PaleOverloaded – “You Can’t Eat The WHOLE Chicken”

I’m grudgingly coming to the realization that just because something is “Paleo”, I don’t necessarily get to eat as much of it as I want. Portion sizes (Newsflash!) still annoyingly matter on the Paleo eating plan.

Paleo Veggie-stuffed Omelette

Paleo Veggie-stuffed Omelette

Bacon is OK, but 27 slices? No.  Stir-fried shrimp and veggies? Sure! But a 5-gallon bucket of it? Not so much.

This bites, and I’m not using the word “bite” just because I’m hungry.  Sometimes you hear a Paleo person blithely say, “You can have as much as you want!” but I promise, they are talking about something like raw, dressing-free kale. They’re not discussing pork-stuffed peppers, or turkey-stuffed portobello mushrooms, or salmon and mango salsa.

Why do I bring up these delicious-sounding foods, you ask? Well, I recently got into Paleo eating and bought a few Paleo cookbooks, two of which have the most drool-worthy recipes imaginable. And I went a little crazy and cooked ALL OF THEM (well: many of them, anyway), depleting the grocery budget and my energy stores, yet — due to my aversion to portion control — not depleting significant amounts of stored fat in my buttish region.

Shrimp Pad Thai with Zucchini Noodles

Shrimp Pad Thai with Zucchini Noodles – From Primal Cravings by Megan & Brandon Keatley

I’m joking a bit here — obviously I KNOW that calories in are still calories in, whether they come from meat or veggies or donuts.  You don’t lose weight unless you burn more than you take in — I get it.

When they say “have a handful of almonds as a snack”, they mean – I suppose – the amount that fits into MY hand, not the amount that fits into my handbag. And a palm-sized portion of meat means MY palm -  not, like, the dinner-plate-sized cross-section of a palm tree trunk.

It’s just that some of these foods are so TASTY, you know?

On a more serious note, I really am trying to clean up our diet at my house in a mostly Paleo/Primal way. I’m buying tons of fresh fruits and veggies (organic where possible, mostly for the dirty dozen); grass-fed organic meats and butter, unsalted nuts, and almond butter.  I’m personally avoiding gluten and all grains except for oats, minimizing my dairy, and completely avoiding peanuts and all kinds of sugar.  Already I feel clearer-headed and more energetic, and I’m optimistic that combined with my cross-fit workouts, eventually the healthier eating will help me lose weight too.  Of course we’re not eating strictly Paleo — I’m allowing oats, a bit of dairy here and there, and “cheat” days. But we’re really emphasizing the reduction of grains and sugar, and I know it’s going to be good for all of us.

It’s not necessarily easy to get my daughter to eat Paleo, but cooking delicious things helps. Plain chicken breasts and broccoli? BORING.  But she likes salmon! And the adobo pork! And the zucchini “fries”!  And the lettuce wraps!   Even if it takes a while to wean her off her high-carb diet into more fruits and veggies, it’s worth it.

I’ve also started having her look through the Paleo cookbooks with me and pick out things she wants to try.  Of course she picked the hazelnut-coffee pancakes and the gluten-free brownies, but I gladly made them with her. I want to show her that we can make tasty, gluten-free treats too.

Gluten Free Brownies

Brownies – from Primal Cravings by Megan & Brandon Keatley


Hazelnut Coffee Pancakes (I used decaf!)

Hazelnut Coffee Pancakes (I used decaf!) – from Primal Cravings by Megan & Brandon Keatley

And she was excited to see the pictures of the moo-shoo wraps in the cookbook Primal Cravings  and then have them materialize in our very own kitchen.  I think that getting her involved in the selection and cooking makes her more liable to try the new foods AND to believe she’ll like them!

moo shoo 2 web

Moo Shoo Cabbage Cups – From Primal Cravings by Megan and Brandon Keatley

moo shoo cabbage roll webI’ve also a firm believer in preparing ahead.  If all I have is frozen meat and raw veggies, there is no way I can whip up a quick dinner when we’re all starving.  I’ve started pre-slicing veggies and fruits for easy snacking access, and preparing meals that will last for 2 dinners, or at least dinner and the next day’s lunch. That way there is always something healthy to eat so we’re less tempted to order out or eat something junky that’s still in the cupboard.  And I’ve started doing weekly meal planning so I ensure that everything I need for various recipes is on hand in my kitchen.

Adobo Pork

I’m also trying to talk to my daughter about food, explaining why I think certain veggies and fruits are so good for her, and why certain other things (like chips and cookies) are not. I’m not making these things off-limits by any means, but by having more healthy snacks around I hope to change all of our eating for the better.

Chicken and Apple Salad with Cherry Tomatoes

Chicken and Apple Salad with Cherry Tomatoes

So the plan for now is — even if I back off the full throttle cooking machine — to continue making healthy, delicious mostly-Paleo dinners and breakfasts for my family.  We won’t be 100% perfect, but we’ll hit for that magical 80% and hopefully improve our health!


Portobello Mushroom Stuffed with Lean Turkey/Veggie Mixture

Portobello Mushroom Stuffed with Lean Turkey/Veggie Mixture (and some Provolone Cheese – don’t hate me!)

If you’re interested, some of these recipes come from these two Paleo cookbooks that I bought on Amazon (brownies, stuffed peppers, pad thai, adobo pork, moo shoo wraps).  Now they’re not compensating me in any way for touting their books, although if someone called me up and was all,  “Hey! I see you wrote about our cookbook in a positive way! Do you want lots of money?” I’d be “Sure!”  ( It hasn’t happened YET, but I can still dream. Yes?)

Paleo Cookbooks that I LOVE:

Primal Cravings: Your favorite foods made Paleo by Brandon and Megan Keatley

Paleo Comfort Foods: Homestyle Cooking for a Gluten-Free Kitchen by Julie and Charles Mayfield

If you get these cookbooks, I think you’ll enjoy the recipes as much as I do. They’re easy to prepare and SO delicious. You won’t miss the gluten or dairy (although sometimes I put a bit of cheese on top of things – I don’t mind a bit of dairy here and there.)

And one more tip: If you’re planning to photograph your Paleo meals, don’t call your family to the table and THEN say, “Oh wait just a minute! I forgot I  have to take a picture of this!” and then spend 15 minutes arranging and shooting, while they sit there, shooting you more and more unhappy looks and banging on the table with their spoons, and eventually gnawing on their napkins in hunger. It does not make for a pleasant meal time.

But wherever you get your recipes, from books or from your own imagination, and whether or not you photograph your food,  I  hope you too are enjoying healthy, delicious meals! Be well.

CrossFit Photography

My latest photography project has intersected with “real life” in an interesting way: I’m taking pictures for the Made In Crossfit  (MIC) gym in Tempe, and I’m also working out there.

priscilla 23 cr bw webOscar Garcia (below), the owner and lead trainer, is enthusiastic and positive, and tries to help motivate each gym member.

MIC pic 4 bw cr webI brought my studio lights and backdrop equipment to MIC to take portrait shots, and also visited  various classes to take candids of the athletes. It’s been an amazing experience to meet the gym members and get to know them better as I take their pictures. I’m also working out at the gym 3X/week.  My exercise goals are to get stronger and lose weight. My photographic goal is to get the very best crossfit website pictures possible, and with athletes like these, my job is easy!

Ortega 27 web

Ortega 39 bw web

caterina 10 web


MIC pic 33 bw webMIC tires 9 bw webluz 4 bw web

Oscar has three other certified CrossFit trainers who also teach classes and coach the athletes during workouts.

First up is Caterina:

caterina 13 webAnd then there is Dominic:

Dominic 23 bw2 webAnd George:

George 24 bw2 webEach trainer has a unique perspective and set of skills to share with the gym members, and each trainer is encouraging and friendly.  They ensure that each gym member receives personal coaching and feedback on technique. They also  verify that everyone is is using the right form, and will walk around during classes correcting stances, demonstrating the right way to do each movement, and offering encouragement.

Members are encouraged to push themselves in a healthy way — beginners use modifications so they do not injure themselves or tire too soon  trying to perform advanced moves, and the competition is mostly with yourself (although there is friendly banter among the gym members about WOD times.)

The atmosphere in the gym is one of friendliness and support.  Members hug each other hello, chat about their families, and join together on purchases of speed ropes or WOD repair lotion to save money on shipping.  It’s not a meat-market, and it’s not competitive in a negative way — everyone is very welcoming and encouraging to old and new members alike.

