27 December 2010

"Just Out of College at My First Job" --Again!

No, I didn't go back to college and start my life over. But building a website is an education in itself, and launching it is a lot like starting a new career. (Are you ready? I'm about to go public identifying my site.)

Here's what I've learned in the first three months of having NewsGaggle.com go live:

What I thought the website was may not be what it is. It's not "it is what it is." My website is... what other people make of it. At least in part. Otherwise, it won't succeed.

By that, I mean that the users will determine what is important in the website, what value brings them to the site, and if I am wise, the direction it takes off and how it will evolve.

I thought I was starting a great, interesting website for the public to see "behind the scenes" photos and read comments from working news media. I think it will become that, but first, it's going to have to build its foundation constituency. It's got to attract membership from the news media.

NewsGaggle.com is an unusual concept in that it was built with two constituencies and two missions. The first and most important mission is as a registry of working news people. The site allows those of us who work covering the news a place to register and organize our social media for current and prospective employers, as well as the public.

It also helps showcase our work, both written and behind the camera, and in doing so, demonstrate news judgment and personalities. It's a bit fun, too.

The secondary mission of the site is to share "behind the scenes" stories and photographs that are fascinating. Those same photos that you, here on "People Are Candy" enjoyed when I covered Michael Jackson's death and told you how obvious it was that the guy in the blue shirt in the photo below is a faker.

Whew! What. A. Poser.

If you had seen what I saw on the Facebook.com pages of friends during various national and local stories, you'd know how fascinating my industry is. Except you don't know all my friends. So NewsGaggle.com offers them a platform to share those pictures and stories and benefit from it.

So it's got that going on.

Launch with an "in it for the long-haul" view was another big lesson for me as a new website owner operator. It can take years to become an "overnight success." If you think you'll get rich quick, you're almost certain to be disappointed. (Ok, maybe Facebook. Jeff Zuckerberg, if you are reading this, the evolution, constant changing and use-analysis driven changes and growth at FB are impressive and wildly educational!)

Take stock at three months and expect to change. Changes before that are going to jump the gun, so meantime, interact and engage with your membership. They can have great suggestions, if you can accept the fact that your site isn't perfect and learn from what they say. Open the shutters on your ideas. Let those "winds of change" blow through.

Learn to laugh at Google Adsense. It's the easiest and best thing to go with from the start. But don't take it seriously. The analytics are decent and reviewing the system, you will learn much about where to put your ads and what will drive the money, but you probably won't earn a lot.

In fact, I may frame my first check. Uhhh, whenever it arrives.

Lots to learn with a website. So please check out NewsGaggle.com and then come back here and tell me what else I need to know. The Suggestion Box is just below.

30 November 2010

The Tale of Two Credit Cards

This is a tale of two American Express cards.

This first is a Delta Airlines Mileage card.

I've had one of these cards for more than ten years. I've gotten a couple of free flights on it, but generally, for the last couple of years, it has been nothing but excess wallet weight. I stopped using it because it was hard to find a Delta flight I wanted and I don't care for "mileage" cards, but I didn't get rid of it because it was three-quarters of the way to the next flight.

So I carried it around.

This next card is a Costco American Express card. This card was a freebie which Costco pressed on me, and to be honest, I accepted. It seemed convenient to get out one card for entry to the membership warehouse store and then use it to pay. The Costco Executive Membership already cost me $100 per year, but the card itself bragged of "no charge."

When I lived in Los Angeles, the "Executive Membership" was a great thing to have because I could get into the Costco an hour early "before the riff-raff." And the Executive Membership paid me back in cash for the money I spent there.
Cash? Really? Well, it paid me in Costco dollars (to be spent only in Costco) and there were a few years where I actually got some sizable kickback checks because I was doing some catering on the side.

So I used it. And used it. And used it. And today, I was thinking about that.

Today, the most recent bill arrived and as with so many things right now, I started to think about the real cost of this card. The bill told me how much money I was getting back. The card pays back only when I spend at Costco or buy gas. But since the Executive Membership Account would pay me that anyway, that's not a real benefit, is it?

If I used the Delta card, I get the Costco bucks AND the miles accrued toward a Delta flight.

I figure it will take me about the same amount of time to get that next Delta flight (and figure out where I want to go) by using that card as it will to figure out which American Express card I should REALLY be using.
I'm sharing this with you so that if you have a "free" Costco American Express card with your executive account, you can wake up, cancel the Costco card which is actually stopping you from using another card which might give you benefits. Or keep it (which could potentially damage your credit rating, by the way), but start using another free American Express card and thereby double your benefits from using your credit cards.

Oh. Unless you don't pay them off every month. In which case, ain't nothing going to save you. Questions? Suggestions for better (cash back, NOT FLIGHTS) fee-free American Express cards are also welcome here.

20 October 2010

Update: Website

Did you ever have a light bulb moment in your life? Something that you thought "this is a great idea and I think I can get behind this 100%!"

It's being required to give that 100% that will kill you because as it turns out, pulling off your light bulb moment and bringing it to reality will require 110% of everything that you are or ever have been or ever will be. You gotta put it all on the table.

Last March, I had a light bulb moment. I had an idea for a website.

Oh, yeah, I've had ideas before. Who hasn't, right? I've had ideas for books. I've started writing. I considered starting a barbecue shack. I collected recipes. (I'm practically vegetarian. This was not perhaps the most well thought out idea I've had.) I considered starting going into PR.

In each of these cases, I would start off down the trail. I would go off with the best of intentions. My closest most beloved relatives might try to suggest that I lacked follow-through. But I just couldn't make myself throw the whole pizza pie into the air. I couldn't really commit to any of those ideas. Ultimately, those ideas would fizzle.

This one didn't fizzle. This one survived through a failed working relationship and two failed attempts to hire different companies to help with the project. Finally, I settled into a working relationship that has been successful.

Well, "successful." That's a relative term, right? Do you ever watch the NBC sitcom, "Outsourced"? Yeah, it's a bit like that. A lot like that.

Except instead of characters named Pashta and Manmeet, I couldn't pronounce my site development company's name, so I simply refer to them collectively as The Pirates.

