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.




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








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.



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!



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.



Actions & Fun – DSD 2013

roach tiramisu web(Yes, scrapbookers, you ARE in the right place!  Information on the P&Co. blog hop is included along with a diverting treatise on the world’s most durable bug.)

Do you like cockroaches?  I know that people eat them in parts of the world, even here in the continental United States.  In fact, according to filmmaker Justin Fornal, the middle of a roasted cockroach is “creamy like tiramisu” once you get “past the crunch.”  And my engineering friend Meredith  told me that once, on a trip to rural China, she was served a HUGE PLATTER OF BOILED COCKROACHES and urged to take the biggest, juiciest ones, since she was the guest of honor.

I ate a chocolate-covered cricket one time, but the cricket was deep fried and crispy, and you couldn’t even tell that it was in the chocolate. And as for roaches,  for most of my life I’ve tended to run screaming from them.

Here’s an example.  A friend of mine, who often posts inspirational messages on Facebook, wrote:  “”Most fears cannot withstand the test of careful scrutiny and analysis. When we expose our fears to the light of thoughtful examination they usually just evaporate. – Jack Canfield”

And I thought for a moment, and felt inspired to write this:

“I bet, though? That Jack Canfield never saw the size of the roaches that lived in the Foxfire Apt. complex in Tempe, one of which once forced me to hide in my bathroom for 45 minutes because I COULD HEAR IT WALKING AROUND ON MY DRESSER, and because of which I was consequently late to work. True story.”

And also this:

“It didn’t evaporate. I had to get brave and spray an entire can of Raid behind my Ikea futon and make my boyfriend remove it later on. Fun times.”

So what you can see from MY posts, apart from the fact that I’m a disrespectful smart-ass, is that I REALLY DON’T LIKE ROACHES.

You may be wondering why roaches are on my mind right now, and it’s a reasonable question. I was sitting in the local Paradise Bakery having coffee, and thinking about what to write in this very blog post, when a gigantic roach started running around and scared a lady sitting by in a window table with friends.

paradise 1 web

An affable, friendly busboy came with a broom and dustpan, looking for it, joking with the people who looked up.  One man pointed from his laptop:  “There! At the base of that table!”  –But it wasn’t; it was already long-gone, or recently-gone, but anyway: GONE, and the careful tilting up of three adjacent tables likewise revealed nothing.  So now, somewhat paranoid about my bare-sandaled toes under MY table, I kept checking the ground, because MY table was rather close to the original Table O’ Suspicion.

And THAT made me think about some of my memorable Roach Experiences.  My best friend from college, Jennifer T. (who is now a doctor in NYC) and I used to love going out for Chinese near Columbia U, and we had a favorite restaurant on B’way.  One time we had to alert the waiter to the fact that a half-dead roach was squashed to the side of a plate of noodle-crisps and duck sauce, legs still wriggling.  The waiter didn’t hesitate; he whipped off his waist-towel and wiped the roach to the floor, then put the bowl back onto our table with a smile. (We asked for and got a new bowl, but both suspected he’d just gone back into the kitchen and came back out with the very same bowl.) We ate it anyway and came back another time, because, hey, no big deal, not really…and it WAS our fave Chinese place!

And then there was the time in Rocky Point with my sister Erica, my BFF Lisa, and some other friends, when roaches literally AS BIG AS CATS were all over in her friend’s beach-front house, in the patio and in the bathroom and on the flat roof where we had to sleep to beat the heat, skittering around here and there, and we all just HAD TO DEAL because there was no other option.  Well, we were also drunk, and that helped me to deal, definitely, because otherwise I might have needed to have a heart attack.  [During one drinking game we had to tell Two Truths and One Lie and see if people could guess the lie, and my sister Erica came out of the bathroom and said:  "Ok, my turn.  In the bathroom are two big roaches as long as my hand. They are eating a third, dead roach and they are not afraid of me.  I stepped on them."  And as it was obvious that sentence #3 was the only lie,  because clearly she did not want to ruin her cool sandals with the squishy tiramisu-guts of these colossal creatures,  we all laughed like hyenas, and then we drank some more.]

And roaches showed themselves at  a funeral in Nogales, Mexico. The funeral parlor was in a busy area; the streets were hot, dirty, polluted. I stayed with my daughter in the long, narrow front room instead of in the room with coffins and pews.  When I went to check out the tray of pan dulces by the window, I saw a medium-sized bold roach walking under and over the pastries.  The plate soon emptied; other guests – in an air of general complacence (just the way it is?) did not comment, complain, or even seem to notice. Later on I saw two more roaches in there, and another one investigating the sugar bowl for coffee.

