Starbucks, Invisibility and Toe Jam

sbux card web

Someone I know decided to put herself out there as a self-professed food writer and restaurant critic, and is now blithely writing ad-hoc reviews on Facebook.

Now I’m no Ruth Reischl, but I thought to myself, “Hey, that sounds like fun!” and “Clearly, the greater Phoenix area could also use my special insight into what makes a restaurant worthy of their collective presence!”

Review: Starbucks

When I sit in a Starbucks, I’m not there specifically for the coffee or the pastries, although I always get coffee and often a pastry, too. The coffee is strong and bitter, with a burnt flavor -  I’m not here to debate if it’s “good” or not; that will be up to your palate to decide, and if you’re like most people, you’ll admit that it’s not the coffee or sweets that draw you either. It’s the atmosphere.

Some people say that Starbucks doesn’t have an atmosphere, that it’s a sterile corporate-driven behemoth existing solely to funnel money into its voracious headquarters; that such a prolific chain of identical clone-storefronts could hardly have a unified presence that means anything besides monetary gain.

I disagree. I believe the ubiquity of Starbucks is the heart of its success. When I sit in a Starbucks, it’s like I’m sitting in every Starbucks, tapping into the collective unconscious of thousands of coffee-drinkers around the country and even around the world.

Sure, I’m not thinking in Greek or reading a magazine in the Bronx, but I’m sharing an experience with countless other individuals across the globe who are sitting in identical shops, at identically slightly-sticky tables, smelling that powerful burnt coffee aroma, looking at the same seasonal mugs with pretty red bows. And most importantly, we are all looking at the interesting variety of people constantly coming and going, seeing a cross-section of the humanity in our part of the world.

That experience of feeling part of a larger whole is concurrently addictive and soothing.  The thing about Starbucks is that you can do one of two opposite things- you can  just watch humanity orbit by around you, or can delve into it and make contact with others – and either option is equally acceptable.

A person can sit there all day on a laptop, half-watching people come and go, nursing a grande, just existing. The clatter of cups, the hissing of the coffee machines, the low music, the voices – they can roll over a person like the ocean, rendering one  invisible. It can be like sitting in an airport bar, watching humanity stream by on their way to exotic locations, interesting jobs, unimaginable situations.  It’s freeing to be in that zone of travel. It allows the mind to enjoy free-association that may not come at home in a quiet desk, mired in the regular routine.

Sometimes that’s what we need, I think – to be invisible at will, to watch humanity around us without being forced to interact. Maybe it’s a very American need, or maybe it’s common to more cultures, but sometimes our lives are so harried and frantic -but frantic in the same tight groove that we settle into every day – that it’s soothing to move out and see a different segment of life. It’s like a wash for the brain.

Sitting there, one can see different parts of the world come and go, and yet feel no need to actually interact with them. Sometimes it’s enough to just watch life go by. And in our walled or gated neighborhoods where there is not a lot of humanity milling around, a Starbucks is a perfect place to people watch. If and when you’re ready, you can interact at will.

And because each Starbucks is so busily  corporate, so identical to its clones, so available to everyone, that there are very modest expectations of the patrons; being yourself is just fine. Nobody needs to be hip, urban, funky, trendy, or multicolored.  Just be what you already are. Suits and old age are fine. Youth and piercings are fine. Although the clientele will vary by neighborhood, Starbucks by its very nature is America’s great salad bowl of cappuccino, welcome to everyone and anyone who comes through with at least 4$ to spend on their products.  It’s a very equalizing coffee house, available – in its muted culture-less fashion – to all.

And I love the people. Oh, the interesting people!

Starbucks in Chandler, on AZ Ave. – notes from September 2014

“Dog is yapping – it’s in a car at the drive through. Yapping goes on for literally 5 minutes!  I finally look to my right and see a little white dog, vibrating with energy, standing on the steering wheel, trying to climb into the S’bux window.  I will give you one guess as to who is driving:

  • a) Teen guy
  • b) Career Woman in 40′s
  • c) Gay Guy in 30′s
  • d) Old lady with lots of makeup, rings, indulgent smile for dog

The young man behind the counter explains:  “She comes through every morning and gets them a cup of whipped cream. That’s why they get so excited.”  Other people getting coffee nod now in understanding. Some smiles appear. I can’t help but wonder:

  1. They?
  2. Does she pull over and feed it/them, or hold out the cup and let it/them lap it up while she is  driving?
  3. Did she purchase anything for herself, too?
  4. Is this pathetic, sweet, depressing, unhealthy, awesome, none of the above?
  5. I don’t want to be this way when I’m old.
  6. Or, do I? I mean, if she’s happy, it’s cool, yes?
  7. I’d like to be cool in a different way, though.
  8. I kind of wish the dog had succeeded in getting inside the S’bux. The ensuing chaos would have been fun! (Without causing too much havoc, you know?)
  9. Must add this into a story, somehow.
  10. In story, though, should dog get in? Hmmmm.

 Starbucks in Tempe, on Rural Rd

“I’m once again ensconced in a S’bux, the one in Tempe just a few blocks past the Venus of Willendorf statue by Tonneson. I’m rubbing my arms on the table, hoping some “cool kid germs” rub off on me. Haha. Table is kind of sticky; probably all that is rubbing off is sugar residue + spilled Frapp. + E. Coli 0157:H7. (<– can’t remember the “real” designation for E. Coli so I may be making that up. Feel free to Google it…or not.)  **

Across from me, long table – 3 ungrouped persons, each with an Apple laptop.  More Apples scattered throughout. Clearly, Apple laptops are popular here, near campus. I’m proud to be one of just a few owners of a non-Apple product. Well, not proud as in, “Wow! Nobel Prize!” proud, but it’s nice to represent the anti-culture trend sometimes.  (later….) Two more Apples have joined the crowd! Jesus.  Might as well be a fucking Genius Bar in here.

Having decaf.

Guy next to me has taken off sandal, hosted bare foot atop opposing knee, and is now massaging his toe cracks to the beat of The Cure. Fascinatingly repulsive. Now he lifts his hand to his face and surreptitiously smells his fingers. O.M.G. I can’t even – I mean, sure, I admit that maybe I’d be interested to see how my own feet smell sometimes. I don’t fault him for bodily curiosity. But man, not here!  I didn’t need to see that, or be forced to imagine how your hairy toes smell. Oh, no — he glanced  at my notebook while he stood up! Did he see what I wrote? Well, it’s TRUE. He DID do that. Oh, he’s leaving, packing rapidly. Because of what I wrote? Or just because he was planning to, anyway? Hmmmm.

New person comes to table after toe-smeller leaves. Stubble-chin guy with bright blue eyes, early 20′s. He props ridiculously long skateboard against  table, adjusting it several times before it stays.  Cute waif-like girl with huge black-lined eyes joins him, leans in,  straight smooth blond hair brushing her bare shoulders, for intimate conversation. Later, as I drive away, I see him sitting cross-legged under a tree on his phone, and she’s a block down the sidewalk, expertly maneuvering the skateboard around pedestrians.”

 Starbucks in Chandler, AZ Ave:

“Guy in pink shorts bending over so shorts stretch tightly over rear; not attractive. Not that he “should” be, who cares?  I’m just stating what’s going on here.

  • Guy in corner, to girl:  “Here’s me, on the stairs. OH! Here’s me in front of it. Here’s me, on the driveway. Aaaah. Here’s me again.”
  • Girl: (looking intently) “Oooohhhhh….”

Couple next to me:

  • Man: (nothing, scrolling on phone.)
  • Woman: (nothing, scrolling one-handed on phone; other hand propped on wrist.)
  • Man: Laughs to self, shakes head, chuckles.
  • Woman: Peers over, comments, then they laugh together.
  • Next 5 minutes: They continue self-pleasuring on their phones.

Some things being ordered:

  • Cappuccino
  • Ice coffee refill (tall!)
  • Ice coffee with cream
  • Grande Latte

Yes, They Do Have Food:

So if you accept that the draw of Starbucks is its very presence, you then admit that you need no food review! You’re going to go regardless of the flavor of the coffee or the freshness of the lemon pound cake (which is always fresh, by the way, and deliciously tart with enough sweetness to balance it out without being cloying.) You won’t need the pumpkin bread, which is moist and umami and has just the right amount of cloves/pie spices, and an addictive crunchy top piece.

Even if you think that the seasonal sugar cookie looks suspiciously like it has melted orange crayon wax on top of it to form the pumpkin color, you’ll get it anyway. And you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover that even though it does seem to feel like biting through a layer of wax (not that you’ve ever ACTUALLY bitten down through an evenly spread, thin layer of melted orange crayon – but, hey, you’ve got a great imagination, so you can clearly understand how it MIGHT feel) – the flavor is pretty good, and the cookie is not too sweet, and the texture is fine: not too crumbly, not too hard; just enough bite to provide the right mouth-feel. It goes well with the strong coffee, which you – unlike your Papa, who complains about the horrible flavor of Starbucks – actually kind of like. Or maybe it’s the atmosphere you like, but anyway, you GET it, and frequently, too.

The cake pops are too pretty to eat, but someday you will eat one anyway, and you’ll be happy to find that it’s not too sweet.  Because “too sweet” is a problem with cookies and treats at Paradise Bakery, and it always pisses you off when something is TOO sweet. There IS something called “too much sugar.”

It’s a relief to find that this place gets it right, or right enough – fresh enough – that you can continue to sit here and be invisible and people-watch to your heart’s content, and not be forced to smuggle someone else’s pastries inside in your purse.

I know that there are a huge number of cool, funky, delicious and independent coffee houses throughout the valley. I’m immensely glad we have them – independent places are the jewels of a city, creating the sparkle against the humdrum background noise.  I want them to thrive and prosper and gain a huge, loyal clientele. And I like to try them out.

But  if I’m not up for a drive, or I just want to sink into the background and relax, nearly any Starbucks is a safe choice. The humdrum background noise is often just what I need to settle into my creativity and make my own jewels.


**NOTE TO AVOID LAWSUITS -  About the E. Coli:  That was a total joke, hahaha! Of course there is no E.Coli in Starbucks, hahaha! S’bux is extremely clean, safe, restaurant! Always passes health inspection, probably! Totally a joke! Funny! OK to laugh!






AD-vising My Favorite Magazine

no on ads

I’ve loved the New Yorker Magazine ever since I lived in NYC for college and saw my best friend Jen Tsang reading one.  I love the fiction, the articles, some of the cartoons (the ones that make sense, anyway), and even the lengthy reviews of music and art in NYC, because it makes me feel cool and hip and urbane and sophisticated to think: “Yes! once lived there!” and “Yes! I like listening to music!” even if since having had a child I’ve only been to maybe one opera in seven years.

But there’s something I despise about the New Yorker, something that makes me sort of writhe internally in irritation and unease, part of the magazine that seems completely OFF — and that is  their ads.

Now SkyMall has a certain panache with their in-your-face ads for “butt enhancing underwear,”  Harry Potter Jewelry for adults, and expensive lawn chairs for dogs. They’re unapologetic about their eclectic, strange and off-the-wall products, and it’s perfect to get your mind off the fact that you’re hurtling through the air in a tin can, holding tightly to the slightly-greasy armrests every time the plane is buffeted by turbulence.

But I expert, well, MORE from the New Yorker. I read that not just to divert myself from potential impending doom in a 747. I want them to have ads for products and services that are witty and exurberent and awesome and cool, because that’s the way I want to FEEL when I read the magazine.  Instead, you typically find something like the selections I’ve included below.

In order to help the New Yorker staff understand what is so wrong and horrible about these ads, I’ve added useful text explaining how each of them is a big fat FAIL.

I know it’s important to have advertisers; I get that. But why THESE things? God! Think of all the people who read this magazine – countless creative, artistic people across the country. Think of their diverse skills and interests! And yet you choose to offer — a Happy Labrador Pin?  A Big Ass Fan?  Clearly there is room for improvement in the ad-picking department, that’s all I’m saying.  There’s GOT to be something better. There’s just GOT to!

Take a look and see if you agree with me.  I have a feeling you’ll be AD-mitting to a similar sense out irritation with these choices!

new yorker ads web(About the Fan ad one: It’s not that I oppose the word “ASS.”  If you know me, you probably know that I LOVE the word “ass” and use it frequently, often inappropriately! But it is to be used in the right inappropriate way, my friends, in the right kind of humor and the right kind of comment.  A fan company does not deserve to use this magnificent word in their ad to try and entice people to buy a FAN.)