It's been an interesting ride. It's been a great project to work on. It's sucked up my life. Completely engrossed every part of my mind and all the hours of my day. Exhausted me. Did not exhaust my finances. (MOM: I am NOT broke. Do NOT send money.) And it has been challenging. But the time zone difference from the East Coast of the United States to New Delhi, India was only the start of the obstacles. (I quickly learned to sleep in small batches.) It taught me a lot about people and what might be called "India deadline time." Ha! I've also learned how far I can push someone (To be honest, most of my coworkers would say I already knew the answer to that), how to motivate and when to back up, be supportive and accept that "the best a person can do" probably truly is the best a person can do.

In short, I've had a ball.
I might be minus a few strands of hair, but I've got a great website to show for it all the sleepless nights, angst and yes, frustration. I'm excited about it. I really hope you will like it, too. It actually had part of its birth here in this blog... in your comments and excitement. I'm not going to post it publicly here yet because it is still populating. (That's web-developer speak for "it's not very well-known among its target demographic" so far. It's still very early.)

But I will post all the details here when it's ready for you and I think you'll really like it.

Remember when you would get excited about my blog updates from behind the scenes at big stories? This is an entire website for that type of photographs and posts. The site launched two weeks ago. It's adding people on a daily basis with more expected in the next week or two.

So that's where I've been. It was never my dream to "own (my) own business," but a website isn't so much. It's a news website. It'll actually help other people. And it actually did require 110%.

I think that might be why I liked it. It was so challenging and demanding and engrossing. Plus involved journalism and current events. Everything I like. I think you will like it, too. I'll let you know when it's completely ready.

Btw, if any of you are on facebook, please ask and I'll direct you to the Facebook Fan page for the site. And the Twitter page. And t-shirt sales. Okay, I'm kidding about that last, but it made you think, right?

27 September 2010

Update: Website

I've neglected you, haven't I? Badly. Repeatedly. And generally without apology.

Ahhhhhhh, but if you'd been where I've been and seen what I've seen, you'd know the future is....

That's bunk. I've been off working on getting a website launched. It's now days away. If you're on my facebook.com page, you know that I complain constantly about pirates (my nickname for the Indian website development team I hired), whine about lack of sleep and generally post at all hours.

You might have seen my friends list disappear. A link to another friend's fanpage go away. And the general ramble of someone who goes to bed at 1am after working with web developers, wakes up at 3am to check email and occasionally answer a few questions, then gets up at 6:30am to start working with them intensively until they log off for a full night's sleep at 1pm EST/11pm New Delhi time.

It's been interesting. I've learned how to motivate people from half a world away. (Cracking whips only works when dollar signs are attached.) I've learned how hard small business owners have to work. I've discovered untapped resources for teaching old dogs (myself) new tricks. And I've found out exactly how resourceful I can be.

I'm having a great time. The site will launch in just a few days now. I'm not sure how frequently I will make it back here after that. It's hard to spend 16-20 hours a day on computer and then write a fun, uplifting blog on people. Plus, I'm finding myself a bit of a shut-in. (That will change as soon as I decide what type of small portable device (compared to the 10 pound laptop and 15 pound backpack I currently use) would be best for me.

I hope you'll check out my website... which is found here. (Don't bother to click it until it turns bold and a color. I can't send you there until it launches. But I do promise, it will be interesting.)

So until I can clear more time to get back here with more to say, remember, everyone you meet has the potential because People Are Candy.

22 July 2010

Update: International Friendship and Understanding

A little update on the post below.

As you can see, my blog is routinely getting more and more interest overseas. In fact, frequently, I get more comments from people in Asia than I do from my American friends. How can that be?

When I see these comments, sometimes, they don't view correctly on the poor, tired laptop that I am using currently. I click on the sender's name and I don't really see what's going on with them.

In our Age of Internet communications, I have found that lots of people like to "follow" people on twitter.com as a way of getting attention for their own twitter account. If I make the mistake of clicking on that, too often I get an unwanted eyeful of some cyber-Lolita, hawking her wares very openly. So I've been a little reluctant to allow the unknowns of Asia to post comments on my blog.

That is until yesterday.

I was at work at Voice of America and sitting across from the Asian Bureau Chief. Diane Gao is from China originally, very educated, intelligent and oddly patient with the deskmate that likes to tease her incessantly. (Why do I do that? Do I have a death-wish? Many at VOA seem to, but I work there only part-time, and appear to be a happier person than my fellow government workers; so the question remains unanswered. And life goes on... teasingly.)

Diane speaks and reads fluent Chinese. So when two Chinese comments arrived within a minute of each other last night, I mentioned it to her. Abundantly patient and curious woman that she is, she walked around to my side of the cubicle to review the comments and I got an eye-opening lesson in international goodwill.

The comments, it would seem, are aimed at boosting my site response. They are trying to help me boost the income of my blog. There's no porn-y blogsite to trail back to; just goodwill towards all.

(I had translated them using the "Google Translator," but Diane informed me those translations have been utterly, completely wrong. Which makes perfect sense, considering that the google translations were utter nonsense.)

I was a little surprised. Even the names are innocuous. It's all so very "hello Kitty!" isn't it? So if you see a few more written responses in some beautifully feathery Asian-style script around here in the future, you'll understand.

So here's to improved communication among the peoples of the world. I really have to blog more frequently. The People of the World, MY PEOPLE, are waiting.

09 July 2010

Ongoing Battle: Red Piano versus Guilt

Does anybody really like the sound of a phone ringing these days? My cell phone rang Wednesday with one of two good friends catching me, mid-step, at the gym.
"Hey, want to go to the auction with us? We're heading there right now."
"Um, I'm at the gym right now. Isn't it a mite early?"
"Yeah, auction doesn't start until 6pm."
"Oh, I could make it closer to then."
Five hours later, I started bidding on this:
An hour later, I walked out with it. It is titled "Mamuut Red" by George Khubua, who is a Georgian (as in former Soviet Republic of Georgia) artist. It's painted in oil on canvas.
When I got it home, I discovered a little stash of guilt, tucked behind the frame.
Not gilt. Not geldt. Not anything of value, just guilt. Why? At $60, it's hardly likely to crash the budget.
I feel guilty because I have worked to maintain a household that I can walk away from on a moment's notice. I have endeavored not to fill the holes in my life with "stuff" that will never be satisfying. I've curried the notion that I had no commitments and remained foot-loose and fancy free.
Some of you may know that currently, I don't have a bed where I live. There is also no couch. I haven't had the sense to buy a set of flatware, glasses that match, more than three dinner plates or a can-opener that isn't second-hand.
Yet two nights ago, I bought this painting.
I do like an uncontrollable smile, though, at least once a day. Don't you? Don't we all like a little visual on happiness?
This little red piano makes me smile. I wish I hadn't been sucked in by it, because it is what it is which is something I'm responsible for. I think if I could stop feeling guilty, I might smile more.