I did not, myself, bring attention to the roaches by exclaiming or commenting or even trying to kill them (which would have been a moderately noticeable production) and might have messed up some pastries.  This was due to a general respect for the situation and the way of life, like: Hey, so roaches are all over here, and people just DEAL with it; there are bigger issues to squeal over, and anyway, who am I to be too good for some Roach-Pastry? What am I, some Big Fart From Chicago? Not that people LOVE roaches on the pastries, they just — ignored them…and, it turned out, so could I. At least on the outside.

So…roaches.  Whether you eat them,  eat despite them, or run from them, they are all around us.  Perhaps I can make up my own inspirational quote using my roach experiences:  “  ”

OK, no, I can’t do that.  But what I DO know is that I’ve become braver over the years, and more capable of saying: “Roach on my pastry? Aaah – no big deal.  Roach on the side of the bowl? Sure, just wipe it off.”  Maybe it’s a way of recognizing that there are bigger issues in life to be afraid of, better places to expend energy, and that some  fears CAN be made invisible if you look at them head-on and suddenly find that you are completely able to handle them, and with grace, too.

So – I hope you can all go out and squash the roaches that are stuck to YOUR pastry or running around under YOUR table. Be brave! Be bold! I’m trying it, too.

Although I’m not sure I’ll ever look at tiramisu quite the same way again.

cake pic 2


If you’re reading this to get a letter for the Pixels & Co. Blog Hop, thanks for making it to the end. Whew! You ARE patient.

This is the kit, Piccadilly, that you’re going to get for FREE once you obtain all of your letters to use as the coupon code.You need to go through all of the blogs in order to get all 20 letters/numbers to get the full coupon code, which needs to be entered at checkout. My letter is P.


  • Shen
  • Tiffany
  • Deena
  • Laura
  • Shannon
  • Jennifer – P     <———– THIS IS ME!
  • Sabrina
  • Kelleigh
  • Crystal
  • Robyn
  • Leah
  • Dawn
  • Celeste
  • Karla
  • Shirley
  • Mye
  • Audrey
  • Anita
  • Ya Yeah
  • Gennifer

Once again, my letter is:

the letter P webNow that you’ve got my letter, please proceed to the next blog to keep collecting. Next is Sabrina’s Creations  -Sabrina at her blog.

Missed one? Here’s the full list of ALL the blogs to visit:

Simply Tiffany Studios
Deena Rutter
Laura Passage
Scotty Girl Design
Jennifer Valencia Photography
Sabrina’s Creations
Kelleigh Ratzlaff Designs
Crystal Livesay
Robyn Meierotto
Dawn by Design
Celeste Knight
Karla Dudley
Wild Blueberry Ink
Mye De Leon
Audacious Designs
Anita Designs
Ya Yeah Designs
Gennifer Bursett

My part of the Piccadilly collection is the sepia action for Photoshop CS4+ and Photoshop Elements 11+ — the action takes your color photograph and gives it a sepia tint. The layers from the action are fully editable so you can tailor the results and make the sepia tone lighter, darker, or more contrasty.  A pdf manual is included that explains how to install and run the action, and of course, you can contact me here at my blog or on the Pixels & Co. site if you have questions or need help. I hope you enjoy the action!

Sepia Action Preview Page

And please allow me to show you some other awesome actions that you may wish to purchase – these are actions I use while editing my professional photographs, and they each come with instructions on how to use them.

Skin Softening Valencia  previewMy favorite black and white actions:

high key bw valencia previewMy awesome Pink Frost (I LOVE this one!)

Pink Frost Preview Page webMy Color Pop Action, which defogs and cleans up images, as well as brightening colors:

Color Pop Action Template 600I also have inspirational journaling cards and flair using my own photography (always my own, never CU! — so you won’t see these photos anywhere else!)

photo journal card templateAnd more journaling cards:

photo journal card template2And this set…

photo journal card template3web

If you want to hear more stories, here are a few of my personal faves:

Dog Analysis For Beginners (or how to give your dog a whole pizza)

How To Whiten Your Teeth And Scare The Fex-Ex Guy

What To Do When You Get The Sexy Wolf And Red Riding Hood Costumes By Accident

Memorizing Claudia Schiffer in Cottage Cheese

Thanks for reading!  I hope I gave you a smile, and maybe the desire for a sweet Italian dessert. (Which may be as close as your very own backyard!)




Wolf Fur Costume…With A Silver Lining

Things don’t always turn out the way I want. Take, for example, this year’s Halloween costume, which I ordered from Wholesale Halloween Costumes on-line, and which was supposed to be a 70′s disco girl dress, headband and necklace.  Instead, THIS is what arrived yesterday afternoon in a huge cardboard box ["Amado: What the hell is in that box, anyway? What did you order?"]