Emergency Lessons

I called 911 this evening. It wasn’t the first or the most terrifying time I’ve had to dial those digits, but it was part of an event that we’re still puzzling over in my home.

It started like this. The landscapers who were digging up our front yard to fix the warped and cracked drip system rang the bell.   “Sabes la mujer aqui? No entendemos lo que quiere.”

An elderly lady was standing there, squinting against the harsh 105F light, swaying just slightly.

“Can I help you?” My husband asked, with concern.

The lady gestured vaguely. “Yes, I’m from the corner house. It’s terribly hot, terribly hot there. I need to call the rescue squad so they can come pick me up.”

Amado ushered her in and called me over.  The lady stumbled at the doorstep, and I gave her my arm to hoist her up; with my help she shuffled slowly to an armchair and sat down.

The landscapers were watching curiously as we shut the door.  I need to get her water, I thought furiously. Maybe she’s having heatstroke. Should I call 911?

I told her, “My name’s Jennifer. I’m going to get you some water. Would you like some water?”

“Yes!” she said with a small fading smile, sinking her head back onto the chair. “I’m just so HOT. It’s so HOT in there. The AC has been off for days, you know. Days. It’s simply unbearable. We just can’t take it anymore. I need to call the rescue squad, you know. Can you help me call the rescue squad? They shouldn’t be allowed to leave it like that. We’re suffering in there.”

She didn’t tell me her name, but I wanted to make sure she was OK first. I’d ask again later, I thought.

I got her a tall glass of water with ice and dragged the piano bench over as a makeshift table for her to rest the cup. She set it down without taking a sip.

“Drink some water,” I urged, nervously, “Your body will need it to rehydrate.” I pulled up a dining chair to sit near her. It was like a surreal coffee date with a friend.

“Just so HOT,” she repeated, waving her hand in front of her face. She was wearing a thing that I assumed would be called a “housecoat” in another time; it was a heavy, long brocaded kind of robe. She had orthopedic soft shoes on her feet and compression socks on her thick ankles.

She finally sipped at the water, but set it back down instantly.

I said, “So, you live at the corner house? And the AC has been off for…several days now?”

She darted her eyes to the side and her answer was vague. “I help out, you know, and all of us in there — that are more of them IN there, you know, they’re all hot. It shouldn’t be allowed.”

I still didn’t understand. I DID know that the corner house was an in-home nursing care facility, licensed to care for elderly patients, but I’d never met any of them and didn’t know the owner.  This woman seemed very disoriented, but it seemed odd that a home-care facility would be without AC for days. Were they between patients, refurbishing, and this woman was one of the workers cleaning/fixing it up? Had she gotten heatstroke? Was she actually a patient (client?) there who was confused?

“So you’re a care worker at that house?” I asked her.

“Oh,” she answered vaguely, her eyes moving around again, “I did have a certificate in that kind of field. Oh, my! This is strange, isn’t it. You, having to nurse me, the real nurse!”

“But are there other people in that hot house?” I persisted. “Should they all come here to wait while the AC is fixed? Are they OK?”

“If I could just call my husband,” she faltered. “But I don’t know his number. But he’s with the squad. He can help. But he’s away, you know, somewhere in Chandler. He’s away. I really shouldn’t take up your time. And we don’t want them to fill your home!”

“You are welcome here as long as you need to stay,” I said firmly. “It’s no bother! Please, do you need water? Are you faint or dizzy? I think I should call the paramedics, just to check you out.”

“Well, I AM a heart patient,” she said, somewhat proudly.

She picked up the phone (which I’d brought her earlier, thinking she wanted to call her husband), and she looked at it curiously. She pushed a random number.

“Let me do that,” I said gently, and dialed it. 911.

The voice on the other end was prompt, efficient, and connected me to the fire department. She told me to put wet washcloths on the woman’s face and arms and blow a fan at her to cool her down.

“How old are you?” I asked my elderly guest apologetically, then gestured at the phone: “They want to know.”

She frowned, and paused. “Well? Just let’s say…I’m in my mid 40′s.”  She didn’t seem to be joking.

While we waited, I asked her, “Is your heart racing? Are you feeling OK?”

She looked up at me, surprised, and gave me her wrist to check. “You can check my pulse,” she said agreeably.  “But I do think it is really all right at this time. I could tell, you know, if were too high.”

I felt her pulse. It was strong and regular, not too fast. Her skin was pale, papery and extremely soft.

My daughter came up. “You can stay as long as you like,” she informed our guest. “I’m a girl scout and I like to help.”

“Oh! I used to be a troop leader!” our guest exclaimed. “My daughter is the kind of person who thinks that you teach by doing, you know? So she brings the kids to VISIT the firetrucks, not just to read about them. Oh, I just can’t get my words out.” She twisted her mouth. Please, I thought, please let her not be having a stroke. Let the EMT’s come now!

As I was asking her about her children, the doorbell rang. “Thank God,” I thought, expecting to see the paramedics. But instead there was a short, harried looking woman who peered past me. “You have the old woman here?” she demanded in a half-apologetic way, craning her neck to see into my living room. “Oh, Thank God. She got out. I usually lock the door, but I was in the bathroom and she snuck out. She can do the lock. M—-!” she yelled fiercely to the elderly woman.  “Let’s GO! RIGHT NOW!”

It was like she was shouting at a bad dog. I flinched.

M—- (now I knew her name!) twisted her mouth down and clutched the arms of the chair.

“I’m not going back in there,” she said stubbornly.

“Ah, she told us the AC is out?” I asked. “She was complaining of heatstroke? I don’t think she should go back until the paramedics check her out.”

The shorter woman scoffed and snorted and waved her hand dismissively at me. She spoke in partially broken English.  “She  fine. She just old and she is, you know,” and she made a motion at her head, indicating that M was “nutso.”

Then she came into the house and demanded, “M—-! GET up right now. Or do you want me to call  POLICE?” This seemed to be a threat that worked on M, because M sat up and picked up her purse, slowly but surely.

“M!  Do it! Right now! Get over here!”

“Just wait a minute,” I said firmly. “Nobody is calling the police. She’s in MY house right now, and she’s staying right here until the EMTs check her out. I’m sorry, but I’m going to insist on it.”

“She’s FINE,” the short woman told me crossly. “She need to go back with me. She snuck out, that’s all. She’s fine.”

This was getting even more surreal. I stuck my hand out. “I’m Jennifer,” I said pointedly. She introduced herself quickly and said, “M—. PICK UP YOUR BAG. We GOING.”

I noticed that M’s mesh bag had a small purse and a roll of toilet paper in it, among other things.

“Your husband  there!” the caretaker said enticingly to M. “He’s waiting for you. He’s wondering where you are!”

“My husband? He is there?” M was docile now, and allowed the caretaker to pull her up and escort her out the front door.

“Yes, yes, your husband. He’s waiting for you. He’s waiting.”

“No!” I said firmly, although they were now both ignoring me. My husband and the landscapers were watching as they shuffled slowly down the driveway and I followed, saying, “Just stay and get checked out, OK?” At that moment, the fire truck pulled up.

Thank God for real this time, I breathed to myself, and ran up to the first fireman. “I’m Jennifer,” I said for the third time in 15 minutes. “This is the elderly neighbor I called about. She’s complaining about heatstroke symptoms, but the caretaker says she is just confused. But can you please check her out anyway to make sure she’s OK?”

The caretaker wanted none of it, but the firefighters all walked with them back to the home. It was a strange slow procession; the caretaker and the elderly lady in her white robe and orthopedic shoes, her bag of toilet paper; then five or six firefighters clustered around.

Neighbors were peering out of doorways.

A few minutes later, the firefighters returned.

“She’s OK,” the told me. “The AC is on. It’s actually pretty cold in there. It looks like she’s has Alzheimer’s and she lives there.”

We thanked them and they drove off, and now we’re sitting here trying to explain to my daughter what it means to have Alzheimer’s, and NO, she’s not going to get it, and NO, we’re not going to get that way, yes, we promise, never.

And this is a big part of the puzzle that I struggle with:  How is is possible that I can promise my daughter something so ephemeral and impossible?  Why do I do it? Why do I need to protect her from worry? I know why; it’s because her anxiety is strong and fierce and she just needs to hear it over and over again: We’re OK. We’re alive. We’re strong.  We are OK. Right now, at least, we are OK.

And we spent much time discussing the puzzle of poor M, and whether — even if she has Alzheimer’s — she’s somehow deeply unhappy with the place she lives, so depressed and horrified that she had to escape, complaining of the heat, asking for the rescue squad to save her? (“M—! Do I need to call the police? Let’s go NOW!”)  Even if you forget the words, moment to moment, surely the emotion stays, somehow? M was unhappy, that I could tell.

Here’s the worst puzzle of all:  How can it be that life is so interesting and maybe even exquisite, and then it can end up like this: You, shuffling along in confusion with swollen ankles and a bag with withered toilet paper, escaping the comfortable hell you call home and dreaming of your husband and kids, going into strangers’ homes and begging them to call the rescue squad to save you?

Of  course my  husband and I spent much of the evening barking to each other with great mirth, “M—! Get over here!” and “M—-! Damn it! Get off the computer!” or “M—! I’m going to call the fucking police if you don’t get over here right now!” Because, you know, we’re assholes, and we like to make things even worse so we can laugh at them harder.

And you have to understand that we are not mocking M.  We are horrified and sad that M is the way she is right now. We are mocking – God, I don’t know. That’s another part of the puzzle I mentioned at the beginning of this entry – why do genuinely sad things also offer up so much opportunity for humor?

I think we are mocking the caretaker’s behavior ( so not-gentle! So NOT what you’d want for your mom or family member with Alzheimer’s!), and probably also rudely thumbing our noses at fate, at death, at our future selves who might also be found someday to be shuffling in the 115 degree heat in orthopedic socks, befuddled, sad, pathetic. We were trying to reassert our shaky dominance over life itself, to show ourselves that we’re OK. We’re here. We’re not that way, not yet, not for a long time…we still can laugh and joke together. We’re OK.

M, I’m sorry that you’re stuck in an inferno of your own decomposing brain.  I’m sorry that  you feel the desperate need to escape, to run. I wish your husband really was there to greet you. I wish you were cajoled into leaving gently, not forced into compliance like a mutt.

And to my sweet daughter:  We will take care of you. We will take care of ourselves, and do everything in our power to stay as healthy and strong as we can, for as long as we possibly can.  I make you promises I have no control of sometimes, but this I do promise and I really can do it: I will try to make your life amazing as long as I’m in it; full of fun and laughter and brightness. While we are together, we will soak up as much of life as we can. I’m not perfect, and there will be bad moments too, but I’ll do my best to make it fun.

I don’t know what the future brings, and I shudder to think of the worst possibilities, but while we are here, we will make the best of it.

And to you, my readers:  DAMN IT ALL, do I have to call the police on you? If you’re not doing it right now, enjoy some time with your family before your brain rots, too. GET GOING. Do you hear me? I MEAN IT. Do it RIGHT NOW. They’re waiting.

(Ok, I know it’s bad, but we’re really having fun with this.  “Damn it all! M! Brush your F***king teeth already!”  and “M! Let’s get going!” and some other I can’t even mention. Because you have to. You have to find fun where you can, while you can. I think that’s my motto these days. DAMN IT ALL, M, you have fun, too!)








Glass Dreams

chihuly montage

During the last week of the Chihuly exhibit’s stay in Phoenix, I took my daughter out of school so we could visit together one last time while the weather was gorgeous. She was ecstatic  to skip classes and do an early morning trip to the botanical garden instead; not only did we get to see the gorgeous glass, but we had banana bread French toast together in the cafe by a fountain, and she got to bring her backpack full of fairy dolls.

I love Chihuly sculptures.  I love the colors and the shapes, which always remind me of the sea and of the sun, clean pretty colors and undulating shapes, so lovely and  yet with an undertone of  menace, that speak to me in urgent crisp tones of what they show and what they don’t:  Blue. Midnight Zone. High Beams. Medusa’s Hair. Snake Snarl. Icicle Daggers. Shattered Windshield. Fire. Ghosts. Hatttifatteners.

chihuly 2014 pic 9 web chihuly 2014 pic 1 web chihuly 2014 pic 8 web

I even love that they’re mostly put together and installed by a team, not just by the artist, and not just because he’s old now, in his 70′s, but because these things are a complex collaboration — a grand twist of limbs and colors that was put together by twist of people. They’re too powerful and too fragile to be installed alone.  I  love that they come with spares, and if a part breaks, a new one – not even identical – can be installed.  Art that changes like that further commits to its organic inspirations, like the ocean and like the sun, forever changing. (In addition to being financially saavy, and very practical, of course.)

