I Went to Las Vegas

This week I had an experience I really never thought I’d have. I was at a conference in Las Vegas for my regular day job and attending the second keynote presentation with 2200 other people. When the president of the company that was hosting the event finished his speech, they dimmed the lights, and announcer said, “We are now locking all of the doors and you will not be permitted to enter or leave,” and then George W Bush took the stage.

I’m currently reading Justin Cronin’s second vampire book, The Twelve. The vampires are called virals because they’ve been infected with a virus by the US government. Also, I have very strong memories of watching Contagion in a movie theater.

So, there I am with a couple of thousand other people, locked inside an expo hall with no possibility of getting out. And I have a touch of the claustrophobia. And I’m thinking about virals and recirculated air and I also listened to Democracy Now through much of Bush’s presidency.

All I will say about the matter is that Mr. Bush has now taken up oil painting and he’s focusing on pet portraits.

Most surreal hour of my life? Possibly.

A few pictures of Vegas below. We’re heading to LA and San Diego tomorrow. Can’t wait!

Las Vegas Airport. Sun!

Bouchon for breakfast each morning

Las Vegas Strip. The Virals are coming.

 

Women Cooking Dinner

Last night in the debates Mr. Romney tried to articulate his experience of helping women. The internet is now ripe with women in binder jokes. It was cringeworthy at best, but there was a moment when I wanted to pat his shoulder and say, “Hey, I hear you.” He was talking about hiring women and giving his lady employees a flexible schedule to take care of their families.

Yes, in some ways this is an entirely antiquated notion and something so minor that it’s laughable when compared with the all-out assault on women in recent years. But it’s something that, I think, could use a bit of a closer look.

Women do cook more than men do. Study after study shows that women who work still do more housework than their husbands. A flexible schedule for people in general not just moms or dads is necessary and one that we won’t see in our lifetimes, I’m afraid.

Yesterday I worked outside of my home and when my workday was over, I rushed home so that I could run before making dinner. Now that the days are gray and getting short, I need to make daily exercise a priority or else my brains turn to an angry mush.

I ran and then made a fast (fresh) dinner — rice, beans, fish, guacamole. And there were times yesterday afternoon and evening when I felt absolutely frantic. Ticking off all of the things I needed to do in those precious three hours: run, dinner, clean up, homework, bath for A, read to A for 20 minutes (part of the homework) and then, finally rest. That’s after waking at 5:30am: breakfast and lunches for me and A, clean up, shower, get us dressed, drop A off head to work. And then work for 9 hours straight.  Most working days, I’m on the go from 5:30am-8:15pm.

I’ve had the good fortune to be able to make a flexible schedule for myself, at the cost of my benefits. But others aren’t so lucky. Currently our working culture is about being as busy as humanly possible. We take pride in working on the weekends and spending hours chained to our desks. It’s chilling and likely counter-productive.

Last night in the midst of the insanity, Arch lost his tooth. He put it in his tooth fairy jar and went to sleep. We went to sleep too. And forgot about the tooth. He woke in the morning and was, understandably, upset that the tooth fairy forgot him. We had a talk and Arch wrote a very polite note to the tooth fairy and so we’ll try again tonight. Today is my day to work on Five Plates and so I have flexibility to take care of this small task (we get him dollar coins and I need to run to the bank to get some). Today I am less crazed. I’m calm and able to do my work and be present with my family.

It’s a change and one that I’m grateful for. All of us need flexible schedules to take care of our families, and to take care of ourselves. I realize that the binder of women thing will distract us from a conversation that we need to have, and that’s disappointing. And yes, the person starting the conversation isn’t an advocate for women. But I am glad that at least it was mentioned. At least it was broadcast into the homes of millions of people of all political stripes. It’s something we need to keep talking about. It’s something that we need to change in our culture.

A Salt Pig Not Salt Cellar

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A few things happened today:

1) I was swimming with the old ladies and one of them told me I had a “svelte body.” I thought about this and how swimming with the old ladies is the greatest thing ever, until the old ladies got out and the aggressive swimmers got in. I had to share with a man who propped up a little training booklet at the end of our lane. The first page of his training booklet was titled, “FORCE.” Heavy sigh.