"Howlin Good Time" Wolf and "Sexy Red Riding Hood"

“Howlin Good Time” Wolf and “Sexy Red Riding Hood”

The “Howlin Good Time” Wolf came complete with a rubber face mask, dandy striped pants, and a sexy partially-nude woman airbrushed onto the tie.  The “Sexy Red Riding Hood” came with some little scraps of cloth artfully arranged in a padded hanging garment bag.

“Hmmmm….” I said thoughtfully, as neither one of these special suits even marginally resembled the one I’d ordered.  I held up the wolf.  “Aaaaoooooo!” I wailed to the general area.  “AWhoooooooooo’s ready for Halloweeeeeeeeen!”

“Mama, what IS that!” Isabel was half-laughing, half-alarmed.

“Well, this is NOT what I ordered!”  I explained, dangling it in front of my husband, who was busy working at his computer and not really paying attention.

“Mama,” said Isabel eagerly, “It reminds me of something. It reminds me of the Catrin from that game.”  [from the Loteria game.]

“Yes, Sweetie!” I agreed. “It DOES remind me of the Catrin, too. Probably because this wolf is such a dandy-man!”

“Hey, Amado!” I urged. “Do you want to be a Lobo Catrin for Halloween?”

Amado was not interested in this excellent idea. “No,” he said.

“No, Mama!” Isabel was alarmed.  “I don’t want Daddy to be that!”

“I’m just kidding,” I explained.  “Besides, this is not really mine, anyway. I’m going to have to send it back.”  I pulled out the packing slip from inside the box. “This was SUPPOSED to be sent to….Gregory Scott. In Larkspur, Colorado. But they put it inside a box marked Jennifer Valencia. Nice.”

“I guess they go together,” I observed to Amado.  “Poor Gregory Scott. He and his girl probably need these for a weekend party, and they never arrived. And I don’t even want to think about what they had planned for later on, that they now have to postpone.” [Too late, BTW - role-playing image stuck firmly in my mind.]

“I guess I’ll call the company,” I said, and here is how that conversation went:

 Guy On Phone: Hello.

Me: Hello!  The wrong costume was sent to my house in Phoenix.  Your store sent me a Howlin Good Times Wolf and a Sexy Riding Hood, and I was really supposed to get a 70′s girl.

Guy: So you didn’t order the Howlin Good Times Wolf?

Me: No.

Guy: (looking up order number): OK, I see that you ordered a 70′s Girl.

Me: Yes.

Guy: That’s on the way. And who was supposed to get the Howling Good Times?

Me: Some person named Gregory Scott. But he lives in Larkspur, Colorado.

Guy:  Uh, does he live near you? Like, maybe you could drop if off at his house if you are neighbors?

Me: Well, I’m in Phoenix, and he’s in Colorado. And sure, aren’t we all global neighbors? But no, I can’t drop it off. It’s like 800 miles away.

Guy: So you didn’t order the Wolf.

Me: No.

Guy: And you don’t want to keep the wolf.

Me:  NO.

Guy:  But do you know Gregory Scott? Is he, like, a friend?

Me: No! I just got his name from the packing slip.

Guy: Ok. And he’s not, like, someone you know? Because, I’m, like, trying to figure out how this happened.

Me: No. I do NOT KNOW GREGORY SCOTT.  Someone at your store put the wrong order in my box.

Guy: (typing furiously). OK.

(Longish pause.)

Me: You should probably contact Gregory Scott and let him know that you accidentally sent his costumes to the wrong place. He probably needed them this weekend. And I noticed on the box that it was sent express. He’s going to be disappointed.

Guy: Yeah, that’s a good idea!  OK, I’ll put a note here to have someone do that.

Me: Great.

Guy: So, can you, like, send Howlin Good back to us? And Sexy Red? Just, you know, go to the website and print out the special return form, but be sure to print out the ones that apply to that style and brand of costume, and then you just affix it to the box but be sure to also include the order number and the return number, which you will get from another part of the website, and then take it to the post office?

Me: Oh, you bet. I’ll get right on that.

Isabel danced around the costumes in their big cardboard box. “Mama,” she observed helpfully, “You can’t wear that Riding Hood one.”

“That’s true, Sweetie,” I replied, googling “Gregory Scott Larkspur CO” to see if I could find his phone number, because I was pretty sure that Costume Wholesale was going to fuck up any communication with him, and don’t global neighbors help one another out now and then with a friendly informative phone call?

“Because,” Isabel persisted, “It’s too small for you, Mama.”

“Yes,” I said. “That is true.”

“It’s, like WAY too small for you, Mama!” Isabel continued. She warmed to her topic. “It’s made for a lady HALF OF YOUR SIZE, MAMA!”

“You’re probably right, Sweetheart,” I said.

