30 October 2011

Had Enough Chips? Pretzels? Candy?

When I ask "what is enough" and what is bothering us so much, what am I basing these questions on? Let's start with the most obvious aspect of life where people in general, and Americans specifically, are clearly struggling to get satisfied.

Food. Weight. As a country, the United States is struggling with huge (no pun intended... this isn't funny) weight issues. I've likened our culture's appearance to kernels of corn boiling in hot fat and in response, *POPPING* out of our previous boundaries.

Yep, we're fat. The government says two-thirds of Americans are overweight; one third or more are obese. And worst of all, our generation next is coming up chubby, too.

We're busy stuffing things in our mouths, looking for satisfaction. Looking for "enough." Looking to fill a hole inside of us that aches for "a little something-something." But instead of "a little," we eat everything in sight.

Come on. We've all tried to tame that one before. We have a few chips; we want a few more. Even the chip industry knows we can't let things alone. "You can't have just one" was the slogan of the nation's most popular chips for more than a decade. We're not alone in our overindulgence. The American Institute of Baking (AIB) reports snacks are a growth industry, "business insights projects that the savory snack industry will grow to $10 billion by 2012." We're nothing if not predictable.

But was there ever satisfaction in a few chips? But worse, has making it to the bottom of the bag ever inspired anything other than guilt? The salty (and now added sweet) additions to the carbohydrate load make them tasty. The carbohydrates themselves make you quickly crave more after you finish the first few.

So the big question is, when are you going to stop looking in the fridge for "enough"? And where can you look next?

24 October 2011

What Ails Us?

I've been giving a lot of thought to something lately. I've come up with an answer and I want to talk it through with you. First off, let's define the question.

When I ask "what ails us," what I'm really asking is what is ailing the U.S., our society, our country and us as individuals. What ails the U.S.?

I think it's the same question that's bothered me for a long time. When I say I'm formulating an answer, I don't mean to imply that I'm so insightful that I know everything about American culture. I am actually saying that I'm so very average and totally un-special that I'm bothered by the same things that are bothering the rest of the country. And I have mentioned the idea I have before on this blog.

I think it's a question of "enough."

I've told you before that someone asked me this question at lunch, years ago. A person who was wise beyond his years and looking at me clearly (and yet gently) enough to understand what he was seeing asked me, "What is enough for you, Marti? What is it going to take? What will be enough for you? And will you know it when you see it within your grasp?"

What a great question! I'm so glad it was put to me right then. I didn't have the answer at that time. I'm not sure I do now, although I know that many things I couldn't get enough of then are no longer troubling to me now.

So I want to start a dialogue here about our culture and the word "enough." Different aspects, subjects and theories. I want your thoughts, ideas and opinions, too. Consider it my own little research project. Topic: What is Enough?

12 October 2011

An Artful (Broken) Heart

I had my heart broken tonight. It wasn't by a person. It wasn't over a lost job. It was over this:
If you've ever loved and lost, then you know how I feel. This is an Emile Vernon oil painting that was at an auction. It's a particularly good one, because it doesn't just show the usual "pretty women" that he did so famously, but this painting seems to have an actual plot behind it: two bar maids whispering about a traveler with well-worn shoes. I bid briefly, but realized I had to walk away because I didn't have my life in order to provide the appropriate setting for this piece of art.
I'm going to remember this loss for a long time. There aren't a lot of things I truly covet and I'm sure there will be other paintings that I love in the future. But this one is a reminder that I need to work a little harder to focus my life and be able to provide a place for so much beauty.
Maybe this was what I needed to motivate me to move beyond my 40-45 weekly hours job, a job hunt, a website in development and a bunch of craft projects that so far aren't moving on Etsy.com, because as Scarlet O'Hara would have put it, "As God is my witness, I'll never be artless again." Or something like that.