Sometimes the garden has other sculptures, too, and those are interesting: Huge faces made of fruit and vegetables, odd sinuous forms, the huge bugs that I also saw in Chicago. Those make me exclaim, make me laugh, make me impressed, but only the Chihuly sculptures in the garden make my heart sing along to their colors.  Only the Chihulies have me wishing “I want to come here every day, to soak these up into my soul, to absorb their shapes and shades into my mind so I can replay them later, just as they are here.”

chihuly 2014 pic 4 web chihuly 2014 pic 11

No picture can really keep that feeling, but I took shot after shot, just like all of the other tourists desperate to grasp the fleeting moments, until I finally put the camera away and just allowed myself to enjoy looking with my eyes, remembering with my mind.

So we went one last time to enjoy their beauty and to smell the desert for a while.

isa in dbg 2014 4 web isa in dbg 2014 3 web I hope my daughter was able to soak up some of the beauty into her own spongy soul, too. I know she loved the waffles and was thrilled to play fairies with me all day, and maybe that was her magic on that cool morning.  And to me, seeing her face smiling in the breeze, looking off into the distance thinking her own distant thoughts – that was even more bewitching than the glass. Because the words her sweet face summons are the real ones: Love. Mama. Me. You. Fairies.

isa in dbg 2014 web

If you get a chance to see the Chihuly sculptures in a garden near you, do it. Go and enjoy them! And bring someone you love.

isa in dbg 2014 2 webP.S.  “Hattifattener” – These are characters in the Moomintroll books by Tove Jansson. According to the Moominstore website, “The Hattifatteners are silent beings that are forever wandering around in large herds. The only thing that interests them is reaching the horizon – and once they reach it, they continue on their journey.”

You can google them to see pictures! The books are really awesome – I highly recommend reading them, even if you never see a Chihuly sculpture. I read them as a child and I still love them.




The Art Of Discretion

pinata 2Do you ever struggle to balance these things:

1.  The burning desire to speak unabashedly and honestly with all of your true humor and intricate language and vulgar words combined in the special way that is unmistakably YOU? Because you are just DYING to say something you know will be hilarious?

2. The need for a nearby child NOT to hear you talk this way, because you don’t want to answer questions like, “Mama, what’s a cock?”

Let me explain. My family was driving back from a visit to Mexico and we’d just crossed the border back into Arizona.  Although our turn through the checkpoint was ultimately uneventful, it took FOREVER.  Our border guard was a white guy  in his early 30′s, with dark hair, a trim physique and an aggressively domineering attitude.   He ignored us for a few minutes as he talked into the walkie on his lapel, then typed furiously into his computer. Finally he held his hand out, all business like, for the passports, with an arrogant nod of his head, not bothering to speak.

He looked at us, looked at the passports, looked at us, looked at the passports, then suddenly ducked his head down and talked urgently into his walkie. He held up the passports and scanned them from up high, turned to stare at us, then talked more into his thing. He kept perusing us with eagle eyes, then looking at the documents, then staring back at us….as if  we were very, very suspicious indeed.  He barked his questions.

I felt pissed. It seemed like he was deliberately trying to mess around and make us nervous. And while I understand that looking at passports all day is a grueling job, and typing things into a computer is severely taxing mental task, and that yes, there are cute little families in SUV’s that are really toting hundreds of lbs of weed or something, that still, trying to rattle people just for the hell of it? Not cool.

Or maybe he had simply lost his contacts. Maybe our pure awesomeness was blinding him. Maybe he was consulting on a complex Chinese take-out order. Maybe he was helping his genius son solve a tricky calculus equation over the phone. Or maybe he was just dumb.

In any case, I was feeling pissed. And after a few more minutes of watching him  looking at us  and talking furtively into his walkie, I started to worry:  “Is he going to pull us over? Are we going to turn into THAT car, the one with the doors dis-assembled and the people standing awkwardly off the side near the guards with their weapons?”

Border Guard swiped our passports one more time, then picked up his phone and called someone. He spoke urgently into the phone, and continued looking at us, at the passports, at us, at the passports. Finally he handed them back and nodded: You can go.

“Well, fuck you TOO,” I wanted to say, but didn’t, because that probably WOULD turn us into “that” car after all.  (And just to clarify, no – we have never carted anything illegal across the border, and have no reason to be treated with suspicion!)

Later on, as night gently fell, hubby and I talked as our daughter slept quietly in her car seat. I even checked to make sure she was asleep before I spoke quietly.

“My GOD!” I said with a giggle.  “Could that border guard have been any more of a jerk-off? What the hell was he doing on his walkie-talkie and computer and phone that whole time? Was he checking us out because he thought we looked suspicious or something?”

“I think he was bored and wanted to mess with us,” said my husband, rolling his eyes at the memory.

“It doesn’t take that long to swipe a passport, does it? It’s never taken that long before,” we discussed.

“He had SUCH an attitude!” I exclaimed, wrinkling my nose in distaste. “It’s like he was trying to show us that HE was the boss, and WE were the stupid insignificant peons trying to cross HIS big old bad old border. And HE was going to damn well take his sweeeeet time if he wanted to!”

We agreed that he had a crap attitude, and that he seemed to be deliberately flaunting his authority.

As I warmed to the topic, I really wanted to explain how I thought he was acting. “Geez,” I said with emotion.  “He was being such a total tool about it. I halfway expected him to come charging out of his guard booth and start slapping our car with his cock. Take that, you stupid tourists!” I said, deepening his voice and imitating what he might have sounded like. “I will hit you with my nice hard cock to show you who’s boss around HERE! I will scan your passports one hundred times if I want! And you will take it! Hyaaah! Hyaaah!” I moved my hips to demonstrate just how such a move might be executed, and it looked pretty good, even within the confines of my seat belt. For good measure, I also made some hand gestures to follow-up, just in case the hip movements didn’t convey the message.

My husband agreed 100%. We laughed together in companionable friendship, me also with a certain amount of pride, because I had so accurately summed up our experience.

And then, from the backseat, floated a sleepy sweet voice:  “Mama? What’s a cock? And why would he hit our car with it?”


My husband and I looked at each other with one of those “Oh, Fuck” looks, complete with the guilty grin and the wide eyes.

The small sweet voice yawned and continued. “Oh, I think I know. Let me say. It’s probably like a piñata stick, right?”

“Yes!” I said brightly. “Yes, it IS like a kind of piñata stick. But sweetie, we were totally joking. Just joking around. Nobody would ever hit our car with anything at the border. I was speaking figuratively, like we talked about the other day. You know how Mommy likes to joke around all the time and uses her figurative language. He was just taking a very long time to check us through, so I was making jokes about it. It’s illegal to hit a car and he would NEVER do it. So you don’t have to worry, OK?”
“Yes, I know,” her voice drifted off.  Then she added, “I want to get an Adventure Time piñata for my next birthday, if I’m still into Adventure Time. And we’ll probably need to get a new cock, too, because I don’t think we have the one from last year any more.”

“Ah,” I said. “That’s a great idea. You know, though? Let’s just say Piñata Stick. That other word? It’s kind of…old-fashioned, and most people wouldn’t know what it meant. So, Piñata Stick. OK?”

“OK,” she said agreeably, and drifted off to sleep again.

Whew.  I mean, sure. I could have explained what I really meant, but I think that is a discussion which would be more appropriate when she’s, say, NOT SEVEN.

It’s hard for me sometimes, because the truth is that I like to make jokes that are sometimes inappropriate for younger audiences, and my little Young Audience is so clever and observant, all the time, in all ways.  She is ALWAYS LISTENING. You know what? She has probably even read this blog post, somehow, even though she doesn’t have internet access, because that’s how porous kids are these days. And I want to shelter her from certain facts and phrases until she’s FAR older and ready to handle them.  I mean, it’s rough enough to grow up without needing to know that Mommy likes to make jokes about penises sometimes.

So I have to self-censor and keep certain things private, or save them for a later moment, thereby diluting some of the humor, and sometimes it can be a challenge.  Maybe you can empathize?

And here’s another one, while we’re on the topic of discretion.  You know how lots of things are suddenly able to be charged up through a USB port on the computer?

So there’s this one…thing…I have, which – go figure – recharges by plugging into a USB port on a computer. They claim it’s easier that way, on the packaging. And I’m all, “Really? Easier for whom? For a person who has a kid in the house and friends who drop by from time to time? How EXACTLY is it easier to charge it up in full view of anyone who happens to walk by? Or should I be using my spare “just for charging these kinds of things” computer that I happen to keep in the bedroom closet?” I mean, it’s cool and all that it has a USB port, it really is, and if I lived here without a kid I’d be all over it. But right now? I’d rather just charge it up in a less obvious location.

And so I was charging it up on the computer and OF COURSE I totally forgot it was there, because I got busy with photo editing. And then my little Observant One, who notices if a new air molecule has been introduced into her environment, came in and noticed it, and said, “That’s a pretty color, Mama. What is that?” And I had to think fast and tell her it was a cool new device to download photos from my camera’s memory card to the computer.

She looked longing at it and said, “It has a cool shape. Can I play with it?”

“Sorry, sweetie,” said, trying to sound apologetically. “It’s kind of…fragile. But we’ll find you something else cool to play with, OK?”

And she just said, “OK!” and wandered off to play with her dolls.

And Whew! Another awkward and age-inappropriate discussion avoided! I mean, sure, we can talk about things like that when she’s older. Just not now!

When you have a small child around, there are moments when your separate grown-up-only life and your life-with-the-child start to merge together in ways that are not quite cool.  Sometimes it’s hard to  stay on top of everything and keep it all compartmentalized into neat segments. But I do try, even though mistakes happen, because I want her to live in her child’s world of magic and age-appropriate games. She has enough life-size issues and worries of her own without the need to struggle to understand things beyond her maturity level.

I partly dread the day when she’s old enough to talk about these kinds of things and really understand them, the day when she’s old enough to handle that kind of conversation.  I love her youth and her sweet innocence, and as she grows up and matures, she also will become more vulnerable to the kinds of pain and difficulty in the grown-up world.  Of course, as she grows up she will become fully herself, and that will be wonderful to see, and I look forward to it. And then we CAN joke together, hopefully, like I do with my mom and sisters, about all kinds of horrible non-politically correct gross things -  and love it.

And for now? For now, we can compromise and enjoy certain things together…things like Adventure Time.  It’s a really cool cartoon, and guess what? It includes butt jokes. Something we can both enjoy together!

I highly recommend joking around with your kids as much as you can, on a level that works for both of you. I’ve said it before:  I think humor is  an essential way to decrease stress, increase joy, and make life more amazing. I’m going to slip up and let my daughter overhear some things she shouldn’t, but we’re also going to have tons of perfect laughs together about things she DOES understand.

I’m not going to tell  you what to do or say or watch, because my choices won’t necessarily be yours. This week, it really brings us closer to share jokes about Finn and Jake and the gang. Next week, we’ll move on to something new. As for what you choose to laugh about? Well, whether it’s a cartoon, a rechargeable device, or an annoying border guard, it’s up to your discretion.




Feeling Welcome: A Carpenter Bee With Every Room!

I bet you’ve stayed in a crappy hotel before, right?  Or one that isn’t exactly “crappy”, not at first glance, but after you start to settle into your room you begin to notice numerous things that are not quite…awesome?  Yes, it’s happened to me, too, most recently this weekend at a hotel near Tucson’s airport.  But to make things more exciting and fun, I decided to turn the cons into pros by finding silvery-sweet-life-lesson-linings in each less-than-optimal detail.  For example:

CON:  Hotel outdoor courtyard seems to be breeding ground for large black carpenter bees.

PRO:  Hotel at forefront of environmental awareness by providing sanctuary for black carpenter bees.  Hotel also providing me with opportunity to hone eyesight and practice attention to detail!  Notice one bee hovering outside room for 20 minutes, periodically extending its large black back legs, rubbing them together, and then retracting them before continuing to hover effortlessly IN FRONT OF MY DOOR.  When have to leave room for complimentary breakfast with daughter, notice that MANY OTHER ROOMS along the outside walkway also have their own carpenter bee patrolling outside their doors.  What a fantastic gesture on the part of the hotel to provide free pet service, as if instinctively understanding that we miss our dog!  So wonderful to have a black bee to follow us for a time!  Also, this provides opportunity to reflect on why bees like certain spots and not others?