27 June 2010

Moving Day

I'm moving this week. It started with just a few things that I took over Saturday when I went to pick up the keys. And enroute, I called a friend.

"I'm moving! I'm moving! I'm moving! I'm moving!"

I sounded like the audio version of a 6 year old on a pogo stick, bouncing up and down with excitement. Who gets excited about moving? Nobody. Certainly not me. I've never been this excited to be physically carrying my things out of one residence and into another. Normally, like most peoople, I dread moving.

What makes this time different? Well, one reason is an painfully negative, current living situation. The friends that already know about it have heard enough and the ones that haven't heard don't need to, right? Right.

Another reason is that almost all of my belongings are still in a luxurious temperature controlled storage locker in Los Angeles. I haven't acquired a lot of household goods on this coast and the things I do have with me are either very necessary or very inexpensively acquired. It's an odd thing, buying something that is so ugly you know you'll be glad to take it to Goodwill one day in your fantasy future. But that's what I've done.

I asked my mother for the ugliest, tackiest holiday decorations she could send at Christmas. (She showed an absolute flair for that, by the way! Thanks Mom!) A beloved niece handmade my miniature Christmas stocking sticked with a personal message. And I've picked up anything else I needed at thrift stores and out of the way places. It's been sort of fun.

I think once you've been through the whole mess of being able to buy whatever you really wanted and then having to carefully box, stack and store those things thousands of miles away, you don't need to feel sad that they're gone. I don't need anything more because my stuff is just somewhere else at the moment.

If you have heard part of that Carrie Underwood song out in the last couple of months, called "Temporary Home," then maybe you understand a little of how I feel:

"This is my temporary home.
It's not where I belong.
Windows and rooms that I'm passin' through.
This is just a stop on the way to where I'm going.
I'm not afraid because I know this is my temporary home."

I'm not sure how long I'll stay in the Washington area. It might be just a stop. It might be The Stop. But I do know this: Monday night, I am moving.

And today, three different friends all volunteered to drop everything and help me move. So for a temporary home, this is feeling pretty good right now.

15 June 2010

People Candy: Gordon

As you may have noticed, my life is sometimes a bit like a soap opera.
So it can't surprise you that I consider most of the people that I meet to be very interesting characters. In fact, people-watching is one of my dearest joys in life. It's how we end up here at People Are Candy with such a plethora of delights!

This is Gordon. He's 6-7.
Which is to say, he tells me he's 67 and I'm guessing he's 6'7" in height as well. I'm not quite sure what to make of that perfectly round goose-egg looking thing on the upper portion of his forehead. It was, uhhhhh, actually more pronounced in person.
Here's how I came in contact with Gordon: I was in Dupont Circle, having a spot of pizza with a relative who was about to leave the Washington area when I caught a glimpse of Gordon, all 6'7" of him, walking by out in front of the restaurant.
"Wow, look at that man! He's totally an eyeful! Isn't he just wonderful!?"
My cousin is actually accustomed to my great delight in people who are out of the ordinary, so she turned around to see who was walking down the street.
In addition to that sleeveless campshirt, Gordon was wearing khaki shorts and a brownish "nude" colored sock on his right lower leg that made me contemplate whether it was "orthopedic" (support hose?) or an ultra-cool fake lower leg. He had a bit of a "gait" going on.
It was all so delicious. I decided I liked him immediately... for a part in the next John Waters' film set in my mind's neighborhood.
But too quickly, Gordon lurched off and I lost hope of further relishing his presence.

After dinner, the cousin and I wandered over to Second Story Books (directly across the street from my favorite pizza place ever) and when I walked into there store, Gordon was behind the counter! And when I asked if I might take a few snaps for us, to my utter delight, he graciously agreed. (And before you ask, YES, he does have a left arm. He's just tucked it behind his back.)

This is when you know someone is The Good Stuff. He said yes. He knows he's a character in someone's "yet to be written book" and is so wonderfully comfortable in his skin. He has a bit of a gentle way about him. It was possible to like him immensely, so I did. How could I not?

Gordon told me he's lived in Washington for all his 67 years. He doesn't own Second Story, but he's been working there for a very long time.

I may need to go back and buy a book. If you go into Second Story Books in Dupont Circle, be especially nice to Gordon. He'll likely be a famous movie star some day.

08 June 2010

My Someday Neighbor

This is my new friend. Her name is Rachael. I'm thinking about moving back to Los Angeles to be her neighbor.
I should explain to you that I've been at a global conference on women's sexual and reproductive health called "Women Deliver" all week. In pursuit of this fascinating topic, I've interviewed a couple dozen people each day and although I have greatly liked many of them, I am pretty sure Rachael is my favorite.
Which is very unusual for me. Because the smiling, sweet, funny woman that you see there is in fact, an actress and director. Her full name is Rachael Leigh Cook.

You can see why she's famous, right? Great smile and bright, engaging eyes? Yes, yes. But I've interviewed a couple hundred celebrities in my life. I've generally thought most of them were a bit more of a pain than the interview warranted. And I'm pretty sure they thought exactly the same of me.
I didn't feel that way about Rachael. She was my third and final celebrity interview of the day.
The first actress was, as my British producer gently pronounced, "a bit of an ice queen." (This is a prime example of the British people's "gift for understatement.") I'm leaving her name out because this isn't a celebrity tell-all blog. It's People Are Candy and I'm thinking the first interview was a Zotz.
The second was Ali Larter, one of the stars of the hit show "Heroes" on NBC. She attended the conference with her mother, which was very sweet. She was very accomodating to us and at the same time, showed a good amount of concern for her mother's comfort and feelings, too. All in all, a solid "butterscotch" experience.
Rachael was with her assigned public relations "friends." We were scheduled for an interview an hour later, but then one of her companions trotted up and offered to bring her a bit earlier than previously agreed. My rule is "Always Accept What Is Offered" and so we immediately started to throw up lights to better photograph her.
A moment later, here came Rachael Leigh Cook, catching us with our proverbial pants... er, lights down. But she was agreeably nibbling on her boxed lunch, so she walked a short distance away where she seated herself on the stairs and finish her lunch.
We finished the lighting set up and I walked down to retrieve her. I hate to drag someone off mid-chew, (and it's hard to be demanding of someone who is already being extra accomodating) so I stood by chatting with her and the other two women as they mostly finished their meals.
As a lot of you probably know, some days I have "it;" some days I don't.
And by "it," I refer to my innate ability to be so utterly offensive in under ten seconds that everyone within a two mile radius gags on their veggie wrap and pasta salad.
This particularly day, I apparently left "it" at home. As I stood there and talked with these women, Rachael Leigh Cook turned out to be the nicest, funnest person I've met in awhile.
I liked her so much that I said, "If you and I lived on the same street, I believe we'd be great friends."
Not to worry; I have no intention of hustling off to LA to be someone's weirdo stalker-ratzi-fan-neighbor. (There's a wide-open "if" tucked in there.) I've still got stuff to do here.