06 October 2011

Steve Jobs: 1955 – 2011

The news that Steve Jobs died on October 5, 2011 lit up the cyber-sphere like very few things in recent history. Seriously, I've covered the deaths of former American presidents whose passing got less interest. I hope that is a testament to the way he lived.
I never interviewed Mr. Jobs. That should be clear upfront. Having covered politics and hurricanes for most of my adult life, there were always people far more prepared than me for questioning Apple's CEO. I can respect that. But like a lot of the Americans posting endlessly on Facebook.com and Twitter.com (which appeared to shut down for a time under the load) I greatly admired his passion.
Have you noticed that in every photograph of him posted around the web, he's engaged? He might not be exactly smiling, but he is there, in that moment, focused on whatever he's doing. That is a mark of true genius, in my mind.
Tonight, I saw it best explained in an article on Mashable.com, where the writer had interviewed him multiple times, over the years. If you want to read more about that, here's your chance. Because I want to move the conversation forward.
People seem very concerned that this country has lost a visionary. Yes, that's true. But we don't need to feel we've lost our vision. I think the best way to honor Steve Jobs is to do as he did: embrace the universe of possibilities every day.
I started my little website a year ago. It's in rebuild right now and I'm grateful for a couple of very talented web developers who have gone the distance with me in decision-making and design. These two Americans have made web development into an entirely different experience than what I went through 16 months ago, working with a New Delhi team that I came to refer to, both generally and specifically, as "Pirate." I hope in another six months, when I start to rethink, they'll come with me on the second journey. (A third? I'm hoping not because at that point, I'd like the site to need so many customizations that we have to take our friendship to the level of "just friends.")
I often tease my friends and coworkers that I'm going to "take over the world" with my darling little web project. I'm only halfway kidding and those that know me well with confirm that.
I don't expect to remake my industry. I don't expect to change the way people listen to music. Or shop for cars. Or feed their children.
What I'd like to do is enhance the way people understand the world and the opportunities that people in my industry are given... and take for themselves. I can only spend the amount of time (and money... ugh, the money!) on my little web project because I am passionate about it. I'm passionate about journalism and journalists and helping people re-ignite an industry and a group of workers that have taken some hard knocks in recent years. Otherwise, with my very limited television reporter's attention span, I would have wandered off long ago. But Steve Jobs, with the way he changed computer use and the way he pushed his limits, led the way.
I hope you're passionate, too, because if you haven't seen the news lately, time is limited. Eat dessert, love deeply, wear your favorite clothes and live your own life. Steve Jobs certainly did.

05 September 2011

My Economic Solution

I've been thinking about the economy lately. Which puts me in the same boat, bin and bag check as 98.9% of the rest of Americans, right?

At first, I was somewhat depressed. You can get that way, looking at the numbers. But you shouldn't. Why not? I'm so glad you asked.

First off, you shouldn't be depressed because on your worst day (ruling out a death in your immediate family) living in this country, you are still better off than more than 95% of the rest of the world. Truly.

Still panicking? Why? Worried about India? So was I until I hired an Indian team to build my website. Did you know they have 174 "festival days" every year. Can you really get behind that type of work ethic in a modern economy? After a few months of working with them, I stopped seriously considering India as a competitor.

China is what really worries you, right? Have you looked at their numbers and size? Ok, they're huge. But consider this: the U.S. economy is roughly 2.5 times the size of theirs. They're huge, they're coming, but they've got a long way to go. We're experiencing the same level of panic that our grandparents did in worrying about "the Rooskies" in the 1940's and 50's. Inhale. Exhale.

There is enough for them to be successful, too. It's ok. We don't have to clobber them to still have life pretty good.

Now as it relates to the rest of the economy, I have this thought: a sizable amount of the problem with the economy is that we, as Americans, don't have faith in it. We can't afford more government, but cutting our spending will cause an implosion as the nation's (and world's) biggest employer cuts faster than our already overwhelmed employment programs could possibly absorb.
What can we afford? Most of us don't want to spend more. We're saving every penny we've got. Americans are desperately trying to unload debt. We're just having a freak-a-zoid meltdown moment in our national courage level. How do we turn that around?

We're going to have to get tough. And perhaps while we don't want to pay more taxes or spend more money, perhaps its time to do that.

On behalf of those of us who don't want to pay more taxes, how about if we take another positive action? Perhaps if we gave something to someone in need? Since most of us feel like a dollar taxed is a dollar lost to the machine, how about if we take a step forward in consumer confidence, go around the taxing-spending-welfare machine that this country has become and we summon up our courage and faith in the economy to spend something on behalf of our fellow man?

I don't like giving money to people with signs up and their hands out at freeway exits. First off, I'm usually alone in my car and it concerns me to open my purse and my window to a total stranger who looks very different from me and well, somewhat desperate and dirty. I have no idea if he'll spend it on something that he truly needs... or drink it. So I try to make sure that he drinks it. I offer bottled water. If the person is truly needy, he's very grateful for some fresh water. If he's not, then he better act like he is or the guy in the car behind me won't give him a dime.

But how about if each of us bought that person a t-shirt or jacket? We would spend a little more than a bottle of water, but offer something that person truly needs. And more important than an actual t-shirt or coat (in the bigger sense, obviously) we'd circulate the dollars. We'd boost the economy without wasting any money sending the dollars into the expensive to operate government machine, right?