CON:  Have to spend valuable time Googling black carpenter bees to see if it is safe to leave room without can of hairspray  in hand.

PRO:  Husband sleeping in anyway, so time is available. Also, am reminded not to take WiFi and modern technology for granted! In past, would have waited nervously in room for long time before running past bee. Now, because of the magic that is Google, am able to learn all about CB’s and even teach ad hoc apian  lesson to daughter and explain why the bee  hovers, why it rubs its legs together, and that the males rarely attack, although they may be curious about humans in “their” territory and may come close to investigate. But really, no, they are not going to sting us! Not even when three or four of them come rushing over!  And we’re not going to scream! Because we’re grown ups (at least one of us), who’s been on Google! Just keep moving, please, Sweetie Pie!

CON: Pile of black leaves in outdoor stairwell is actually pile of dead carpenter bees.

PRO: Discussion about Cycle Of Life; pesticide.

CON: Hovering bees are all still there on way back from breakfast. Five, maybe seven bees come close to investigate.

PRO:  Jogging past bees up stairs to 3rd floor guaranteed to burn off at least some of the calories in that cinnamon roll thing.  Also, get to repeat learnings to daughter about how the bees don’t sting;  they’re probably only following us up because they’re curious. Get to practice smoothing the terror out of voice and make it sound bright, cheerful, banal. Get to hear unafraid daughter say in clear, sweet voice, “Maybe they think we smell nice, Mama! They just like us, Mama!”  So, opportunity to appreciate daughter’s gentle point of view!

CON:  In-room coffee tastes so horrible that can’t even drink it.

PRO:  Makes me appreciate the beauty of really good coffee even more! Wishing I had some right now!  Bad coffee providing me opportunity  to reflect on the utility of delayed gratification in our society and whether denial in the moment leads to sweeter pleasure later on. Also, this reminds me  that I  downloaded risque “romance” novel to tablet to read later on.

CON: Creamer tubs contained spoiled cream. Makes coffee taste even worse.

PRO:  Note To Self: Why are you trying the coffee a second time? Don’t you realized that shit doesn’t improve shit?  Do you really think that shit improves with age? It’s not a fine wine, Jennifer. It’s Crap Coffee. Learn to Let. Things. Go.

CON: The bee is still there as we leave the hotel, hovering outside our door, wings so fast they are just blurs, so still in the air that  it looks like a black cocoon suspended by an invisible thread.

PRO: Am desensitized to bee by now! Could hold bee in hand! Could be bee scientist, attaching tags to bee and learning all about their habits! (If were not so boring.)  Breezily tell husband, who is eyeing them warily, all about their habits and lack of attackiness. Feel very brave, as husband is rather more used to me being terrified of large insects. Walk with jaunty waggle of hips.





Zebras In My Head


zebra card2“My head is full of fucking zebras!” is what I wailed to my mom over Thanksgiving, as she sagely tried to remind me of the adage, “When you hear hoofbeats, don’t think of zebras.”

“Zebras, and zebras, and MORE zebras. A whole herd of them. And they’re all coming for me!”

Or that was the sentiment, anyway, as we discussed my most recent anxiety, specifically that I was dying of a new disease of some kind {at this moment I can’t remember exactly what it was, although it was probably lung cancer or heart disease. Yes! I had a horrible upper respiratory infection, and somehow in my mind, I became convinced that it was really the first symptoms of incurable lung cancer.}

My sister Maria was listening, too.  “I have zebras in my head, too,” she commented.

“I think zebras run in the family,” I theorized, and then I added darkly.  “I should probably just paint black and white stripes on my forehead to let everyone know.”  I used my index finger to paint stripes on my forehead, then started to do a Travolta-ish move to make them cooler, now using both hands.

And soon the conversation turned to Miley Cyrus and her Wrecking Ball, and lots of other fun things that gave us lots of laughter, and the zebras were temporarily forgotten (although they lurked, of course, in the inner recesses of my mind, just waiting to pop out and yell SURPRISE! IT’S US!)

I like to joke about my chronic hypochondria, because it’s a way of trying to get the upper hand over it.  I always hope that by laughing at it, I can beat it into submission, at least temporarily.  It’s a bit ironic to have a “disease” that consists of believing I constantly have other diseases, and feeling intense stress and anxiety over that belief.  It’s something I’ve lived with since I was 6 years old, or at least that’s the earliest I remember feeling hypochondria; I’d lie away in bed at night crying because I thought I was dying of cancer.

And as I grew up, that fear was always with me like a second shadow, sometimes further, sometimes closer, but always present.  I know that everyone worries about death and illness, at least some of the time, but for me, those worries seemed to be much more prevalent and intense, even when I wasn’t sick.   I remember reading a passage in the book Catch 22 by Joseph Heller when I was about 11, and feeling a pang of intense recognition, and then thinking, “YES! Exactly! That’s EXACTLY how I feel, all the time!”

The quote was a thought from the main character, Yossarian:  “He wondered often how he would ever recognize the first chill, flush, twinge, ache, belch, sneeze, stain, lethargy, vocal slip, loss of balance or lapse of memory that would signal the inevitable beginning of the inevitable end.”  (Catch 22, Joseph Heller.)

And over the years, I panicked at the various chills, twinges, twitches and pains that turned out to be part of normal life yet made my life anything but normal by my extreme reactions to them.

I’ve had well-meaning people tell me earnestly, “Think about all of the time you’ve wasted worrying. If you just LIVED your life instead of worrying about all these things, you’d have a lot more fun,”  or, “Haven’t you heard that chronic stress and anxiety will make you sicker? You should stop worrying so much!,”  or, “Do you LIKE feeling this way? I guess you must; otherwise, you wouldn’t be this way.”

And my answers are ruefully: Yes, I know it; Yes, I’ve heard it; No, I don’t like it, but thanks for playing!  And also, you forgot the best one: “Don’t you know that eventually, one of your symptoms WILL turn out to be something serious? Why don’t you enjoy life while you can?”

I guess it’s like looking at someone with depression and saying, “Snap out of it!” and then assuming they like being depressed when they can’t just snap.  It’s fundamentally human to judge someone based on our OWN responses and our OWN abilities. Because it’s impossible to get into someone else’s brain and feel how they feel, it’s simpler to reduce the equation to something like “She just isn’t trying hard enough,” or “she wants attention,” or “she must just like feeling that way.”   This also gives us reprieve from the uneasy possibility that some things are not easily controllable, and that life sometimes hands us things that can’t be fully conquered.  It’s more comfortable to dismiss someone’s struggles by minimizing them to self-control issues; that way, we assure ourselves, that person’s problem could never happen to US because WE have the self-control to beat it.

Of course there are things that help chronic anxiety. Exercise helps; clean eating helps; talking helps; friendship helps; therapy helps; medicine helps.  I’ve engaged in various combinations of these for years, and found that for me, laughter is really one of the very best helpers. And, for the record, I DO enjoy life – heartily, fully, with open arms, with joy. It’s just that I also have these intense moments of…un-enjoyment.

Laughter is awesome. When I laugh at a joke, I forget all of my troubles for a split second; I earn a blink of respite from worry; my soul unwinds and relaxes for an instant.  And all of these instants add up, I believe, into something necessary for my psyche -  just like the rests between each beat of my heart allow it to keep beating for a lifetime.  I need the laughter breaks to keep myself sane and focused and able to keep going on with life despite the various aches and strains that turn my brain into a special kind of funhouse of panic.

This may be why I like puns and dirty jokes and clean jokes, why I enjoy finding ugly things in thrift shops with my sisters, why meeting weird people is AWESOME for me, why I love sarcasm and old SNL skits and Augusten Burroughs, and why laughter is just a big part of my life.

“Laughter is the best medicine” has been an adage for a century, and scientists have been researching the chemical effects of laughter on the brain and on the body’s ability to fight disease and reduce recovery time.  Researchers William F. Fry, M.D.  and Michael Miller, M.D., found that mirthful laughter can temporarily improve vascular health (they believe it temporarily reduces blood pressure due to the release of nitric oxide during laughter; internally released nitric oxide is believed to function in the vascular system as a vasodilator, relaxing blood vessels and consequently reducing blood pressure).

Other research found that mirthful laughter can increase the activity of “natural killer” (NK) lymphocytes in the body.  This could mean that unforced laughter at humorous things can, over time, improve a person’s immune function in regards to fighting serious illnesses like cancer as well as diseases like the flu.

Laughter functions like exercise, in a way – it increase heart rate and blood flow, as well as engaging various muscle groups in contractions and expansions. It’s believed to release endorphins, otherwise known as the “feel good” chemicals of the brain.

And who doesn’t want more “feel good” chemical, especially one that’s legal AND made right in your own body? That’s pretty damn cool, if you ask me!

I know that everybody has their own zebras.  You may not worry about having an illness, but usually there’s something causing anxiety and stress in your life: Maybe it’s a REAL illness, not an imagined one; maybe it’s work, family, politics, money, a large roach in the hallway, or a bottle of tequila that crashed onto the floor when you angrily tried to pull a bag of frozen salmon from the fridge (true story, BTW).

These things may not be funny (except for the tequila part) or wonderful (except for the part where the tequila actually made the tile grout SUPER clean where it spilled!) But there will be funny things in your life, things that you happen upon or things that you seek out.  Find these things and enjoy some laughter.  The zebras are coming, but laughter weakens the damn things, so laugh with me. Enjoy what you can!  I know that you surely do laugh; everyone does. But try to laugh MORE. Laugh right now – think of a good joke, Google something silly, call a friend, whatever works for you – but add in some laughter this minute. Your body and mind will thank you.

P.S.: And whatever you do, do NOT find and read article like this one, entitled “In Oncology, Hoofbeats Are Nearly Always From Zebras” written by Miranda Fielding, M.D. or this one, “Sometimes When You Hear Hoofbeats, It Could Be A Zebra” by Burton et. al. because these articles, while certainly informative, are not going to help you focus on the fact that probably? In your life?  Horse, not zebra.

P.P.S. – If you haven’t yet read it, the book Catch 22 by Joseph Heller is VERY funny.

P3S: As a general FYI, tequila IS a wonderful tile cleanser, once you are able to remove a)All broken glass from the vicinity, b)Your dog, who is trying to lap up the spill, c)Your daughter, who is screaming, “Did it get on Seahorse!? Is Seahorse OK!?” d)Your rage at whomever left the bottle sort of interlocked with the bag of salmon, probably yourself, to be honest, AND e)Your shoes, which now smell like a frat house floor.  Good times!

P4S: If you need help:

Food Court Musical:

Shweddy Balls on SNL.

Monty Python – The Black Night

Monty Python – French Taunts








Less Bread, More Veggie Juice

I’ve lost 50 lbs since I started cross-fitting and eating mostly Paleo, and suddenly I’m on a plateau.  This is a serious plateau.  It’s one of those zero-grade, perfectly flat plateaus that one might encounter in a physics problems:  “Imagine a perfectly flat plane.”  This is like all of Kansas rolled into my metabolism. This is like I’m on Family Feud and the topic is, “Top 100 people surveyed, Things That Are Flat,” and the Number One Answer is “My Weight Loss.”  * & **

jen before and after picsSee? I want to keep going! I want another, better “after” picture where I’m wearing size 12 jeans and looking all hot and stuff. (Size 12 jeans is my goal size right now.)

So I turned to friends and also to the internet for some learning and inspiration.  Because surely there has been at LEAST ONE PERSON IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD who has hit a weight loss plateau and somehow overcome it, right?

As it turns out, I am not alone! Here are the most common suggestions I found after examining many sites devoted to weight loss and getting past plateaus:

1.  Keep an accurate food journal and count calories for a while; you’re probably overeating for your new lower weight which now requires less energy to maintain.  You may also be having little “cheats” here and there which all add up.

2.  Seriously, track your food in a journal and see what you’re really eating these days. Tweak as necessary.  Are you having too many carbs? Not enough carbs?  Too much fat? Not enough fat?

3.  Mix up your workouts to boost your body into burning fat and calories in new ways. For example, focus more on cardio “fat burning” style workouts and less on heavy weights – do more reps with lighter weights when you incorporate weights into your routine.

