Batman’s to the left of me

January 16th, 2015

So, Franny hath peaced out for this long holiday weekend, and her dad will pick her up after school tonight. SeaFed got a bug up his butt in December and decided we HAD to go to conferences with her main advisor this month and emailed me to that effect, saying I could go with him or separately, but he was going to schedule something. About once a year he comes out of the woodwork to do some kind of Parenting Action. This is fine. Basically this meeting is just a once-a-year check in that has a more flexible timeline than the structured “conference week” for youngsters like Strudel.

I replied to him, okay, my contract ends December 22nd, any time after that would be great. Maybe early January? I sent him another email last week to follow up–“Any word on conference times?” He replied and said “Franny was supposed to text me dates that worked for her teacher.” I asked her about this when she came home that night. “Yeah, I was supposed to text him but I’m still mad at him.” (This is about the whole “if she in ungrateful about treats that may make her sick, then let her not eat any cake, including cakes she could eat safely”).

She revealed a little more of her fury to me when I took her jeans shopping recently. I cannot overstate the value of taking your teenager out alone in a car to someplace like the mall. It’s like you bought the golden ticket to being unloaded upon, which is invaluable really. She said she’s overheard her stepmother doing the whole “We don’t even know if she HAS Celiac disease” loudwhisper [tm Grima Wormtongue] at SeaFed when she thinks Franny is out of earshot. To be fair I did have her tested after she had balked and was refusing to eat wheat and was already feeling better. Strangely I could not get either of my children to ingest wheat to do the test “properly”…. It’s like my whole household has this weird bias against explosive diarrhea.

But back to the matter at hand. Okay, first of all, you do not leave conference-arranging up to your fourteen year old, unless she is Rory Gilmore or Tracy Flick. Uh. I guess I don’t have a second point. Except to say that I think I am going back to work soon, so who knows when or if I can meet with this advisor. Also that I am a little disappointed that she is handling this passive-aggressively, but I know from experience that handling things aggressively with him kind of bounces off. She’s entitled to be pissed off. I printed off a few things about cross-contamination for her to give to them over there when she gets back.

While I wish I could be a fly on the wall for this conference (or attend, time allowing), I am tempted to just let it happen. I always feel that the more people who discover what he is like the better. Also I am super, super not worried about Franny’s progress at school in any way, nor do I have any questions really. We show up for events and she shows me her homework and she seems happy. She’s recently taken off on her DJ slot that she has on Wednesday afternoons, which is adorable. (“I played Nick Cave AND Roy G Biv by TMBG today!”) I am just happy to see her excited about art and music and her friends AND doing her algebra homework. He can go tick off the conference box. And he can deal with how mad she is at him right now…but realistically, he probably won’t figure it out.

What is the difference between jelly and jam

January 13th, 2015

Dorty goes outside; attempts to come back in; discovers: CATBLOCK!

For a while I thought this was general cat obtuseness, but it happens far, far too often for it to be a coincidence. The view out the catflap isn’t even that good. It’s partly obscured from the leavings of slobbery faces and the view is pretty much Porch and Bush. We have many many other windows that show other views like Road or Birdbath. Hell, Nightmere can GO OUTSIDE and view everything up close and personal-like. This is deliberate griefing.

Thing two is this problem:

I have discovered I have opened the LAST jar of strawberry jam, and it is from 2012. That’s fine, it’s still good and all, but there are no REAL flavors left after this. P. kept not making jam because we “had so much left from previous years.” LOOK AT WHAT IS LEFT. And there are MULTIPLE JARS of this nonsense–this is just a sampling. This is like saying, we don’t need guest pillows, there’s loads of cow plops around. WHAT.

Review of remaining jams.

Currant: Delicious but weirdly gelatinous, due to high quantity of naturally occurring pectin in currants. Best melted with wine as a glaze for meat, or diluted with vinegar and used as a mint sauce for lamb. I will commit to this, but it does not solve my peanut butter problems.

Rhubarb: Rhubarb is a devil invention and only fit for doomed livestock that has broken out of its paddock. The only allowable thing that starts inedible and gets WOW with a fuckity load of sugar is cranberries. Related point: where are thou cranjam?

Blk sauce: No, this is not dark matter squeezins, it is blackberry sauce. Delicious, but not blackberry jam or jelly, which we were out of before frost kissed the lawn. As a show of goodwill I vow to use this once we run out of our open container of maple syrup for anything I would put maple syrup on (pancakes, porridge, second-degree burns).

Kiwii: An attempt at fooling me into thinking this is some kind of Hawaiian or Japanese concoction. We all know this is KIWI. A thing that should not be jammed, but only occurring as wheels in fruit salad or eaten out of hand. It should be noted that the creator of this abomination also eats kiwis whole without peeling them. Nice try at fitting in on Earth, Ford Prefect.

Plum: Plum jam tastes okay, and you cannot swing an ikat infinity scarf around here without hitting an Italian plum tree that is usually overladen with fruits and an owner saying, “Dear god, please take some.” One year we got something like fifteen pounds of plums from Plum Tree Park alone. So kudos for thrift and creating what I think of as a Seattle classic, but there is something about these plums…they form a grey scum at the top which makes it difficult to get through the first half of the jar. It’s really daunting for the children, especially. No one wants to open this five years old jam.

Quince: I LOVE quinces in desserts, but this is a similar problem to currants. It is not so great with peanut butter, imo. I used to eat it with cheese, but now cheese is out and so is quince! I will make a note to glaze a turkey breast with it or something.

In conclusion, we are out of jam. Yours in ingratitude, SJ


January 13th, 2015

I have an in-person interview on Friday with multiple people. Never has one person had so many interviews for a short-term contract that doesn’t pay that well. Sadly, that’s probably not true though. If I get this it will spit me out on the other side in June, which is slightly into Farmer’s Market season. Hollerrrr!

I noticed I was using all caps again for my title and I went to change it, and then I was like, Hey, this is my blog, I’ll do what I want.

So briefly* I will mention that I went to a fancy restaurant with regular, gluten-free, and vegan menus on Thursday. In my dreamland this is ideal, because I am kind of like a vegan…who eats meat. So if restaurants are geared up to leave the dairy out anyway, but are willing to serve meaty dishes as well, I am good to go. I had a nice talk with the server who is very used to the Care and Feeding of the Modern Seattleite and she walked me through everything. It was just like at home: meat and veg! That I did not chop myself. Natch I got glutened and hit the bathroom as soon as I came home, and kept hitting it for a couple of days.

P. had a day of fallout after I did. He was SUPER CRABBY on Saturday, which was bad timing because I was out all day and he was with the girls. I refer to him and me as Captain(s) Asshole now on those bad days. My bad day was Friday, which was better because I was alone and forced myself to take a walk with the pooches, which helped. But by Friday night I had drunk the house dry (not very much, actually, I think half a bottle of wine and a can of cider…) and was rolling around in bed DYING for a baguette with brie and jam smeared on. I could see it my head, like those cartoons where they are starving and suddenly someone looks like a walking, talking, ham.

What the fuck is this shit. I get glutened, and I want more of what is poisoning me. WHY, BODY, WHY?? In the past I would have just gone for it, and then passed out and woke up with a terrible headache. Instead I made myself some socca and spread jam on them, kind of like a crepe layer cake. I yelled at P. as he attempted to straighten the quilts around me so I would be warm and comfortable. I am lucky he didn’t “accidentally” put the pillow over my face.

So Saturday was my business class and I was nervous because I thought maybe I wouldn’t be able to pay the best attention. But I was really focused throughout it and it answered a lot of little nagging questions I had. It was nice to talk to someone who has actually rented space in commercial kitchens and could answer my questions about that–namely, is it possible to do gluten free preparation in a shared space? The answer is that I am going to have to buy my own equipment, which is not going to break me. We’re talking things like immersion blenders, funnels, and bowls.

Most of the students appeared to be over 30. There was a guy sitting in front of me who was an oddball. He came back from one of the breaks and this wave of booze smell came with him, and after lunch he fell asleep for a while at his table. Seeing people sleep in class took me back to my 8 a.m. class days in community college, but obviously this guy had something else going on.

I’ve done a lot of the research on my own. I understand that I will need various licenses, that for my product I will need dedicated kitchen space outside my home that’s been approved by the health department, I know mostly what supplies I’ll need, so the teacher didn’t drop any unexpected bombs on me. It was nice to have some dots connected by someone who has run a business like this in Seattle.

But I left the class and felt kind of deflated. I thought, oh, I’m just tired, I’ll feel better tomorrow. But I didn’t. I felt anxiety, was sure I would fail at having this tiny business–why bother starting? This is after a few weeks of doing research, taking frank looks at the administrative parts of this challenge as well as working on dressing recipes two to three times a week. Okay, I know that isn’t a very long time, but this is also after 15+ years of knowing I want to work for myself someday (having an inn or B&B).