Yet the conversation rambled along. We discussed my concern for American women's health and weight issues. She offered a theory that it's caused by hidden anxieties. I suggested it was caused by hidden sugars. And we laughed and chuckled over my angst-filled meeting of Arianna Huffington the day before. (Ms. Huffington was so stunning in person, that I tried to give her a compliment but instead, wound up with my foot so painfully far in my mouth that I'm pretty sure I was letting off toenail polish on the other end.) I'd been trying to talk myself out of my horror ever since, so meeting Rachael Leigh was both a relief and a delight.
And then it was something more.
I was about to begin her interview when I saw a few stray hairs. I pulled out a comb and asked if she minded if I gave her just a little... touch up? She has beautiful brown hair, but it's very humid here in Washington, so I smoothed it a tiny bit. Not so much, really, right? Right.
Here's where I knew we'd be the very best of neighbors and to me, she became and always will be "Rachael from The Block:"
When the camera turned on me for "reversals," she knelt down, retrieved the comb back out of my purse and started doing the same to my hair. Touching me up. Well, I never!!
I've interviewed a lot of people. I've had a lot of fun meeting them all. (Even the first celebrity of the day, admittedly a bit of a pill, was interesting.) But I found Rachael Leigh Cook to be one of the most genuine, open people I've met in awhile.
So forgive me, but I may buy that house and live in that flower-filled neighborhood in my mind for sometime to come.
And if People Are Candy, Rachael Leigh Cook seems like she might just be an (almond) Joy.

06 June 2010

Of Church Fairs, Wild Hairs, Car Repairs and... Barbecue

I went to get my hair cut and my car worked on yesterday, and I came away with a good bit more.
My hair appointment was about 90 minutes north of Washington, DC in Towson, Maryland. (Towson is not a great mecca of hair styling, but the closest one of those, near as I can tell, is in Los Angeles. Suffer with me here.) (And, no, you aren't entitled to a look. It's just hair.)
After the hair appointment, I drove to the mechanic's house. He lives with his mother. That's actually one of my favorite things about him. He's the son of a friend who I like to beg into doing my mechanical stuff. He's willing to do it, and I pay him a nominal fee for his particular grease-monkeying.
This particular day, he finished the mechanics and tossed in removing a screw that I had stripped. As it turns out, I'm quite good at stripping screws. He expressed his admiration. I expressed my cash. Everybody's happy.
Except on the way in, I had seen this little arrangement off of a wayside church.

Having grown up in a small town, I can't resist a gathering of gentle folk at a small country church. Toss in barbecue and I'm a goner.
I asked the mechanic. Sure enough, he was game. After the car repairs, off we went.

Here he is, with his plate, waiting on me to get my barbecue sandwich so we could find a table to dine. He looks pretty reasonably happy, doesn't he? You can tell it's not a date with that stack of onions! (And he's recently engaged. Congratulations, Grant and Taylor!)
This next picture is the server.
I forgot her name, but I won't forget that grin. Or her generosity. That's MY plate. You think maybe the mechanic and I should have swapped plates? My gracious, what a little chitty-chat will do for the person wielding the barbecue tongs! All I did was ask for a taste of each, and pretty quick, I had a plate full of both!
Along the way to the seating area, we dawdled along the rummage sale. Some homemade goods, some far away stuff and lots of the usual suspects.
This Santa Claus figure caught my eye. He looks like he's trying to hook a ride, doesn't he? But he did not come home with me.
And then I caught sight of this little game:

He's trying... really trying to... Oh! There it goes!

The inflatable alligator lands on top of the barbecue stand. I'm not sure what the game was here exactly, but it seemed to be irresistable.

Maybe you had to be there. You wish you had been, don't you?

I love a little country gathering, with families wandering throughout the entire scene. And me and the mechanic, enjoying the barbecue and the air out there.
All in all, I got a good deal more than just the great deal on automotive work and hairstyling.

30 May 2010

Rolling Thunder on Memorial Day Weekend

This was the scene today outside the office where I work weekends:
I sort of dig it, don't you? My coworkers weren't any too happy about an estimated 400,000 motorcycle enthusiasts, albeit veterans descending on our fair city.
"Noisy, and they will be here until at least 6pm, riding around the National Mall, gunning their engines and making noise," said one of my charming colleagues.
But me? I found it sort of sweet: American motorcycle clubs (that quintessentially American group) honoring those who served in the United States Armed Forces.

I almost felt as thought I wasn't serving them and their memories right to go out and stand along the sidewalk and cheer these bikers on. Seemed like the American thing to do.
By the way, I haven't forgotten about this little blog, nor its stated purpose to enjoy every day people along my way.
I am a little absent because I'm working on the launch of a new website. I can't tell you more about it other than it's the dream of a great career. I'm very excited about it and hope it will be something you'll enjoy as well.
Soon, I'll let you know when it's ready and where to look.

16 May 2010

Dinner Included...

A fish eyeball.

It was not my intention to dine on fish parts when I went out, but that's how it ended up.
Here's how that happened.
I went to hangout with a friend who's been asking to get together with me for awhile. We went down to the Old Post Office in Washington, DC. We were hoping to go up in the elevator and catch the view. The weather's been just about perfect for the last couple of days. But unfortunately, we arrived just as the last load of elevator-view-watchers for the day was emptying out. No trip to the top for us.
So we walked around for a bit. Did a lot of people watching. And then he said he wanted to go get some dinner. He wanted to try Greek food. I'm generally pretty adventurous, right? (Barnacle-like mollusks peeled off bay rocks and directly into open mouth on Molokai, chicken feet in Hong Kong, fried frog in Cambodia, smoked goat, quail eggs and innumerable attempts at both Rocky Mountain oysters and dog.. ring any bells?) Except that Greek isn't adventurous; it's merely great food. Oh well.