Isabel was eager to demonstrate just how much smaller. She ran up to me and drew a line down the middle of my chest with the side of her hand.  “See, Mama? The costume is for a lady who is like THIS half of you, just the half part, Mama. Much smaller. See? See, Mama? See?” She looked up at me eagerly, eyes bright, happy to be so observant and helpful.

“Yes! Got it! I DO see! Thanks, Honey!” I said, because how can you not be charmed by a small sweet girl with a disarming smile and sparkling eyes, no matter what she says? She does have a point.   And hey, silver lining alert! –  Good reminder to stay away from the Oreos and keep on going to CrossFit!

So things didn’t go as I planned with the costume, but obviously things are going even worse for Mr. Scott and his little lady (size 4-6), because at least I can get some laughs out of the mistake, and all he is getting is rage (probably) and a cheaply made replacement costume from Spirit Superstore. But maybe he’ll laugh about it later.

Laughter is ALWAYS a silver lining, right?

So…awhoooooooo’s ready with THEIR costume?

P.S. – Couldn’t find phone number for Mr. Scott, at least not free number. Since when does the White Pages charge you for a phone number? Was I doing it wrong? Sorry, Mr. S., calling you is not worth the $10 is would cost to also get your criminal record and address history, and frankly, I’m not “that” good a global  citizen.

P.P.S. – So if anyone reading this happens to know Mr. Scott in Larkspur, CO, please tell him what happened to his costume.

And Peace Out.



Flying at 4:00 am

It was just after 4:30 am this morning when I left to drive to my cross-fit gym to both take photographs and exercise. The empty suburban lanes and the city lights sparkling in the black air reminded me of leaving for an early morning flight, for EVERY early morning flight I’ve ever taken; maybe the feeling of being only 75% alert and yet already pumping with adrenaline was mimicking the way I feel before I board an aircraft. Or maybe the unknown of an exciting trip was getting mixed up with the anticipation I always get before any photo job, but either way, I had to remind myself NOT to take the highway turn that heads to Sky Harbor.

I’ve enjoyed years of being fear-free on airplanes,  but have also lived through years of being so scared to fly that I tried Greyhound and Amtrak and Xanax, although not all at the same time. (Stay alert for future posts on these exciting topics!) It’s easy to understand how thoughts can get very intense when squashed around in my head which is squashed into a narrow aluminum cylinder hurtling through the air, on a trip that is squashed between work and life obligations, to meet people whose love I will try to squash into a very short time and then expand it out again later, trying to fill empty moments when I’m without them.

Luckily for us both, I sometimes write in a journal when I get nervous on airplanes! Lucky, because now we can both appreciate my witty and introspective airplane intensity.  Here is an excerpt from a solo trip I did to Chicago a while back:

“On plane now…a bit nervous each time the plane plummets a millimeter, sandwiched between two middle-aged guys.  Strange not to have Isa beside me, holding hair, eyes luminous, liquid.  Trying to think of anything interesting but mind feels empty, a looted warehouse.”

Realization: I have never called into a public radio talk show. But if I DID, I would definitely NOT waste precious listening time by gushing, “Diane [Rehm]! I LOVE your show! I’m SO excited!” before stating my comment, nor would I proclaim in a masterful “I’m The Boss” way, “And I’ll take my comments off the air.”  Damn straight you will, bozo.   You think you’re THAT interesting, that vivacious, that there was even a 20% chance they’d keep you ON the air? Ha.

Q: When Diane Rehm is out for “voice treatments,” what, exactly, is happening?

-Someone close by smells of salami. Also, farts gently drift into and out of my personal space like seaweed in the tide.

American Airlines. Pilot just gave long detailed itinerary.  Apparently we will be crossing many states and the Mississippi River. Pity not so good at geography, or might care more.

One of the flight attendants is wearing glasses that are extremely Sarah Palin-eque; also has hair of similar color/style. Wonder if I should say, “Thanks, Sarah. Hey, shot any polar bears lately?” when she comes by with drink cart. Haha. Seriously, though, she could be a 2nd rate look-alike model. Wonder how often she gets comments? Wonder if she is (she MUST be, right?) Republican? Hmmm.  Other F.A. looks very much like Vern Yip. Would it be cool to say, loudly, “Hey! Here come Sarah Palin and Vern Yip!” as cart approaches, to see if anyone chuckles.  Wish Amado were here. He’d laugh.

(-Salami smell embarks on powerful crescendo. Lots of waxy rustling one row back.)

Probably won’t, though. No rapport with seat mates established, or not enough, to make this non-weird-and-in-fact-cool-and-funny.

Dying to, though. REALLY look like them. 3rd attendant has no resemblance-thing going on, though. If I had cooler seatmates, they’d surely appreciate such wit.