I'm not saying go out and buy someone an expensive coat. Just what you can reasonably afford. What you can freely give. If it comes from Macy's, Walmart or Goodwill, I'm not the person to say. And if you truly can't afford it, then God bless you, keep the money to buy yourself a warm coat. I'm just saying, circulate the money. Skip the government and help your fellow human. And maybe we'll finally start to veer towards easing up on the level of agony we see on the streets.

I'm pretty sure this isn't anywhere close to "The Solution." But I don't see anyone else offering anything better at the moment. (Maybe later this week?) Of course, if you have a better or other solution, I think we're all open to it. Give it up now.

21 August 2011

My Other Mother

One of the kindest, dearest people in my life died this weekend. I've known she would go soon, but it still catches me with such a tight, hard knot of pain that I'm almost unable bear it.

This is Doris Roberson, mother of three, wife of the late Marvin Roberson. Marv died last year and left his beloved Doris to soldier on without him. She made it just 11 months.

She was a wonderful woman. I met her as a result of her daughter, my college best friend, Echo. Echo told me from the start to "call her Mom, everybody does." And sure enough, Doris became a second, sort of "Other Mother" to me.

She was, as many of her generation, a stay-at-home Mom. She had to be, because Marv worked as the trainer for the football team at Brigham Young University. Which means during football season, and often during the build-up to it, she was Mother, Father, Drill-Sergeant and trainer to the Roberson team. She brought her daughters up with a sense of decorum and her son up to respect ladies with such sensitivities.

But she was also very much her own person. She was a member of a book club that was better read than most people these days. When computers became popular, she was on them like white on rice. She loved life and as it progressed, she went with it.

She had a great laugh, a wonderful smile and a satisfying way of saying "oh, Marti." This photo shows how I see her in my mind: her eyes gleeful, with the lashes turned in "upside down smiles" that form because someone is an unusually happy soul.

She also had a calming sense of stillness that seems lacking in the current milieu. (She would love my using that word.) She cheered on my career, calmed my wildly beating heart when I thought it would break and whenever I was in town, would make time to go to lunch in order to ask what I thought about various events and turns in national and world politics. She had questions that showed a keen insight, particularly for someone taking life at her own pace in Provo, Utah.

I remember one day a few years ago when I came home after a long business trip. I had been reporting in New Orleans about a hurricane that I waited three days for, only to see it veer to the north around my location. It fizzled as a story for me. But as I arrived home, there was a phone message:
"Marti, this is.... well, this is Your Mom. Call me when you get a minute and tell me what you're up to."

I called her back that time and every time. I have no regrets about that. Except that there will be no more long phone calls. No more "call Mom for advice and long talks." No more "sit with Mom over a long lunch."

I mourn Doris Roberson. She was lovely. She was beloved. I am better for having known her and so deeply saddened at her loss. The only thing I find comforting is that she left such a great legacy of her heart and soul to her daughters. And I'm fortunate to have been counted as one of them.

19 August 2011

The Moo, The Mouth and Me...

So I've mentioned here before that I struggle with drinking water. There's a tussle going on between me and municipal water systems everywhere. I can't drink tap water treated by municipal systems. If I drink it, my mouth peels and I get an assortment of other symptoms. I've checked all the way from Los Angeles to Washington, DC, with the same results.
I don't like this. Having grown up on a farm where Mom and Dad raised a lot of the food we ate and encouraged vast amounts of self-sufficiency. But here I am, all grown-up and I'm at the opposite end of the spectrum. Not self-sufficient.Not in drinking water. Not in growing food or anything else that I know of, to be honest.
But the bottled water issue looms large. Because not only can I not drink tap water, I can't drink anything but DISTILLED tap water. Buying, paying for, dragging home and drinking distilled water has become the most annoying household chore I regularly take care of, but at least I thought I had the issue handled.
Except lately the inside of the mouth seems to be sensitive again. So maybe the tap water problem is a symptom, but not the problem?
I've decided to try drinking organic milk. Maybe the hormones and steroids used in milk and beef production are affecting me. So today I bought $20 worth of organic milk. For my twenty-spot, I didn't get as much milk as I wish, but I did buy enough for two weeks, so that I could give it a substantial try-out and get all the dairy production chemicals out of my system.
I don't like that it's come to this, but... well, if this little test of mine works, then I guess then I get to decide: organic milk or organic water?

27 July 2011

Dear Congress...

And by "Congress," I mean everyone elected to serve the public in the U.S. Capitol.