I ordered the fish. The fish turned out to be bass, sauteed in 0live oil and served on a platter. When it arrived, the waiter asked if I wanted him to debone it. I declined. I said I could handle that. And I did just fine.
It was excellent fish and nicely done. Crispy on the outside, moist and flavorful on the inside. I ate and ate and ate.
And then I turned the carcass over. A weird little quarter-inch white ball rolled to the side.
The fish's fried eyeball! I batted at it with my fork. ("Don't let a little respect for the dead stop you from playing with your food, Marti.") The eyeball itself seemed sort of dense. Maybe even solid as it rolled up and down the plate to my very great amusement.
"Look!" I said to my date, with joyful glee, "The fish's eyeball." (Fish eyeballs are always surefire fun. I've grossed out many a dining companion before by merely sticking a fork in! For those of you who arrived here from google, yes, they are also considered an Asian delicacy.)
"I dare you to eat that! I'll give you five bucks if you do!" my friend offered.
Okay, I am not this poor. But I've heard that fish eyeballs are an excellent source of Omega fatty acids and this one seemed fresh. It seemed firm. It did not seem mushy, gooey, squidgy or otherwise likely to explode in one's mouth. Eating it seemed sorta... doable.

So what do you think happened next? Before I could stop myself, that eyeball was balanced on my fork. I tossed it into my mouth and washed it down with a big gulp from my water glass.
It was done! Gone! Down the hatch!

"Five bucks, Sir. Give it up!" That's right, money AND the bragging rights for a very long time. The end.
PS: That's the fish's head on the end of the knife. Next adventure: amateur taxidermy?

14 May 2010

In Touch With Your Inner Child??

I was coming home from Downtown DC, one afternoon this week. I was deep in thought as I left the Metro and crossed the street toward my car.
I was contemplating the afternoon meeting at a law office, my latest job application, the new website that a friend and I are building together, whether I should get my hair cut, how the Universe was formed and....

...what kind of deep-seated emotional need and insecurity would motivate a woman suck her thumb after the age of four? I didn't stop her to ask, so I guess we'll just never know.

24 April 2010

Nothing Compares 2 WHO?

One of the many amazing things about the Internet is how it is bringing together the world.
For instance, in the last month, I've swapped a couple of notes with Sinead O'Connor.
You remember her, right? She had several hits in the 1990's, including my personal favorite "Nothing Compares 2 U," which was a cover of a Prince song. Ahhhhhh! To this day, I love that song!

She had an interesting look about her. She often shaved her head down to mere fuzz, wore little or no makeup and yet somehow her eyes seemed very expressive and soulful as she sang.
It was all so perfect until she ripped a picture of the Pope in half on Saturday Night Live at the conclusion of her song. It didn't bother me, but it annoyed millions of Catholics and yes, I did wonder what the devil was up with that?
So when I saw recently that she had written a column for the Washington Post on the topic, I was interested to read it. You might find it insightful, too.
In reviewing her article, it seemed she explained in detail the historic setting and relationship of the Irish and the Catholic Church, the handing over of Irish children to trusted priets and all other details of why the Irish people are so particularly angry at the current Pope for his response to their anguish over child sexual abuse by pedophile priests.
I actually thought the Irish mother made the case extremely well. And I emailed her a note:
I read your op-ed piece in the Washington Post today. I thought it offered a lot of insight to the American people. Thank you for presenting it. I hope you don't get too many ugly, angry emails.

Imagine my surprise when she responded back:

Thanks Marti... Have had a hundred or so e mails but only one hateful... Which I wrote back nicely to... So... All's well. Thanks for writing. Sinead x

I've fired off missives at NYTimes.com writers, too. It's not too hard to do. They leave an email address. And if I'm moved by the writing, my fingers do the walking, er, talking in this case. Yet the kindness of a reply still surprises and pleases.
Remember the blogs and emails from Jan Karon & Co? Pure pleasure!
It is a small world, afterall.
Then there's the case of the blog comments. I'm starting to get them from Asia. For instance, this comment on the last entry:


If you speak Chinese, great. (No need to check. I never approved the "comment." This is a PG-rated blog.) If you don't, here's what Google Translator offered:
True love, is take care of your heart is.
True enough, but when you click on the picture of the sender.... YIKES! That's not LOVE! It's something else and is that even legal in China?
Good and bad in the whole "small world" concept, I guess.
But you might wish to try this yourself: get chummy on email with someone on a far continent. Might do us all a world of good!

19 April 2010

Life Is Like a Box of Raisinets...

Sometimes, a man has got to be A Man.
A man makes his own decisions, runs his own races, battles his own demons and kills his own petunias. Or something like that.
This is about priorities. Which is more important:

Smoking the cigar all the way to the very last little bit?
Or not starting your $55,000 foreign-made convertible on fire?

Whew! I'm glad I don't face choices like this.

Volcano vs. World

I am sorry for all the financial losses to airlines, personal inconveniences to travelers and general annoyance of the volcano in Iceland.
Can I also express my gratitude that the root of such a problem is simply Mother Nature doing her thing and not something infinitely darker? I know that doesn't comfort those stuck on The Continent and airline investors.
But shouldn't it?

17 April 2010

Ahhh, Spring!

Get the kids out of the room. I'm going to swear.
It is Springtime in Washington. Naturally, you've seen some pictures. And now, you're about to see mine.

I actually took that photo myself. The sky is blue; the flowers are pink; everything is in proper focus and framing. You're shocked, aren't you? The famous cherry blossoms of Washington are so stunning that even my poor photography skills cannot dim their beauty.

It's lovely, isn't it? Flowers and flowering trees are on every corner...

...and in front of even the most humble rowhouse. This is what it looked like for the first week of April. But then there's this other angle...

This is the windshield of my car. Do you see all that crud covering the windshield? That's one day's worth of POLLEN.
(Right here, I want you to know, I have NO known allergies, but if you pour rocks in my eyes, yes, it will bug.)

