's oldest daughter has been lobbying for a few weeks now to have bacon this Thanksgiving instead of turkey. Bacon is lovely anytime of year in my book, but how would you get quality Thanksgiving stuffing without a turkey to put it in? Maybe this will help bridge the gap—Skillet Bacon Jam. I haven't tried it myself but anyone I've talked to who has loves this stuff (and one even has a jar packed in his earthquake preparedness kit, seriously). I'm actually afraid to try it because I might just like it. A lot. And then where does that put me?

  • I ran across the Indexed website some time ago and I almost always find something that makes me laugh. Don't be intimidated by the graphs and equations, you won't need to be terribly geeky or left-brained to get it. A couple of my most recent favorites:

    Ah, looks as if a lot of people like this site—at least enough for a book deal. Awesome.

  • As long as we're graphing things, I ran across this infographic on the seven deadly sins. And while I'm not quite sure what to make of it as a whole, the correlation between greed, envy, wrath, and pride reminds me, and reinforces, why I want to move to a less populated area.

  • You know those environmentalists are always looking for ways to make the world a better place, but seriously do they need to monitor what type of tissue I use to conclude my business in the loo? Next thing you know they'll want to pass legislation that we all use cloth instead of toilet tissue. Although, I suppose I should be thankful if this truly is the most pressing environmental threat we face. But it does put the whole "square to spare" thing in a new context.

  • As I'm approaching my re-evaluation mark for physical therapy I've realized that a lot of the exercises they've given me to do are also yoga positions. I ran across this a few days ago and it had me laughing. I'm thinking a fifth of tequila is a lot less expensive than physical therapy.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gifting Clutter

So I began stressing about Christmas about this time last year, and I swore I would get a jump on Christmas for this year, but of course I didn't. I had wanted to do more DIY Christmas stuff for this year, but I didn't. We're not spending Christmas with my family this year, and I'm okay with that, but it does mean I need to get ahead of the game so I can mail gifts in time for Christmas.

I know what I want to get for mom and I know what I want to get for dad, but I have no clue just yet what to get for my step-mom and my sister, and Scoob always wants something off his Amazon wishlist, which makes it easy if impersonal. I always try to think of something for him that is uniquely for him that he didn't even think about wanting, but it's not easy since he sticks just about everything under the sun on his wishlist.

All the cleaning the past couple of weekends got me wondering what I should do with the old magazines that have been piling up. I usually purge them every six months or so, and it's about time to do it again. It just seems like such a waste to throw them out.

I found this cool magazine bowl DIY project tutorial a while back. I remember thinking this was a cool idea for old magazines the first time I saw one in a store (I've also seen photo/mirror frames, purses, boxes, and other things) and I've seen them all over the place now, like at Crate & Barrel, and every gift shop of every museum I've been to in the last year or so. The instructions seem simple enough and it would probably make a good kids' project, too.

It's a personal preference, but I like this variation on the magazine bowl better:

I couldn't find a tutorial for it, but it looks a lot more labor intensive that the regular coiled bowl. Considering the satisfaction of making it yourself and the visual punch payoff, I think it's totally worth the extra effort.

If the bowls seem like too much for a kids' project, take a look at these stars. I'm betting that these would make great Christmas ornaments that everyone will enjoy. I think these could easily be adapted to hold a picture in the center as well

I think I feel my crafting genes kicking in, so if you're on my Christmas list, forget you ever saw this post. Do you have any crafty DIY projects you're working on as gifts? I'd love to hear about them. (Always looking for inspiration.)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cleaning House

Yesterday was a good day for cleaning house. Scoob, being the dear that he is, grabbed the vacuum cleaner and went at it. I know I've mentioned this before, but I hate to vacuum. So when Scoob started it (without being asked I might add, and he did the whole house. He's almost never done that before) I jumped up and started doing a bunch of other little cleaning chores—picking things up off the floor to make it easier for Scoob to vacuum, shaking out rugs, polishing the stainless (flashback to my days at McDonald's, yo), cleaning behind the refrigerator, rotating the cushions on the sofa, and cleaning the mirrors in Scoob's bathroom because he didn't quite get to it last weekend.

This makes the second weekend in a row where we've tackled house cleaning chores together. Not together as in we're trying to clean the same space at the same time, but we're both contributing to a clean house in different areas. I think I've finally found the secret to wanting to clean house—when we're doing it together, I don't feel like it's such a daunting and unpleasant task, and I feel like it's important to both of us.