The voice in my head came back, the one that comes back when I am feeling ill. It said, “You’re a lazy person and you can’t really expect to set goals like this.” And I was exhausted. I slept for a long time on Sunday and Monday, and my body hurt a little again. My “tennis elbow” which was improving, felt worse again. I didn’t want to run errands or talk to people. I imagined myself telling my sister that I had changed my mind about this venture and seeing the look on her face. (She is very excited for me, thinks this makes a lot of sense, and has even offered to help me fill bottles on her one day off.)

I walked Strudel to her before school yoga class this morning, since I had to sign releases and meet the teachers, and on the way home my head finally started to clear. This isn’t me, I thought. Well, it was for a long time, unfortunately, but if I am eating right I have sick amounts of energy and can make plans from start to finish. I bet…thought the slowest, thickest person ever….I am still having fallout from gluten. I last got hit on November 17 and I had to call off work and had a really hard week. It takes me about six days to come back to “normal”–happy, experiencing a normal amount of worry about real problems, but feeling like I have the power to accomplish things.

SO FUCK THIS SHIT I am not quitting ANYTHING. I am going to the Man again with my hand out and will take their filthy lucre so I can make my own business. I will feel better. And next time we have a date night, Captain and Mr. Asshole have resolved to eat at home and then go out for drinks or to a bookstore AFTER we eat.

* Did not happen, forgot what else I was going to write about instead.


January 8th, 2015

That you can hurt yourself cleaning? Of course you can. Of course I can, anyway. I have given myself TENNIS ELBOW from squeezing a sponge repeatedly. How sad is that?

I felt a wave of dread at facing another injury that might take months to heal, as in the past, and then I remembered that I heal pretty fast now (i.e. like a healthy person). It is already feeling better. I have been icing it with a bag of frozen leek hom bow that no one in my house can eat now. I am still trying to get rid of a little food here and there, as donations, to friends. P. found a perfectly good bag of unopened corn flour in the pantry from Bob’s that is waiting for my sister’s next visit. I did a huge cleanout when I discovered what disagreed with me, but somehow it was psychologically hard to get rid of unopened, brand new things? And then I forgot about some of them.

The cool thing about cleaning the house from top to bottom was not experiencing any back pain afterwards. I was a little tired, but that was nice and I slept great. I had back pain for years, back to high school. People gave me advice: stretch, run, walk lots, stand, do yoga, do sit ups, and more. I tried everything but nothing really worked. I would do light amounts of housework or work one of my many jobs that I had throughout high school and college and I would still come home with a dull throb in my lower back. If I laid down I would literally limp around after I got up. I just thought, no matter how hard or how little I exercised, that I was a wimpy person. Of course it is something that can present with Celiac disease.

I had a trip to the dentist in December where my long-time hygienist noticed my long-time mouth roof hole. This lady’s great, she rarely misses a trick.

“Did you burn the roof of your mouth?” she asked.

“Uhhh, probably.” The Notorious P.I.G. does not have time for food to cool to an edible temperature. “Oh wait, THISH?” I crammed my finger up to the roof of my mouth where I knew the scar was. “That’s that old, old hole.”

“Oh yeah! It looks different.”

She asked me what was new as they do at the beginning of my appointment and I told her I found I was intolerant to pretty much everything that comes in a wrapper. I mentioned this because it seemed like a “health change” that you should declare as a patient and I was afraid that there would be corn in something they would use on me or Strudel. They were very nice and let me see the ingredients in the tooth polish and fluoride. So the groundwork was set for me to mention that the hole had healed further.

“I used to get a shooting nerve pain up to my ear when I would touch it with my tongue,” I said. “No more.”

My teeth are also no longer sensitive to citrus/acids, or cold like ice cream, or hurt when I use a sonic toothbrush.

“You’re barely bleeding,” she told me. “You used to be a BLEEDER.”

“I know,” I said. “Sorry. Gross.”

“Your teeth look great, too. Hardly any build up on them.”

I win! I didn’t say this because it veers off into “I don’t know what is happening so it sounds kind of crackpotty,” but I have this weird feeling like my pH has changed somehow. My mouth tastes different and my breath is better. No matter how I would floss and brush it seemed like tartar would fly to my teeth and cling a week after the dentist. Now they feel great for almost the whole six months. Flossing is no longer an ordeal that I have to steel myself for, and expect to spit tons of blood no matter how regularly I flossed. Now my mouth is like “WHAT ELSE YOU GOT, FOOL?” I am thinking about inventing something new in oral care just so I can do that every night too.

A thing I have learned about myself after many years is that as soon as I start feeling decent, I start hurting myself immediately. I am not watching a ton of TV right now, but I have been taking the chance to catch up on a couple of things I let build up on my hard drive during the holidays. I told myself I can watch TV if I spend the first ten minutes of a program in a “third world squat.” Flexibility was always a struggle because it hurt to get into basic yoga positions like “table.” I kid you not. My wrists would scream. I had padding for my padding when I did yoga. I must have looked like I was about 900 years old.

There’s kind of an ethos at my house which involves keeping electronics mostly out of sight. I’m not sure why I do this–it may be partly the librarian in me who wants a serene environment that is more conducive to reading or conversation than “let’s all face a screen.” We bought a midcentury end table a year ago to hide what is almost the sum total of our electronics. The Wii lives in the bottom cabinet, and my laptop sits in the middle when it is running TV. The projector and a lamp sits on top, and my MP3 player charges and hides in one drawer (the Wiimotes are in the other).

ANYWAY, I say all this by way of explaining that for the past year if we do want to watch something, my routine has been to kneel down in front of this little cabinet to access my laptop and queue it up, silently cursing the whole time about my knees and back. But lately I’ve found myself just dipping into a squat, like a toddler. I realized it didn’t hurt, and in fact felt good! “I bet I could do this for a long time,” I thought, foolishly. “I will start with ten minutes, that’ll go by fast!” Yeah, a lot of things sound easy until you try them, like plank pose or ass-to-mouth.

But I’m starting with this, and when my “sponge elbow” feels better I’ll do some other things that involve my arms.

So this is fun, and by fun I mean “gross.” I was hunting through a drawer for who knows what during my big clean and I found this from my stocking last year:

P. had gotten me a giant clove (my favorite candy flavor) candy cane in my stocking. As I’ve mentioned I got to the point where I was barely eating sweets because everything made me feel fairly ill. No doubt it was the corn in most candy. So I snapped an end off at Christmastime and ate that, and then tucked it into a drawer, where I meant to come back to it and then forgot about it. They look like this new. Whoops! And EUGH.

In good food news, my current obsession is socca. I mixed finely chopped green onions into the batter last night and it kind of reminded me of those thousand-layer Chinese pancakes. I made collard greens last night and put bites of greens on pieces of socca and it was wonderful. It also reminded me I want to try making injera at home. Teff=gluten free!

I moved the hand vac temporarily when I was scrubbing that zone of my kitchen and Edith lost her MIND. This doesn’t capture it as I would have liked. When I came into the dining room she was flat on her belly whisper-barking at it. “HUMAN THERE IS AN INTRUDER, I WILL SAVE YOU.”

Horace went into “FOR FUCK’S SAKE” mode like he does with her and came in to show her it was no big deal by kicking it and touching it with his nose. He’s a good big brother. She likes to fetch and he watches until I throw the toy and it goes a little out of her sight (like into an empty laundry basket) or in a different direction. Then he will go “JESUS CHRIST” and get up and show her where it is. Brain the size of a planet and he is stuck being a service dog to a creature slightly dumber than Winnie the Pooh.

I am appalled at how much time I spent writing about cleaning, too.

January 5th, 2015

One thing I like about this time of year is getting over the “dark hump” and realizing that though my plants look terrible, they are probably not going to die this year. I question my wisdom in having a potted ficus stand in as a Christmas tree, because it starts turning brown in places and dropping leaves, and doesn’t really stop until February. Maybe I should move Xmas to summer when it is lush and green.

I saw that the Saddest Rubber Tree in North America, which resides in my dining room, is trying to put on new leaves and then I ran around and pity-watered everyone, which I forgot to do last weekend. I knew this house was going to be challenging for plants. It’s on a great orientation for a sunny place, like California or Arizona. When we moved in I had a mass wave of deaths and then another when I was bedridden earlier last year. There is something so right about limping to the bathroom like a sadsack and seeing that you have lost yet another plant. Someone call Emily Dickinson, I think we’ve got a lead for her.

I usually get this weird sense of foreboding as we hurtle toward the solstice, and a great sense of relief when we get away from it. I guess that’s why humans invented Xmas and Snuggies and growlers anyway. Hide out from the forebodums.