So what is this next shot, you might ask?
That is the front hood of my small BLACK car. Well, somewhere under all that pale green gunk, right? You can see where the nasty little pollen-carrying meteors struck down and the residual muck left behind. Do you know anyone whose eyeballs can withstand an onslaught of this level of pollen, stamen, floral debris flying by on every breeze? I think not.

I hate to gripe, but our city's streets are not "paved with gold." They are clogged with pollen, seeds, and assorted other green and eyeball-gravel-inducing agonies. Little microscopic things that nature intended to grab onto things; born to attach by use of hooks, burrs and the equivalent of organic Velcro, carried on breezes to sanctuary in any passing human's ocular or nasal orifices.

My eyes turn red, just looking at the six kinds of organic clutter in that gutter. The sad thing is, our city's most nicest residents end up playing in these streets.

This is Jordan and her brother Henry; that's their very generous mother standing by to allow me to photograph them. They were on a bit of an inner city nature hike. 4-year old Jordan has just discovered the wonder of STICKS. (Forgive the photo; Jordan is quite beautiful and Henry is a man after my own heart. In other words, he has a pulse and is wonderfully polite and charming.)
There is no escaping this annual air-borne misery because every homeowner in the area wants to have something, no matter how small, flowering in their front yard.

All of which leads me to one inescapable conclusion and agonizing statement:
Darn you, Costco!

09 April 2010

Bagels, Mary and Candy

I didn't notice Mary right off. I was walking towards Bethesda Bagels with a former colleague that I hadn't seen in years. We had met for a "catchup" over a quick drink.
Mary, however, was not to be missed. She's a bit insistent, matter of fact. But... in a good way.
In this picture, she's sitting right outside the store. You can see if her you look close, sitting as the woman with the blonde crew-cut hair passes by.

That's her, behind the "Jackie O" sunglasses and green hand knit beret. She's quite an eyeful, once you stop to look. I might not have spotted her at first glance, but once brought to my attention, it was impossible to miss the generosity of spirit.

And of bagels.

When I lived in Bethesda several years back, I would often stop and grab a dozen bagels on the way home after work. This past Friday night, as we walked back to my car, I thought it would be nice to see if they had any good flavors, but when I got there... the door was locked.

The sign on the door said "8am to 5pm." It was 4:59:30pm on a Friday evening and the employees inside were determined to be on time. I could see them through the locked door where they were helping their last customer. At one point, they came over and checked the door to make sure I was locked out! Cruelly determined buggers!

I was still at the door with my old friend, hoping they'd let me in to buy a dozen, when Mary spoke up.

"You just missed 'em."

Er, yes. Thanks for that. I must admit I have no great love of people who point out the obvious, so this was not particularly appreciated commentary.

"They just locked the door before you walked up."

Again with the painfully obvious? Arrrgghhhh!!

But then I looked over at her, sitting there on the bench in front of the bagelry. She was pure fun. Just a picture to look at. Sitting there with an elfish grin and a mouth happily full of bagel. How could I not like what she brings to the Candy Party?

You can't tell (because even with a point-and-click, I am hopeless!) but she has thick, dark, wavy brunette hair and wears lipstick that could best be described as deep cherry. And she was busily gnawing away at the bagel in her hand.

"What kind of bagel is that?" I asked. (You can't tell of course, because I'm so bad with the camera.) It looked the color of pumpernickel, but what was that stuff sticking to the outside of it?

Those of you who have hung with me know that I have an very odd curiosity about other people's food. I'm downright nosy. Constantly. And yes, I'm sure that is as annoying as it sounds to those around me. I just can't help myself. I always ask.

The bagel in her hand (as bad as that picture is, it was the best of the FOUR that I took of the bagel she was eating) smelled slightly sweet and looked a little damp. It looked like it had been freshly baked and sealed in the plastic bag. For a little. Too. Long.

Mary didn't seem to mind my asking, though. In fact, she seemed excited to tell me.

"It's a French toast bagel. I got a dozen of them for $2.59 on special, because they were closing. Here! Take one!" She offered me the bag to choose my bagel.

I'm curious about other people's food, but I draw the line at taking it from them. Nobody likes a mooch. So while I'm curious enough that I have to ask, I'm not dropping hints. You know that about me, right? I don't want to mooch someone else's food.

But Mary was insistent. In the nicest way possible, she made it clear that she truly wanted to share the experience (maybe because I did ask again if it actually tasted like the breakfast item?) of this particular bagel.

She said I should take a bite. And before I knew it, I had torn off a piece, offered my dear friend a bite and when she declined, stuffed half of that somewhat rubbery chunk in my mouth and commenced chewing. Ahhhh! It was a bagel after my own heart!

It was quite good: sticky, slightly sweet as it dipped in Mrs. Butterworth's or Log Cabin or something even better... and so bagel-chewy-wonderful! A very satisfying bagel experience that my friends in the West will never truly understand. An East Coast bagel can be a revelation and this one surely was!

A second later, Mary insisted that she give me a bagel for my own. It's a sharing thing, isn't it? The communal breaking of bread defines us as humans and in a twinkling, turns someone who was a perfect stranger minutes before suddenly into...

People Candy: French Toast Flavored!

Mary never told me her last name. She seemed a bit concerned that she'd end up in Time Magazine. I said no, just my own little corner of cyber Happy Town.

19 March 2010

China Leads the World in...... Entrepreneurship?

I was scootel-ing along the Internet when I saw a factoid that caught my eye.
And burned.

China is THE most entrepreneurial place on Earth.
What? Whatever happened to American know-how, the Puritan work ethic, determination to be the best and plain, old-fashioned hard work?
Sadly, I actually think we all know. But there are facts to back it up.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), China’s self-employment rate is an astounding 51.2%.

The U.S. rate? 7.2%.

Ouch. Not bad for a communist country that, until recent years, didn't allow capitalism. It's odd, isn't it? Watching the decline of American Capitalism, hastened (can we really blame the Chinese for our failures? Really?) by.... Communist Capitalists. (Read the article. There are more fearful numbers about what some used to call "the sleeping giant." Guess what? They're awake and eating our lunch.)
Wasn't it just a few decades back that Americans had ownership of the word entrepreneurship? We had a lock on it for decades. It was part of our strength. Whether it was inventing a new widget (before "widget" meant software) for the latest gizmo or selling great Aunt Gertie's pickled okra through the mail, it seemed like American ingenuity always triumphed.