-Drank 1/2 a Diet Coke. (Realize I def. prefer Pepsi.)

-Seatmate (R) now eating and exuding salami odor, too.

-Embarrassing moment: Couldn’t stand it anymore and commented pithily to L-seatmate: “Don’t you think that flight attendant looks like Sarah Palin?”  Since hadn’t spoken in ~ 1 hour, voice came out scratchy, small, and first few words blown away by the constant muffled under-roar of air, engines. He looked up from Sudoku book in slight surprise, and after parsing for a few seconds he put together what I’d said and dutifully looked up, peering left and right to see around Vern Yip. Then he politely answered that maybe she did, the glasses, maybe, and turned back to his puzzle.

You see, sometimes it really is better to squash certain impulses.


Still think she looks a lot like S.P., though.


What if I did THIS: Looked over L-seatmate’s arm and transcribed his Sudoku puzzle exactly, box for box, onto my page (not the answers, of course.) Then, tapped his shoulder and said politely, “Could you help me out on this box?” and pointed, showing him my (his) puzzle. Well! I mean, but sometimes that’s what you get for not appreciating an S.P.-lookalike. Ha.


Didn’t do it. Of course.


Guy 3 or 4 rows up ahead on left actually has pen behind EAR. He’s not even slightly “old”. And it’s parked firmly. Remarkable. Has big ears, though, and close to head. Can only assume that helps.

-Wonder if Vern Yip is lining up empty soda cans in trash in perfectly symmetrical little piles?

Tried placing small airline-drink straw behind ear just to see how it fits. It fell off almost immediately, dripping coke onto my shirt, and bounced in a weird way and landed on L-seatmate’s leg. Oops. He just looked at me and handed it back, but think some Coke got on his jeans. But at least I’m not the one farting, like I’m pretty sure HE is, so ….? Ok?

-Minor turbulence. Will NOT freak out.

Pilot says we’re “——Kansas, about an hour and a half ——”. Glad that microphone function and audibility not an indication of general flight safety.

Not liking turbulence. Wondering if should take Xanax, something I’d never do if flying with Isa? But since by myself?…. Amado not here to hold hand.

Pilot saying Buckle Up, Return To Seat. Says it’s getting “nasty.”  If that’s not a prescription tailor-made for a Xanax, I don’t know what is.

Must distract self. Think about the Sudoku thing! Ha! Ha! Laugh!Not working. May try magazine.

Exciting/Disappointing Event:

Free-to-me People magazine discovered in seat pocket! But….is dead Gary Coleman issue. Blech.

-Salami burps intruding.

Things that are satisfying:

-using a coupon and not overspending to make up for it (or so I imagine this would feel)

-using leftovers in a creative way that makes one at once feel crafty, frontier-woman-like, and less guilty for buying 3 new Disney DVD’s and a mega pack of apples.

Things That Are Vaguely Discomfiting:

Why does there always have to be at least one vaguely suspicious-terroristy looking person on every flight? Uggggh.

{from return flight notes:} Plane black except for isolated pockets of yellow. Only two from 21st row to first class; others sleeping.  L-seatmate doing crossword; have not the slightest desire to copy it letter for letter.

Plane continues to descend. Ears full of roaring/silence, need to pop, but won’t pop yet. Muted hiss and roar is a sort of timeless conduit; it’s every flight I’ve ever flown, all at once. Can’t wait to see Amado and Isabel.


Hmmmm. Now reading all of that back, it somehow seems, shall I say, less than wildly introspective?  How unfortunate that I only captured the SURFACE thoughts in my journal. I must make sure to rectify this by doing a more thorough recording job next time.

What do YOU think about when you fly alone? What do you do?  Have you ever shared a Sarah Palin joke with a seatmate, or copied their Sudoku?  How do you stay busy?  I need to know…I need ideas for next time.

Oh, and: What exactly IS D.R. doing during her voice treatments?




Maria & Jordan’s Engagement Photos

I recently took engagement photos for a VERY cool couple – my niece Maria Victoria and her fiancee, Jordan.

maria and jordan 60 bw webThey are both proud members of the United States Navy and just generally really awesome people, and it was a lot of fun to take their pictures at the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden.

maria and jordan 21 web maria and jordan 1 v3 web maria and jordan 31 bw web maria and jordan 3 web maria and jordan 32 web

They even did a few shots in their uniforms, although it was about 110 degrees that morning!

maria and jordan 71 web maria and jordan 73 web maria and jordan 82 web

To Maria and Jordan: Congratulations! We are all so very proud of you for your accomplishments and excited for your new life together.maria and jordan 36 bw web


And The Győztes Is…. (that’s Hungarian for “winner”, btw)


Some of us recently had a contest to see who could find the very best thing in a thrift store, and by “best,” I mean “worst.”  For a while, everyone seemed to be neck and neck until Erica pulled a neat little trick and produced THIS:

thrift store win erica webAt that point, it was obviously GAME OVER, especially because Erica found it in Hungary on a work trip (although I still don’t really understand how marine biologists “need” to meet in Hungary), and it has all the horror of the creepy discarded American  knick-knack combined with the international mystique of stories about evil trolls in the hills of Europe.