As this week drags on, please remember that we're not going to remember the "tit for tat" of this week if you screw it up. We won't remember who got what or said what or offered what in six months. It's our nature, as the American public, to be both forgiving and forgetful in relation to a lot of things.

If you mess up on this one, we're going to be blanket-full-on-whup-@$$ angry for a very long time. At you and him. But unless we see some agreement soon, it's mostly on you. I don't mean to say I know which proposal to do what is best. I see it's "rock and hard place." I've got the idea that a lot of compromising is in order. Neither side will end up with a clear win. None of us are going to be completely happy and heaven knows we're likely to be poorer. But if you don't do something, the downside will be huge, lasting and unforgivable.

I mean if you don't get this done (and preferably immediately) we're going to remember exactly where you sat while this happened. And you won't be sitting there in the future. Because we'll be reminded every time we go to the grocery store. We'll be reminded every time we make a mortgage payment... and that'll be the lucky ones. We'll remember every time we look at our children. We'll feel it all the more when we're the grandparents of the next poorer generation.

I suggest you get off the party line and get to it. Whatever that does or doesn't mean, it boils down to this: it's time to make a deal. It's time to find some common ground. I don't have the answer because I'm not in the discussions, but I know pettiness when I see it.

So get in that chamber and get to work. Please don't come out, don't come home and don't look for sympathy until your job is done.

02 July 2011

Celebrating July 4, 2011

I celebrated the Fourth of July a little early. Here's how I did it:

That's right; I cut up a credit card.

Nothing to get excited about. This was my "spare" American Express card. I still have another one. I closed this account because I don't need two and spreading credit around like that isn't healthy for my credit rating.

Do you want to know what American Express' response was? They immediately doubled the credit limit on the one I didn't close. Yeah. Helpful, aren't they?

Obviously I don't have "problem credit." I pay off my monthly credit card bills in full. I never carry a balance and I don't want to go down that road.

So I invite you to join me. What's in YOUR wallet? Maybe it should be a little less? And look what I found online:

Bold letters and small mirrors, tastefully decorated in discarded American extravagance.
Perfect for any home or office! Have a good weekend!

02 June 2011

Cold Advice... for the Brave

I have a bit of a cold... just now. It's a spring-time cold, common enough here in Washington, DC. It seems to pop up every time I take off the gloves on the Metro and start grabbing up every passing germ.
If you were around these parts two winters ago, you may remember my foray into odd "home cures" for head colds. I thought I should put out a comprehensive list of every one of these homeopathic efforts, their side effects and results, starting with the most recent effort. Just in case you need it.
By the way, the picture above reminds me of a coworker at one of the places I freelance. The company is moving this coming week, and everyone has to clear out their desk for the move. Today, she discovered a roll of T-P in the back of a drawer, or as some would call it "ghetto sneeze lockers," dating back to before the company bought tissues for cold and allergy sufferers.

Glass of tomato juice with a teaspoon of cayenne pepper. This was my mother's suggestion, via the neighbor's husband who lives down the way. (Yep, we're country folk!) The side effect was a little burn in the upper chest that wasn't nearly as bad as anticipated. The results seemed to be positive. The next morning, I no longer had a sore throat. Might have worked, too, if I hadn't missed out on sleep the next night. Relapsed. Drinking more. And why not? They say that the capsaicin in the peppers (the stuff that makes them fiery hot!) causes a metabolic rise and may help with digestion. I liked this thought well enough that I'm considering drinking it from now on. I've certainly had worse habits.

Five thousand milligrams of Vitamin C at first notice and 2 thousand an hour every hour thereafter for the first 24 hours. This cure came from a California friend who said that this level of Vitamin C, being ascorbic acid, would propose to "burn any germs out of the system." The side effects of this are widely believed to be a little case of stomach upset. My particular stomach holds up pretty well under this type of assault. I added this one to this week's head cold attack as I regularly do when I have a cold "just in case."

Onion tea, made by adding a thick slice of onion to an innocent and otherwise sweet smelling cup of tea. I got this one from Merle, an African American man who bumped me in the drugstore line in Southeast Washington two winters ago while I waited to pay for my Tami flu. He suggested I drink the tea, pull on the covers and "sweat it out." What did I have to lose? I went home, gave it a shot and voila! Next morning, I felt 95% better. Had another cup of the smelly stuff and went on my way. No side affects whatsoever.
The funny thing about this particular "cure," is that no matter how hard you try to get someone else to try this, they will avoid it at all costs. I mean they would rather suffer the pains of a nasty cold than drink a stinking cup of tea? And the tea smells worse than it tastes. It's actually pretty easy to drink, particularly if your nose is stuffed up and you can't smell.