Now you may be wondering: Jennifer, do you look like these people yet? And the answer is, well, NO.  And it doesn’t matter.  Nobody judges you here on how you look — just on how hard you work, and whether you give 100%.  I’ve heard several personal success stories from the fittest gym members about how they’ve lost 50+ lbs and gotten into the best shape of their life, and it’s VERY encouraging.  People like you even if you’re overweight, even if you don’t have defined triceps, and even if you can’t complete a WOD. It’s all about supporting each other and working hard.  And I love it!

In the 3 weeks I’ve been working out here, I’ve:

  • Learned what WOD means (Workout of the Day)
  • Learned how to do cleans, snatches, and wall balls
  • Lifted more weight than I thought I could
  • Done 100 situps in a row
  • Completed some tough workouts and felt exhilarated and proud afterwards (although also very sore and shaky!)

I hope that it will be ME, in a year or so, sharing MY success story to a newcomer, and I’m willing to put in the work to make it happen.  And while I do, I have these friendly, amazing athletes around me to offer support and encouragement.

If you’re debating whether you should CrossFit, I say: Try it!

Below are a few more  examples of some Made In Crossfit athletes during their portrait sessions and regular workouts. I hope these pictures inspire you to continue giving 100% at your next workout!


priscilla 24  bw3 web luz 6 web Lucy 3 webAimee 10 bw web Angela 8 web Brenda 26 bw web Dolores 13 cr web Elizabeth 8 web Eric and Lorena 2 bw2 web Martha 17 web Martha 18 web  Brenda 21 bw webElizabeth 4 webMartha and Dominic 6 web Vicky 1 web Vicky 12 bw webMIC 12 BW web baseline 3 web MIC pic 76 bw web

Thanks for reading, and enjoy your next workout!

Dog Analysis For Beginners

pablo with borders 2 web

People are curious about their dogs.  Sure, dogs exhibit some pretty serious curiosity themselves, especially when they become magnetically attracted to someone’s crotch or emotionally invested in a pile of dessicated poop in the park; when they enthusiastically knock over the trash can to get to a tampon or a rotten chicken bone; when they treat the kitty litter as their own personal buffet.  We people outdo them, though, because OUR curiosity goes beyond simple instinct.

Here’s an example. My sister was curious about the genetic mix of the dog she adopted from the shelter.  And who wouldn’t be?  Is there maybe 2% of Sheltie in her paws?  Does her nose look 4% Lab?  It was keeping Maria up at night, probably, and so she decided to get a genetic test to find out exactly WHAT her dog was made up of.  Here’s what she found out, and keep in mind that you can do this for your dog, too, and amaze all of your Facebook friends with the results.  I’m planning to do this for my dachshund, because I suspiciously suspect that he’s not 100% PURE dachshund, no matter what the teenager at the run-down pet shop told me!  It’s not like it matters, but — I’m curious. And the technology exists!

So, here is Foxy:foxy

And here is what Maria reported on Facebook a while back:

“The results for Foxy are in!

According to the Wisdom Panel 2.0 DNA test, she is a true mutt. She is a Labrador Retriever, Rottweiler, Cocker Spaniel (lol!) mix with lots of of other mixed breeds that could not be detected with accuracy. One of her parents was Cocker Spaniel and Labrador Retriever mixed with other breeds. The other was a Rottweiler mix. We totally guessed the Rotweiler part, mostly because of her coloring.

This was really fun! If you have a mutt, I recommend it. Not sure about the accuracy of it all, but the entertainment value is up there.”

Maybe you think that is too much to learn about your dog. You’d be wrong, though, because there is a LOT more you can glean from careful, scientific observation of your dog’s behavior.  For example, what is your dog’s favorite food?  Maybe you THINK it would be steak, or chicken, or pizza. But how can you be SURE?  This was keeping me and Amado up at night, so we — with Isabel’s help — devised the following very unscientifically accurate experiment to determine it more precisely.

We had ordered pizza last week and Pablo was whining and begging frantically, as he always does when pizza comes, and suddenly one of us asked, “So, is pizza his favorite food? Or does he like steak better?”

Isabel said, “I think pizza is his favorite!”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “He really loves steak, and chicken, too.  And sausage. And salami.”

“But he must have ONE total favorite,” Isabel insisted.  “I wish we could ask him.”

“Maybe…we can!” I suggested.  “Let’s do a Food Line-Up to see.”

“What’s a food line-up, Mama?”  Isabel was intrigued.

“Well, let’s see! How about we put all of these things down on the floor and see what he goes to first.  Pizza, salami, chicken wing meat, stuff like that.”

Amado said, “Yes, but we’ll have to let him see them all first, so he doesn’t just go to the first thing he sees. That way he’ll KNOW what’s there, and he can choose his favorite first.”

I agreed. “Yes, they’ll all have to be equidistant from him, and about the same size, so he doesn’t go to the biggest one just because it’s larger.”

We thought.  “Well, to be statistically significant, we’d have to repeat the experiment many times, ” I said.  “And we’d have to control for food location by varying which food was in which spot.  And we’d have to do it at different times of day.  Amado, how many times would we have to do it for 5 foods?”

Amado thought.  “Let’s just do it once,” he said.  (Our curiosity knows SOME bounds, even if it means sacrificing statistical accuracy.)

“It will be like the Olympics!” I said eagerly.  “One time, one winner. No statistics.”

Amado put Pablo on his leash while Isabel and I arranged small piles of food onto squares  of white paper. Our selections were:  BBQ chicken wing meat, pizza, salami, unsalted almonds, and his dog biscuits.

pablo experiment 2 To keep it interesting (as if it wasn’t thrilling already), we decided to rank the foods in the order we thought he’d choose.  Here’s how it looked:

pablo meat lineup2It was getting intense, because we each thought he’d choose a different food first!  After Isabel carefully lined up the foods on the floor, Amado lead Pablo over on his leash and let him sniff at the offerings.

pablo experiment 1pablo experiment 3Pablo strained mightily against his leash, whining in anticipation, his tail wagging so fast it was just a blur of energy. And finally the big moment came. The leash was released, and Pablo ran!  And the winner is:

The Pizza!

Yes, Pablo snatched the pizza and took it away to eat it in private. He wolfed it down in a few seconds, and we were eager to see what he’d choose next, but then he surprised us all.  Instead of actually choosing, he just ran to the closest one after the pizza, ate it, and worked his way down the line one by one.

pablo experiment 6

We were intrigued and disappointed, but you see, we’d also LEARNED SOMETHING ABOUT OUR DOG, something we had not heretofore understood:  After he satisfied his cravings with the completely irresistible pizza, he reverted to a “as much as possible in shortest time” mentality and just gobbled things down as quickly as possible with minimal movement. Fascinating!  Yes! What a great experiment!

Maybe you think that is too much good human food to sacrifice to a dog’s belly just to learn about his eating behavior. Once again you’d be wrong, because sometimes you need to donate an ENTIRE PIZZA to the cause. And here’s an example of how it works:

My parents had a dog named Baby (full name was Ice Ice Baby Stutson Bread, compliments of my sister Erica), and Baby loved pizza.  Like, she really REALLY loved it – so much, that one time, after my parents walked a friend to the door after a lovely shared meal of pizza, they came back 45 seconds later to find the dining table completely devoid of left-overs, and Baby guiltily licking her mouth in the corner in a very satisfied way. This dog had somehow gotten onto the dining table, eaten the equivalent of a large pizza, and had then gotten back down — all in complete silence, and all in under a minute.

This was a perplexing mystery!  How did she do it!?  Did she get onto a chair and from there put her paws onto the table, or did she just sort of launch her body up and grab the pizza cardboard?  Did she eat the sausage side first, or the pepperoni?  Did she look around before grabbing it, or did she just eat?

These were serious questions that we needed answered, and so – to satisfy our curiosity – Mom and I set up an experiment in the kitchen with her Camcorder and an entire Tombstone Pizza, fresh from the oven.  We were giddy with excitement. We were laughing and dancing around and I couldn’t stop giggling.

“Let’s put the whole pizza here,” Mom suggested.  “Then we’ll start the recorder and leave the room. We’ll give her plenty of private time to eat the pizza, and then we’ll watch to see what she did.”

“Baby!” we called. She was suspicious, sort of. She came in and gave us a LOOK. “Hi, Girl!” I said happily, and petted her.  “Ok, we’ll see you later!”

We snuck out of the kitchen, leaving Baby in there with the ENTIRE pizza, and easy access. We even closed the door to give her MORE privacy and time. We waited, hardly able to control our curiosity.