Here are some of the Facebook comments that this thing produced:

“WTF is up with that thing’s ears? OMG.”

“It would seriously kill you while you were sleeping if you ever had in it your house.”

“What’s written on the note?? I have to know. Did you read it? Buy it?”

Unfortunately, Erica neither read the note nor bought it, although we are encouraging her to go back again so we can answer the burning question of “what could that note POSSIBLY say?”  Erica did tell us this:  “All the guys thought I was insane for getting so excited about seeing this in the window. Meanwhile, I was laughing so hard that the scary looking owner of the shop came out and looked like she was going to jump me.”

So as I said, all of the participants in the Thrift Store Contest (me, Maria, Erica, and Kris) were all in agreement that Erica had won.

But after a few days, I started to reconsider. Were we all just caught up in the hype of its Euro-glam outfit?  Maybe we were stunned into submission by its open mouth, which was clearly issuing silent commands? I decided that some market research was needed, some unscientific but still illuminating consumer feedback, and that is why I printed out this:

thrift store winners 1 webI included a few of the other more spectacular finds that had been submitted to the contest pre-CHG (CHG, for future reference, = Creepy Hungarian Doll). And then I took the sheet with me to the MIC gym at my next workout.

I waited patiently until a few gym members had finished talking to Oscar and Caterina about WOD times, appropriate workout gloves, and Paleo eating. Then I asked my own extremely critical question:  “So, guys, which of these things is the more horrible, do you think? I mean, the most awful, creepy, frightful, gross thing? The one you’d LEAST like to have in your home?”

It only took a few seconds for them to chose, and it was #3, CHG. I was happy. “Yes!” I told them.  “That’s the one my sister found in Hungary. Isn’t it just horrible?”

I asked a few more gym members.  At least 10 more people picked CHG.  A few wavered between Gruesome Clown Combo and Insane Leprechaun, but eventually they decided that yes, CHG was truly the most awful.  One person picked #1, and one person picked #3.  Later, a close friend picked #3.

This was helpful, but still not definitive. I mean, the people at the gym know me, and maybe I was doing a “Mr. Ed” kind of thing by nodding my head or making a noise when friends looked at #3. And some of them had already seen CHG on my Facebook page and enjoyed its fame and glory, which might have influenced their vote. So I figured I needed to expand my research to include strangers.

The next day, at the Chandler Whole Foods, I was ready.  As I picked up my Green Giant juice from the juice bar, I casually asked the young man behind the counter, “Can I ask for your help really quick with something?”

I pulled out the paper and unfolded it.  “My sisters and I are having a competition,” I explained, “to see who can find the most awful thing in a thrift shop.  Can you help us determine the true winner? Which of these is the most horrible?”

All three of the workers crowded up to the counter with interest.  “This one, DEFINITELY,” said the young man with the funky hat, pointing at CHG.  “There’s something about its mouth – it’s just wrong.”

“Yes,” agreed an attractive young woman, “I really hate that one. It gives me a very bad vibe.”

“Yup,” agreed the other cool young man (everyone who works at Whole Foods is cool), “that one for sure.”

“That one’s from Hungary!” I explained proudly, as if I had something to do with the fact that my sister is a) A Marine Biologist, b) traveling to exotic places, c) capable of finding winning statues in small shops.

This was good – I was getting more feedback!  And later on, I decided to check the opinion of the checkout lady at Barnes and Noble. After I’d paid for my book, I asked her – because she seemed so friendly and kind – “Can I ask you a quick question?”

I pulled out my now-battered piece of paper and showed it to her, along with my explanation, and waited with a pleasant smile for her answer.

“Oof!” she said with her mild exotic accent.  “These are quite – em – they are really very all horrible, I think.”

She perused the sheet and wrinkled her mouth and brow.

“I am not liking this one at all,” she said, pointing to the clowns, “But the box — this one here in its box — something about the box around it is just really bad.”

She thought some more. “I will have to pick #3,” she said firmly, “because of the box.”

I was excited. Again, CHG was proving victorious!  “It’s from Hungary!” I explained.

“Oh, really?” she said, “I’m Hungarian!”