Salt Pig

2) I bought a salt pig, which I kept calling a salt cellar. The young woman at Sur La Table jumped right on that and said, “Ooooh let me show you my favorite salt cellars. THEY’RE BAMBOO.” And they were $50. And they had little twisty lids which would never work if you don’t measure salt while cooking and just grab it with your fingers and go. They were beautiful salt cellars made of bamboo, people. I’m not going to lie. But I said, “No, I want one shaped like this [hand motion].” And she said, “Ooooh what you want is a salt PIG.” And I said, “Indeed.” She had no favorite salt pigs so I bought this one. It’s a salt pig. And perfect for salting pasta water. Can we all take a pledge that we’ll all HEAVILY salt our pasta water from here on out? It should taste like the sea. Start salting your pasta water, people. And get a salt PIG to make the job easier.

3) While we’re taking pledges, can we also all pledge that we will never drop our children off at school in our jammies or cleaning the house clothes. Today I saw several women wearing what I can only describe as fleece rags paired with t-shirt tatters. A few wore no bras. One was sucking on a Starbucks to-go mug. If you had time for Starbucks (the nearest one to school is at least three miles) then you had time to put on jeans. And a pair of earrings. Also (pro-tip) chambray shirts look stylish and are comfortable. Pair it with a scarf and you’re on your way.

The bottom line is when I see people out in the world in their pajamas I can only think I’ve caught a glimpse deep into their personal lives. One that I didn’t want to see. Ever. And you might go home after you drop off your child and put back on your rags, but there’s no need to advertise to the world that you have absolutely nothing to do with a solid five hours of your day. Pretend! Pretend you’re going somewhere important! Pretend you’re not going to sit around eating bon bons! Pretend you haven’t given up. Please. And take the pledge in the comments of this post, if you don’t mind.

A Very Odd Thing Happened in the Pool

For the past few months, I’ve been trying to see odd things as odd things instead of as irritating things or scary things or things put in front of me just to spite me. Here’s what happens when the odd things start happening, I think: OMG what is happening right now? And then I think wait, here’s a very odd thing. Let’s see what happens.

So I was in the pool in the morning, which is typically when the older ladies are swimming. This is my favorite time to swim. If you’ve never been swimming with old ladies, I highly recommend it. It’s so soothing and lovely. Anyway, I was sharing a lane with an old lady and we were peacefully swimming in our halves of the lane and I popped up at the end of my lap and found a woman sitting on the edge of the pool at the end of my lane putting on some flippers.

This was odd because the whole pool was full and there were people waiting to get in, so why would this woman be putting on her flippers as if she was about to get into my already-full lane? But whatever. I keep swimming because it’s old lady swimming hour and I’ve got not a care in the world.

The woman in the lane with me and I reach the opposite end at the same time and we both pop up and heading right for us was the woman with the flippers and a paddle board. The flipper woman then turned and paddled back the other way. And the older lady said to me, “What’s she doing?” And I said, “Acting very strangely.”

So the flipper woman decided she’d just swim up the middle, dodging us as she went. With her flippers and paddle board. Well, she clocked the older woman and the older woman stopped and asked that the flipper woman get out of the lane. She did not. So I waited at the end of the pool for the flipper woman and I said, “Please get out of the pool. I’ll be done in 15 minutes and you can get back in at that point.” And she said to me, “I just have two more minutes,” and kept paddling and flipping.

The big samoan guy in the lane next to us started yelling at the flipper woman to get out of the pool and the older woman asked that she leave again. The woman kept going. When her two minutes were up, she stool in our lane and did leg lifts. We all asked her to please do her leg lifts outside of the pool and she just stood there like she couldn’t hear us. Finally she shook her head and got out.

The older lady got out a few minutes later. And then I got out. I have no moral or ending to this story, other than it was really and truly bizarre.

 

Why I Make Things From Scratch

Fancyhats and I are always trying to figure out why people cook and don’t cook. One general theory I’ve heard floated is that our parents cook and so we cook. Well, yes and no. Fancyhats always had fresh, hot dinner, but I didn’t. There were a lot of microwaved meals and Jack in the Box (San Diego, holla!) in my childhood. I’m not going to turn down a fine Jack in the Box taco (made from faque meat, natch) but I’m also not going to make that part of my family’s daily menu. Because. Gross. Also, delicious. And can we all give a moment of thanks for Kraft Mac n’ Cheese. I still love that doctored up with extra butter and some grated Cheddar. OMG. And Tabasco.