Zicam, up the nose. Yes, yes, I know the government yanked the stuff of the market, but thank heavens I was already stocked up on the stuff because it knocks my colds out like nothing else ever has. You can take your zinc lozenges, but I want my zinc in my nose, where it does me good. What's that smell?

Chicken soup and orange juice in liberal doses. This is my "always effort" in making my world more hospitable during a cold. I boil a chicken, add chopped carrots, onions and celery. And then I make the result into something edible: chicken noodle soup, chicken and rice, chicken and gravy with mashed potatoes or chicken and dumplings are the top picks. I try to avoid more than one day of any particular "chicken and - - - -." I think the steam filling the apartment helps my throat and sinuses and since I'm usually a bit "carb-deprived" as a general rule, it adds a little extra energy to the recovery.

(The following cures that friends have suggested that I've never tried but you might like, if you're suffering)

Echinacea herbal tea (recent studies showed echinacea is not effective in fighting colds or influenza)

Shot of tequila (the Los Angeles contingent of friends suggesting a favorite cure, but for what??)

Jalapenos (huh?)

Whiskey and lemon, warmed and tossed down (DC friends, with a fresh spin on the booze angle)

Jalapeno peppers (Ah, apparently they are "chock full" of Vitamin C; however, by this point, so am I!)

Zinc! (Yes, that's a good idea. I think it was in the Zicam)

Vodka mixed with the tomato juice and cayenne (I'm thinking at this point that some sweet friends thought I was looking for drink recipes as opposed to head cold cures at this point, but they were determined to be helpful!)
So this is your list. Choose your poison in the future. And leave me word of any of your own home cures below, please? I'll be sitting here nursing my glass of very spicy tomato juice.

22 May 2011

Will You Be Wanting Popsicles with Your Pizza?

I have a very busy life. Just in case you didn't know that, it's true. Very busy.
I work weekends at a weird little government gig. I just started a second contractor position at another company. I have a website that is doing well enough that I need to have it redesigned and rebuilt in the next several months in order for it to continue to grow and expand. (Er, not to be confused with making money or covering its costs. NO to either on that question!) These three things alone poke big holes in my day, not to mention my bank account.
Yessirree, I'm busy for about 16 to 18 hours out of every day.
Oh, and I work out like a nutcase to make sure that I am healthy enough for all this insanity. Yes, I am busy.

But I also like financial health. My mother commented recently (in that dotty-random-outburst-at-a-party-given-by-their-daughter way that old ladies acquire in their seventies) that "Marti's cheap." I'll admit when she made that comment combined with one other, what I really wanted was to excuse myself for a check of her bathroom cabinet to see if she was off her meds. Or if I could borrow a few. Ugh.

Anyway, whether I am or am not cheap doesn't matter. I know a lot of people who are worried about money these days. And here's my tip for what YOU can do about it.

Do something extra. Do. Something. Extra. Why? To make money for yourself, of course! And not just for your life currently, which no doubt sucks every nickel out of your pocket, but for your future financial health. (If you're in debt, obviously, then use the money to pay down the debt first. I'm not in debt, therefore, I save.) And the best news is it doesn't have to be big.

For instance in the last year, I was contacted by an online group about writing for them. For several months toward the end of 2010 and in early 2011, I did their online writing. It only required a couple of hours per week. But in fact, I had so much of writing work that I couldn't do it all when combined at the time with my weekend job, website operation and making a full-time job of looking for a full-time job, right? Right. So I hired someone else to do a little of the writing. I passed one subject that I knew little about to a favorite friend who herself wanted to pick up some supplemental funds every month.

That work agreement ended a few months ago and in the newly restored "glut" of time, my mind cast about again for what else I could do to make money. I didn't have to look far. I went to auctions with a couple of guy friends and considered re-selling things I could buy there. I pondered putting up a website to do more online writing. (Still mulling that one over) Heck, I even considered taking a waitress job and pouring coffee at some breakfast diner. Perhaps. (That mental journey didn't go very far) I ruled that one out. Kind of fast, matter of fact.

What I came up with instead was expanding on a favorite hobby, adding some extra knowledge (that's called "value added") that I had gained years back, putting in a little financial outlay to buy supplies and getting busy on it. Altogether, that's hobby+added value knowledge+cash investment+sweat equity.

To that end, I now have a living room that is... unlivable at the moment. It's been a small, bearable bit of a downside as large amounts of fabric and quilt batting started piling up. Some weird smelly things are stashed in the front closet. And an etsy account awaits which already amuses me and I hope to start filling later this week.