That was then. This is now. So maybe you could spend just a few minutes today, figuring out if there's something you might want to do differently? Maybe you should.
I heard a great piece of advice awhile back from a speaker who had fought in World War II. He said, "Turn off the radio in the car... and think."
You remember World War II, right? That was the one where we came home after and built our reputation in the modern world. It took awhile for me to comprehend what great advice that was and how truly great it was to be alone with my brain cells for a few minutes in my car. You might try it yourself (maybe you already do?) sometime soon.

Turn off the car radio. Think.

15 March 2010

The Tale of Two Senators

I sometimes post about events and people to give you the texture of my life as a member of the media, so here is another of those offerings. I have deleted names to protect the innocent, er, the Senators involved. But these are true-life stories from the last several weeks.

Life in Washington: a place where you run into U.S. Senators and Representatives in warehouse stores and street corners.
I went to a Washington Metro-area warehouse store on Friday afternoon. As I was walking towards the finish line (where those oh-yes-so-lengthy lines awaited) I saw a familiar face. It was someone I've talked to before: a U.S. Senator who represents a state where a television station is located that I represented in the past. (That doesn't narrow it down, does it? Which media group includes TV stations in the Senator's state: Hearst, Conus or ABC News?)
Back to the Senator. This sighting was sort of like catching Superman out, shopping for new tights. Except that it was a U.S. Senator, buying paper towels and potato chips. In bulk.
This particular Senator is known for being very good natured and open. I interviewed the Senator several times in the past, so I said hello. The Senator was true to form: friendly, easy-going and open. No, those 4 gallons of milk in the cart weren't slowing the Member at all. (I don't remember much about the Senator's purchases because Warehouse Club Cart Snooping is the Washington equivalent of dumpster diving in Los Angeles. And I'm. NOT.)
We discussed the current fracas in Washington because only a few minutes before, I had written the previous blog noting how very dependent on public opinion many votes are. The Senator agreed and in fact, commented on the overwhelming prospect of understanding everything involved in the literary masterpiece of legislative work known as "Health Care Reform." (There are two: the Senate version and the House version. Enjoy!)
The Senator faces a tough race right now, and didn't want to be mentioned further... which is why you're getting only that "Senators do shop in warehouse clubs" so far in this blog, but very little more. I only influence races by reporting facts. In this case, it might be easy, but no. No.
We talked for another minute or two in line. I mentioned that a few weeks before, an old friend arrived in Washington with her (relatively) newly-elected Congressional Member husband. She and I went out for drinks and then drove over to Capitol Hill to pick up her newly-minted-Member in my (tiny but American-made) Ford Focus.
I've often thought that Congress is one of the least exclusive clubs in Washington. It's a huge, smelly, sprawling (mostly male) club of argumentative knuckle-crackers who all want their own way. It just is.
So here was this Member, on the phone when he got in my car, but trying to be nice. He folded his (rather tall) frame into the front seat (wifey happily climbed in the back seat and perched on the presidential library souvenir pillow) where he politely stuck out his hand, and did his best to greet me while finishing up the last details of his day job, working for The People.
When he got off the phone a few minutes later, he re-introduced himself and stuck out his hand again. I sorta... liked him. He seemed, I don't know, genuine? (I didn't like it when the Senior Senator from my home state hugged me on the White House lawn a few years back, but this seemed like the right maneuver.)
And then I drove them to their quarters. In my Ford Focus.
Why am I telling you all this? Just to remind you, while you're watching all the squabbling over health care reform that these are people who go to Sam's Club before weekends with teenage sons. These are people who ride without complaint in their wife's friend's messy little economy car with stains on the upholstery from too many cross-country drives. But mostly, to remind you that... these are people.
I feel a "People are Candy" coming on. See you back here at midweek.

12 March 2010

We, THE VOTERS, Choose...

I know I said I was going to stick to "people candy," and I meant it. I mean it. But I've been so caught up watching what was going on in the Nation's Capital just lately that I thought I'd explain what has diverted my attention.

The health care debate.

Not in the traditional sense. It's very hard to focus on the health care debate in totem because that piece of legislation is so huge and sprawling that unless you have every second of every day to devote your full attention to it, you miss a lot of it.
I don't have that luxury of brain-drain.

But I am finding some odd similarities between what is going on and another issue in our not-too-distant past.

I want you to think back about a dozen years to the Clinton-Lewinsky investigation and what went on during that time.

As a lot of you know, I don't have a huge amount of political party affiliation in my soul. I just don't. I also have utterly no sense of athletic competition. You could take me out on a tennis court and beat me to death with a tennis ball before I'd ever figure out why I should chase after and swing for it. I don't feel the need to cling to either political party, either. Genetic deficiency on both counts, no doubt.

But during and after the coverage of the Clinton-Lewinsky investigation, I got a good number of angry questions from RED-faced friends, all wanting to know why the media had let Mr. Clinton "slip through our fingers" unimpeached. They generally blamed the media for the failure to prosecute Mr. Clinton for what they perceived his crimes were. (Please don't write to tell me what you perceive his crimes were. I covered that mess for months. It's over. Let's move on.)

I tried to tell them that it wasn't the media's fault that Congress didn't act; it was their own fault. It was the decision of the American public indicated through poll after poll that President Bill Clinton would not be prosecuted because they were tired of the ongoing struggle in Congress. Members of Congress read those polls, along with other surveyed statements, real or implied that the Business of The People needed attending to and that if members of Congress voted President Clinton out, then voters would push them out in the next election.

A very few of my RED-faced acquaintances believed me. Others did not and decided from then on that I was either just another liberal member of the East Coast media elite or stunningly naive. Or both. I've accepted my position in their thinking. (As I said, "it's over. Let's move on.")

Now I am noticing that history may be repeating itself.
Some of my friends are now BLUE in the face from holding their breath for passage of health care reform. Health care reform may or may not pass, but it does seem to be remarkably slow in going through the motions on Capitol Hill.

And it seems possible, according to some media accounts, that Members are starting to figure out that if they vote for and pass the current health care reform legislation, they may find themselves operating outside the Beltway after the next elections.
As for me, it all combines to make me feel a bit GREEN... around the gills.

15 February 2010

Distractions: Skimming the Country

Can you define a geographic region by its milk consumption? I like this cow. I spotted him on a heritage breed dairy farm website and thought he was cute. Growing up on a farm, I always liked cows and calves.
Of course, I never had to milk them.