4.  Make sure you’re getting enough water, sleep, and stress relief.

5.  Try intermittent fasting.

6.  Maybe you’re eating too few calories – again, the food journal can help.

7.  Maybe you’re not exercising enough.

8.  Maybe you’re exercising too much (this can overtax the body, increase cortisol, and actually make it harder to lose fat.)

9.  If all else fails, get your hormone levels checked.

After I wrote this down, I though: This is definitely a nice laundry list,  and I deserve extra points for the fact that there are several OPPOSING ideas on there! Too many carbs? Maybe too few carbs? Too much exercise? No..too little exercise!  Figuring it all out could be the experiment from hell!

But I decided to go through the list and determine which of these things would be the right place for ME to start, based on my own health and activity levels.  And here’s my current plan of action:

  • Keep an accurate food journal to determine what I’m eating – my problem would be too many calories rather than too few, too many carbs and the wrong kind of carbs, and possibly too much fat. I’ll watch those things carefully.
  • Be sure to drink enough water every day.
  • Keep getting enough sleep.
  • Get to the gym 3x/week, but not more (I need the rest days for sure!)
  • Try to attend more fat-burner classes and focus on less weight/more reps.
  • Do walks or bike rides with my daughter to the park every night.
  • Have less coffee, more cinnamon tea & jamaica tea.
  • Stop having all the “cheats” I’ve been sneaking in (yes, guilty here) – Girl Scout cookies, pizza, energy bars with gluten, slices of bread with butter, extra spoonfuls of Maple Almond Butter, French Fries, etc.
  • No intermittent fasting, but I’ll add in more green juices (I’ve been slacking off on them lately)

Writing it down like that makes me realize that my plateau may be coming mostly from the unhealthy snacks that keep making it into my diet lately.  For several months I was VERY strict; I’d take cucumbers with me to pizza places and I would not eat a single chip if a bag of them made it into my house.  But lately I’ve been slacking, having mouthfuls of junk here and there, and it’s adding up.  I need to start being more strict about Paleo, and keep my cheats to one cheat meal here and there, not a continuous stream of cheating every day.

One of my favorite quotes about the food journal comes from Jillian Michaels, who says on her blog, ” Truth be told, I mostly think of plateaus as a myth. My philosophy on weight-loss plateaus is that someone claiming to have hit one isn’t paying enough attention to detail. When you first start a diet and fitness program, you make drastic changes — maybe you gave up soda, started counting points, whatever — your body responded to that and you lost weight fast. To continue to lose weight, you’ll need to create a consistent calorie deficit, which means you’ll need to start paying attention to what really matters — how many calories you’re consuming and how many you’re burning. The only way to track this accurately is to count calories at every single meal.”

I don’t want to count calories forever, but it helped me at the start of my weight loss journey by opening my eyes to how MUCH I was eating.  Once I got into the swing of Paleo, I found that I could eat almost whatever and as much as I felt hungry for, as long as it was Paleo, and still lose weight. I hope that will still be true if I get back to strict Paleo eating!  But for a while I’ll track my food and calorie count to stay honest to myself about what I’m putting into my mouth.

I don’t know about you, but the “get enough rest” really resonates with me. There are people I know who can and do work out daily, completing hard workouts! — but I can’t. Three days of cross-fit a week is right for my body at this point.  Maybe a year from now I’ll be doing 4-5 workouts a week, and that would be great, but right now I need to listen to my body.  Although I push hard during each workout to be stronger, faster and lift more,  I don’t want to push past my body’s recovery limits.

And although I love lifting heavy (because it’s something I’m starting to be good at!), I’m taking seriously the suggestion about incorporating more fat-burning style workouts into my exercise line-up.  I hope that will increase my stamina as well as helping me to burn more fat. (Live in the Phoenix area and want to join me? My gym is called Made In Crossfit.)

Here are a few of the websites that I found especially useful when investigating plateaus and how to overcome them:

Marks’ Daily Apple – Advice on Weight Loss Plateaus

More from Marks’ Daily Apple on Losing Weight

Overcoming Weight Loss On Paleo from PaleoPlan

Crossfit Fire’s ideas – AWESOME Graph of “badass-ness vs. effort”!

PaleoNoPaleo’s article on Tara Grant:

If you have suggestions on what worked to help YOU get through a plateau when you were already eating mostly Paleo or gluten-free, and already exercising regularly, I’d love to hear them!  We can all learn from each other, hopefully.  Best of luck to you, wherever you are on your path to health and fitness!

more less web

Footnotes: * Other answers might be “that soda that sat on the counter for a few days before you got around to throwing it out,”  “the Earth, prior to Pythagoras,” and “not the surface of water in a glass pipette, because it forms a meniscus.”

** Did you ever watch the REALLY old Family Feud shows at your Grandma’s house on her grainy reception TV, fascinated and horrified by how Richard Dawson kissed ALL THE LADIES in such a gross, lecherous way?

Walmart, Cross-Fit, and Compliments from Drunks

The man next to my car was lounging in the back of an old 1970′s style station wagon, back door open, his legs open wide too, and a bottle between them.  The bottle was swathed in brown paper bag, but the smell of alcohol wafted out sharply, mixed with heady overtones of unwashed clothing. He had a dirty oven glove on one hand.


I should add that I was in the Walmart parking lot. It was 9:30am.

This car had not been there when I entered, or at least, the man had not been there.  He watched closely as I opened the back of my own car and began to pack up the plastic bags.

“Hel-Lo there,  Sen-Yore_Reet-Ahhhhh!” he called out, and took a swig from his bottle. Some of the liquid rolled down his chin, and he wiped it with his oven glove and snorted .[He was not Hispanic.]

“Hello,” I said, in a voice that indicated “I’m not going to be talking to you any more, and the Hello is only a pure courtesy and maybe a way to get you to not get mad at me for not responding at all, even if I really don’t want to respond.”

“You are sure purty!” called out DM.  “Fancy Fancy.”  [I was wearing the same sweats I'd worn to Cross-Fit this morning.]  I did not answer.

“Wow! Yer STRONG,” he commented, as I lifted more bags from the cart to my car.  As he spoke, I was lifting a bag that contained only paper napkins and drinking straws.

“Yes,” I said, rolling my eyes, avoiding eye contact, and then to amuse myself,  “It’s all the cross-fit. I can sure lift.”

“RRRAAGGHGHH!” exclaimed Drunken Man.  “Chester and I watch that stuff on the Olympics! You know, the skiing shit and the shooting shit.  Whoosh! Whooshh!”

He moved his arms and legs as if he were skiing, and in the process kicked himself and spilled from his bottle.  Surprised at the spill, he stared for a long time at the growing stain on his shirt. “Shoop,” he announced.  Then he bit his oven glove.

I tried to hurry.  There were a lot of bags, though.  “Maybe you mean decathlon?” I said. “Cross country skiing is not the same as – ah, never mind.”

“Do you know Chester?” Drunken Man asked me.  “He’s here a LOT. A LOT. I mean, a LOT.”

No, I responded. I did not know Chester.

“Chester’s just…getting some….STUFF, ” DM told me. “You know.  Stuff. Chester. Chester Stuff.”  He nodded knowingly and tilted his head as if indicating a direction. It was not the direction of the Walmart store.

“Ah,” I said.  I put the last bag into the car and shut the back.

“Chester is the best in the whole WORLD,” said DM.  “But kind of? Like? You know? Chester is tall.”

“Ah,” I said.

“Chester’s going ta drive me places, you know,” DM told me.  Then he added, as if insight had just struck, “Unless YOU want to drive me!  Chester probably won’t mind, I don’t bet. He gets mad sometimes, but we have like an understanding about the Sen-Yore-Ree-Tas.” He cocked his finger at me.

I was horrified. This was definitely going to be one of those “not going to put the cart back in the corral” kind of days, I could tell. I hurried into my car.

“GooBAAAH!” wailed DM, waving his bottle at me.

As I drove away, I was halfway tempted to circle back around and wait in the next aisle, just to see who — or what — Chester was. Or to look for the hidden camera, in case this was some kind of psychological experiment to see how people reacted to DM and “Chester.”

I kept driving, though.  Some things should probably just remain a mystery.  Besides, I have my own dirty oven gloves at home.



Cross-Fit Competition

Goblet squats, shoulders to overhead lifts, burpees, box jumps, pull-ups — I was exhausted from all of this, and I was just the photographer!

MIC group at competition web

I spent last Saturday, January 11th, at the CrossFit Now gym in Tucson owned by Michael Moseley where they were holding a competition to help raise money for the Arizona Homicide Survivors Fund in honor of the victims of the January 8th 2011 Shootings.

I was there with my friends from the Made In CrossFit Gym, which is  owned by Oscar Garcia and managed by trainer Caterina D’Agrosa, and I was eager to watch the competitions and take pictures of the MIC competitors. Two of the other MIC competitors are also trainers at the gym – Dominic Denton is already a level 1 certified trainer, and and Roman Ortega is shadowing him now and will start teaching soon.

oscar jumping 3 web

Oscar Garcia, owner of the Made In Crossfit Gym,  competing

There were four events that each competitor had to complete, and each  focused on different skills.  One of the workouts consisted of double-unders, burpees and box jumps while a second alternated rowing for calories with goblet squats.  A third consisted of lifts and pull-ups, and the final one was a combination of squats and overhead lifts with successively higher weights.

Oscar and Dominic had scouted out a good location to park the MIC truck the night before, so everyone from our gym got to hang out in one of the best “tent city” locations (each gym grabbed a spot along the sidewalk on the street outside the gym) — we had a shady tree and we were very close to the entrance.  Folding chair and coolers made it look like a day at the beach, but the athletes didn’t get such a relaxing time, since they had to do all four of those brutal workouts throughout the day.

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Oscar, Claus & Caterina enjoy the cool morning

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Gymnast in Training!

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Caterina, Oscar, Levi and Dolores near the MIC truck

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Caterina and Forest in between events

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Resting on the MIC truck (who knew it was so comfy?)

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Roman and Vida relax between events

A DJ played loud music throughout the day and there were a few booths set up to sell food, shirts and sweat bands next to a jumping castle for the kids.  The place was full of fit bodies wearing the logos from their respective gyms, but it was a friendly vibe too — everyone was supportive and cheerful.  It was definitely a family-friendly day, even though the kids got tired after so many hours of being there.

claus and charlie web roman and vida 4 webdenton family 3 web dolores and family 2 web harper 2 web michael and family 2 web ortega family 1 web

Oscar did the work of three people, since he was competing, coaching, AND cheering for everyone from his gym!

cheering for forrest weboscar lifting 3 web


stretching web

Caterina did a great job keeping everyone organized and offering coaching and advice throughout the day. She even handled the occasional photobomb with her usual grace.

paola 8 webgina and cate web

caterina and photobomb 2 web

Some of the athletes expressed anxiety about being watched and photographed by so many people, but they all did well despite the crowds and the audience watching every single movement they made.

Here are a few more from each athlete.

Oscar Garcia:

oscar with kettlebell 4 web oscar rowing 2 web oscar pullups 8 web oscar lifting 20 web oscar lifting 10 web oscar lifting 4 web oscar lifting 2 web oscar jumprope 2 web oscar jumping 6 webDominic Denton:

dominic with kettlebell 2 web dominic rowing 1 web dominic pullups 3 web dominic lifting 11 web dominic lifting 6 web dominic lifting 3 webRoman Ortega:

roman with kettlebell 3 web roman rowing 1 web roman pullups 2 web roman pullups 1 web roman lifting 9 web roman lifting 3 web roman jump rope 3 web roman burpee webAbby Loebenberg:

abby with kettlebell web abby warming up web abby on rower 4 web abby on rower 2 web abby lifting 6 web abby lifting 3 webPaola Moreno:

paola with kettlebell 2 web paola pullups 1 web paola lifting 5 web paola lifting 2 web paola 2 webMichael Mowry:

warming up web

michael lifting 13 web michael lifting 10 web michael jumprope 3 web michael box jump 5 webForest Redlin:

forrest with kettlebell 4 web forrest on box 5 web forrest on box 3 web  forrest lifting 4 web forrest lifting 3 web forrest jumprope 1 webGina Nyberg:

gina warming up 2 web gina lifting 4 web gina lifting 1 web   gina jumprope 2 web gina burpee 1 web gina with kettlebell 7 web gina with kettlebell 8 web gina on rower 7 web

At the end of the day the athletes were completely drained, but it was amazing  to watch them give 100% of what they had in the competition. It was inspiring to see so many fit people, and I felt motivated to keep working hard and eating healthy to get into better shape myself.