“I want to peek!” I whispered to Mom.

“No, don’t!” she said. “Give her time. Let her feel comfortable in there.”

We waited…and waited…and waited. Finally, unable to wait another minute, we peeked in. Baby was sitting calmly on the floor. The pizza was untouched. Baby gave us a look.

We were dumbfounded. What was going on? Why did she not eat the pizza? We were so confused. We left the room to give her more time.

After another few minutes, we rechecked. Baby was now scratching lazily, and the pizza was still pristine. She trotted past us to the living room without a second glance.

“Did she….KNOW we were recording her? And she didn’t want that?” I asked incredulously.

This dog — who once stole an ENTIRE TURKEY from this same kitchen table and took it into the backyard when Papa turned his back for one second to get the salt — this same dog had ignored our pizza experiment!  She wasn’t sick. She wasn’t full. She just….apparently….didn’t want to play our game.

And so we never got to learn how Baby stole pizza. That was her secret, and her secret it stayed.  And from this experiment we learned something new about the dog — she was very clever, and she was not oblivious to silly human antics. She had her pride. And possibly, she was a pizza snob (after all, it was Tombstone.)

Anyway, as you can clearly see, any experiment with your dog is guaranteed to deliver unexpected and eye-opening results. And it’s a fun way to have quality Family Time too!   I highly recommend that you indulge your own curiosity and analyze something about your own dog, starting today.

P.S. – Because of a certain old aphorism, I can’t guarantee that such curiosity-satisfying experimentation is safe for felines, so proceed on that path at your own risk.





Don’t Rain On My Meat Parade

shopping list web

“Mama,” said Isabel eagerly, “Tell another one. Make up a story where Ramona – real Ramona – is pretending to be Joey King, who is pretending to be Ramona for the movie, and how real Ramona gets to do the scenes instead of Joey King.”

“Sure,” I said, weary from telling many, many versions of made-up Ramona and Beezus stories to Isabel, most of them about Ramona trying to sneak onto the movie set and play herself instead of letting child actress Joey King do it.  “On our way to Whole Foods!”

I had a list, and I leaned my elbows onto the back of a chair and stretched my calves while I tried to memorize it.

“Mama, what are you DOING?” asked Isabel.

“I’m trying to remember everything on this list,” I explained.

“But why, Mama?” Isabel thought this was silly. “Why don’t you just bring the list with, and read it to see what you need?”

“Just to see if I can.  To improve my memory.  OK, Listen.  I’m going to make up a story about all of these things to see if I can lock them into my mind. I”m going to imagine this happening like a little movie. Here we go.”

I thoughtfully paused, then said, “OK!  Imagine some  hot dogs with legs. They are walking, all straight and tall, with thin little arms and legs. They are wearing gym shoes. OK? And they’re pulling…..sleds…made of bacon. Yes, bacon sleds! And riding on the sleds are turkeys who are going ‘GOBBLE BOGGLE’ and juggling purple cauliflowers and broccolis.”

“Mama, that’s silly,” interjected Isabel.

“Yes, I know,” I agreed happily. “That will make me remember it better.”

“Ok. So NOW, the hotdogs arrive at the swimming pool. Only it’s made of tortillas, and it’s filled with raw eggs instead of water. The hot dogs don’t want to get a sunburn, so they oil up with coconut oil and Go-Go Squeeze.  They’re really lathering in into their skin, getting all oily. Got that?

“Now, some friends come. I’m calling them the ‘Four Tall-ees” because they’re tall. Celery, cucumbers, zucchinis, and carrots. There’s 4 of them, so they’re dancing in, in a square shape. Like this.” I demonstrated a cha-cha like move.

“And NOW, they are going to go bowling, and each of them has a round thing.  They are using tomatoes, apples, beets, and avocados.  And they’re wearing strawberry hats on their heads!  And then they hop around in little hoppers made of bell peppers.

“And some little limes and lemons come in on tiny yellow legs, singing.  They are wearing shawls made of lettuce so they can fly. Super-LEMON! Whoo hoo! And then they jump on trampolines made of bread, and put on underpants made of pepperoni.

“Oh, and I can’t forget the hummus. On the way, the hot dogs pull the bacon sleds through a HUGE puddle of hummus, but it look like poop. Mud poop. BRRRRTTTTT.” (I made a fart sound.)

“Mama! That’s GROSS!” exclaimed Isabel, giggling, because who doesn’t giggle at poops and farts?

“I know!” I said, grinning back with pleasure. “It’s easier to remember when it’s gross. But just think, I can just say this little story to myself in the store, and that way I will remember EVERY thing on that list.”

Isabel was very quiet for a moment, then she spoke carefully.  “Mama, I don’t think you should say that story out loud in the store at all, ok?  I really don’t want you to.”

“All right,” I was  agreeable.  “I’ll just whisper it to you.”

“No, Mama. I don’t want you to say it ALL.”

“Why?” I asked innocently. “Do you think it might be…embarrassing?” ( She’s only 6 and she’s already asking me to change? Yikes.)

“No, not really,” she said. “But I just…don’t want you to say it at all, ever, ever again. Ok?”

In the car, I was forced to tell yet ANOTHER story about Ramona. Although I love the Ramona books, it gets tiring to be sort of on-call to make up Ramona stories at the drop of a hat every time your daughter wants one. VERY tiring.  Sometimes I said I couldn’t tell the story because I was focusing on driving.  Other times I said that I didn’t have story yet; my brain was still growing one slowly, like an apple maturing on a tree, or a chrysalis turning into a butterfly. Isabel asked many times  if the apple was ready yet. I said no, not yet, but soon.

When we got to the store, I was eager to test my memory story.  I headed right for produce. “The 4 Tallees,” I told Isabel, “bowling!” and we picked out all the right fruits and veggies. We remembered lemons and limes.

At the meat counter, I spoke out loud to Isabel.  “Hot dogs pulling bacon sleds with turkey on top. And don’t forget the pepperoni underpants. “It’s a Meat Parade!” I said in a song-ish way.  I was happy with my memory thus far.

Isabel giggled. A lady next to me, a tall elegant lady with white curls and a pearl necklace, made a sort of frown and muttered something to herself. It sounded like, “Oh My Lord. Seriously?”

Apparently she was not the type to appreciate a Meat Parade, or edible garlic-scented undergarments.  But the man behind the counter approved. “Now that sounds like a sweet setup,” he commented.

“Damn straight!” commented another customer, who was very hip and cool. I could tell he was hip and cool because:

  1.  He was wearing the shoes that have a compartment for each toe
  2. He had earrings in his ears that were as big as  silver dollars
  3. He and his partner were wearing matching bracelets

“Oh, thanks!” I blushed.  I was so excited to receive such lovely feedback.  “It’s a new memory technique,” I explained.  “New to me, anyway.  You make up a story about all the things you need to remember, and that way you don’t need to write it down.”

Partner murmured to toe-shoes, “I’d like to see YOU in some pepperoni underpants, Honey,” and then something quieter that I couldn’t quite hear (even though I tried), and then they both giggled  before wandering over to Cheese.

Isabel whispered to me, “Did he say a bad word, Mama? You know, DAMN?”

“Oh, no,” I said quickly. “He probably meant, like, a beaver dam. He was thinking about beavers, and how they could probably build an awesome, totally straight dam made of meat. Like a dam to block water, you know?”

To illustrate, I made some noises that seemed beaverish: ‘Raaaahhh!  Arrrgarrgarrgarr. Eeeekkkkjurkurkurkur.  Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreep.” And to seem further beaverish, I waved my arms behind me like a tail splashing the water, and hopped up and down.  I put a lot of effort into the beaver routine.

The pearl lady  grimaced and pointedly moved a few steps further from me. Clearly she was as unimpressed with my Beaver Impression as she was with my Meat Parade. Maybe she thought I was rabid.

Her loss, I thought darkly, and in my food movie, made the hotdogs push her into the egg pool and then take her pearl necklace and act out a scene from Fifty Shades of Gray where the boy hotdog takes the pearls over to the girl hotdog and – and no, never mind, because although the memory book said that the more explicit or gross a memory is, the stickier it is, I REALLY didn’t want to see her pearls doing that, and OH NO. Too late!  The pearls were locked into my memory in a most memorable way, and they were not even on my list of things to buy! Shit!

Isabel was tugging at my hand. “Mama, did we get hot dogs yet?”

Pearl necklace. Hot dogs. “Not yet, Sweetie,” I said, and we walked over to get them.