I make this "extra" suggestion knowing that some of you will say "Oh, I'm already so busy doing such-and-such. I really can't take on anything new." I think you should reconsider. What I'm talking about isn't converting YOUR living room into a sewing workshop with a huge mess of fabrics, fluff and stuff strewn everywhere. (That seems to be my personal passion and only within the abilities of those of us that live alone.) But you can do something. You can find something. Skip any "collecting aluminum cans" ideas. You'll lose money on the price of gas, driving to and from the recycling center. You want something you can do along your life's regular circuit with a small bit of extra effort.

What will you get out of it? I expect to end up with is enough cash to cover my costs, my annual IRA donation and maybe buy a few popsicles this summer.

Personally, I like popsicles. Don't want popsicles? You might make a few extra mortgage payments. You could put some money in a fund to pay for a few extra textbooks for a favorite college student. You could take the hubs out for pizza once a month and probably afford to pay for a gym to work it off again. Whatever you want, including debt, IRA, popsicles or pizza after taxes.
I'm not saying you're not already working harder than ever, but you probably can squeak something else in, which might help you shake out better at the end of the year. And with a little extra moola, who knows what you could do, right? Maybe you'll only make enough dough for the pizza (or in my case popsicles), but we all prefer life with pizza and popsicles rather than without, right?
So what are your solutions to making a little extra money for the pizza/popsicles of your life?

(Disclaimer: all photos today were chosen with abject weirdness in mind and may or may not have actual relevance to the subject. But... I do like popsicles.)

06 May 2011

Cake. C-A-K-E. CAKE!!!!

It's my birthday again this coming week. I thought it was a good time for us to talk about The Cake.

I've been eating The Cake for a long time. I make it for my birthday every year, as I have since I was 16 and found the original recipe in one of the Salt Lake City newspapers. I try not to eat it in between. (Otherwise too many people find out about it and they whine. A lot. "When are you going to make us another cake, Marti." Bah. Whiners. Never.)

The Cake has changed since I was sixteen. The recipe has evolved. It's de-evolved. And then re-evolved and "gone foodie." And even then, it varies greatly.

There's "The Picnic Cake" which is pretty similar to "The Church Party cake." (Cool Whip. Ugh. "I'll just have a sliver. I brought this for you, anyway, right?" Right.)

There's a "Marti Doesn't know the Oven Cake" version. (See the darkly browned sides and bottom? Yeah. No!)

Also a "My Friend's Kids Are Diving In Cake" version. (There's something wonderfully "Dr. Seuss" about this particular shot, don't you think?)

There is "Dinner with College BFF and Hubs Who Are Also Foodies Cake" and as well as a "Dinner with People Who Will Eat ANYTHING" (my grade school pals in March) version.

It was spectacular watching them eat The Cake because, well, it was just so darned great to see them all again. I love a good "Happily Ever After," so having a whole room of them was swell. Just swell.

There is "Houseguests Feel The Love Cake," as modeled here by Greg. Still in his jammies. He was leaving the next day. Very little of this cake ever goes to waist. Er, waste. Freudian.

This was the "Best Family I Ever Shacked Up With Cake" version (long story involving short-term housing) which was very well received. Great lighting, eh? As if their household had some sort of inner light.

This was one of my favorites: "The Cake with Beloved College Roommate" who, after figuring out what leaving me alone in her kitchen on my birthday would mean, regularly left me alone in her kitchen on my birthday. Suh-weet!

When I started to write this post, I thought I would fit some metaphor of life into this blog. But as I got into writing it, turned out it I just like posting pictures of The Cake. Other than that, the subject of my birth is about as deep as, well, The Cake, but without the whipped cream and berries.

01 May 2011

HELP! I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up!