Thanks to Oscar, Caterina, and all the competitors - Oscar, Forest, Gina, Dominic, Roman, Abby, Paola, Michael.  You did a super job!  And a huge thanks to the CrossFit Now gym in Tucson for sponsoring and hosting the entire event.  And all of us spectators did a great job too.  :)

cheering web

jane 2 web jennifer and caterina web katie web levi 1 web lori 2 web lori and vida 1 web martha 2 webbeto webNow everyone gets to relax and recover…and get ready for what’s next on the horizon, whether it’s another competition or just the joy of staying in great shape at Made In Crossfit.  

oscar and guys web



Mean Green Juice


"Mean Green" Juice

“Mean Green” Juice

Green Juice is awesome!

Use the following ORGANIC ingredients for the “Mean Green”

  • 1 whole cucumber, peeled
  • 4-5 carrots, peeled
  • 1 bunch of celery
  • 1-2 apples, peeled, chopped and seeded
  • 1 lemon, peeled and chopped
  • a big bunch of parsley
  • a few handfuls of spinach
  • Swiss Chard or kale,  chopped up

Sometimes I put in beets, although lately I’ve been keeping the juice green.

I have an Omega juicer. It’s a slow juicer, which means that it uses an auger-like drill to squeeze the veggies and fruits apart, and it’s capable of handling pretty much anything – including wheat grass.  It’s also SLOW in that it works slowly, and the veggies must be chopped into very small pieces, almost as if you are preparing them for a stew — otherwise the juicer will seize up and you’ll have to clear it out.

veggies in bowl web

This can get annoying when I’m in a hurry, but the juice is delicious.  Proponents of slow juicers claim that there are more nutrients in slow juice because it oxides less during preparation.  (The other main kind of juicer – and the more affordable version – is the centrifugal variety, which spins the fruits at high speeds through a metal grate to juice them.)  I don’t know whether this has  been scientifically tested or whether it’s just a manufacturer’s claim, but I like the flavor of the juice and the fact that it can handle pretty much any fruit, veggie or leaf.

juicer 1 webSometimes the outlet clogs up when I juice celery, even when it’s chopped into tiny pieces, and even when I intersperse it with apples and carrot chunks.  The pulp is very dry, though – the machine really extracts most of the juice.  If you have a composter, you can dump all of the pulp in there to feel less like you’re wasting huge amounts of organic produce.

juicer 2 webI always get organic veggies for the juice, especially the celery, which is one of the most heavily pesticided vegetables when grown conventionally.  It’s expensive, but it’s worth it to have a healthy juice full of organic nutrients.

I don’t use these juices as meal replacements, but rather as healthy snacks. I often make one as a recovery drink after Cross-Fit workouts.

If you’ve done research on the web, you have probably read numerous health claims for various veggies and fruits.  Some of these are backed up by scientific studies, although the studies are often animal studies. Human studies may be  small and don’t always contain statistically significant samples sizes, and may not have been repeated.  Some of them seem to consist of  “myth” or wisdom passed down. I’m not knocking that — many times health knowledge and wisdom is contained in a culture and passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation. But I just want to caution you (as if you didn’t already know!) to be careful when reading health claims for anything on the web.

However, there have been some research as well as anecdotal reports that celery and beet juice can both lower blood pressure; that celery and cucumber act as diuretics; that all of these veggies have beneficial antioxidants and nutrients.

Cleaning the juicer is not that bad, as long as you do it right away.  A small brush is provided to help scrub the pulp from the metal grate and the other parts of the juicer, and as long as you have a garbage disposal it will be a piece of cake. If you don’t have a disposal in your sink, God help you.  Cleaning the juicer at my mom’s house is a nightmare!  (Still worth it, though, for the yummy juice.)

I’ve owned other types of juicers in the past, such as the Jack LaLanne juicer. This one is a lot cheaper than the Omega, and it works FAST – you don’t need to chop the veggies as small, and the juicer works quickly.  It can’t handle wheat grass, though, and I used to have problems when I fed in spinach as the juicer got older. Even if I did a few spinach leaves and then some hard stuff like carrots or apples, the pulp would become unbalanced in the juicer and it would start screaming and bouncing on the countertop. Then I’d have to turn it off, open it up, clean it out, and start over.  However, it is a great juicer and worked like a powerhouse for a long time before it finally gave out on me.

If you’re having a hard time choosing which type of juicer you want, here are the things I’d focus on:

-If cost is the MAIN factor, go with a centrifugal juicer, like the Jack LaLanne. It’s a great juicer, handles most fruits and veggies (as long as you’re careful how you feed them in), and lasts a long time.  It’s not the best at leaves, but it does do them fairly well– just be prepared to open and rebalance the juicer from time to time, especially as it gets older.

-If you absolutely NEED to have the capability of handling wheat grass and all other leafy things, go with a masticating juicer, or slow juicer.  These juicers will be more expensive than the centrifugal ones, but they often come with a multi-year warranty. The manufacturer claims that the juices are healthier, although I don’t know if this has been independently verified.

Of course you can make any kind of juice you like!  Adding the apple and carrot does make the juice sweet, and it might be TOO much sugar for you, especially if you’re on a strict Paleo diet.  In that case, you can go with cucumbers, celery, kale, chard, spinach, wheatgrass, parsley, etc — anything that works.

Some studies have cautioned against drinking too much raw spinach and chard juice, saying that it contains high amounts of oxalic acid which can contribute to a variety of health issues if over-consumed.  I don’t know how much “too much” would be, but I rotate spinach in and out of the juice, and usually eat my spinach cooked (which breaks down the oxalic acid that’s in it).  You’ll have to do some reading, and make some juices, and figure out what works for you.

I love my Mean Greens (sometimes I call them Khaki Bastards, since they tend to have more of an olive/fatigue color).  Some people at MIC think the Mean Green tastes like “ass” (CH) because of the huge amount of celery in it, and I think my sisters and brother in law would agree with this. However, *I* say that the butt-load of healthy veggies in there just makes it extra wonderful.

Try one and see!

mean green juice

P.S. – If you want to come over for a Juice-Date, just let me know! I’d be happy to whip up a batch of Mean Green and coffee, and we can discuss politics/literature/cross-fit/bad jokes/etc.







Have Yours”ELF” a Merry Little Christmas

When I first learned about The Elf On The Shelf, my mind was filled with a kind of burning, frustrated rage at the impertinence, audacity, greed, blatant consumerism and profit-driven publicity that it represented and encouraged.  I couldn’t imagine that ANYONE would want to buy or use one of these elves – these things that I considered creepy and phony.

elf pic 11 web

My sister and I ended up “enjoying” the elf in our own, special way!

I was wrong, though — the Elf has been embraced by  millions of happy Americans and their children. ( If you don’t know what “The Elf” is, well, first of all, welcome to the 21st century, and BTW, Obama is our president, and it’s December.)  The “Elf On The Shelf” is a small cloth elf toy which parents buy and place somewhere special in the house. Then, according to the package instructions, they inform their children that the Elf is there to spy on their behavior 24/7 and report back to Santa on whether they’re being good. Every night, the parents are supposed to move the Elf to a new location so the kids KNOW it’s real; often the parents create whole scenes for the Elf (so the kids find it watching a movie and eating popcorn, having moved all the clothes out of the closet – what an imp! – you get the idea.)

elf pic 3 web

Erica demonstrates the Elf’s flexibility.

I was horrified by this elf, although honestly,  the horror is less at the elf ITSELF and more with the ease and fluency with which our culture accepts a brand new financially-motivated toy as a bona fide tradition to be celebrated along with our durable, time-worn traditions of Christmas.  I suppose I want traditions to come from something more meaningful at heart, if they’re going to be adopted by millions and turned into something as real to them – as LIFELONG “real” – as Jesus and Santa. I’m not even very religious; we barely go to church in my family, and we’re as secular as it gets.  But in my heart I want to believe in Christmas, and I love the spirit of Christmas, and I want it to remain pure and unsmeared with  commercial crap.

But then Santa too is a fantasy creation, not even that old, and I  worry about coupling Santa too tightly with the meaning of Christmas.  When Santa is too prominent,  the true meaning of the season – of giving and love -  is diminished.  And then if a  new ELF is brought in, it adds another layer of phoniness to the scheme; now it’s not just Santa, but his helper ELF, who watches and reports back and requires purchases to be made (you can now buy books, ornaments, and clothes for the elf.)   Suddenly the whole meaning of Christmas is obscured further beneath a swath of buying and spending and pretending.

I understand that many people feel that the Elf brings a certain magic to their lives. It adds the joy and the thrill of discovery to their children’s morning as they find the elf in a new spot, perhaps with a gift for them to open.

And I GET that, but if we’re really going to celebrate what Christmas is about, perhaps we should create the magic ourselves, together with our families. Instead of relying on an external force (and a phony, commercially generated one at that) to provide our children’s “magic,”  maybe WE should be the ones who bake the cookies and play the tricks and set up the tableaux – we should be openly responsible for creating the fun every day.

Delegating the “fun-making” to the Elf teaches our kids, in  a subtle yet certain way, that joy is to be GIVEN to us, not made ourselves. Let’s show our kids how to MAKE our own joy.  Magic shouldn’t come from a box fabricated overseas by workers who don’t even celebrate our holidays. Magic should come from the way we spend time together.

Also, the elf is just plain creepy looking.   It’s the kind of thing that you find in a 2nd hand store; the kind of thing that comes alive at night! And gets you! While you’re sleeping! Watch out!

elf pic 5 web

Mom laughs as the Elf looks on, seeing ALL.

Luckily, my sisters Maria and Erica feel the same way I do about the elf (at least the hating it part.)  And over Thanksgiving we had a LOT of fun together with the elf.  We mimicked some of the pictures that the serious elf-moms do, except ours were a little less…wholesome.

elf pic 10 web

Elf learns to read!

elf pic 9 web

Elf expands vocabulary.

elf pic 8 web

Elf makes a very special friend.

elf pic 7 web

Fifty Shades of Red And White!

elf pic 6 web

Maria, hard at work on the Elf photo shoot in Barnes & Noble.

elf pic 4 web

Oh, no! Is somebody losing their head?

Oh my God, we had the best time with this elf. Some of us even had fun ALONE with the elf.  We laughed so hard our stomachs hurt. We shared many hours of joy together bonding over our silliness with the elf.  The elf even put itself onto my Facebook profile (it may be time to consider a screen lock password, BTW.)

elf pic 2 web

AJ is not too excited about the elf.

And suddenly I started to think to myself: “Hey, maybe this Elf thing isn’t so horrible after all!”  All of this  joy and laughter that we were creating together was sparked by...the Elf! (Although: it doesn’t take much for us to get going with our laughter. Also on the mirth-wagon this year were Miley Cyrus and her wrecking ball, fart-absorbing underpants, What Does The Fox Say, Unique Thrift Store & the many wonderful things therein, Bleu Cheese, and countless others.  We really are responsible for our own hilarity…we just use whatever is near as a prop to get us laughing.)


Can’t Read Signs


Still Can’t Read Signs


No Comment.

Finally figured out what to do about the Craisins sample I didn't want...

Finally figured out what to do about the Craisins sample I didn’t want…

And  I do have respect for the creativity that many moms and dads show when they make elf scenes. Some of it is pretty cool.  I know they are doing it because it’s fun for the kids and for themselves; they’re doing it for the same reason that my sisters and I pose it with sex books — to forget, if even for a moment, the stress of life.

So I guess we’re not all that different, the Elf Lovers and the Elf Haters.  Whether we enjoy posing the elf for our kids or mocking it, we’re all just striving to add some fun to our lives, those magical moments where we forget troubles and stress and anxiety, those moments of joy that live like bright sparks in our memory bank.  Like Republicans and Democrats, we can reach together over the aisle and together we can place the Elf into the naughty sections at Spencer’s in the mall. (Just Kidding! The Elf is WAY more hardcore than that!)

Don't Forget Your Veggies!

Don’t Forget Your Veggies!

I’m going to keep hating the fact that the elf has so quickly wormed its way into the heart of our Christmas tradition, which I had hoped would stay true to the things with which *I* grew up; I’m going to keep feeling annoyance at the herd mentality of the Americans who so easily latch onto the newest shiny consumer item and whole-heartedly embrace it; I’ll keep bemoaning the fact that the Elf represents a new low for our culture in terms of how diluted our enjoyment of Christmas has become.