“I’m so happy this year is almost over,” P. said a couple of weeks ago. I was really surprised. It’s very uncharacteristic for him to make dramatic Eeyore-esque pronouncements like that (the position has been filled by me). I had to ask him what he meant. “This year was TERRIBLE,” he said. And then I felt very dumb as I realized he was referring to the first part of it. March seems like a lifetime ago in some ways, though I still wake up almost every day like I have Quantum Leap’d or something and must check all my parts: “Nothing hurts; can think; am in good mood. WOW. Let’s do this.”

So last night I made a very boring secret plan. In honor of the fact that I am not working, and am finally feeling well enough, I have started cleaning the house from top to bottom. I would guess it’s been over a year since the house has been scrubbed this hard, since I starting getting really sick (hard-to-move sick) in October ’13. For a couple of years prior to me losing my grip I had to prop myself up on copious amounts of drugs and coffee to get my joints working and enough energy to clean, and it was miserable.

Today it felt easy and I didn’t mind it one bit. I listened to podcasts all day long. I used to have a SPOTLESS house, even with a baby and toddler. I maintenance cleaned once a week and it took me three hours in our old Fremont duplex. It was just what I had become accustomed to growing up. My parents built their house and they were going to keep it new and clean, at all costs. We had the kind of house where more often than not, there were vacuum marks in the rug, like a newly-mowed lawn. I really let that go when we moved into the big split-level rental in 2010. I was getting ill and that place was a pit, so it all seemed kind of hopeless.

Today I scrubbed cabinet fronts, and most nooks and crannies in the kitchen. I cleaned behind the microwave, and inside of the dishwasher door hinge. I did both of the bathrooms top to bottom (okay, I did not dust the pictures, but I will tomorrow) I had an inkling this tsunami of anal retentiveness was coming, since I cleaned kitchen windows and other hard-to-reach spots a couple of weeks ago. There was so much to do and I was moving relatively slowly so I abandoned the job halfway through before dinnertime, vowing to be back soon.

I was kind of thrilled that packages were arriving all day as well, because they contained needed kitcheny things that I could put in place as I put it back together: an electric kettle which I’ve been wanting for years; silpat for baking sheets; an LED bulb for a burned-out one in one of the heinous booblights in the kitchen.

I have come to a few conclusions after doing all the “wet work” today (dusting and dry floors tomorrow). First is, Fuck a Tile Counter. I love my tile counters, and the tile bathrooms, especially my pink poodle one. But I’ve realized that they look like crap 60 years on. There are cracks, permanent staining, missing bits. Not to mention the amount of time that it takes to clean between every goddam tile where the schmutz builds up. We’ve already decided to pull the counter tile in the kitchen and leave the yellow backsplash, which is perfect. Perhaps the same treatment is in order for the upstairs bathrooms.

The second conclusion is that every time I greedily think we should have gotten more house, I need to clean this one. There is a lot of real estate here. A lot of surfaces. Someone keeps cluttering it up with terrible old gewgaws from the 20th century and they all need dusting.

The third conclusion is that I am starting to trust that I am well again. It’s strange, I still feel like I am somewhat of a different person, as if I have been rebuilt out of old refurbed parts. But it’s all working better. I’m having some stiffness in the morning that I hope will be resolved with exercise, which doesn’t sound like an impossible undertaking now.

Franny’s coming back today. It sounds like her holiday with SeaFed was pretty fun, small amounts of drama aside. She called me whispering, hiding outdoors one day to vent her spleen about a mini-row that resulted in her being called “ungrateful” for not eating a “gluten-free” doughnut that had been produced in the bakery where they bake all the wheat ones. I made sympathetic noises and told her she did the right thing in politely turning it down.

I have a lead on a tech contract (phone screen tomorrow) back in the pit where I was before Xmas. Hooray/boo for work, but yay for being back to the gluten free food truck that is one of three restaurants I trust not to poison me in Seattle. I have to say, my long-time commenter “A.” made the penny finally drop on this gluten-free sauce business idea, but I don’t know if I would have considered it for more than two minutes if I wouldn’t have eaten at this gluten-free truck during my last contract. I know running a side business isn’t easy (my stepfather ran a coin-op amusement business in addition to his full time career) but I thought about the components and it looked possible.

And on Saturday I am taking a small food business class which runs all day, because that is the plan for this year. I am working on dressings bi-weekly now. I want to relentlessly tinker with sauce daily until I feel like I have some testers that I can shop out to my friends, but then I feel bad about pouring out perfectly good olive oil concoctions because there are too many and I don’t get to them. So we eat our way through the so-so and the pretty decent dressings and then I start again at a reasonable pace. I am trying to develop four in time for the summer farmer’s markets.

I’m feeling very grateful that I had all that experience in 2010 altering and experimenting with Victorian recipes. I was thinking that chapter of my life was something I would leave behind as a fun hobby and memory, but it really made me a better cook and a better recipe developer. I did not dream I would use those skills this soon–I thought I would be developing recipes for my b&b and some point in the way off, and I didn’t really have a concept about how I was going to go from working for random people in techworld to owning my own business. But I am really thrilled to have some practice at “opening” a small business now. The start-up costs should be pretty low and this is not a make-or-break operation, so this won’t ruin us if it fails. I will have to file for a license, so I am trying to think of a business name. Alas, I have ruled out ass-related ones. I will be very excited to fill you in on the details of this venture as I go this year.

Tonight after cleaning for seven (!) hours, I am going to treat myself to some sauv blanc and sleep in a bit tomorrow before my phone screen at 11 a.m. Happy new year.

Can I say that sometimes I am jealous of people who are my age and are just now having babies

December 26th, 2014

Psych though, because I am really into sleeping eight hours. I am all OCK OCK teenage problems and then I am all…sleeping eight hours. I dunno. The answer is probably: cigars on ice. Okay, I know I am supposed to be quoting D’Angelo now, but I am still not over Bey.

Chalkboard Christmas Steve welcomes you the fuck into Xmas.

Okay what happened this year? Nothing, which I think is very exciting. We did Capitalism on Christmas Steve, since Franny was set to leave on xmas eve.

I wanted to give her a little time to enjoy her big present. Naturally, she took the guitar away with her to her dad’s house. I threatened her gently and said YOU MUST BRING IT BACK. I can just see her father’s children sitting on it or something. So can she, actually. She triple assured me she would bring it back. As a side bar, it’s interesting to me that she’s trying to talk her dad into getting off the wheat. He’s having all kinds of problems that are just like hers were (and mine). He’s not biting. He was always a super big fan of not believing anything because BLEAH. Why believe anything anyone tells you? Fuck that noise.

So. Strudel was ready for her first earrings and Franny really wanted her nose pierced, so as part of their xmas presents I took them back to the place where I took Franny when she was eight and wanted her ears pierced. I don’t think I got a good picture of her–just a crap one on my phone. She said she wanted it on her right nostril, like her Auntie Morgan.

They did really well. Strudel wanted to hold my hand but of course Franny did not.

“A present!” Franny said. That is not a present, that is a Dr. Hoho.

I asked Strudel something later that day and she said “WHAT MOM I’M LISTENING TO DRAKE.” Please don’t make me regret my earphones decision. It did get her to clean with us very pleasantly today. “WOW I LISTENED TO MUSIC THE WHOLE TIME.” Okay, please turn it down before you start talking…

Stocking happiness. I had to go the the Special Store (read: expensive) and get corn, dairy, and gluten-free candy for stockings. If you are very bored I defy you to read labels in a store and try to find something processed that does not contain any of those things. I sent Franny away with mad vitamins and a command to actually take them. Our lives are vitamins right now. It’s working.

Look who has a mild case of the ocds.

She’s always like this. I make her insane because I am chaotic neutral and leave stuff lying around differently depending on how profitable it is.

Edith spent the whole time doing this every time I took the camera out.


Okay, so there’s no graceful way to slip this in here. Strudel spends A LOT of time holding Dorty upside down. I always like it, because Edith likes the attention and it doesn’t seem to be interfering with anything. But at the same time, I feel like she’s an old thymey model being mesmerized by Strudel.

FURTHERMORE MY LOANS ARE PAID OFF. Ten years later. I reckon that’s about right. And now, I am ready for new debt.

So tonight I decided to make Thai food: phad see ew, tom yum, spring rolls, and a red curry with duck. I got it all from my guru at High Heel Gourmet. As a bonus I made a hot sauce with bird’s eye peppers and peanut sauce. WOO GLUTEN FREE.

Also I had a captive audience to test salad dressings on. I pulled five samples out and a bunch of veggies as appetizers. Lucky for me, my guests were hungry and like to give opinions. I’m plinking away at developing a first salad dressing that tastes awesome and is relatively hypoallergenic. Lucky me I am a closely related to two supertasters.