I have a bit of conundrum right now and I thought I should get your advice. I'm in a sort of "Chinese Finger Trap" in my world, and struggling to get out.
A few posts back, I mentioned I was given a "second chance," and felt deeply touched by the generosity of it.
Here's where it landed me: I've become involved in a professional project where I am expected to produce something (which I very much want to produce), but so far, am unable to offer the expected results.
I should state upfront that the people who gave me this chance have been continually patient and helpful and supportive. Every question has been answered with a generosity of spirit that I've rarely seen. These people are kindness itself to me.
Part of the conundrum is that the more patient they are with my efforts, the more determined I become to succeed and the harder I try. But so far, success eludes me. Seriously, I've not been so frustrated with something in a very long time.
It's a bit like this:
I feel caught in a vise from which I desperately want to escape into the ease of reporting I've previously enjoyed. But instead, I struggle, study and practice for hours, and am trying harder than I have tried, or ever had to try, in the course of my career. And yet... I sort of stink at it.
In a "Chinese Finger Trap," the answer is to relax and let go. But so far, I've found myself unable to do that and the harder I try, whether to study or work harder or even to "let go," the more strained and painful my product seems to become. Which is not helpful.
I've often been told that one of the best parts of my work in journalism was that I made it look effortless. I've always inwardly laughed because my "effortless delivery" came from studying the material to internalize it. And then would I relax. I could relax and effortlessly talk about what I knew because I had done the due diligence and I did know it.
This latest isn't coming easily. It isn't coming with study. It hasn't arrived after hours of struggling. And not only am I frustrated, but so are those who have been so generous with their own time and efforts to help me. So...


22 April 2011

Alongside All that Fur...

The visit to Utah went well. The fur coats kept arriving, removed from the hallway in front of my apartment by an obliging neighbor until I could return home to open the boxes and air out the furs. Many of them need copious amounts of air.

They are interesting furs. Some are exactly as described: thick, luxurious and pretty in a "formerly alive" sort of way. Not something I want to sit around and "pet," but they're attractive. One felt damp; it traveled from the UK, so perhaps it came by that naturally. One is yellow; not white, as advertised. Most are more than 20 years old (with one about 70, I believe... my mother was four when that fur came to be) and all are intriguing.

Now they've been joined by... a wedding dress. And not just any wedding dress, but... well, you take a look. Here it is:

If it were featured in a catalog, this is one possible description:
"This vintage candlelight white bridal gown is hand-made of yards and yards of the finest silk duppioni fabric with a fitted bodice and features a round neckline, mutton sleeves gathered to a fitted lower sleeve, set off by lace embroidered with seed pearls at the wrist. The view from the back sets off the bride's tiny waist with a full, multi-tiered bustle bedecked with handmade (from the same silk fabric) roses."

To put it more succinctly, it's ugly, out of style and even when it was in style, it just wouldn't do. It's also a size 6 (4?), so this description applies in more ways than one.

What's it doing in my closet? When I told "Mum" about the fur coats (which are reproducing in that closet and now number 11) she said she had a wedding dress to donate to my various projects. So I returned from Utah with a wedding dress, but no husband.

Mother tries so hard, but alas, that "Abra-ca-dabrah!" thing doesn't work. (Whew!)
But the dress has had a side effect. Just looking at it makes me happy, once again, that I am single.

(Editor's note: this dress was made by my mother, at the express and explicit direction of a bride who wore it, alas, to her "FIRST" wedding. Which says it all, don't you agree?)

06 April 2011

8 Fur Coats... or Why My Folks Are Waiting at the Airport

People who ask "when did you last visited your parents" often get the Stink Eye from me. I don't like their inquisitive tone as I am a person who has long believed in asking but not answering personal questions. It's the nature of my profession and I follow that tradition religiously.
And I remind them that people who don't have steady income streams are wise in not spending small bits of discretionary income on elective long distance trips.
"Bad choices and lack of discipline are the things that have put this country where it is," I say loftily, "which is painted into a corner."
My parents understand my fiscal theories. Who do you think taught me the dratted frugality that has kept me out of trouble for all these months?
So while I've had a lot of time on my hands in the last couple of years, I haven't spent much of it in airports. Or Western states.
But last week, I got news that means I will soon have MORE discretionary funds and LESS discretionary time. In fact, I'll work a lot of 7 day weeks. Sounds about right. It never rains, but it pours.
And after digesting this news for a bit, I suddenly thought "Ah, well, perhaps I'll use this time to go visit the folks."
Except that somewhere between here and there, I bought 8 fur coats. (Maybe 9 by 24 hours from now, but that one won't figure in)
It sounds like a bad movie title, doesn't it? "Eight Fur Coats." I bet I could write that movie's plot and script in an airport over the next weekend. And it'd fit right in with the rest of my life. But let me explain.
I had this idea for something I wanted to make. Have you noticed that I don't do things in small ways? Perhaps you don't recall the year I decided to import and sell pet iguanas as Christmas gifts out of my second bedroom in Omaha? The time I went to an auction and came home with jewelry so substantial that I was forced into a sit-down with an insurance agent? (yawn) Or even a couple of years ago when I bought "a few cigar boxes" at a yard sale and then went back for the rest of them the next day? (Yes, I do have 223 cigar boxes in a storage locker in Los Angeles. Why do you ask?)
The point is, when I get an idea that I want to toy with, I go long. I go large. I go admittedly... overboard. I don't do "small."
Now I had this idea and needed some fur. I looked on ebay.com.