“Aha,” I said, suddenly feeling the panicked need to explain more.  I smiled in what I sincerely hoped was a “please understand that I am not mocking Hungary in any way by letting you know that the most horrible thing on that paper is from Hungary. Hungary is full of amazing culture, learned people, and historical treasures that delight millions of people world-wide. My father was born in Hungary, and I love and appreciate Hungary. The fact that this doll is from Hungary only proves how totally awesome Hungary is!”

I probably wasn’t that eloquent, but I did say that my father was there to visit his birth-town, and that he and my sister and brother got to see many wonderful places, and that the doll was maybe kind of the crowning glory of the trip for my sister, but only because my family is very “special” in many ways, and that Hungary is amazing.

She smiled back, so I think  she understood.

You might think that was enough research, but I am nothing if not thorough. I wanted at least one or two more opinions to ensure that I was getting a diverse cross-section of opinions from around town.

As I was leaving Target this morning, I noticed a few constructions workers in the new cement  pad next door. They were digging a hole that was shoulder deep, and they were inside the hole. One of them was squirting a muddy water mixture out of the hole using something that looked like a Nerf water gun, except it was made from a PVC pipe.

“Hmmmm,” I thought to myself. “I wonder what THOSE guys would think about CHG?  And what would be the best way to approach them?”

I figured that the guys were a)busy, and b)thirsty and c)possibly hungry, because it was lunchtime. A Wendy’s was just up the street.

“I will buy them cold waters and chicken wraps from Wendy’s,” I decided, “and then will ask them about the thrift store contest.”

It seemed to me a fine plan, and so with Wendy’s in hand, I approached the hole. One of the men looked up at me. The other man, busy digging, did not.

“Hi, excuse me!” I said, feeling VERY awkward.  Instead of helpful and kind-hearted, I suddenly felt very weird and creepy.  Buying lunch for strangers? Who DOES that?  Would they think I was insane? Would they think the food was poisoned? (**See Footnote below)

But there I was, and I had to continue:  “Um, I was just wanting to do something nice for someone today, so I thought I’d, uh, get you guys some cold waters and lunch. From Wendy’s, right there,” (and I pointed, hoping that they’d notice it was a very non-toxic Wendy’s). “So, ah, here you go!”

The men looked at me strangely.  I smiled and handed over the waters and the bags.

“Thank you?” said the first man sort of cautiously. The other man was listening, but still digging.

“You’re welcome!” I said brightly. “And by the way, since I’m here, can I ask you a quick question?”

I unfolded the trusty sheet. “My sisters and friend and I are trying to find the ugliest thing we can at a thrift store. Can you tell me which one YOU think is the ugliest?”

The man looked at the sheet for about 2 seconds, then pointed firmly at CHG. “That one,” he said without hesitation. The other man did not look at the paper. He was still digging.
“Thank you!” I said happily.  “That’s what everyone says. No matter WHO I ask, they all pick that one! It’s from Hungary, by the way. Ok, thanks! And I hope you enjoy the waters. And the lunch. Ok, bye!”

And I walked fast back to my car and was red for about ten minutes. But I was thrilled.  I had been brave! I had been bold! I had asked the opinion of MANY different people, and although it was an unstatistically correct survey, still — the majority of people picked CHG!  And I bet I gave at least one person something funny to tell a friend later. ( “You’ll never believe what this lady asked me today…”)  And isn’t that what life is about sometimes? Helping bring interest, variety and fun to other people’s lives as well as your own?

So, Erica, I must congratulate you once again on finding the winning object and giving me the chance to talk to people I would otherwise not have approached for a conversation.

I still really want to know that its scroll says, but I suppose that will have to remain one of life’s big mysteries.


Footnote Followup: ** Poisoned food, you ask? Perhaps you should read this entry about non-poisoned cookies!






Want A Straw With That Coffee?

coffee web

A friend of mine is currently doing teeth-whitening. I told her that her teeth were white enough already, like this:  “Smile at me,” I demanded, and when she did, I shielded my  eyes with my hands, winced, and screamed, “Oh GOD! The pain! The shining gleaming light from your super-bright teeth is searing my eyeballs! Please, make it stop!”

Isabel was alarmed and started to faux-cry, unsure whether or not to panic: “MAMA!” she wailed. “Are your eyeballs really burning up? Are her teeth really doing that?”

“No, sweetie,” I said, hugging her, “Of course not. Mommy is just joking. You know how I like to joke around.”

“Some of your jokes are NOT FUNNY!” she shouted indignantly. I hugged her harder, but when she looked away, I mimicked blocking my eyes again and writhing in imaginary pain.

My friend laughed, because she does appreciate my humor, but she said  she was still proceeding with her plan to whiten.