I also made real appetizers: spring rolls.

It’s like an ad for Natural Calm, really.

The recipe called for cooking the mung bean sprouts a little, which was cool, because it made them kind of like noodles.

This is the bouquet garni for the tom yum. Galangal, kafir leaves, and lemongrass.

When I was desperately making Thai food at my house in college almost twenty years ago, I thought that I could sub limes for kafir limes, because HEY they are both limes right? The smell that filled my house today….holy shit. Intoxicating. So that was Christmas.

A forgotten cheepie thrift store coat has been found in a closet:

Lots of phad see ew lately. “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED??”

I finished working Monday thank FUCK. I would like to have another job lined up, of course, but I am loose and flapping for now. I will be tinkering with recipes and probably writing, because that’s how I roll.

Happy Xmas!!

Lush: For a Day or a Lifetime

December 14th, 2014

A couple of nights ago on the bus I was at the nadir or apogee of being completely out of it (considering how you rate these things), I’d just started my period and my brain felt soft and soupy. One of those nights where I came home and took my thermos out of my bag and put it on the counter, and then tried to do it again a few minutes later, and wondered how I’d forgotten my thermos at work.

I didn’t expect to be alone on the bus; I’d forgotten that P. had a haircut so I left my book and mp3 player at home. As always it was crowded at first, and as it lurched on to my hinterlands, we were all able to disperse and get a proper amount of West Coast space bubble between everyone.

I moved to one of the high seats in the very back and center and stopped focusing on my cramps and tiredness. I stopped being cross that there was nothing to do but think, and remembered that’s a thing I like to do, even if I’m not always great at it. It was cooler in the back. The windows were closed, but the vent in the back was ruffling my hair slightly. I looked straight ahead out the front window and pretended I was traveling on some kind of crappy, noisy litter or flying carpet. I wondered where I (and my teeth) would end up if we stopped suddenly.

It made me think of all the time I spent riding the bus back and forth downtown six years ago, when I was working holiday retail. I had come to the hard decision of picking up some kind of retail work after a few months of looking for a 9-5 contract. I’d been freelance editing and writing, working for our preschool to cover tuition, and I had my tiny writing gig at Blogher, but it wasn’t really the same as 40 hours a week at a tech gig, or even something like retail or coffee, which is at least steady.

No one in the tech world was biting, and I was getting increasingly desperate. I got home from a trip to Fred Meyer and flipped over the receipt and glanced at it without thinking about it. “WE’RE HIRING FOR THE HOLIDAYS!” it announced, among the ads and coupons for local restaurants. I could do that, I thought. I hadn’t worked retail for over ten years, but it comes right back, I figured. Like a herpes outbreak.

I tried to be sensible about it and apply to places where I actually would appreciate a discount, which is why a department store like Fred Meyer made sense. Of course I was scouring craigslist at the time, and widened my net to include the retail help wanted section.

I saw Lush was hiring for Christmas. They noted they were having an open house in the store, bring resume. I quickly scrubbed my master’s degree off my resume and put on something kooky–loud jewelry, red Fluevogs, blue velvet blazer. I had been a customer there for over ten years, when I could afford it, way back to when they were Canada-only. This would be perfect. At least I could be surrounded by smells I enjoyed, and maybe score some discounted lotion and some free broken bath bombs.

I went downtown, clutching my resume, not expecting much. I figured I was five or ten years out of the age range they were looking for. I walked in and got verbally accosted by the shrill and peppy woman who was the assistant manager, Janelle. She was in full-bore weekend mode, which I would get to know well. This involved, in part, shouting at everyone who walked in, and smearing stuff on people. I’m pretty sure she was smearing a cocoa butter bar on a hapless customer when I met her, a popular trick she used to brighten up aged tattoos.

Janelle was one of those people with no volume control, which helps in a shouty profession like Lush’s desired brand of pushy, in-your-face retail. She had a hooked beak of a nose and no real chin to speak of, giving not only the obvious first impression of a bird, but after working for her for a while and seeing how she would go for days without washing her greasy hair, she looked more like a heron who had been caught in an oil spill.

I also met the top dog: the store manager, Lisa, who was able to carry on a conversation in a normal tone of voice, much to my relief. As a company, Lush is known for its sometimes extreme activist stances and funding fringe groups, like people who chain themselves to whales and whatnot. As a dabbler in nihilism, I knew my philosophy didn’t really line up with that face of the corporation, but I knew we had capitalism in common, so the marriage could probably stick. Lisa lavishly complimented my leather shoes when we met, so I was a little surprised later that she had somehow decided I was a fellow vegan, and amused when I found out it affected her decision to hire me.

I got a call back later from Janelle that was so loud I remember holding the phone away from my head. I forced myself to match her level of enthusiasm to accept the job loudly and gleefully. It’s just for Christmas, I told myself. Christmas, downtown. At one of the busiest malls in the city. It was better than wearing a Fred Meyer polo and nametag, if not as practical.

We were told to report somewhere for orientation, for which we would be paid. Janelle gave me the time, and the date, and a name: “The Moore.” I knew it as a music venue, which I thought was an odd place to hold an orientation, but the economy was in the pooper and maybe they were renting space during the day? I met another girl there, Gina, hanging around outside the door, and guessed she was a Lush temp as well because of her confused look and adherence to the dress code of black and/or white, which was already being enforced. She and I conferred and were both confused, and tried knocking on various doors and looking for signs.

A few minutes later I got a phone call. It was Janelle. “WHERE ARE YOU?” I cringed in pain and held the phone away from my ear, so it was effectively a conference call.

“I’m outside the Moore Theatre,” I said.

“Me too!” my new friend said.

“Gina is too,” I added.


Having rarely stayed in a hotel in my own city, I actually had never noticed the Moore Hotel existed and was relieved to see it was catty corner from the theatre. As Gina and I were hurrying across the street, I realized was one of those moments, when, if I was younger I would have felt stupid for days and probably would have fallen all over myself trying to apologize, but I knew this wasn’t really my mistake. I think it also set up how I felt about the job in my time there, and set up my attitude about jobs like this in the future: I was going to hit the due diligence mark, but I wasn’t going to get too wrapped up in the job itself, either.

I walked into a room of about 15 women, as I recall, all in the proscribed black or white clothes. Mostly black, because what kind of moron wears white to work retail, let alone in a shop that is full of brightly-colored hunks of beauty potions that would explode when dropped or stared at too hard, or melt if exposed to the sun? I vaguely recall Janelle saying something awkward and shamey to we derelicts when we walked in, and Gina looked chagrined, but I thought that if Janelle could manage her way out of a tatty, repurposed bath bomb bag, she probably would have just started the orientation. I noted that Lisa the store manager was nowhere in sight, so we were at the mercy of Janelle.

We were informed about the structure of our day. For the first part, we would learn about the many products Lush offers, with an emphasis on limited edition Christmas product and gift boxes. We were hired right after Halloween, so we were to learn the theme for that year which tied back to Halloween (and moving leftover Halloween product). This year’s theme was: SUUUUPERNATURAL, Janelle intoned dramatically, writing it on the white board in the room.

It somehow reminded me of what I imagined summer camp was like when the crappy counselor was left in charge for the evening while the cool teens went off and got drunk: “Ghost stories, kids. SPOOOOOKY!” There is nothing like a watching a power-mad person finally getting that juicy leadership opportunity they so desperately crave, and then being captive audience to an entire day of their grandiose over confidence. I knew that we could expect a day of watching lines Janelle had practiced in the shower falling flat.

Of course I had worked Christmas retail in the past (Best Buy, Tower) as well as at Safeway as a checker during the holiday rush. I knew little enraged customers more than clueless holiday help who cannot answer basic questions about products or know where anything is, so I tried to really commit what Janelle was emphasizing to memory. The top enragers for customers were 1. waiting. For anything and 2. being told that something was out of stock. Dealing with bumbling holiday temps was often a precursor to a full-blown customer tantrum, because first they had to deal with a 19-year-old girl going, “Do we have face lotions…ummm…” before being told that the lotion they want is out of stock and then being made to wait in line to buy a second or third choice.

Once I got the basic product lines breakdown, it was pretty easy to think about how to sell the product. Lush follows the typical conventions of the world of product fragrancing, and you could chuck all the products into bins in your mind. The olfactory experience of walking past or into a Lush store is a lot like that of a perfume truck crashing into a whorehouse, but there are distinct categories. There’s my favorite world, which is citrus anything, especially bergamot. There’s kind of weird-fruity beyond citrus, like blackberry or apple. I thought of these products as being targeted at children and someone who never met a Katy Perry perfume they didn’t like. There’s the floral categories–rose, jasmine. There’s the foodie/vanilla/chocolate/honey products. Then there were “green” or herby-spicy concoctions that were meant to smell like you’d been rolling around in the woods making out with Stevie Nicks (SPOOOOOKY). These herby scents were especially emphasized in my Supernatural holiday season.