But I know that other people don’t really think about these things like I do, and that they just want to have some fun, and for that I applaud their efforts. And for the fact that we all just want joy – THAT I will appreciate in everyone!

And whether you love the Elf or hate it,  remember to give your loved ones some joy and magic that comes freely from YOU – not funneled through another medium, but through your own beautiful smile and laugh and ideas.  Make sure that you spend moments with your special people, making your own Christmas magic together.

The elves are sure working on it!

elf pic 13 web

Maria, who took this, is the MASTER elf manipulator!



Thanksgiving and Paying It Forward

be kind card web

I love hearing about how my friends are nice to their families and to strangers; it makes my heart happy to hear about people sharing goodwill and generosity around the world.

To me, it seems that no act of generosity is too little, and no act of kindness is invisible — every time we do something kind, I think we’re increasing positive energy in the people around us, and then they will eventually inspire themselves or another to more kindness, like a chain reaction of kindness. I’m not saying that by doing this we can end war, or anything — but it seems like weaving ourselves together in a bind of kindness strengthens  a necessary chain-link in the armor that protects us all as we walk through daily life, trying to survive.

One example is “paying it forward” in the Starbucks line. One day, I was idly waiting in the long line, frustrated with the wait; when I got to the pickup window, the clerk told me I owed nothing. The car in front of me had paid, she explained, for my coffee, AND left her a $10 tip. She was glowing. She said that it happens about once a week that someone pays it forward like that, and when it DOES happen, everyone in the store gets excited. The $10 tip was extraordinary, she added – the paying it forward didn’t usually include that. (She also added that the guy was “hot”, which might have accounted for part of the glow.)

It made me think about giving and kindness, and a few days later I paid for the Starbucks for the person behind me, hoping to leave them with the warm feeling of care and happiness that I’d received myself.  (I even left a big tip!)

starbucks web

I’ve never been super generous, I suppose, but neither have I been super stingy. In college I would routinely buy a sandwich and coffee for the homeless man who hung out in winter outside the local deli across 116th St.  I always gave change to people who asked, if I had it.  Sometimes when I got older I donated to the United Way at work, and I always dropped my old clothes off at Goodwill. I volunteered off and on at a soup kitchen in high school. I generally donate to charities and causes that my friends share on Facebook.

But I’m not nearly as generous as I COULD be; it’s possible that I could help out more without significantly eroding the material quality of my own cushy life.  And so these little generous offers from strangers — whether it’s someone waving me in during bad traffic, someone getting my coffee, or someone just holding the door and smiling — these little encounters remind and encourage me to pay it forward myself by holding doors and letting people in and giving money to those who need it.

The other day, I was having lunch with my friend at the Hong Kong Buffet, when I noticed a remarkable pair of people sitting a few booths away. Their table was completely full of plates of food -  each man had 5 plates in play, and a stack of 4-5 finished plates. They were eating quickly. Both were wearing the unmistakable garb of homeless men; their pants were lined with unbending ridges of dirt; their shoes had loose soles, and each was wearing several dirty shirts. One man was rocking gently and talking, but it was to himself, as the other man was tilted away from him and shoveling food into his mouth while gazing at a distant point across the room.

A few patrons took the time to wrinkle their noses in disgust and make a point of walking FAR away from the homeless booth as they passed by, as if the men were radiating poison, then they’d glance meaningfully at the hostess station and back at the men, as if silently saying, “What the hell? What are they doing here?”

I was still mulling over my free Starbucks experience, and I had a different plan. I excused myself and went to the hostess station with a good idea, but started feeling awkward as I started talking.

“Excuse me?” I said.  “Those guys in that booth? I was wondering…are they, homeless, at all? Do you think?”

The woman sighed as if she were tired of the question. “I don’t know for sure,” she said, “and I think they’ll be done soon, so please –”

“I don’t mind,” I interrupted, “And I’d like to, if this isn’t too weird, I’d like to pay for their meal. If it’s OK.”

The woman stared at me. “You want to pay for their meal?”

Another hostess approached, interested.  “If you want to pay for them, I should let you know that they came in with another person, a woman, but she’s sitting by herself in that booth across from them. They’re not sitting together, but they came in together.”

“Well, I guess I’ll pay for her too,” I said. “But you don’t need to, ah, I mean, I don’t necessarily want them to know if was from me. Maybe just say that someone wanted to pay for them? I don’t want them to feel weird, like they have to thank me or anything.”

I handed over my credit card and paid, and sat back down with my friend and my meal.

The waitress immediately went over and bent down to tell the men something. They all looked at me and pointed. I could tell that she was definitely telling them who had paid.

A moment later the calmer and taller man approached. “I heard that you paid for my meal,” he said, looking at me with eyes that were blue and clear, even though his face was lined and worn.  “I wanted to say thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” I said, looking down, not sure what to say.

The man bent down and hugged me. He held my hands in his hands, and then hugged me again for a long time.  “Thank you,” he said, before walking back to his booth. The other man called out, “Yes, thank you.”  I felt simultaneously happy and horrified in case weird homeless germs were getting onto me. I understand this is probably awful, but it’s true, and I’m trying to be honest here.  Later, in the car, I smeared sanitizer on my arms up to my elbows. (Sorry! Can’t help myself!)

My friend was wildly curious and wanted to know what was going on, so I told her, and as I explained, a woman slid out of her bench and came over; it was the woman who had walked in with the two men.

“You paid for all our meals,” she said to me in a statement.

“Yes,” I said.

“Well,” the woman said, “That man there is my son, the one talking to himself. And I want to thank you for paying for our meals. My son is not well. He is not right in the head, you know. It’s from all the drugs when he was younger. And he won’t live at home, God knows I used to try keep him there, but he always runs out. He likes living on the street, or least wise, that’s where he always goes back to.  So I try to find him and bring him to lunch when I can, when he’s interested.  And I save up and bought him a mattress, so at least he has a place to sleep in the dump where he crashes.  I can’t give him money, because I don’t have much, and he isn’t going to buy food. He’s going to get more drugs. And I can’t sit with him, because he starts talking crazy and then we can’t eat here no more. But I do what I can with what I have.”

She added, “They won’t take him at the hospital, you know. They say he’s well enough and that he don’t qualify for free help, or for the mental help, you know. But he’s not right. He can’t work or nothing. He can’t barely take care of himself. I have to buy him adult diapers when I save up enough money for it. I buy them in bulk and drop them at his mattress for him. At least what I can.”

She was wearing a clean work dress and looked extremely tired out.  She offered to pay me back for her meal, and I said no, that I wanted to treat them.

The waitress boxed up to-go boxes for the men, even though they don’t normally do it at the buffet, and eventually the men  left, with the thinner man still talking to himself. A few minutes later the mother wiped her eyes and left too.

And I was glad I’d taken the time to do that, and I resolved to do more nice things, even little things, to make the world easier for someone,  if even for a split second.

So if my daughter and I see a person begging for money at the freeway exit, I always stop and give them some.  Twice we’ve driven to In-N-Out Burger to buy a meal for a homeless person with a sign at the roadside.  I like to think that she’s learning to be kind too; learning that although hard work usually begets success, that unlucky people are not necessarily lazy; that bad luck strikes like lightning that nobody expects, and it’s ALWAYS good to help someone, even (or especially) if they don’t help themselves.  I don’t know if karma really exists, but I DO believe that doing good things must  be good for the world.


I’m not telling this story to get pats on the back, and I don’t think I’m some suburban Mother Theresa. Like I said before, even when I *do* do nice things, I feel guilty that I’m not doing enough.  But I know that my family and many friends and acquaintances have a giving spirit, and I know that if every person who reads this blog does one nice thing for another person, that’s some fresh nice new things happening in the world.

If you’re a like-minded person, I encourage you to do something nice today or soon, no matter how small it is.  The warmth of being let into an unfriendly traffic merge can last for an hour.  The joy of receiving a free Starbucks can inspire a person to give something even bigger and better to a stranger. And buying a meal for someone might be the easiest and most fulfilling way to show gratitude this holiday season, when so many of us have so much.

*** P. S. ***

Here are a few more quotes on generosity that I like:

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.
Aesop, Greek fabulist (fl. 6th century B.C., possibly legendary)

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.
Edith Wharton, American novelist (1862-1937)

Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.
The Most Rev. Dr. Desmond Tutu, first black South African Anglican Archbishop

Kindness begets kindness.
Greek proverb

be kind card web



Paleo Weight Loss: 30 lbs in 4 months

I’m proud of the fact that I’ve lost 30 lbs over the past 4 months — it’s the first time in years I’ve been able to successfully lose weight and keep it off.  I’ve gone from a size 24 to a size 18.  It feels GREAT to be wearing smaller jeans, and to be confident that I’ll be wearing smaller ones yet in another few months.

Jen 4 months paleo webPeople have asked me what I’m doing, and the answer is Paleo Eating + CrossFit.  Paleo is an eating plan that eliminates gluten, many grains, refined sugars, dairy, legumes (beans & peanuts), and artificial flavorings/colorings/chemicals.  Basically it’s lots of vegetables, some meat/fish, sweet potatoes, some fruits, and more veggies.

I wanted to share a look at what 4 months of modified Paleo (I eat beans, tofu, oats, and some dairy) eating looks like – pictured below are some of my most common meals.  This is not everything I ate & cooked, but it’s a snapshot of how delicious and varied eating Paleo can be!

"Mean Green" Juice

“Mean Green” Juice

Paleo food page 1 webFor breakfast, I cook a LOT of eggs: Scrambled with mushrooms, onions, tomato, spinach, and pepper, hard boiled, or cooked as omelettes with veggies as a filling.  My daughter gets plain eggs, sometimes shaped like hearts.  Along with the eggs are veggies and occasionally bacon. And at least once a week I make “The Papa Oatmeal”, which is NOT Paleo, but which is delicious and healthy.  (Shred up an apple, cook it in water with cinnamon until it becomes like applesauce, then stir in oats and full-fat milk, let it cook, then sprinkle on ground flax seed and blueberries.)  I also make gluten-free pancakes with hazelnut flour, and sometimes I just have leftover chicken soup for breakfast.


Paleo food page 2 webLunches and dinners use a lot of veggies, chicken, and salmon — everyone in my family loves salmon, so it’s a great choice. I get wild-caught salmon that has NO red dye in it (be careful of farm-raised because it has artificial coloring added!).  I also try to get organic veggies when it’s possible.  Sometimes I’ll just roast a whole organic chicken for dinner, along with roasted veggies. It’s easy and delicious.

I love spiral sliced zucchini stir- fried with garlic, spinach sauteed with caramelized onions or or with lightly-cooked garlic and white beans.  I make a “green soup” with pureed cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, spinach, beans and chicken broth. I cook adobo pork, beef taco meat, chicken soup, and stir fries with veggies and tofu. I love roasting broccoli and onions (or other veggies) in the oven until they get slightly charred and yummy…and if I have left-over bacon grease, I’ll use that to bake them instead of using olive oil.  I also adore spaghetti squash, Thai curries, and shrimp veggie stir fries.  Instead of using rice, I layer food over spaghetti squash or shredded lettuce as a base.

Cucumbers are one of my favorite vegetables EVER, and my daughter loves them too. She’ll eat cukes, sweet cherry tomatoes, or crispy red bell peppers sliced up, so I serve those things quite often.

I also make veggie juices in my juicer every day (or nearly every day). My favorite blend is celery, carrot, apple, parsley, spinach, lemon/lime, cucumbers, and wheatgrass. Sometimes I add chard or beets, but the others are the “go to” daily recipe.


Paleo food page 3 webFor snacks, I try to have almonds, almond butter, or dark organic chocolate.  I sometimes have coffee with cream as a snack, too, or I make cinnamon tea.  And sometimes if I’m craving something salty, I’ll cook up some bacon!  I figure it’s better than eating a bag full of Cheetos and a can full of onion dip, and a few slices can usually cure my cravings and keep me sated for a good long time.  Other times I’ll eat a piece of organic nitrite-free turkey breast (I like Applegate Farms from Whole Foods.)  I usually have at least 1-2 squares of dark chocolate every day.  It’s really AWESOME to be able to eat chocolate every day and still lose weight!