Later on, we tried some salami samples at the meat counter. They were really gross, and Isabel whined for water (honesty, I felt like barfing too), and then I was trying to run through the story in my head, but it was hard with a small girl complaining and tugging.

“Just let me grab the poop hummus!” I called to Isabel, and I grabbed my favorite flavor, buffalo, from the rack.

And of course, Pearl Lady was RIGHT THERE hearing me call it poop hummus.  I had to work hard to keep from laughing. The look on her snooty face was priceless, so I innocently repeated it loudly as I walked past her:  “Poop hummus! Poop hummus!” It felt great to say it loudly like that. “Poop hummus!” I repeated, and then said it again.

“Poop Hummus!”    I practically screamed at her. This time she moved away very quickly indeed.  I made another noise, just for fun, a noise that might be uttered by a rabid beaver. “RRRRRRRik -ik -ik ik ik ik ik ik!”

Why was she even AT Whole Foods? I wondered to myself.  She seemed like she needed a butler to shop for her, or something. Oh My Lord.

As we paid for the food, I checked the list to see how I’d done.  Yes, everything! I’d gotten…oh, no. I forgot the coconut oil. How could I have forgotten THAT? I’d really visualized the hot dogs greasing up when I first created the story. And I did remember the apple sauce, their other suntain lotion.

I decided:

  1. Too much beaver dam and pearl necklace; not enough running through the actual story while shopping
  2. Having Isabel gagging and crying about nasty salami didn’t help
  3. Of course, a person with a super strong memory could easily summon up “coconut oil” even if they had TEN screaming kids and TEN mean Pearl Necklace Ladies distracting them
  4. So obviously I need more practice
  5. But still, a pretty good first attempt!
  6.  I’m proud of the bacon sled! Seriously, a bacon sled! Cool, right?

Unfortunately, even though I forgot the coconut oil, I still can remember Claudia Schiffer in the cottage cheese. (Confused? Read my earlier story on memory here.) Maybe next time I’ll have to imagine Ms. S. rubbing the coconut oil all over herself, or better yet,  I’ll imagine Mr. Christian Gray rubbing coconut oil on himself.

And if I encounter Mean Pearl Lady again, I won’t shout “Poop Hummus!” at her. Instead,  I’ll just  be forthright and tell her, “Hey! Don’t you rain on my Meat Parade!”



The Purple Pig Of Pleasure And Other Delights

My sister Maria likes to take pictures of special finds in the second hand store and text them to me with little messages. One day she sent me this little gem, practically guaranteeing me a night full of bad dreams:

leprechaun from maria

I try to respond with special thrifty pictures of my own, like this special doll:

special doll

I could have texted something like, “I’m watching you!”  or, “Can I wear a pair of YOUR undies?” but some things are so firmly implied that there is no need for redundance.

When I was a child, most of my clothes were purchased from  thrift stores.  And I still remember the joy of being told as a kid  that I could pick out any books I wanted! — pretty much as many books as I wanted! – when I went with mom to the various thrift stores in Chicago. For a family on a budget, those are magical words.

The thrift stores have provided me with serious  joy as an adult, too.  One summer when I was working as an engineering intern, I bought a large stuffed purple pig and a blow-up reindeer at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop, and the pig became The Mascot of that summer.  Lisa, Erica and I took turns hiding it and doing funny things with it (often at work it would show up in somebody’s cube), and at the pinnacle of the pig’s popularity, Lisa erected a faux spit and bonfire on the front lawn of our rental and hung the pig over it, upside down, as if it were roasting.

I wish I had a picture to share, but I can’t find it – so please imagine us holding a stuffed pig as large as a real pig, except it’s purple, and we are  laughing like hyenas. Also, we might be drunk.

My sister Erica bags some real winners at her thrift stores, too. She once found — in the children’s book section — a board book with a hole in it. The hole was  for your penis, and the book was something about penises and what they could do.  Nice!  I think that might be even more special than the leprechaun or the most enchantingly evil doll.

But the pièce de résistance of a lifetime of thrifting is my husband’s award-winning Ugly Sweater. We found the sweater in the first 3 minutes after entering Chicago’s Unique Thrift Store. Amado wore it to the Ugly Sweater Run and WON A PRIZE for ugliest sweater! He shared the prize with a handful of others, but the fact that he was up there was enough to make the rest of us scream in pleasure and then head right to the beer tent to use our beer tickets (this Ugly Sweater Run was sponsored by Samuel Adams.)  Maria’s and her family’s sweaters were also from Unique; mine and AJ’s were from a Goodwill in Phoenix, AZ.  Only a thrift store could provide such true ugliness and joy, because that run was a particularly fun activity to do with family. Thanks, thrift stores!

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Seriously, though, thrift stores have given me so much more than clothes!  Providing laughter is such a generous act, and by making things like stuffed pigs, Ugly Sweaters and leering leprechauns available, thrift stores have increased my overall mirth percentage significantly.  That’s  the reason I like to donate my old stuff to Goodwill or other second hand stores — maybe my clothes will come in handy for someone else, and maybe my cast-off trinkets and/or sweaters can give somebody else a good guffaw.

Brilliant Idea Alert:  —> And now I have a brilliant idea. Maria and Erica — want to have a competition?  Let’s see who can find the BEST  thing at a thrift store.  We can pick a time frame (the next 3 weeks?) and send in pictures of our top two things to enter.  Other people are welcome to enter, too!  Totally impartial people, like Muz, Papa and AJ can be our judges if they want. What do you say? Are you and your city up for it? Game on!

P.S. – Isabel and I went to the Goodwill today, where I found a shirt for me and two books for her. I also found the following splendid treasures for Maria.

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P.P.S. – I found old pictures of the purple pig! Here it is, featured with young me and young Amado.

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Mangoes and That Homeless Guy: Our Maui Vacation

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“This one is supposed to be the worst luau EVER,” my mom reported, reading reviews as she tried to choose a luau for our family night out on Maui.  “Not just the worst luau in Maui, but the worst in all of the Hawaiian Islands. That is, according to that guy in the guide book.”

“How can we pass THAT up?” asked my brother, pouring alcohol deftly into glasses and adding sprigs of mint. He passed Mom a mai tai.

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“Yes,” I added. “We pretty much have to go to that one, now that we know. Just to see what the worst one of all time is like!”

It took Mom a lot of time to decide, but finally — after much laughter and joking — she booked reservations for the Royal Lahaina Luau, which really had been called the worst of the worst in the Maui Revealed book.

I had a soft spot for The Royal Lahaina, even though I hadn’t been there in over 13 years; Amado and I had gotten married there in 2000 and had enjoyed our first time in Hawaii together there. And seriously, how could the luau be that bad?

Well, of course it wasn’t that bad!  I was  disappointed; when something is set up to be the “worst of all time,” you really expect the pits — something so revolting and horrible that it becomes, in a campy way, amazing. The show was regular-old-boring-good:  The dancers were fun and skilled, they made us laugh at times, and they did the fire dance at the end (my favorite!)  The food was fine; we even enjoyed  the much-maligned macaroni salad.  And when it started to pour, they quickly and efficiently passed out plastic ponchos to everyone!


Enjoying the worst of the worst possible luaus in Hawaii!

Enjoying the worst of the worst possible luaus in Hawaii!

The drinks were bottom shelf, sure, but so are the drink at EVERY luau. Here, at least, we got unlimited yummy mixed beverages and mai tais and daiquiris. I wouldn’t say it was my favorite luau EVER, but they all have their ups and downs. And now we have cute little rain ponchos and souvenir Tiki glasses in case we want to relive the experience in the backyard with a hose and a Bud Light. (Thanks, guidebook guy, for being so wrong about the luau!)