You can break all these categories down into further patterns. If rose is involved, you can be pretty sure that they are going to add some citrus or carnation to it, too. If there is jasmine, either vetiver or or ylang ylang will probably be involved. And so on. In spite of their we’re-so-wacky image, Lush usually sticks with the tried and true combinations, which is just good business sense. It’s incredibly convenient for me, too, because after working there and smelling, and smelling, and SMELLING vials of essential oils and all the products over and over again, it’s pretty easy for me to eyeball a “new” product via the site and immediately know whether or not I will like it.

This was just one facet of how we were expected to sell products. The other major facet was the benefits of the healthy and natural ingredients. It was distasteful to witness some of the regular staff selling products with purported anti-aging benefits with a touch of the “let us save you from disfiguring wrinkles” fear-mongering. I believe that sunscreens (which Lush products do not contain) delay the aging process and do cool things like reduce skin cancer, but beyond that wrinkles are inevitable, of course.

I avoided this tack all together, and even had some women try to suss out my beliefs about “anti-aging creams,” which I thought was interesting. I never once had anyone walk off in a huff after I said things like, “aging is inevitable, but this cream could make your skin type feel nicest on the long, drying march to the grave.” It always seemed like a test, and as soon as these rare individuals twigged to the fact that I wasn’t going to try to scare them into buying something with a bunch of anti-feminist claptrap they warmed to me and seemed to trust my opinions and recommendations more. It was a funny dance.

There was also a lot of beneficial factoid stuff we were supposed to spout about the ingredients of every product. Janelle recommended we memorize three facts about every product. A tall order in a store with dozens of product lines, with anywhere from two to thirty products in each line! But I had always been interested in fragrances and perfumes, and was actually looking forward to learning about essential oils and principles of fragrance composition, thereby sewing another badge on my World’s Dilettante-iest Dilettante sash.

The afternoon after lunch was spent focusing on gift boxes, roleplaying various customer needs scenarios, and being quizzed on products, scent families, etc. Then we were all given our individual first week schedules. There is no commission at Lush, but it was strongly implied that capable (meaning high-selling) and flexible workers would get more hours as the season wore on. Then it hit us, as we looked around the room at the new colleagues were had gotten to know that day: theoretically, there were slots available for all of us to work, but some of us would get more hours than others.

In the weeks before Thanksgiving, we lost some girls right away. I say “girls” because that is what most of us were: very young, and we were working in such a feminine environment. We pedaled flowery products that looked like cakes and hearts or bears or what have you. 99.9% of customers who walked in were women. We were always addressed as “girls” by Janelle, who was twenty-five to my thirty-one. I think the only people in their 30s were me and one other woman who thought everything was pretty much bullshit as well, but wanted to make a little extra cash over the holiday and score some cheaper Christmas presents. I rarely worked with her, because unlike me, she had a real-deal day job and was only available at night.

So, as I said, we began losing some girls right away. They couldn’t handle the high-pressure sales tactic style that was expected of us, or the kooky singing or dancing or yelling or endless product demo offers. We were constantly pushed by management to offer little impromptu hand treatments to anyone and everyone who walked in the store, and some girls shied away from that. There were some who had bad attitudes or problems or could not hide their contempt for Janelle, which was the death knell for any temporary clerk there.

Lush was at the end of the mall, sticking out into the public plaza adjoining the mall, and was always full of shoppers, protesters, proselytizers, hobos, criminals, police on horses and bikes, horse-drawn carriages, nut vendors, and assorted other rabble. The store really did jut far out like some kind of verruca of a weird architectural afterthought on the building itself, and was basically a glass-walled box on three sides and was nicknamed “the fishbowl.”

Occasionally men were attracted by the display of girls in tanktops and aprons, dancing around in the fishbowl like fools to Off the Wall or Lady Gaga. The ladies’ club atmosphere in the store would change very abruptly and clerks would try to dodge men who we all knew had no interest in actually buying anything. They used us as a captive audience to mack on. There was one guy who claimed to have xray glasses and could see us naked, and would chortle over the bath bombs and how they looked like “tittays.” Other men who showed up, thankfully, were either gay, and so were part of our clubhouse vibe since they were just there to smell good and feel nice, or they were husbands/partners and had been indoctrinated or resigned to coming along.

We were told over and over again than men were repelled by Lush because they had a stronger sense of smell than women, which never sounded right to me, and seems isn’t true anyway. I always thought it was, to oversimplify things, that women are socialized to fragrance their person, their home, their clothes, and have been sold things via fragrance for many years. Imagine these stock photos/ads with all men. Oh, I did that. Here’s men enjoying smells. Women enjoy the smell of cleanliness (which should really be the absence of smells but that is a rant for another day), fruit, flowers, food, babies. I think men are supposed to enjoy smelling meat, brandy, and pussy. Lush does not sell those things, and is indeed very PETA-friendly, so I think meat is out and maybe even pussy unless it’s being humanely sourced.

One night when we were closed, doors locked, I realized were were still a captive display even after hours when a man walked up to our doors that opened to the plaza and exhaled the most enormous lungful of pot smoke that I think I have ever known to come out of a human into the crack where the doors met. Was that harassment? Intended as a gift? A response to the fumes that were emanating from the store? I was irritated and hoped it wouldn’t make me sleepy, since I still had about an hour before I could even make for the bus.

There was a barista who worked across the way who liked to come in when the youngest, bosomy-iest girls on staff were working. He had what seemed to be a legitimate phobia of glitter, which is an ingredient in many Lush products. When we were slammed and I found myself alone on the floor, while watching him attempt to cadge an arm massage from one of the other clerks, I would approach them both, slathering a shimmer bar on my forearms casually. He always fled with a nauseated look on his face. I got to know him better when I picked up hours at his shop as well, in an attempt to patch together forty hours, and he confessed that glitter really made him feel like he was going to vomit.

The mall itself was a funny community, and I missed it when I left. There was a Waldo who walked through the mall regularly. There were bomb threats and fights and shoplifters being hauled out by bike cops. My barista friend would keep me in the loop about who was sleeping with whom, and what a creep the Rosetta Stone kiosk guy was. Sometimes he would take me to spend my paltry barista tips drinking at PF Changs, or I would stop at the Buckaroo on the way home, my children long asleep after my late hours, and spend my money on one beer.

In the food court, the bubble tea people got to know me because I would come for half price, day old banh mi on Sundays, which I also loved, because I would treat myself to free street parking instead of the horrors of the bus. They knew me at McDonald’s, too, because this was the only time in my adult life where I was that desperately in need of cheap quick calories. At first I often packed a healthy and thrifty lunch, but it would sit in the jumbled morass of the one closet in the store where we were allowed to keep our coats and bags, and by the time my break rolled around, everything tasted like perfume, which made it really hard to choke down. Far better to spend a dollar on a burger, which my body would rip through after standing for eight hours. Like the kids I worked with, sometimes I just said “fuck it” and had a bubble tea for lunch.

When I was really getting into the groove of working there, I remember being in the aisle popping and locking to Justin Timberlake or something when a group of ladies walked in. That thing happened where you are glancing at someone right before the moment of recognition and it happens slowly, because you are both out of context for each other. Then we had it, at the same time: library school. She had tried to help me get into the PhD program a few years before, and I knew she had dropped out of it herself since then, but was working as an information professional somewhere. People who did not think I was a chucklehead assbiscuit in library school seemed to think I had some kind of bright future somewhere (still waiting on that one, ha ha) so I wasn’t to surprised to see her look of total confusion as she took in my apron and my sick dance moves.

“SJ…what are you DOING here?” This was said politely but with a sense of genuine bewilderment, as if she had caught me clandestinely smearing myself with feces.

“I’m working,” I said.

“Oh,” she said. She literally turned kind of red and did sort of an awkward lurch-step backwards out of the store again, without so much as a “goodbye” or “I’m sorry.” Her friends followed her. It was like a Victorian novel, and not only was I smearing myself with feces, but I was doing that while being a disgraced heiress who was now a three-penny upright in an alley.

In order to avoid reminders like these that I once had had a promising future as a corporate drone, I aggressively lobbied for day shifts. A side benefit of this was that I now had ample opportunity to work with the regular, non-seasonal staff. I was known as a go-getter who could connect with people, was a hard worker, and could move a lot of product. All of the clerks liked me and a few decided to take me under their wing, which of course involved talking much smack about the other regular clerks.