Which isn't to say the tandem cleaning efforts haven't been without bumps. Last weekend Scoob asked me where we keep the bleach (bet you can guess who does the laundry) and later when Scoob set out to clean his bathroom I didn't make the connection, but when I smelled the fumes I started to worry. I walked into Scoob's small, windowless bathroom where I found him on his knees scrubbing the bottom of the shower (sexy, not traditional sexy, but still sexy).

Thankfully he had the exhaust fan running, but it wasn't enough to control the fumes. Scoob had been using straight, undiluted chlorine bleach, some sort of imitation Tilex-type cleaner, one of those Mr. Clean Eraser sponges (god, I love these things), and who knows what else. I dug out the LCR for the hard water deposits on his shower door because he was trying to clean them with sheer willpower and it wasn't working. I warned him about using undiluted bleach and I warned him not to use anything containing ammonia since he was using bleach.

Apparently my sweet, sweet Scoob thought I meant not to mix anything containing ammonia with the bleach and almost the moment he sprayed something containing ammonia the fumes became unbearable. Lesson learned: ammonia does not need to make direct contact with bleach to become toxic, the mixing of fumes is enough. So we vacated the bathroom and left the exhaust fan running for a good long while, but it wasn't enough to avoid stinking up the whole house and giving us both killer headaches. And that's why I cleaned the mirrors in his bathroom yesterday.

Anyhow, two weekends in a row with cleaning parties has made a huge difference in the house. I'm hoping we keep it up, maybe once we're keeping the house cleaner it'll be easier to get rid of some of this clutter.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Long Week

It's been a frickin' long week here and last weekend's events have been weighing on me heavily for most of it. I apologized, and that's good, but it doesn't make it okay and I've been struggling most of this past week because I've been dwelling on it almost every idle moment. I don't want to ignore it, because something is clearly wrong or out of whack for me to behave like that, but I also don't want to dwell on it because dwelling just isn't productive. So for the past few days I've been really focusing on not being idle whether that means exercising more, reading, cooking, or whatever.

A big part of not being idle has meant not staying up so late at night after Scoob and the kitties have drifted off to sleep and the more exercise bit has been helping me want to actually get in bed at a decent hour. That doesn't necessarily mean I get to sleep at a decent hour (see more reading above) but being in bed is halfway there.

A month or so ago I had this vision of what was happening inside me, I felt like something black, sticky, and suffocating was bubbling up inside me and was the lens through which I looked at the world. Last weekend it was no longer bubbling up—it had spilled over, coating me from head to toe and there was no escaping it and no hiding it.


The last couple of days I feel like I've been able to claw my way back from the edge of that blackness. It's still there, not as big and insurmountable as it was before, but it's still there. And I know it can still suck me under if I'm not careful; if I don't do something about it. So I've been kicking around the idea of getting some help, therapy, whatever. Of course kicking around the idea involves thinking about the blackness and that's what I've been trying to avoid this past week. I'm not ready to confront this thing head-on. I mean crickies, if you saw that thing, you'd run the other way too, right? Or at the very least prepare yourself to deal with it before you take it on, right?

So I've been focused on keeping my thoughts in check. I can't even believe how black and viscous some of my thoughts have become, usually toward myself, but also toward others. I can't ever remember having thoughts like these on such a regular basis. The fact that I've become aware of it is huge. I mean now that I recognize these thoughts I can now objectively take a look back at how long I've been having them. And while I can't pinpoint a moment or event when I began having them on a regular basis, I can recognize that this has been going on for some time.

Now when I have one of these thoughts I can pick it up, take a look at it, and set it aside and think about something else. I can do this with one or two black thoughts. But when they come in rapid fire, I'm still struggling. I've been trying to think about things to be thankful for or happy about. Right now, the biggest one is that I'm alive and living a life, such as it is. It may not be the life I pictured for myself, or the life that I think I want, but it is a life nonetheless.

I started thinking about all the innumerable people over the course of history who did not live to be almost-39 and how grateful I should be that I have. (A little dark, I know, but it's what I've been thinking about.) I have a few close friends and people I love that love me back, so I'm really not as completely alone and disconnected as I feel sometimes.

Eventually I'll get back to where I can feel that life doesn't have to be combative, where I don't feel like I have to wear a mask and steel myself every time I step outside the house. I can't really remember a time when I haven't felt the need to mask myself to the world, maybe in childhood, but I'd dearly like for that mask not to be so different from what's inside. I'd really like to be able to sit on the patio with the sun on my face, listening to the wind in the trees and the hawks flying overhead and be content again. Those are the goals I'm thinking of and I know I'm not going to get there overnight, but I'll get there—if I'm anything, I'm persistent. :)

Monday, November 9, 2009

I Did It—Now What?