Other highlights of the vacation included:

  1. Unlimited fresh mangoes from the tree in our rental house yard
  2. Watching the sun set over the ocean every evening from our lanai
  3. Playing in the waves in front of the rental house
  4. Snorkeling and seeing LOTS of humuhumu fish!
  5. Watching that homeless guy walk sloooowly across our lawn on his way to (who knows?) and back again, several times a day, and having discussions about whether we would have booked this exact house if we’d know ahead of time that an apparently homeless guy is crashing every night on the lawn 2 houses to the left, and how — even though he doesn’t SEEM to be casing the place in order to steal our stuff — now we can’t fully relax and leave the lanai open at night, and whether Maui is a good place to be homeless?
  6. On the one hand, the weather is always nice, “and you can pee in the ocean and wash your butt in the ocean!” Isabel helpfully added.
  7. But on the other hand, the price of living is VERY expensive.
  8. “But did you see that old skinny homeless guy washing up at the beach shower?” my mom asked.  “He was even washing inside his shorts, I mean, really getting in there.”  So – free showers!
  9. But if you get tired of Maui, you can’t just hitch a ride to Akron or something.
  10. And do we think people are MORE generous or LESS generous to the homeless while they are on an expensive vacation?
  11. And it’s important not to forget the drunk, homeless guy from LAST trip who cornered AJ in the parking lot of a convenience store and slurred, “I love yoooururr shirrrrt, maaannn,” and started standing closer and closer to him in an attempt (we think) to be invited into our car, as he started to rant in a somewhat manic and threatening way about a very good science fiction book and movie that he loved and which should really be more popular than they are.
  12. What do you think he is doing now? Is he still approaching people in that same parking lot?
  13. And for the record, many of us have given money and food to homeless people through the years, in New York, Chicago and Phoenix, just so nobody thinks we think of them as mere fodder for our mirth.
  14. Do you think they eat a lot of fresh mangoes that grow here in Hawaii?

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As you can see, there is always a lot to talk about while we’re together in Hawaii.  The mangoes were really SO delicious, and the beach SO beautiful, that I couldn’t help but think that Maui must be a gorgeous place to be homeless.

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The girls loved the beaches best, I think, along with the shave ice. We drove around to see the area and stopped at a black sand beach (black-ish, anyway), and splashed.

We drove to the Garden of Eden on the way to Hana and stopped to see the scenic overlooks and tropical plants, and got excited about the bamboo and rainbow eucalyptus.  The prettiness of Hawaii is always soul-soothing to me, and I always dream of moving there. Below are some more shots from the vacation…I wish we could go back already!

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Here are more shots from Hawaii…the aquarium, hanging out around the rental house, and various sights we enjoyed.

Family, I will send you a link to see all the pictures and will send copies to you, too!







No, These Cookies Are Not Poisoned!

Every once in a while, I think I say too much. Here’s an example:

It was nearing the last day of kindergarten, and I wanted to bring a snack for my daughter’s class. I ended up buying a box of multi-colored-sprinkle butter cookies from Chompie’s as I was having my Cream Cheese Adventure (refer to this post for more information).

I drove to the school to drop off the cookies, thinking it would be fun to see my kiddo for a few minutes too. The office admin told me I could walk down to the room, so I did — and it was empty. The kids were clearly having one of their “specials” (Art? Music?). I felt sort of like an interloper, and I walked up to the teacher’s desk gingerly.  “I’m just leaving cookies here!” I called to the empty room, just in case there was someone watching.

Then I thought I’d better explain to the office staff.  “Can you tell Mrs. G. that I left a box of cookies on her desk?”  I asked the office staff. “It’s just a snack for the kids.  So she’s not surprised, you know, to find them there, when they get back from their specials.  In case she doesn’t know who it’s from.”

“Sure,” said the staffer, “I’ll tell her.”

And now here’s the part where I should have stopped talking, said, “Thanks!”, and walked away.

I hesitated.  “Because, you know,” I went on mirthfully, “I don’t want her to come back and be all, OH MY GOD!  Where did these come from? I don’t want her to think they’re poisoned or anything. Because, they’re not. Ha Ha! I would never bring poisoned cookies to school. Ha Ha Ha!”

Now the staffer had her head cocked to the side and was regarding me very carefully, like one might look at a potentially rabid squirrel at the birdfeeder.

She did not say anything.

I kept going. “Not that she’d THINK that, of course. But it’s something I’d worry about, that the cookies might be poisoned, if they just showed up without notice.”

The aide was still very silent.

I continued.  “My sister is like that, too! Once, when she had her baby, someone left a bag of chicken by her door, like a welcome/help gift. But she didn’t want to eat it, because she wondered if maybe it was poisoned. So her husband had to taste it first. It wasn’t poisoned, though. Ha Ha! It turned out to be from a friend who just hadn’t left a note.”

I could HEAR this stuff coming out of my mouth, but I was helpless to stop the flow of words. I was trying to interpret the expression on the staffer’s face, and I wasn’t sure if it was:

  • 1.  This Lady Is Clearly Psycho, And So Is Her Sister (sorry, Maria!)
  • 2.  I’m Not Listening, And I Hope She Goes Away Soon So I Can Get Back To Work
  • 3.  This Lady Had Poisoned These Cookies. As Soon As She Walks Away, I Will Throw Them Out Immediately And Call The Police.

But I was pretty sure it was not

  • 4.  This Lady Is SO Funny! I Love Her Quirky Humor! Ha! Ha!

I wrapped it up.  “I should probably stop talking now!” I said.  “So, just tell her the non-poisoned cookies are from I’s mom. Thanks!”

She did not smile or laugh. She was still just looking at me. “Bye!” I said brightly, and hurried out the door.

Mission accomplished!  Cookies of goodwill left for kids! Complete alienation of critical office staff completed!

Sheesh.  I mean, wouldn’t YOU worry about a bunch of food that just showed up? Am I alone here? It’s funny, right?

I think I know how I can make it up to the staff, though, and get back into normal-person status.  I’ll bring donuts…and I’ll be careful to explain NOTHING AT ALL about their origin or lack of poison.  Maybe just a little note-card…with a big red bar drawn through a Skull-And-Crossbones. And a Smiley Face.

Cottage Cheese, Toupees, and Cardiology

As I was walking through the parking lot towards the entrance of the Banner Heart Hospital, I saw a piece of black hair lying on the ground by the driver’s side door of a parked car. The car, a modest sedan, had handicapped plates. The hair was shiny and black and luscious.

“Is that a…toupee?” I asked myself with eager curiosity, as I approached the scalpage.  (Curiosity, because I’m just always on the quest for knowledge and new experiences. Eagerly, because — come on, how often do you see a wig in a parking lot? And also, because I wanted to distract myself from my upcoming cardiology appointment, and ALSO, because isn’t LAUGHTER THE BEST MEDICINE OF ALL? And if so, maybe by having a good old chuckle right here in the parking lot I might cure all of my symptoms so that the doctor would proclaim, “Get out of here, you scamp! There is absolutely nothing wrong with you at all!”)

Anyway, so there I was in the beating sun, looking down at a tousled but otherwise intact patch of vibrant black hair, and thinking:

  • 1. Should I…pick it up?
  • 2.  NO, right? Because, what would I do with it?
  • 3.  I mean, I COULD put it into the ‘eyeglass basket’ in the cardiology office on the 3rd floor (Yes, they do have an “eyeglass basket”; yes, it’s always filled with at least 4 pairs.)
  • 4.  But perhaps the owner of the hairpiece is not at that office. There are many different offices in the building…the hairless wonder could be anywhere.
  • 5.  Besides, what if it had, like, lice or something? Cooties?
  • 6. Better to just leave it here, by this car, because probably the owner will see it on the way back out.
  • 7. But also, I should text several people about this immediately.
  • 8. And probably also tell the tech today at my appointment, because, hey! A toupee in the parking lot!

So after chuckling to myself and admiring, for one last time,  the luster of the sun shimmering from the ebony tresses, I took a deep breath and continued on into the building, and to floor three, where I had an appointment to pick up my eCardio heartbeat monitor.

I noted that the eyeglass basket was full, and that there were no people in the waiting room who appeared to be lacking a hairpiece. That’s not to say that they didn’t lack hair — it’s just that those who lacked it seemed to be OK with it.

“The Blessing!” I muttered to myself, summoning up another chuckle as I reminisced with myself about the awesome uncle in “Christmas Vacation” and about his toupee. Awesome!  “The Blessing!” I said under my breath again, wishing that I could insta-send a mental Skype to my sisters and family to laugh about this with me.

Because I could not do the mental thing, and because nobody sitting near me piped up with, “Oh, I LOVE that movie too!”, I  passed time while waiting nervously by alternating between two thoughts:

  • 1. Oh My God. I am probably the youngest person in here. I guess that’s OK, right? I mean, look at all these people – they’re pretty old, and they have serious problems, and they’re still kicking! It’s OK. I’m OK.
  • 2. Oh My God. I am probably the youngest person in here. That’s TERRIBLE. I mean, look at all these people – they’re pretty old, and they have serious problems. If I’m having problems NOW, good God, what, how will I —

And now it was time to distract myself by reading a book on my tablet by Joshua Foer called Moonwalking With Einstein. This book proved to be even better than the toupee in the parking lot. Have you read it? If not, you should!  Foer writes in a fun style about memory, memory competitions, how to improve your memory, and how even “ordinary” people who don’t think of themselves as savants can learn to memorize incredible amounts of knowledge.