My favorite clerk quickly became Aoife, who confounded some things I thought I knew about people. First, she was an African-American woman with an Irish name that was challenging for many Americans to spell, let alone pronounce. She was a single mother who spoke in a particular accent that I had previously associated with African Americans from the South. If I had to guess, I would have assumed she was from Georgia. Nope–Alaska. Something else unexpected, since a common American stereotype/belief is that there are no black people in Alaska. When I met her and she told me she was from Alaska, she said, “Yes, that Alaska. The state.”

Janelle and Aoife hated each other. Janelle told me Aoife kept a gun in her bag in the terror pit that was our personal belongs closet. Somehow I managed to tactfully ask Janelle what her opinion was on why Aoife carried a gun and Janelle looked at me meaningfully and said something like, “You know–ALAAASKA.” (Spoooky.) Whoever came in to work would stack their coat and bag in the closet, and by the time your shift had ended, of course a bunch of ladies had put their stuff on top of yours, so you had to fish your stuff out from the bottom, which would send everyone else’s belongings flying and shifting! Woe betide you if you’d forgotten to zip your bag all the way. Every time I had to get my things after clocking out, I thought of Aoife’s alleged gun shifting around in there and I hoped the alleged safety was on.

Aoife told me that Janelle had bipolar, and was on and off her meds, which she said explained a lot of her erratic moodiness and various states of hygiene competence. “That girl just smell sometimes,” she told me flatly, and I could not disagree with her. Janelle usually stank of old pot smoke or hair grease, which seemed to conflict with her forcing me to listen in great detail what bath she had indulged in the night before, using about seven different products. If only she would dunk her head. Janelle would prescribe me various baths and send me away with homework and a promise to give her a full report about exactly what bathing with an Avobath bomb AND a Sunny Side bubble bar was like.

The mall was a clusterfuck and my bus stop and bus was downright dangerous sometimes, but there was something that was working for me about the job, and it had one huge advantage over other, theoretical future jobs: I actually had it and knew how to perform my duties. I was surrounded by mostly women and the two delightful gay men on staff all day. I had whole weeks where I rarely interacted with any men at all, beyond P., which was exactly what I needed then. I would come home and rub balms and face masks all over myself and just relax and smell good, which was nice.

But the downsides (besides the customers, ho ho)…I took a LOT of inappropriate boundary crossing from Janelle, from hearing about her sex life and her finances. She touched me a lot, too. She was fascinated by my breasts too, and asked if she could touch them. They are fine boobs, but really, they are just boobs, not made out of powdered unicorn horn or anything. Aoife told me out of the blue that she thought Janelle “had a thing” for me. I prayed that “the thing” was a raise and some defective product. I don’t think she was into me.

One day I was working the register and she was admiring my chest tattoos, which, fine. “YOU NEED MORE!” she declared, and began drawing on me with a Sharpie to create a piece in the middle of my breastbone that would link the two flowers. It sort of looked like a constipated sun. I couldn’t really run off the floor and scrub this off in the bathroom, so I endured questions from customers about why I had let an uncoordinated child draw on my body with magic markers. It was ironic to me because I knew she fancied herself an artist and had previously worked as a sign painter, which I didn’t know was even an actual job anymore.

Janelle took credit for this masterpiece every time, and I think the customers saw the “dear god, help me” look in my eyes, but Janelle thought we were bonding, I think. She implied that the young girls were twits (they weren’t really twits, just young) and the older girls were trying to backstab her for her job (they were) and I was the only one who “got her.” It takes me a ridiculously long time to tell a person I like what I am thinking or feeling, or anything beyond the barest thumbnail of what my life is like (I think a nicer way to put this is to say I am a bit “guarded”) so it occurred to me that she, a real freakazoid, probably knew next to nothing about me, really. I just spent hours listening to her ramble inappropriately while keeping a poker face, something I learned from dealing with my mother.

I was still relentlessly applying for jobs anywhere, everywhere else. I had a promising phone interview for a taxonomy contract at Nordstrom that went nowhere, and a few other false starts. Christmas was right around the corner and I knew that we remaining clerks (there were fewer than half of us left) would be cut loose and let out to wander the world looking for the next horrible retail gig, unmoisturized and no longer smelling of ginger or lilies. I had heard a rumor that sometimes really good temp clerks would be invited to stay on and convert to permanent, but I have had my dick pulled with that one in almost every temp job I’ve ever had. It’s usually just something they tell you to entice you to behave, like “Santa is watching” or “the IRS still has enough funding to do audits.”

One night shortly after Christmas I closed with Janelle and after the last of the earlier-shift clerks had left (it was usually just two of us after seven or so, a key holder and a little minion like me, who was expected to do most of the stocking and cleaning). It seemed that most of my compatriots had been given their last week of shifts and would be cut loose before New Year’s Day. I had not been given mine. Janelle locked the doors and turned up the music. She seemed a little shakier than usual, but I knew she routinely stayed up for days at a time, so I figured she and her boyfriend had just been up on another one of their sprees, which would involve another horrifying story about his Burner friends or insinuations about polyamory while I just swept the floor going, “Uh hah. Interesting.” (Not pictured: My soul dying just a tiny bit more while the outside of me earns $9.25 an hour.)

But no! Tonight she was excited! She had very exciting news!! “WE’D LIKE YOU TO STAY ON AFTER CHRISTMAS!” All I had to do was sign the paperwork. I knew in my heart of hearts that this was not the end, that I could find a different job that paid better and didn’t involve doing the electric slide while wearing a blueberry face mask, but I still felt my chest collapsing a little. The store manager would discuss it with me during my next day shift and would have the papers.

Sign away I did. Later that day, I kid you not, I was cornered by two dogs, one off leash while I was jogging through Greenlake, and the other in the store itself, and I had a panic attack. This was when I developed my temporary dog phobia: the day I signed on at Lush. Of course I think it was more complex than that, and would not have developed if I also wasn’t experiencing escalating health problems (anxiety related to malnutrition, etc.), but it was interesting timing.

Things got very rote after the holiday madness died down, and there was surprisingly low turnover at that store, so I was the new kid for the rest of my tenure there. The other clerks were very welcoming, and even the ones I couldn’t read well confessed that they were very happy I’d been picked and voted for me. I stayed three more months at the standard 30 or so hours a week so they didn’t have to provide benefits, and then in March I found a tech contract that more than doubled what I’d been making at Lush. I hung on to a few evening shifts, just to keep my hand in and keep in touch with a group that had been a mini, temporary, very dysfunctional family during a very difficult period, but eventually it was all too much, working more than forty hours a week, and I gave my notice.

Every time I go into a Lush store and am assaulted by the rabid employees and I see the trepidation and desperation in their eyes I am reminded of my time there, as I gently tell them, “It’s okay, I used to work here. I know the deal.” The really jesusy ones push on anyway, “WELL DO YOU KNOW ABOUT OUR NEW SPRING LINE?” and remind me of the “pep talks” from the managers (“WE NEED TO MOVE 6K BY NOON LADIES!!!!”). The normal ones look relieved and say, “Oh, okay, have fun then” and leave me be. And I am relieved that I get to leave without clocking out, covered in stale sweat and glitter and regretting all my choices that led up to this point.

Weeping Vagina Noises Pick a Mix

December 10th, 2014

What, exactly, is happening? A: FUCK ALL, but I am writing you anyway. I have two current obsessions, and a third on the back burner.

Noir festival: in real life (downtown at the art museum) it is almost over. At my house, it was cruelly interrupted by a bad case of The Novembers, sickness, and Work. I would call this my backburnered obsession. I would like to finish, though it got increasingly depressing to try to find subs for the dairy that I had allowed into the recipes before I realized that was not a good idea. Perhaps 1950s French cuisine is not for me at this moment in history. (YA THINK, SJ?)

SPEAKING OF WORK, I am on the countdown to being let out of my contract. As I bleated about previously, I am really short on work in any given day and things get boring after 10:30 a.m. or so. However, I am seated smack in the center of the room with the permanent team, prime real estate for being hit in the head or cleavage with Nerf gun bullets, and drooled on by a really cute lab puppy, but not so good for really sinking into writing. This morning I have turned my patio into a conservatory with a banana, fig, and lemon tree using only the powers of my mind palace, Pinterest, and Houzz.

So bored that I asked myself “Can a conservatory be made to look period on a 1950s rambler?” and even considered bothering the nice people at Retro Renovation about this. And then I didn’t, because that would take this insane, stupid notion out of my head and a tick closer into reality.

Second obsession: really good Thai food at home. Thai food was my very favorite food for many years, and I would say a big plate of phad thai was definitely go-to comfort food at times. I got pickier as time went on and has I have lost most of my sweet tooth in the last few years. Catsup-y or too sweet phad thai started seeming pretty gross, if not inedible.