As you may have heard, things like coffee and soda are NOT good for helping teeth stay white, and so – in order to maximize her whitening and yet still enjoy her daily java, this friend started drinking her hot coffee with a straw.  This is a perfect opportunity to make lots of jokes.  Try it! “Do you want a straw with that coffee?”  is just a starter.

It sound silly, maybe, to go through such contortions just for whiter teeth, but I get it. I’ve tried the teeth-whitening in the past myself and made my own adjustments.  Here’s MY fun story of the lifestyle modifications *I* had to make during my whitening process.

A few years back, I got a kit from my dentist called "Day White" that supposedly, within 14 days, would make your teeth pearly bright and sunshine-shiny.  I had custom trays made for my upper and lower teeth; they were plastic molds  form-fit to my teeth.  I filled them with whitening gel from special gel syringes located in my "Day White" pack, attached them to my teeth, and left them on for ~40 minutes 2X/day.  Voila! - said the instructions.  The teeth should gradually get whiter and whiter!

It SOUNDED simple and easy.  However, there were issues.  Number one issue:  Spit!  You may not currently realize it, but your mouth is a busy spit factory all day long. In fact, your mouth may right now be making copious quantities of spit. You don't notice it, of course, because you are able to swallow at will, whenever you want, without worrying about troublesome gel trays filled with bleach solution that will leach bleach into your mouth if they get the tiniest bit wet from spit.

The first time I put in the trays, I was excited and happy.  About 45 seconds later, my happiness turned to concern.  Spit seemed to be filling the corners of my mouth like a broken faucet, and I could taste bleach on my tongue as the stuff washed out of the trays.  Panicked, I ran to the bathroom and removed the trays, wondering if I'd inserted them wrong.  I hadn't.  The woman depicted on the cover of the box smiled at me, mouth agleam, revealing no personal spit issues of her own, and I hated her.  I tried again: filled the things with gel (smaller amount than asked for), put them in, and a few seconds later my mouth was again a spit/bleach wonderland.

I called the dentist to ask about advice.  "Does anyone complain about salivating during the 45 minutes they're wearing the trays?" I asked.

"Well, no, they surely don't!" said the aide.  "I've never heard of that problem before.  Maybe you just have excess spit!"

"Well, what do you recommend I do?" I asked her. 

"I guess I don't KNOW!" she said, perkily. "Can you hold?"

Fifteen minutes later, with no advice, I started to devise my own solution.  I got a washrag from the towel cabinet and took it with me.  After I put in the trays, I gently tucked one of the 4 pointy washcloth corners under my tongue and packed washcloth down along the bottom sides of my mouth.  This was going to function as my own spit-blocking device.  Ever few minutes I rotated the washcloth as areas filled up with spit.  It worked!

So every day when I whitened my teeth, I simply took a washcloth and hung it from my mouth.  Sometimes, to alleviate pressure from the weight of a hanging washcloth, I tucked the hanging ends into the collar of my shirt.  Very attractive!

One day,  I was opening the door to let my cat Sashes outside. I happened to be wearing my bleach trays at the time as well as the ubiquitous washcloth.  It was a pink washcloth that probably clashed with my gym sweats, but it tucked nicely into my Hawaii print T-shirt.  At that moment, as I leaned out the door, the washcloth untucked itself and swung gently in the breeze like fresh laundry on the line.  As it was swinging there, the Orkin Pest Control guy walked up the driveway.  "Howdy there," he called out.  "I'm here for your regular insect spray service!"  He noticed the washcloth in my mouth and tried not to act surprised.

I took the washcloth out of my mouth.  "He-ho," I said.  (It's hard to talk with bleach trays in your mouth.)

"Have you noticed any pest problems?" he asked, looking at his clipboard.  "Not reawy, I sink," I answered.  A fly buzzed around and I swatted at it with the washcloth.  The Orkin Guy looked really hard at his clipboard.

"Do you want me to spray inside?" he asked.
"Not sis time, I don't weally need it," I said, and to my horror, spit started to run down the corners of my mouth.  "I have to go," I added, and closed the door quickly.

I guess I COULD have explained about the gel trays, but it seemed too much of an effort, and it would have just exacerbated the drool issue.  I figured that he'd surely seen worse, and anyway, he'd probably  assume that my weirdness was just a neurological symptom of toxic pesticide overload.

The whitening, even with all of my fancy washcloth maneuvers, didn’t seem to do much. My friend’s whitening, likewise, does not seem to have made great changes in her mouth (although, like I mentioned at the beginning of my post, her teeth were pretty white to start with.)   We’re not sure if the whole whitening industry is something cooked up by dentists just to make more money, or if we are just whitening-challenged. In either case, because I still DO want whiter teeth,  I might have to opt for the laser whitening treatments, or — if I’m interested in the budget version – just buy a bottle of Liquid Paper.