He said there are techniques you can use to memorize lists of words or numbers, and he started with a very catchy example.  Let’s say you want to memorize his friend’s long ‘to do’ list of 15 items that includes purchasing pickled garlic, cottage cheese, 6 bottles of wine, elk sausages, etc. He says to start by thinking of a place that is very familiar to you, such as your childhood home . Take the first item on your ‘to do’ list and put it by the entry walkway. Imagine yourself placing that jar of pickled garlic there, maybe a HUGE bottle, and tasting the delicious and/or revolting taste as you do. Really visualize it there in your mind.  Next, proceed up to the front door. As you get there, imagine that right there is a kiddie pool filled with cottage cheese, and Claudia Schiffer is in there swimming in it. A few items later,  imagine the 6 bottles of wine sitting on the couch, arguing about which one of them tastes better. (Foer, Joshua. Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything.  New York: The Penguin Press, 2011.)

And so on. The thing is, it WORKED.  I read along with his friend’s eccentric to-do list, mentally placing them  in my childhood home, and it stuck. I can recall the list right now. I am visualizing the jar of garlic, the pool of cottage cheese, the wine bottles…all of it!

I started to get excited. Next step? Maybe *I* can be the one who memorizes pi to the ten thousandth digit!  Or, maybe not, because honestly? –That sound super boring. (Although kudos to those who can do it!)

But I figured that if I could now memorize long weird lists of things just after reading about a technique for 10 minutes, imagine how much I could improve my memory ability if I actually studied more about this and practiced, as Foer did. He ended up winning the U.S.  Memory Championship in 2006 after learning & practicing various memory techniques.

So I walked into my appointment thinking of Claudia Schiffer and the garlic (those images are REALLY sticky! — mental note; need to learn how to un-remember something), and proceeded to tell the tech about the toupee in the parking lot at a suitable point in the conversation. She did not seem to think this was as funny as I did, or as interesting. Also, she did not seem to know exactly how to work the device she was currently giving me to take home for 30 days.  I found myself thinking that perhaps SHE could use a few lessons on memory. (“I can’t remember how many events it records before you can send it. I think maybe, like, two? Or like, maybe three? Just send after each event though, OK?”)

It’s an eCardio monitor that looks like a little pager. If I feel irregular heartbeats or palpitations, I just hold it to my chest and it records for 60 seconds. Then I call the number listed on the pager, hold the receiver over the pager, push the “SEND” button, and it transmits.  I was simultaneously relieved that I didn’t have to WEAR the monitor for 30 days and also surprised that there was not better technology. I mean, seriously — how about a device that records and can upload to a website on the computer? Wouldn’t that be simpler?

My cardiologist told me not to worry about having a heart attack from my sometimes-palpitations after I told him I was worried about this. He wants me to record any irregular heartbeats so we can figure out what is going on, but he did not seem to think it was going to be life-threatening, which is comforting.

So now I will be carrying around my little eCardio in my purse for the next 30 days, and also possibly reading more about memory techniques and improving my memory.  I will also be trying to remove the images of Claudia in the cottage cheese, and the huge bottle of garlic, and the grumpy wine bottles from my childhood home, because — as you can imagine — there are MUCH better things I can use to fill up that home. Like a luscious, gleaming black toupee.




Rhino Horns, Toenail Clippings, and My Jeans

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Fifty thousand dollars, the announcer on NRP was saying. An illegal poacher could get $50,000 for the horn of a rhinoceros!  Poor rhinos.  The creatures are being increasingly targeted by poachers, who kill them just to obtain their horns. It’s becoming a significant problem and decreasing the popoulation of rhinos around the world. (Read the NPR article here.)

The use of rhinceros horns in traditional Chinese medicine has been around for centuries. When ground into a powder and mixed with boiling water,  the horn has been long believed to cure many ailments in China, including rheumatism, gout, and fever. In Yemen, the horn is often used as part of ceremonial swords, and in Greek lore it was said that bowls made of the horn could detect poisons. (This part might have actually been true, as the alkaloid poisons might have visibly reacted with the keratin in the horn.)

Because the horns are so valuable as a supposed medical powder, poachers are killing the animals  in order to sell the horns to many Asian countries, especially Vietnam, which has become one of the largest importers of the horns.

Although there is really no documented evidence of the horn’s ability to actually cure diseases, it is increasingly being marketed as an antidote to many illnesses including cancer, and has become extremely popular. Several websites claim that Vietnamese are demanding the powdered rhino horn in ever-increasing numbers.

Some people believe that the poaching laws need to be stronger; others believe that legal “rhino farms” should be allowed so that the government or legal traders can sell horns without killing animals, gradually putting the poachers out of business.

I read a few articles about this on the web; this one from PBS concludes with the statement that in terms of the health claims, you’d be just as well off eating your own nail clippings. This is because the famed rhino horn is composed primarily of keratin, with a stronger core of calcium and melanin.  Keratin is the material that comprises our hair and fingernails, and the hooves of many animals.

When I thought about eating toenails, though,  I remember a very special time at the DMV.

I was waiting in an uncomfortable chair in a packed waiting room, with random numbers being called up on screens and all walks of life around me in various stages of frustration, distress, or boredom.  I watched person after person walk up to get a driver’s license photo, I observed someone eating something from a Tupperware that smelled suspiciously like sauerkraut, I blinked at the lady who was talking to a very small dog with the word, “Poop! Poop!  Poop!” written in cursive on a pink collar when….something even MORE interesting caught my eye.

Or actually, my ear. “Clip! Clip!” went the sound.

“What IS that?” I wondered to myself.

“Clippy Clip! Clippity Clip!” I heard again, and then “zing!” something small snapped into my jeans leg.

“Aik!” I squeaked, brushing at my leg, thinking it was some kind of bug. The thing fell to the floor, and it was not, in fact, a bug. It was a long, yellow toenail clipping.

With growing horror, I turned my head to the left. One empty chair away, a man in his mid-50′s had hoisted one long hairy leg atop the other knee, had removed his sandal, and was busy clipping the discolored nails on his long knuckly toes.

He stopped to examine a piece of nail that had not automatically fallen from the clipper, the way I might pick up a piece of string that the vacuum cleaner ran over, then he wrinkled his nose and dropped the piece to the floor.

He continued snipping away, moving carefully from toe to toe. “Zip! Zing!” more clips flew out at impossible speeds in random directions.

I moved quickly to an empty chair further down my aisle.  I could NOT believe that he was doing this — clipping his nails, here, right HERE, in the Department of Motor Vehicles! I grant you that it is a very boring place, staffed with chronically unhelpful workers, full of bureaucratic forms.  I could handle a discreet nose-pick here or there. I could even tolerate a fart or two. (Who hasn’t let one loose in a waiting room, am I right?)

But the fact that his nasty nail landed ON MY JEANS was repulsive. And HE was repulsive!  And if disgusted stares or The Evil Eye had any actual power, his feet would already have disintegrated into black dust after incinerating themselves in the heat of my hatred.  But he was blatantly oblivious to my hate, and what was even worse — nobody else seemed to be noticing this.

Really? I thought. It’s come to this?  He gets to clip his nails in here, and nobody else even thinks it’s gross?

He finished the one foot in no rush, then re-sandaled it and hoisted the other for a quick pedi.

I could not look away. It was worse than rubbernecking an accident on the highway. “Please, God, make it stop!” I was wailing internally, but he did not stop; at least, he didn’t put away the clippers until he had diligently finished all of other smelly digits. And then — seriously, he picked a piece of nail out of the clipper and CHEWED ON IT.  Then he slipped the silver tool back into his pocket and picked up a newspaper.

When my number was finally called, I was relieved to move away – FAR away from the Clip Zone. But I never forgot the incident, and even though I am now experiencing a little PTSD just thinking about his toes, I realize:

If that gross man can clip and eat his toenails, why can’t other people do it too? Maybe the people who are dependent on the rhino horn are just mislead. If it’s keratin they want, keratin they should get, and maybe it can come from their VERY OWN FEET! Think of it! Instead of selling rhino horns, maybe the little apothecaries should start selling DIY guides. “Step one: Clip Your Nails. Step Two: Grind Them Down. Step Three: Mix With Boiling Water.” and Voila! A new way to get your keratin, right?

Maybe we can even track down DMV-man and have him farm out some extra toenails. He definitely  had some long ones going on there.