Anyway. We don’t eat that stuff for reasons that I’m just going to be honest about. I think we get into this food stuff, particularly in Portland, and it makes it hard for people to want to cook. If I say to you I don’t want to eat processed food because of obesity and the environment, that’s sort of ridiculous. Those are huge issues that my eating or not eating processed food is not going to change. And it makes eating fresh foods unattractive to many people. It makes it too heavy. Too much of a big deal. Because the environment and a health epidemic are riding on that taco!!

So I’m just going to be honest here and tell you why I make things from scratch.

It starts with something like this. That’s puff pastry I bought at our local posh grocery store. It was $9.99. Next to it was Pepperidge Farm puff pastry for $4.99. Less than half the price. But Michael Pollan told me that I should “Pay more, and eat less.” So I say that to myself in the market. I say, “we will pay more for good foods and not eat so much.” So far, that’s working out okay. In fact, for the first time ever, we came in under budget on our groceries last month.

Anyway, I stuck it in my cart. And checked out. And came home and looked at it and thought: What the hell. I could make that. It’s flour and butter and salt, maybe. And I could freeze the puff pastry I made just like I do with cookie dough and then it becomes a convenience food. WHAT WAS I THINKING?!?

What I’m telling you is that I make things from scratch because I’m extremely cheap and I hate having things put over on me. To me, it feels like a racket that I just got suckered into. And I blame posh grocery stores.

Not really.

Maybe a little.

But the truth is, can I make puff pastry? It’s not like molecular gastronomy. It’s a pastry dough. Like pie crust. Fat, starch, gluten (eek!) and moisture. Damn you grand central! Damn you New Seasons! Damn you Michael Pollan! As god as my witness, I will never purchase puff pastry again.

And so, gentle reader, that is why I make things from scratch. Because I have a temper. And I’m cheap. And I figure I have two hands I can read a recipe and so it’s stupid to have someone else do it for me.

My Bad Parenting: Episode 1 Million

I had a divine lunch with my dear friend Kathryn last week. Kathryn is a writing professor and I’ve known her since she was in community college so to see her teaching college after I used to help her edit her college essays is so wonderful. I keep calling her professor because it’s so awesome.

Anyway, we talk parenting. We were talking about an article in the New Yorker several months ago that stated (I’m paraphrasing) we’ve moved from being a culture where kids pleased their parents, to one in which parents please their children. I’ve seen the effects on kids whose parents cater to their kids’ every whim and it isn’t pretty, people.

I’m pretty middle of the road. I’m soft on some stuff, and a hard ass on others. But that hard stuff is hard. The other day, Arch brought home an entertainment book to sell. Never mind that those things are crap and do nothing for local economy and are all about junk food and corporations, I’m not going to have my seven year old out there shilling for Jack in the Box. So I said, no we aren’t going to do that. We’ll take it back to school.

Arch was bummed because he would get a reward depending on the number he sold. So we turned it back in and the woman said to him, “Thanks for trying!” and Arch turned away quietly and walked slowly back to his classroom. No tantrum. No words. Just a quiet disappointment. As a parent, seeing your kid disappointed and likely humiliated because of something you refused to do is awful. I spent a second calculating how many we could sell if I just ran back and grabbed it and took care of it. And then I remembered that I’d said no and that was that.

This weekend, we set aside time for Arch to write his thank you notes for his birthday presents. If you’ve ever sat with a 7 year old boy while he’s writing, you know this can be a hilariously frustrating experience. Like being tickled. I was dreading it and stuck between just saying never mind, writing them for him and having several glasses of wine before starting. I did none of that. Arch just sat down and cranked them out. No complaining. Minimal distraction. And they were done. All of my stress about wanting the task completed quickly was totally wrong. And Arch was just fine to do them on his own. When he was finished he said, “I’ll check that off my bucket list.” I’m going to add thank you cards to my bucket list — gotta set the bar lower.

Despite the urge to make things easy for A, and for myself in the short term, I need to remember these thank you cards. I need to remember that Arch is capable of making his own experiences in this world. Sometimes there will be disappointment. Sometimes there will be joy and ease. Without the disappointment, the joy will be that much harder to appreciate.