Sadly, I’ve pretty much crossed Thai restaurants off my list for now, on the principle that the more ingredients any given dish in a cuisine has, the more likely I am to get into trouble by some hidden reagent. I’ve been cooking Thai food at home intermittently since college, but it barely seemed worth it since you cannot throw a wedge of lime without hitting a Thai restaurant here, including really good and “authentic” ones. So I decided to dig in here and do it by scratch. And if I am bothering to do it by scratch, why not do it right?

I found this blog, which I love love love. I have gleaned that her husband helps her edit her writing, so I am not sure if it is she who is very amusing, or if he is being liberal. I suspect it’s the former and it’s pretty true to her spirit, since the tone of the blog seems pretty even. I love a chef who is willing to say, “here are some optional ingredients, but get the fuck out with your substitutes.”

I’ve made her authentic phad thai three times now, and it is delicious, and reminds me of my favorite phad thais in town–tangier, not soupy, with pickles in the base and garlic chives. However, all three times it’s made us sick. The fresh ingredients were perfect, so I strongly suspect that it’s the dried shrimp or the preserved turnip. There’s nothing on the label that says it should be making any of us ill (the turnips read “turnips, salt”) but these are imported items and I don’t know if something was lost in translation, or if there was cross-contamination at the factories. I suppose it could be the sauce, but I got bonkers bobo kind.

I think I’ve gotten a pretty good handle on this recipe, and I still love the dish, but next time I’m going to go bananas and pickle my own radishes or turnips and just use little panfried bay shrimps. And make my own sauce. From tamarinds I have picked myself.


I made her phad see ew (High Heel Gourmet’s note: “It’s so SIMPLE. It’s beyond simple. To me it’s like posting a recipe for a hotdog!”) It was simple. And it made us feel GREAT. We were not sick one little bit. Again with the simplicity and quantity of the ingredients in a dish. (Of course all bets would be off if I ate a giant bowl of polenta or Cream of Wheat or something.)

As an aside (I think we are about balls-deep in asides by now) it is so awesome to make a dish like that and eat really, obscene amounts of it and lay on the floor after and feel kind of stuffed but not look five months pregnant and have heartburn and the stupids. It’s still novel.

Okay THING THREE is the only thing that is saving my sanity at work right now: Answer Me This! As usual I am about six years behind on everything, but I heard them mentioned on 99% Invisible and I was ripe for some new entertainment.

And entertaining it is. I love the premise, too. Three Brits answering questions about anything they are asked. There’s something charming about answering questions in the age where most people just google it, but of course the actual-factual answers are completely besides the point. I have been listening to 4-6 a day, so it is REALLY permeating my consciousness right now, to the point where I have the theme songs and jingles from the show in my head.

One of my favorite things about the show is how often they are willing to answer questions about American culture, and how they are frequently wrong! I have long suspected that there is a thing with Brits that they disingenuously pretend not to know certain things about America, much the way cool theatre kids in the lunchroom pretend not to even know the names of the dumbest, most popular jocks. And sometimes I think it is true ignorance.

I am also delighted about how ungeeky it can be. One of the hosts unabashedly struggled to remember basic plot points of Star Wars on one I listened to recently, and then decided that she really didn’t care that much. There is also a little casual racism on the part of one of the hosts, to which the other two always reply in unison with a horrified “OLLIE!!”

But what makes it really hooky for me, clunkers and blunders aside and forgiven, is the consideration of fine points of etiquette in human relation matters, attention to proper grammar (which I need more of in my life), and of course, a zillion throwaway references to British culture. For those of you who know I kept a Victorian culture blog for a year, it’s probably no surprise I am a huge and unashamed Anglophile, which I make every effort to keep under my hat. There is little that’s worse or more pretentious than an American slinging around uncommon British slang in conversation like it’s nothing.

…Even though sometimes “bellend” is ABSOLUTELY the perfect word for a person. Whooo could I even say this to? At my last job I worked with a completely delightful Brit who I would get into IMs with and found myself translating temps to Celsius like a knob and talking about things like “boot sales.”

Anyway, everyone needs a hobby, right? I have those in spades. I think what I need now is a PAYING hobby, because I have to confess I am so, so weary of the corporate world. I am not weary of cashing the paychecks, though. This isn’t “boo hoo, poor me I have excruciatingly boring marketable skills” (or maybe it is, click away, baby, click away). I just don’t know what to do for the next…40 years. (A: NOT build a conservatory.) I don’t want to wait tables. I don’t want to go back into a sales job. I don’t want to be unemployed. I do want to go back to school, but just to faff around, not to take anything practical.

Last night I sang stupid xmas carols in the car, which normally I am stubborn about and hate, but then I realized that Franny was having a nice time doing it too, and it seemed like a good idea. Family togetherness and all that, since she has finally hit her hermiting from family phase of being in her room 90% of the time (she sent 2000 texts last week; two of those were to me).

P. commented on it in the morning, that he was surprised by the sight of me singing along to Rudolph and never thought he’d live to see me do that. I thought for a moment.

“I just don’t give a shit anymore,” I said. Not enough energy to hate Xmas anymore, and still not enough lifelong ingrained habit to care about it either. Xmas love is not going to just grow in, unless some kind of Saul-to-Paul Donkeybonk Shenanigans occur. P. said something about people caring less about things as they get older, but I don’t think that’s it.

I am having angst–I think I’m back to my midlife crisis again. I feel like I got pulled/pulled myself back from the brink of something after being sick, and now I don’t know what to do with the first day of the rest of my life. Maybe I should start painting again. JUST WHAT I NEED, ANOTHER HOBBY. What color is my parachute? Whining! Argh.

“I don’t always take damage…but when I do, I drink a potion.”

December 5th, 2014

Let’s get this out of the way: I’ve been sick for almost two weeks now. It’s NBD, just a really annoying cold. I’m excited to say that, perversely. My hands aren’t falling asleep and I’m not covered in lesions or anything. Just a cold! Ha ha! *clicks heels together*

Anyway. Like 99.9% of all people on the planet, being sick makes me less creative, even along the blogways. I haven’t been working on my awesome bullshit writing project either. It’s SUCH a shame too, because my job is RIFE with opportunities for time theft. I am to the point where I am often out of work by 10:30 in the morning, and everyone knows it. What can you do? A: read a lot of blogs and sigh a lot.

However, something jogged the writing impulse today. Over the loudspeaker as we neared downtown, our morning bus driver made a very stilted announcement about the potential of protests blocking roads or delaying traffic this afternoon. In part he informed us that “Metro would do its best today to transport people even if those people [protesters] decided to…uhhh…exercise their constitutional rights today.” Please don’t let him say something crackery racist, I said to myself. I felt like he was teetering on the edge of something awkward and was not used to making impromptu, required announcements like this. He did okay, though.

“What if he is transporting protesters downtown RIGHT NOW?” I asked P. “He keeps calling protesters ‘they’ but what if they are right here?”

“Are you planning something today I don’t know about?” P. asked.

I was planning to go to work and waste space and oxygen at my hourly job. But WHAT IF I thought, looking around at all the white people on my bus in their North Face jackets reading their Kindles. Maybe not.

I didn’t think about it again, really. After work, P. and I were walking to the bus together when a man darted out from a bus stop shelter, away from two other people, and made a beeline for me. He started giving me that kind of hostile patter designed to harass and get a reaction. And when you do react, the person often acts indignant and/or swears at you.

One of my tattoos was barely visible above the neckline of my shirt and he began rapid-firing about that. I darted ahead, instinctively moving faster and leaving P. behind, in part because there was a clump of people waiting for the bus at the stop the man emerged from.

“That’s a nice tattoo girl can I see it I got tattoos on my neck what is that tattoo of…”

I decided the best course of action was just to keep walking, quickly, as I always do and not react at all. I assumed P. was right behind me and would pop up next to me as soon as we left the crush of people.

I was wrong. The man started yelling.

“Man, get your HANDS off me, DON’T TOUCH ME!”

I was shocked to turn and see that he was addressing P. with this. I didn’t see what happened. The next thing I knew, the man lunged at P., grappling him and taking him down with an arm slung around his neck. P. fell on his backpack. They tussled on the ground and I froze for a second: go for phone? Start yelling? The man’s ribs were exposed and I considered kicking him with my rainboot to get him off.

Several thoughts flashed through my mind, layered on top of the “what to do?” thoughts. Did P. hit his head? He went down so gracefully. He has this incredible dexterity and he used to salsa and ballet dance. He even fell beautifully when attacked in the street by a random miscreant. It reminded me of seeing Patrick Swayze jumping over the fence in The Outsiders. Swayze was not capable of doing anything but jumping gracefully, like a gazelle. Was P. going to die? Were the man’s friends he was with at the bus stop going to jump in? HOW WAS I THINKING ALL OF THESE THOUGHTS IN THE SPACE OF ABOUT FIVE SECONDS? I settled on yelling.