I’m not trying to make light of the rhino plight. Although the rhino has never been even close to my favorite animal (seahorse, hummigbird, lemur) and in fact is probably sort of low down on the list, I do NOT want to see them being killed for their horns. I do not like to think of people killing them for a horn that has no real medicinal value, leaving their corpses spread across the land.

I guess I’m trying to use a bit of humor to spread the word about the plight of the rhinos. So please, if you ever hear anyone say that they believe the rhino horn actually works medicinally,tell them that it doesn’t. Tell them to try their own toenails instead.  Tell them not to support the killing of innocent animals.


Welcome to That Lady’s Ass – I mean, To Your Kindergartener’s Graduation!

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My daughter graduated from kindergarten today, and there was a song performance and some little dance-like routines.  It was probably all super-cute, although I have no way of knowing this for sure, because:  A) My  line of sight was blocked by a seething mass of outstretched arms and cameras of all styles and kinds and varieties, as well as many asses of all kinds and varieties, and B) I wasn’t sure if I was on a trading floor or at a children’s ceremony.

One of the first things the kindergarten teacher told us, in a very nice and polite voice was, “Welcome, Parents! Please remain seated during the ceremony so that everyone can see. If you need to get a picture, please stand at the back of the room! And please, do not stand on top of the folding chairs.”

As soon as she stepped away from the mike, parents immediately stood up en masse and started elbow-grappling for position, and some of them in the back STOOD ON THEIR FOLDING chairs to get a better view.

As the kids filed in, wearing caps and searching the audience for their parents and waving, the audience got more intense.  People started pushing their way to the front and standing in front of the first aisle, running into the “off limits” area where the children were walking, and squeezing un-apologetically into other people’s aisles (like mine) to stand in front of anyone they felt like (including me) in order to get a better shot with their video camera. Which is how I got to become intimate, so to speak, with several asses.

One lady sat down absently in my lap, so absorbed in her videotaping that she forgot, apparently, that she had scooted into a different aisle and was not actually standing in front of her OWN seat. She did not say anything about this faux pas; just got up, gave ME a “look”, like, “What the hell are you doing there in MY seat?” and went into another aisle to film.

After a few minutes, I suddenly smelled Ban roll-on. There was a male armpit at the side of my face, just a few inches away, and a camera in front of my face. So even though I could not see my daughter on the risers, I could now watch her through this man’s little Camcorder screen as I felt his warm breath on my neck.  It was a special moment, I tell you!  I had to say, “Excuse me?” to him several times before he grunted and moved his body and arm a few inches to the right, at least giving me some breathing room.

Amado and I laughed together about the man who ran up – so eager to film his own child receiving a diploma – that he started blocking the pathway for kids to walk up. And as soon as he did it, several other people did it (including my friend the Asslady), until the teacher finally had to say something to make them move.

It was crazy, though. People! This is kindergarten!  I had been expected some kind of filmzilla behavior, but this was beyond what I’d imagined. It made me laugh and feel depressed at the same time.

As a photographer, I love capturing moments, and I love recoding special activities. But all of these dozens of parents were so intent on filming from the best angle, and so completely enthralled in their devices, that they were not really present. They were watching, but not watching — they were seeing their child not in front of their eyes, but through a small digital screen.  The complete zeal that engulfed the room made me feel melancholy; these moments that we try so hard to capture are so fleeting, and it felt suffocating to be around all of the filmers who were in the process of missing the very thing they were trying to preserve forever.

So instead of throwing my elbows into the mix and frantically pushing for territory, I craned my neck far to the right so I could see Isabel through a gap in the asses and arms and cameras. I could see her small face. She was solemn, although at time she turned to the girl next to her and gave a small giggle and jumped up and down slightly. She twisted her hair around her finger. She spotted me and Amado and waved, then immediately pulled her small hand in, unsure if she was supposed to wave or not. She smiled at us. She tapped her feet. I could see her little mouth open very wide as she sang her favorite songs. Her hands were plump and sweet, twirling around, as she did the “moves” she’d practiced for the songs.

When it was her turn to accept her diploma, I could not see her at all. But I watched her step back onto her spot on the riser, happily holding her diploma in one hand, and she made eye contact with me and Amado again, and she smiled. She couldn’t have done that — shared the smile with me — if I’d been glued behind a tiny screen, watching her through a digital filter. It was her and me, right there. And I loved it.

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Creamcheese, Diapers, and Expensive Cookies

cookies web

I was craving a New York style bagel this morning, the kind I used to get in little bagel stores near Columbia U., when Jen and Nandita and Robbie and I would go for a study break snack.  I pulled into the Costco lot, idly thinking about these bagels and about the photos I was going to pick up (would they have good color? Did Costco believe me when I checked the “do not autocorrect” box? Because Costco seems to usually really LOOOOVE doing Autocorrect?)

Costco was still closed. I was irritated. Did they not KNOW that I was there? Did they not GET that my schedule was geared to an earlier opening? Could they BE that insensitive? Damn you Costco, you jerk-offs, I was thinking to myself.

Should I just wait? Then I noticed a Chompies restaurant out of the corner of my eye. I decided: “Hey, I’ll check out this Chompies place. Maybe they have bagels there? I’ll just go see.” (A big hint to help me out was the large bagel right on their logo, and the word BAGEL all over the outside of the store.) You can’t get anything past ME at 9:30 am in the morning. I’m pretty sharp.

So I went into the Chompies, and Oh My God. Not only did they have big rows of bagels and actual metal tubs of cream cheese, they had knishes and strudels and Challa bread and mock subway signs. It was really awesome — I mean, I knew the signs were kind of cheesey, but they were still AWESOME.  At times I still miss NYC, and seeing a subway sign makes me nostalgic for the good times without any of the smelly puddles or crowded bodies or hot subway cars or incessant waits with just hot stinky air blowing down the subway tunnel when you craned your neck to see: Are there any lights coming? Anything?

So I ordered a toasted garlic bagel with cream cheese, and then I remembered how: Oh yes! In NYC, they put about a whole pound of cream cheese on your toasted bagel; so much cream cheese that it drips and spurts out the sides and gets all over your fingers and hands and shirt. And if you’re like me, a person who likes cream cheese but doesn’t LOVE it in the sense that you would put an entire block of it onto your bagel, you have to wipe some of it off.

I smiled to myself as I began the moves I remember doing back in college: Smashing the bagel together and wiping off the huge amount of excess cream cheese with the waxed paper wrapper and extra napkins, then holding it in my hand like a full warm baby diaper, looking for a place to toss it out.

That’s how the diapers come in.  Seriously, there was SO MUCH cream cheese on this bagel that my excess cream cheese, wrapped up in the paper wrapper, had the same heft and warmth as a newborn’s poopy Pamper.

chompies wrapper 1 webLook at that ! Just look! That whole folded over paper is full of cream cheese. And that’s not even ALL of it.  There was more in the 3 napkins I already tossed. I can’t even believe how much cream cheese went onto that bagel! I could have creamed 4 other bagels with the excess. It’s actually a shame I had to toss it out.

I guess that a)cream cheese must be inexpensive and b)most people in NYC must loooove themselves some cream cheese, if that is the norm.  And I also just realized that c) “I could have creamed 4 other bagels” sounds really, really wrong. So sorry about that. Just pretend I never said it, ok?

I do remember that all of my friends would eat all of their cream cheese just as it was, and tease me for wiping much of mine away. (Except for one friend who always got her bagels toasted with just a sliver of butter.)

Anyway, so after that awesome diaper-loaded bagel, I saw that Chompies had windows full of gorgeous sugar cookies, and I got a box of them for my daughter’s last week of kindergarten.  They were beautiful, spotted with sprinkles, and delicious (I snuck one, of course.) And $12 for 47 cookies.

So there you have it: A morning without Costco can lead to good things, like NY style bagels, handfuls of warm diapers, and yummy cookies.  The path less taken CAN be more fun (if slightly more expensive).

So I need to know: How do you like your bagels?  Do you like the crazy amounts of cream cheese? Do you prefer butter? Inquiring minds want to know….

Super Carrot Deluxe!


When I bit into the carrot from my garden, the most startling taste burst into my mouth.  It was as if my tongue had shed cataracts and a thick wet suit, and I was only now tasting CARROT for the first time in my life. It was wholly different from even the freshest organic carrots at Whole Foods. It had nuances of flavor I’d never before encountered in a carrot, and at first I wasn’t even sure I LIKED it.  It was like this:  “Zing! Pow! Ginger-spices-herby bouquet and completely fresh carrot taste, but nothing bitter at all, sweet like fresh fruit and fragrant and orange! KaBAM!”  I did like it, I decided, after I recalibrated my whole mouth to the new meaning of “real carrot.”