So I was wrong on Saturday when I said I wasn't terribly upset about being rude to my neighbor. I was extremely upset at the way I conducted myself. I went over to the neighbor's unit this evening after work and apologized for my behavior on Saturday. In person and with a card. The card was my back-up in case I didn't catch them at home. He apologized as well, which wasn't what I was going for because he was just reacting to some strange woman who had knocked on his door and began yelling at him. But he was gracious and I'm still very, very embarrassed. Not one of my shining moments, people.

I had a lot of time to think about it and am still trying to figure out why I behaved the way I did. I asked myself if when he opened the door and I saw he was Indian/Pakistani/Afghan if I somehow thought that made it okay to disrespect him. I don't believe so because the behavior started when I pounded on his door before he opened it and before I knew his nationality.

I asked myself what my motivations were for wanting apologize. Was it to make myself feel better or because I was truly remorseful? If the roles were reversed, and someone had come to my home out of the blue, pounded on my door and began yelling at me, would I want the other person to apologize?

I'm asking myself if there is a larger issue that I may need help with, like anger management, stress management, or something else. I usually consider myself non-confrontational and passive, but at some point all the little things that bother me that I don't say something about at the time build up and I just snap. Mom thinks I may just need help standing up for myself earlier before I get to that point where I snap.

And then there's the whole hormonal thing. I'm pretty sure I've entered that whole perio-menopause stage, even though I still try to deny it. But try as I might, let's face it, my body and everything about it has been changing.

Anyhow, I'm glad that I went over and apologized in person. He seemed glad that I did and I'm just relieved he didn't slam the door in my face.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Not So Nice

I had a not-so-nice moment today, and I'm feeling terrible about it.

One of the things I hate most about where we live is that the buildings are set so close together along the street that it actually amplifies sound and the insulation in the walls and the windows do nothing to dampen any noise coming from the street. We have a couple sets of neighbors who allow their children to play in the street between the condominium buildings and they never seem to worry about how loud their children are.

One set of neighbors has a little boy, I would guess he is about 6, and he's a screamer. He screams every time one of the other kids does something he doesn't like. The little dude totally freaked me out a month or so ago because he screams like he's being hurt. His parents let the kids play down the street (by our unit) instead of by their own. I yelled at the kids once to quiet down, and now they tend to play down by their own unit. I didn't feel bad about that.

But the other set of neighbors, they live closer to us (the unit directly across the street) and also have loud children. And they also let their children play in the street. My parents let me play in the street when I was their age, but then again, where we lived the neighbors weren't so packed in together and the neighbors' living room and bedroom windows weren't right next to the curb.

I can handle the chatter and squeals of children playing—heck, I even like it—but holy frijoles one can only take so much banging and screaming, especially when the banging and screaming isn't being done by your own children.

Today, it seems the father was playing with his boy in their garage and they were bouncing the ball off of the garage door and it makes this huge booming noise. It took me about an hour to get annoyed enough to try and figure out what it was. Apparently they were also wrestling with their garbage cans. I know they probably just knocked the cans over, but the NOISE!

So, after an hour of this I decided enough is enough, and I went outside to figure out which unit it was coming from and ask them to stop.

I'm not sure when I changed my mind from asking to telling. I meant to knock on the door, instead I pounded on it. I meant to ask, instead I yelled. When I complained about the noise from bouncing the ball on the garage door, he complained about me pounding on his front door. To which I responded that I could stand there and pound on his door for an hour if he would like, or he could ask his child to stop bouncing the ball on the garage door. Mature, I know.

But that's not the part I feel badly about. As I was walking back to our unit it dawned on me that his son had been peeking around the front door behind him and I had, without intending to, yelled at this man, a complete stranger to me, in front of his child.

I'm generally a non-confrontational person, so when I do decide to confront someone I tend to get worked up about it and that's likely why when I went over there with every intention of asking I ended up yelling. These neighbors have been rude and inconsiderate of others in the neighborhood since they moved in, so I'm not terribly upset that I was rude. I am upset that I was inconsiderate and that I yelled at him and most likely made him feel humiliated in front of his child. I want to apologize for that, but I'm not entirely sure how to approach it.

It's dark now, so I really don't want to walk over there now. Maybe tomorrow. Or would leaving a note or card be better? I'm afraid that if I go over in person I'll get all defensive and end up making an ass of myself again. Maybe it's better to leave it alone. God I hope we move soon.