After a few more moments they broke apart. The man turned himself over on the ground like an upended turtle. I realized he was cupping a joint in his hand and it was still smoking. It seemed so absurd, launching into a fight with a joint in your hand!

A few more words were exchanged, and the man called P. a fucking asshole, and taunted him, gloating about taking him down. In the next breath he told us to call the cops, and that he would tell them that we started it. None of it made any sense, but when do these things make sense? In addition to the weed, he smelled like alcohol and like he didn’t have much else to lose.

“What is WRONG with you?” I said, standing over him. He just stared at me. We turned and started walking away quickly. By some incredible luck, a bus we could get home on was loading passengers. “Let’s take that one,” we decided, immediately.

Once I ascertained that P. was okay, and that he hadn’t hit his head, I had to ask him. “Did you touch that guy?” It seemed really wrong and super out of character. P. is NOT any kind of fight-picker.

“He went after you,” he said.

“Yeah, okay, but you could have kept walking with me, it would be okay…”

“No, I mean, when you walked away, he lunged and hit his head on your shoulder. You didn’t feel it, did you? I just put my hand on his shoulder and pulled him back away from you.”

“He tried to…headbutt me?” I asked. This was getting weirder. “I guess he got what he wanted–a fight.”

Obviously it could have turned out much worse, but it was very troubling. The man was African American, and once I calmed down I felt afraid for him, especially considering the political climate and the sad current events in the U.S. As one anonymous, unnotable white lady I don’t think I have all the power in the world, nor do I want it, but sometimes I say a little atheist prayer to myself both that I won’t get hurt and that other people, especially black men, won’t get hurt on my account. I had just listened to Jay Smooth’s latest at my desk the day before and cried a little. These issues were on my mind.

A couple of years ago, well before things came to a boil in Ferguson, I was gassing up in one of Seattle’s dodgier neighborhoods in the late afternoon, well before sunset. I was standing behind the car, as is my custom ever since I had a gas tank overflow on me once years ago, while I stood right near the tank. The girls were in the backseat, facing forward.

A young black man, probably midteens, cut through the gas station parking lot towards a bus stop, a fairly common occurrence with pedestrians in that intersection. I didn’t think much of it. He passed very close to me and muttered at me loudly, as I was probably studying a tree or a cloud or something: “Fucking white-ass bitch, I could beat your fucking ass.” He kept moving and I kept my eye on him, and he crossed the street to the bus.

I wasn’t scared or mad. I didn’t really react at all; I recognized impotent rage when I heard it. I’ve experienced it many, many times myself. That was the first time I had that guilty, unpleasant thought: if you laid a hand on me, there would probably be a special serving of trouble coming your way since I’m a middle-class, white mother gassing up my Honda, and you are a young black man in America. I don’t know how to speak or write about this, and I am aware I am klunking all over the place. I know I keep this blog pretty apolitical, save the occasional feminist screed. So I am going to sound vomitrociously sanctimonious saying this, but the awareness of my privilege made me feel sick to my stomach. Not the fear of him. Fear for him.

In a weird way I admired his brashness, since I had been young-angry once, not understanding targets or consequences. Was I the right target for his rage against white ladies and what they represent sometimes? Maybe not. It made me think a lot though. I hope the kid finds peace and an outlet, but I am also weirdly grateful to him for kicking my bubble like that.

When I said “What is wrong with you” to the man on the ground today I meant “why would you attack someone in the street like that?”, since I have apparently become the cliche of the scoldy, middle-aged white lady, someone’s future grandmother, smacking mashers with her handbag and waving her umbrella and being SHOCKED, SHOCKED that anyone would behave without at least modicum of decorum. But also, I meant please don’t let this end badly at all, for you or for us, but especially not because of the color of my skin and the color of your skin.

Fangs for the memories

November 27th, 2014

Here it is FAAAANGSGIVING again and I have decided to let myself off the hook some this year. I was plotting and planning how to make an exact replica of Thanksgiving, but gluten- and dairy- and corn-free and I said you know what? I am just going to do what I’ve been doing here and play to my strengths. I bought a nice rib roast and it has been sitting in the refrigerator for almost 24 hours coated in salt.

I was that asshole at the store last night who was going “Sooo do you have any more oxtails or what?” No, they have TURKEY. I’m basically doing a very nice Sunday dinner, and I did a half-assed clean, and I feel very good about that. I enjoyed doing the big ten person thing last year, and this year I like the idea of having Morgan and her boyfriend and that’s it! It’s noon and I’m basically done.

This gives me time to recount the horror that was parent-teacher conferences on Tuesday. I am VERY VERY excited about Strudel’s teacher this year. She’s really pushing Strudel to do well. We were expecting to hear that there were behavior issues–the usual thing, talking, not finishing homework, but what we got was pretty over the top.

First there were the coffee cups. I’ve been enjoying a cup or two in the morning before I jump on the bus, or I even take some with me. I even program it to be ready by the time I wake up–such luxury! I can smell it in my dreams. Every day is a fucking coffee commercial. We have three travel mugs and a thermos, but generally the thermos gets used for soup. Two of the travel mugs are kind of crap, but we keep them because one is from a contract agency that P. was indentured to some time ago when we had a tiny baby and barely had two sticks to rub together. The other one has the name of the student org I was VP for in grad school. Memories.

My go-to, non-crap mug was dirty, so I opened the cabinet for a backup mug. There was nothing–the two old crap cups were gone.

“Why did you take the travel mugs to school?” I asked Strudel.

There is no “did you” or “what happened to” needed. I know what happened, and that yes, she did, and I don’t even want to know why. She started making mouth noises about what she was doing with them and that she knew where they both were–probably–and…I cut her off.

We are pretty fatigued by her elaborate stories lately. We had another talk about asking to borrow things, and even if objects appear to be sitting around for years the adults probably still want them. I so did not get that when I was a kid. My sense of time was so short and impatient. I didn’t understand that tools, etc, that sat around collecting dust were still wanted by their owners. So I kind of get where she’s coming from on this. I borrowed things if I thought I could get away with it. After about a week of nagging, both mugs came back home again, were cleaned, and went back to residing in the cupboard, waiting for a road trip or to be called upon as backup.

The mug issue reared its head again in our conference.

“She came in one morning,” her teacher said, “and she had a coffee mug, and was drinking out of it. Of course all of the other kids were shocked that she would be drinking coffee. I figured it was water.” (I knew it was coffee.) “I decided to just ignore it.”

“A sound plan,” I said. I spend a lot of time ignoring small stuff as well.

“Then the next day she brought in another mug. She left it on a table and went out to recess and I smelled it. It was coffee!”

I was completely unsurprised by this one, and to be honest, the biggest issue I had with it was borrowing things without permission, and causing a disruption in the classroom, because it’s a bunch of ten-year olds, not a tech start up. She drinks coffee at home sometimes–it’s not a big deal.

But her teacher wasn’t done.

“And then there was the day she came in with a ring in her nose.”

That one got me. “WHAT?”

“Yes, she had this ring attached to her nose somehow.” Her teacher pointed to one nostril. “Everyone was talking about it, of course. There was a rumor that people were saying: ‘Her mom MADE her pierce her nose.” My jaw dropped. “The other teachers were all talking about it, asking me about it. I just ignored it.”

“Oh jesus. Well that’s good,” I managed. P. was turning crimson and looked like he wanted to die. So basically he looked exactly how I felt.

“By lunchtime it was gone,” her teacher said.

The teacher had some nice things to say that were pretty much in line with what we already knew. She’s a good reader and a good writer and mather…but also has this unfortunate tendency to spontaneously fall out of her chair, which I’m sure is a big hit with her peers. She says she wants to be an engineer, but I am worried she’s going to grow up to be Amy Sedaris.

He and I were pretty subdued on the way home. “That wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be,” P. said. I thought someone was really enjoying having the watchful eyes of her older sister at another school across town.

As we parked the car, we decided not to bring up the nose ring, and the coffee cups had been dealt with to our satisfaction. I made dinner and the three of us and Franny sat down. I couldn’t resist–I had to tease her a little.

“Your teacher told us EVERYTHING you’ve been up to, you know,” I said, shaking some hot sauce onto my food.

“Everything?” Strudel said in a small voice. “Like what?”

“I don’t want to embarrass you in front of your sister, but let’s say it had the RING of truth. Some of her observations were RIGHT ON THE NOSE.”

Strudel turned a crimson shade and grimaced like her father had been doing hour or so before.

“PLEASE don’t tell Franny what you’re talking about!” she begged.

“I won’t,” I promised. “If you can be good for the REST OF THE YEAR.” She agreed eagerly.

“I have no idea what’s going on here,” Franny said.

Amen, sister.