Washington, DC, as you may know, is still locked in snow. Focus on the cute baby cow, please! No need for pictures of the dreaded white. Keep your eyes on the cow! Yes, my car is still surrounded by drifted snow that is 30 inches deep, exactly as it has been for the past ten days.
And that was before it started. Again. Today.
So I ducked out of the house for a few more supplies. ("Stocking up" covered the first two weeks, but fresh bread and a couple of other things made the trip necessary.) Once inside the grocery store, I got a little surprise. The shelf for skim milk was empty. "All gone." I got to wondering, can you tell what area of the country you are in by the milk they're drinking?
In my home state of Utah, they like Vitamin D milk. Lots of kids there. Vitamin D for extra healthy bones and no need to skim the fat for growing, active children.

In Tennessee, they liked chocolate milk. Lots of sugar. Heavy chocolate. Heavy sugar. Heavy cream. Glug-glug-pudge.
To be completely honest, I believe what Southerners really want would be deep fried milk with "lil pat" of butter on the side. (Look at the look on this one's little face. Is he perhaps one named "Veal Chop?")

In Southern California, I remember seeing a TV commercial that showed a crowd of people excitedly running into the grocery store.

The big draw? A new brand of soy milk.

The funny thing was, it actually seemed completely plausible. It is accurate.

And here in Washington, where we hear about every study, survey, research project, prediction, projection or changes in fur on the back of water-bound rodents that eat only odd numbered insects flying at night could be somehow wildly extrapolated to mean something in terms of human health, we drink skim.

Can happiness be derived from milk without any fat? It's like life without luxury, isn't it? Sorta says something about us, don't you agree?

As for me? I wanted the skim, but seeing none, I forced myself to buy 2% and walked home feeling udderly flush!

(Venturing into pseudo-psychology and pop culture today. People Candy resumes as soon as everyday life regains normalcy in Washington. "This, too, shall pass!" Thank heavens.)

09 February 2010

Snowmageddon: Why Shut Down?

It occurs to me that I should explain a few things about the huge amount of snow that we have here in Washington, DC right now.
Yes, it really is two feet deep everywhere. And yes, we're getting another 8-20 inches tonight. We're trying to be polite about it, because that's our nature, but mostly we're sick of shovels and shoveling.

Most of the country thinks that the city of Washington and Washingtonians themselves don't really handle snow very well. I mean, hey, the federal government has been effectively shut down since last Friday (they didn't tell you, but every federal worker who had the option stayed home last Friday), and formally closed since Monday. It won't likely reopen for business this week.
Here's why that's such a good idea:
When the snow moved in, there were a lot of plows standing by and trucks full of chemicals, salt and sand waiting to push the snow aside and treat whatever was left on the roads.

I showed you this picture last week; trucks and plows lined up and waiting. But for some reason, they aren't doing the job the same as they do in other cities.
Where I am from, in the West, they seem to understand snow removal. When there is a heavy snow, the interstates are immediately plowed and the snow is completely pushed off the highway.
Completely. Safely. Off.
But when the plows cover the highways here, for some reason, the snow isn't completely removed. Instead, it gets pushed around and piled up. Layers get compacted and built up on the interstate system that is the heart of transportation in this very population-dense area.
The snow forms ice in layers. It thaws and refreezes, but since it's never properly disposed of, the ice on our interstate becomes thicker in some places and thinner in others. It is extremely uneven. It's hard to imagine unless you've seen it, but the net effect is that something like a ski mogul that builds up in one place while a dip forms in another. Only the mogul is made out of ice and your life depends on it.
As a driver proceeds into the city (where the interstate curves at the Pentagon is where I've seen it the worst) that icy mogul can be anywhere between 3 inches and several feet thick. Your car vaults up one mogul and comes crashing down a few yards later. No telling which way the car will go because it will land on more ice and be immediately headed for the next mogul.
Now, imagine trying to drive into a city during rush hour along a normally smooth highway that suddenly resembles a giant slalom with deep dips that you've never seen before, all made of ice, alongside of everyone else who is also trying to go to work.
In short, it's the most terrifying rollercoaster ride you've ever been on.
So yes, we are somewhat a city of snow-sissies, but after you've had one frightening ride on our snow-mogul-infested interstate after a big storm, you might just stay home, too.
Try not to judge us too harshly. We're dreading Monday morning for a different reason than you.
(And yes, we do have a great train system here in Washington, but right now, the Metro is limited to "in city" service where the tracks are all below ground and unaffected by the snow. It's currently running at about 1/4 of the usual number of trains with shorter hours.)

08 February 2010

How I Spent My Snowed-In Weekend

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Winter bliss!!

I'm a little embarrassed that I haven't posted my snow pictures, and to be honest, the pictures above and below are not mine. Oh well. Can't exactly brag about my photography skills anyway. (I was always on the other side of the camera, I b'lieve.)

I spent Friday night through Sunday afternoon working at a government agency. I may not be staff. I may not be highly paid. But it turns out that what I am is "essential personnel."

I think in my particular case, the promotion to "essential" came immediately after government managers learned that I lived less than half a mile from a MetroRail station that was two stops from their doors.

So I got a weekend sleepover with bad food, a cramped couch and coworkers possessed of weary, wonky and somewhat bleak outlooks. It was not the best, but to be honest, there were others who suffered far worse than my fate.

If you are looking for someone who is suffering under the 20+ inches of snow, this ain't her blog. I'm not particularly fond of snow, but my roof hasn't collapsed, my power isn't out and I haven't even tried to dig out the back steps.

In the absence of anything better, I've sort of adopted this attitude:

Yes, it has all been great fun, but nobody else seems to share my feeling. This is probably a "once-in-a-lifetime" weather event, but apparently while they're in it, not a lot of people are enjoying the ride.

By the way, my car isn't in this picture, but it does look a lot like these.
I was thinking that tomorrow, I might make a snow angel on my Ford Focus' roof, except I think three feet of snow angel plus a live human on top just might be the straw that broke the camel's back. Or caved in the car.

As for the forecast, we're expected to get another 8 to 20 inches in the next 48 hours, depending on who you listen to. I may yet spend another night (or three) on some government manager's spare couch.

So I have my pillow, an apple, a stash of Costco's finest Belgian Chocolates and the promise that "this, too, shall pass."

Unlike the truck below.

Because that, my friends, is a snow plow in Wheaton, Maryland on Sunday. It might still be there.

And it's stuck.