Isabel nibbled on one like a bunny and said enthusiastically, “This is delicious, Mama!”

The carrots were tiny – we’d picked them at an inch long, just to see what they were like; curious to find out what was percolating under the organic soil bed. And WOW — those carrots were easily the most carroty carrots I’ve ever tasted.

I suddenly understood what Frances Mayes was talking about in her book Under the Tuscan Sun when she waxes poetic about how the most simple ingredients are so ripe and delicious in Italy, on her land, that nothing more is needed but the tomatoes and olive oil and garlic.  I could see how something so delicious as this CARROT would not even need hummus (even the amazing buffalo flavor hummus from Whole Foods!), because it was so good all by itself.

And it’s not like I’m vegetable-deprived.  My family spend lots of time on Grandma’s farm in Wisconsin where there was a huge variety of garden-fresh produce: red and yellow watermelons, broccoli, strawberries, tomatoes.  And we shop at organic veggie stands when we want. But somehow I’d never before experienced CARROTNESS like this. Have you?

In any case, we love our small organic garden; it’s our patch of verdant life and bounty in a parched corner of Phoenix where the sun is already beating down at 102F at the end of April.  The thrill of picking our our tomatoes, chard, bok choy and green onions is still a surprise to me. When I go to the garden, I feel a bit like a kid on Christmas morning, or someone that has been given a huge present in a fancy bow. I feel proud and eager. And although the money & time put in does not render equivalent bank account savings, it is delivering us additional joy and family together time (Isabel loves to harvest and to help her Daddy plant things…she likes to water….) when we all go out to work on the garden together.

So I say, ‘bring it on’ to that carrot – I can’t wait for more of them to ripen!

Carlsbad – April 2012


I’m looking at the ocean, gray and hints of dark green tumbling up and over when the waves crash, white foam fizzling out like matches on the watersmooth sand.

The water becomes paler gray toward the horizon and the sky that meets it is a lighter airier gray yet, with  faint silverblue splotches that hint at future brilliance.

Now the sky is lightening FAST – second by second it becomes brighter, like watching a high-speed film of a flower unfolding.

It’s not dawn. It’s 9am, and drizzly. A few plump 50′s ladies are wading around in the pool below me, one of them in the hot tub, a pensive expression. Amado and Isabel are asleep inside the hotel room while I write on the balcony, a cup of room-brewed coffee beside me, my bare feet cold. The air is so clean that  it might wash my lungs with its wet, wild moisture.

Two  attractive young people walk together on the sand, confer briefly, then jog together, her brown muscular legs set off by tight white shorts, his easy gait holding a coiled power. They make running on the packed sand look so easy, and I follow them with my gaze as they get smaller and smaller, converging to the boardwalk far in the distance.

Lines of seabirds soar horizontally across the ocean, following the waves’ rise and fall, flapping in unison, gliding in unison. I think they are brown pelicans.  They move so well together as a unit that they seem like rehearsed dancers; I never tire of watching them fly.

Now Isabel’s small smiling face — she’s tugging at the sliding glass balcony door. I jump up to open and she bursts out, all smiles and tossing hair, hopping with excitement. “Mama! Hahaha! I want to write out here, too!”

We get her small notebook and pink pen; I pull the 2nd chair close to mine – touching – so we can both see. She snuggles her head into my shoulder and I hug her, both smiling, happy. The ocean is roaring.

“This One Needs A Little Help”


Monarch at the Desert Botanical Garden


A few weeks ago, Isabel and I went to the Desert Botanical Garden with friends. Our main stated goal was to visit the Butterfly Pavilion, but of course we were open to any random plans that materialized along the way, and with 5-year-olds in tow, that’s not uncommon.


So we meandered through the garden, stopping to watch quail scurry across the path with bobbing head-crests, and exclaiming over a monarch butterfly on a wildflower, and letting the kids grind mesquite pods into flour at the grinding station.  When we got to the butterfly garden, there were hundreds of monarchs clustered on the mesh ceiling, very still, and just a few fluttering around the plants. The day was overcast and coolish, and the monarchs were sleeping in. It was a perfect day for photos around the garden, but the girls were disappointed that the butterflies were not landing on them, and they kept hopefully putting out their finger for butterflies to use as a perch (Thanks, Fancy Nancy, for making that seem reasonable.)


Isabel was close to crying because butterflies were not approaching her, even though we’d discussed M.A.N.Y. times that butterflies don’t land on fingers, and they don’t seem to land on you even if you wear yellow, and Daddy is just super-lucky that they always land on his jeans even though he’s the least interested in them of all (he attracts them, they way aloof people attract cats.)   So when we saw one butterfly resting wings open on a flower, the girls were excited to get really close and take a look.  “It’s wings are OPEN!” Isabel exclaimed. “Is it a moth?” We had learned that butterflies keep their wings closed when landed and moths keep them open. She and Elena discovered that it was a boy monarch.  The guide had explained: Boys have a black dot at the bottom of each wing; girls do not.

The butterfly was extremely cooperative, and lay there, wings open, as the girls got so close that their eyes crossed and their noses were almost touching it. It was SO cooperative, in fact, that I became certain that it was dead.  “I think,” I said carefully to the girls, “That butterfly might not be….alive…any more.”


A volunteer was hovering nearby, like a too-close saleslady in a department store, following you through aisles to make sure you are not planning to steal something. “Let’s not get too CLOSE!” he called in a fake chipper voice.  “Remember, we don’t touch the cute widdle wiggly budderflies!”

“This one is not very…wiggly,” I told him.  “It’s rather motionless. In fact, I think it’s deceased.”

The volunteer came closer and bent down.

“It’s antennae are all floppy,” Isabel complained. “And they’re not moving at all.”

“It’s brief time of mortality is over,” I explained. “It’s gone to the Great Butterfly In The Sky.”

The volunteer interrupted loudly, “This one is maybe having a TEENSY little problem. Just maybe. We’ll get a staffer to take a look at it later and see if it, ah, needs any, ah HELP.” He looked around to see who had been shattered, ruined, sent into a mental tailspin by my comment. Nobody seemed to have even heard, except for our small group.

“It’s beyond help,” I said to the general area. “The only help IT needs is to be boxed up and sent back to the mothership.”

The volunteer shot me a pained look.
“What?” I said. “Don’t you collect them when they die and count them and send them all back?”

“Ah, well, YES, but ah, I think this one just NEEDS A LITTLE HELP,”  he repeated firmly.

My daughter looked at him like you’d look at someone slow.

“We think it’s dead,” she told him, skipping around.

“Since it’s clearly no longer of this world,” I said to the volunteer, “Don’t you think it would be OK to let the kids touch it, just for a second? I mean, just one touch, to feel how soft and powdery a wing is. It won’t hurt it now, know what I mean?”

He ignored me and waved at a group of older kids, like 8 and 9 year olds. “This one is just RESTING!” he proclaimed desperately. “Sometimes they nap!”  The kids were not looking. They were asking their leader about lunch.

“Its legs are all shriveled up, “Isabel observed. “It looks kind of dry.”

“It just needs a little help!” the v. said, and then, “Are you on your way OUT now?”

I bent over to look at it. “It’s all part of their life cycle,” I told Isabel. “It’s a little bit sad when they die, but before they die, they lay lots and lots of eggs which will eventually turn into new butterflies that we can enjoy. Their life span is much shorter than ours.”

“I’m not sad, Mama,” she said, “I know there will be more of them.”

The volunteer shot me another look. “It may just need a LITTLE HELP!” he almost shouted. I thought he might be going to cry.

“Ok, let’s head on out now,” I said in my own chipper voice.  I was distressing him, clearly, and it felt mean, like poking a caterpillar on a branch.

I refrained, as I walked past the V., from hissing in a horrible scary-movie voice, “It’s DEEAADDD! AAARRRGGHGHH!”

His misplaced sense of protecting the innocents from the “harsh realities” of the butterfly life cycle was awesomely hilarious.  I always know I can count on the butterfly garden volunteers to do something wonderfully stupid and make my day complete.  It’s part of the whole package, and I love it! Butterflies…beautiful scenery…and some laughs. How can you ask for anything more?

Well, you can if you’re five. You ask and whine to stop in the Gift Shop on the way out. Luckily it was closed for renovations, and we were able to breeze right on out, enjoying the Chihuly Sculptures on last time on the walk back to the car.

Friends at the DBG