I eat a modified Paleo diet, because I still have cream (organic full fat cream!) in my coffee, and I eat  hummus and beans and tofu.  But I’ve gone pretty much gluten-free and sugar-free, and I feel better and healthier than I have in a long time.  I feel crisper and sharper; mentally clearer. It’s like a fog lifted gently off my brain after about a month of eating this way.  I’ve also been sleeping better, my allergies (and snoring) have improved significantly, I have more energy throughout the day, and I seem to have more patience.  Or perhaps feeling less tired and bloated makes me happier, and that leads to more patience!  But either way, I’ve been feeling better and better the more I stay on my quasi-Paleo eating plan.  The longer I go without sugary foods and chips, the less I crave them, and the easier it is to stay on track with healthy eating.

Of course I allow myself cheat meals or cheat days. Last weekend I had delicious Indian food with friends, and I gladly ate the naan bread and rice in addition to the chicken.  Sometimes I have pizza on the weekends.On my daughter’s birthday, I ate cake…and then more cake…and then several MORE slices of cake.  But the next day I made sure to go back to the sugar-free eating, and in a few days I was back on track.

It was VERY hard to stop eating the sugary foods once I started; it was like all of my dormant cravings suddenly came out of hibernation and started screaming, “Eat Doritos! Eat dip! Eat Oreos!”  And that’s why I sort of prefer NOT to cheat massively if I can avoid it, because once I get the cravings going, it’s hard to push them back down.  Smaller cheats seem to satisfy my need for sugar and/or “junk” without tempting me to eat a whole bag of chips and candy bars.

Some people assume that eating Paleo means “all meat, all the time.”  The truth is that it’s a lot more vegetables than anything, although meat is allowed and encouraged in the right quantities.  I can and do eat grass-fed beef, bacon (organic & nitrite free),  organic chicken, pork, etc.  In fact, I have bacon several times a WEEK — more bacon that I had before eating Paleo! But if that concerns you, think about what I stopped eating: I no longer eat a big bowl of ice-cream every night, I no longer have 2-3 diet sodas a day, I quit eating my daily chips/dip and I eliminated my weekly fast food runs.  And when I have pizza, it’s 2-3 slices, not 6 slices plus garlic bread plus wings plus leftover pizza the next day.  When you compare, I think a few slices of bacon seems a FAR healthier trade, yes?

I wouldn’t say this is the easiest thing ever, but it’s getting easier.  And I like doing it, because I feel GOOD.  I  have a  support system — one of my good friends, Andrada, eats paleo, and offers me advice.  Another good friend, Jennifer, cooks healthy veggie-based meals that I sometimes copy.  And at the Made In Crossfit  gym there is a huge amount of support from people who eat Paleo and love to share recipes and cooking tips.

My husband started an amazing organic garden in our backyard, and I enjoy using our own vegetables in my cooking — it’s definitely clean, and the fresh taste is phenomenal!

peppersIf you’re interested in making the switch to Paleo, it’s not that hard!  For me, a modified approach works well.  I think my diet is about 80% Paleo, and I still have the foods I just can’t give up (hummus, tofu, cream, dark chocolate.)  And of course there are always the cheat meals.  Some people believe beans contain ‘anti-nutrients’ which inhibit the absorption of vitamins and therefore should be avoided. But I’ve never had an issue with beans, and so far I seem to be getting all the nutrients that I need, so I’m sticking with my beaniness.  I also love having cream and cheese now and then, so I do.  I find that cheese can be a trigger for me, though — if I sprinkle cheese on top of my veggies and meat, I tend to eat almost double what I normally would, because I just love the taste and mouthfeel so much — so I avoid it unless it’s a special snack.  And I need cream in my coffee to function…I just can’t stand it black.

But avoiding gluten/wheat has REALLY helped me bypass the danger foods: Fast food burgers, chips, white bread sandwiches (If I eat one, I eat three – I can’t stop!), cookies, pie, cakes — the things that have me eating them even when I’m so full that I feel sick.

I think there are many ways to eat and be healthy, including vegetarian diets, vegan diets, Mediterranean-based diets, Zone, etc.  This is just the one that is working for ME, and I plan to keep doing it in the future!  I don’t know exactly what I’ll be eating in a year from now, but I do know that for the rest of my life I plan to avoid refined grains/sugars and to eat as many veggies as possible.

I wish you happy and healthy eating!

And now may I perhaps interest you in more reading?  Here’s an article with more examples of Paleo foods.   And here’s one of my favorites about my dog.   And this one about memory techiques is super fun, in my opinion!

Heck, here’s the whole list. Enjoy!


Bark Park, Mouth Foam, and Lovers

Plain Old Dog, OK?

Plain Old Dog, OK?

My dachshund was pulling at the leash, trying with all his might to will himself over to a particularly large turd lying coiled near a creosote bush at the local park, and I was pulling back to keep him AWAY from this, when a lady’s voice interrupted:

“Who’s YOUR lover?”

Startled, I peered up from the tug o’turd to see a lady in her late 50′s looking at me appraisingly. She was wearing a red sweater with  glitter and rhinestones on it, and her glasses swung gently from a rhinestone-studded chain. Her voice was raspy and low and she had on thick red lipstick.

She tilted her head, awaiting my response.

“Uh, my?” I was lost. My husband wasn’t even WITH me at the park – although, who would look at a couple and ask “Who’s YOUR lover?”

She couldn’t possibly be reading my mind and divining my secret fantasies about –

“This is MY little LOVER!” she exclaimed eagerly, lifting up a small dog who was vibrating near her shoes, a small dog with lots of fluffy fur and lots of rapid paw movement, and put the dog to her red lips. The dog pawed at her enthusiastically and got its tail tangled up in her glasses chain.

“Oh, WHO’S a good little LOVER, then? Who’s a good little LOVER? Who’s my best little lover in all the world?  My Loooooooover. My sweet little looooooovvvveeeeerrrrrrrrr!” She crooned, and kissed the dog on its mouth. It licked at her red lipstick and wagged its tail companionably.

“YOUR little lover is adorable, too!” she added generously, and when her dog began again to lap at her cheek, “My LOOOOOVEEEEERRRR! Oh, you are SO better than a man, you are! SO better than a man! My better-than-a-man LOVER!”  The dog licked her lips and she threw her head back and laughed, HAR HAR HAR!

Pablo wanted to meet the Lover. He whimpered and pulled over to her legs.

“My dog, my PET, is named Pablo.” I stated.  I did not lift Pablo to my face or even blow a kiss in his general direction.  I patted him briskly on the head. “He’s a good DOG. We like him.”

The lady pulled the Lover to her bosom and rocked it like a baby. She rolled the words around on her mouth like a person sucking a piece of candy; like a person savoring the most delicious umami meal possible.  “This little Precious Biscuit is my LOOOOOOVER!”

“That’s great, that you, have such a powerful relationship with your dog,” I said with a completely straight face, although inside me, laughter was bubbling up dangerously.

“Is your name Catherine?” I asked. (“The Great?,” I murmured to myself so quietly that it sounded like a small throat clearing noise.)

“What? No. It’s not Catherine. I’m —–” she answered, and to be honest, I’m sort of preserving her privacy here, but also I completely forgot her name the minute she answered.

“But I once met a wonderful woman named Catherine at the Bark Park!” she enthused. “You DO meet the most EXCELLENT people at the bark park, I believe! Why, HER lover was a beautiful little miniature pinscher that looked just like a little doll.”

“Yes!” I said. “That does sound lovely. Well, it was great meeting you. Have a nice afternoon!”

As Pablo and I walked away (frankly, the turd was looking pretty promising at this point), I could hear her:  “My ootle wiggly LOVER smells just like a little breadbox!  You little LOVER! Oh, kiss me, you little LOVER!”

And that is why I don’t go to bark parks, I reminded myself. It’s because even though I OWN a dog, and I LIKE my dog — even LOVE my dog, my dog is not my “lover”, and I don’t let my dog lick my mouth on purpose, and I don’t look at my dog like I want to date him, and my dog is NOT better than a man.  And it’s THAT kind of person who seems to be magnetically drawn to me at bark parks, for whatever reason.

And here is another example of the people I meet at bark parks – Burt.

A few years ago, I took Pablo to a bark park. There was one other dog when we arrived at the Bark Park, some kind of cute cocker spaniel mix. I sat down at the picnic table with the spaniel's owner, a guy in his 70’s who was wearing a blue baseball cap and a frayed blue polo shirt with a pack of Marlboros in the pocket.  He was a homey chatty sort and he spoke just a bit too loudly, as if going deaf or used to talking to someone who was deaf.

"I'm BURT!" he told me.  "Burt with a U, not an E.  Short for BURTON.   I had a cousin called Bert, but that was from Bertram, and he was kind of a sissy boy. So I always associated Bert-with-e with sissy boys. Now me, I'm from Burton. Like a manly Burt, har, har, har."

I couldn't help but notice that while Burt-with-a-U talked, a frothy white spittle foam gathered at the corners of his mouth, sort of like the foam that cleans your car at the carwash.  It was pliable and plastic and moved as he spoke, and retracted into his mouth when he finished a sentence. 

 I was  fascinated with this spit.

Burt with a U talked about many things.  "Now, me," he told me, the spit foam busily forming and retreating, "me and the wife, we got this here dog down at the Humane Society.  You ever been there?"

No, I hadn't, I told him.

As we talked, a poodle urinated.  It was a male, but it squatted.  Burt was confused.  "Can they DO that?" he asked.  "I mean, if it's a boy dog and all.  Inn't kind of strange, a boy dog squatting?  I mean, I don't know much nothin' about dogs, though.  In fact, I admit I'm a little scared 'o the big ones."

"They can be intimidating," I said.

"OH, are you scared of dogs too?" asked Burt knowingly.

"Well, not really," I said.

"But you said they intimidate you," Burt said.

"Well, some of the big ones CAN be intimidating," I said.

"Because it sounded like you meant that you're scared of them," said Burt.

"Well, not really," I said again.

"Oh," said Burt.  Then he said, "Funny thing the other day.  Little old dog in here, couldn't a been much bigger than that poodle.  And some huge dog, the big ones, you know, the black ones with the big sharp teeth, you know that kind."

"Yes," I said, "the big black ones with the teeth.  Those."

"Yes," said Burt.  "A big black one with teeth. And the poodle started getting on the back of the big black dog, you know, getting on, you know what I mean," and he did a sort of motion with his hands that was apparently supposed to mimic a small dog humping a big one.

"Yes," I said, "I think I know what you mean, " hoping to forestall further explanation.

"I mean, it was getting with it," Burt explained.

"Yes, I see," I said.

"It was getting right on there, you know, trying to have sex with it and all."

"Yes," I said.

"Funniest thing I ever did see in here!!" Burt said, chuckling at the memory.  "I guess the black dog's owner didn't think it was too funny, though. But me, I thought that was funny.  But it was only 4 months old, that small dog.  Isn't that too young, don't you think, for a dog to be wanting sex?"

"It seems a bit young, yes," I said.

"But oh man, it was really getting up on there!" said Burt.  "Funniest thing."

Burt's spittle was thick and frothy now, from all the talking. I kept expecting pieces to break off and fly away, or to hang loose at his mouth, but the foam stayed intact.

"I mean, they get the operation at 6 months, I think," said Burt.  "Yeeeyyyccchhh, operations, I don't like to think about THAT."

"It can be sort of gross," I said.

"I don't mean that," said Burt, "although I have passed out before at the sight of needles."

He proceeded to tell me some army stories about passing out when getting shots for smallpox (?), and then he started a chain reaction: when the guy behind him saw Burt pass out, HE passed out, and then a whole LINE of guys in the medical tent passed out.

Burt then told me all about his previous dogs, one of whom had to be put "down" because  it was sick.  "Strangest thing," Burt recollected.  "Dog had this white foamy stuff at the mouth, and we just thought it was sick or something. But the doctor said the SPINE was breaking down, and we couldn't save her. So we had to put her down."

White foam?   I wanted to ask, "Foam like YOURS?  Is YOUR spine breaking down??"  --- but didn't.

Actually,  meeting people like Catherine and Burt are the BEST part of bark parks, now that I think about it.  What’s not to like about meeting someone so fascinating?  It’s much better than making ridiculous small talk about the weather or the traffic on the 202 or some nonsense like that.  The truth is, I enjoyed meeting Burt, and almost-enjoyed meeting Catherine (she was a little bit, ah, strange).

What I really don’t like about the BP? All the not-cleaned-up dog shit, and the way the whole place smells of it. I just honestly don’t like sitting in a big poop field for an hour while my dog, who is not the most adventurous of his species, huddles at my feet and hides from small poodles who want to hump him.

It’s too bad that Burt and Catherine were not at the park on the same day, though. I bet they would have got along just fine.