There's a certain charm to the photo above, don't you agree? The pose alone was worth the price. It was my first purchase: a 1940's muskrat cape. The price was incredibly low (70 years old... ya think?) and it reminded me of an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies with someone named "Rudy Vallee" who wore a muskrat coat, in keeping with the college boy fashion of the era. Shoot, the auction itself was entertaining than most other things. Of course I bought it!

Then I bought this long-haired mahogany mink. Isn't that the prettiest thing you've seen in awhile? It's coming all the way from the UK and is the coat for which I paid the highest price.
I think it as the way the light hit it from the side. I had this image of myself, floating down a long staircase, bathed in candlelight.
Ha! No I didn't. I don't intend to wear any of these. And if you're environmentally sensitive, please know that no minks (which are nasty mean-tempered rodents, by the way) were killed in the making of my craft project. These rodents are LONG DEAD. I'm buying a lot of used fur, so you may feel free to view this as my own personal "recycling project."
(If that doesn't make you feel better, keep in mind, I grew up on a farm. They're all rodents to me, including the bunnies I cuddled, raised and ate as a child. That's right. I'm not vegan.)

To be honest, in many of these cases, I consider that I'm doing the world a favor, dissecting some of the most unattractive coats imaginable. Seriously, this is an UG-LEE coat.

Anyway, I bought. And bought. And bought. Until I felt quite certain I could have a lot of fun with my project. A lot of variety to keep my interest going. Variety is the spice of life, right? Altogether, I've spent about $330, including insurance and shipping.
It's been fun. Only one problem. About the time I got over the rush of "new job!" and realized I was going to be seriously busy for the first time in a long time, I realized I should go visit the folks next week. Except that I have eight fur coats rolling in my door, most expect to arrive next week.
I also don't want the neighbors to suspect anything.
So far, all they've seen coming and going are things in Goodwill bags and large packages of tofu and salad from Costco. The poverty period has been interesting but I haven't been rolling in the dough. Or furs. Until now.
And now I'm going to be rolling in fur. (I'm considering a "cash and furs scene" like the one in "Indecent Proposal" for my movie script. Yes?)
So please, give it some thought. I could use a suggestion or three. What to do about a week of fur coat deliveries in absentia?

27 March 2011

A New Day at The New York Times

24 hours and counting.
On Monday afternoon at 2pm EST, The New York Times website will institute a paywall. They explained it all in a recent "Letter to Readers." They will start requiring readers to pay for their product. And journalists everywhere will breathe quietly, listening to hear the response.
For about ten years now, The New York Times and a lot of other news outlets that used to make a living by selling subscription service have been giving their work away for free. They tried to attract site traffic and utilize it. They tried to get by putting up advertisements. They've done small ads on the side. They've done huge pop-ups that scroll down to fill the page. They've put up video commercials before multi-media presentations. Somewhere in here, the bottom fell out of the classified section. It was killed by craigslist.org.
The paper also had huge cut-backs. They let a lot of incredibly talented people go. They hired writers and reporters who professionally were at what should have still been the learning part of their careers instead of being hard-headed scrappers at the peak of their careers. I give those newbies a lot of credit. The quality didn't drop off as consistently as say, The Washington Post, which is an embarrassing shadow of what it used to be. But the losses are noted. And they were emblematic of a situation in newsrooms everywhere. Some newspapers didn't survive.
So March 28 begins a new era. When you think about whether to begin paying for your news, keep in mind that you paid for it until a few years ago. Your parents paid for it. And in this case, you get what you pay for.
I remember about 18 months ago, saying to a news executive "What I don't get is... since it's obvious the newspapers and Associated Press can't make it without charging, why don't they put up the paywall and stop giving it away for free?"
He said, "It's too late, Marti. They've already jumped off the cliff." (Sidenote: non-creative thinkers excel in management except when creative solutions and strategies are needed. Exception: journalism.)
At the time, I shook my head and said "Just because you jump off the cliff doesn't mean you can't go to the hospital."
Congratulations NYTimes.com. I'll come to your blood drive.

18 March 2011

Best Gift... Ever

I just got what is possibly the best give one person can give another: a second chance.
Think about it. It's sometimes hard to get a first chance. To get a second? Really? Boggles the mind in today's culture, doesn't it?
I can't really explain much more about the chance I was given. It's a matter of discretion to the giver. I'm not embarrassed that I needed a second chance. (Probably ought to be, but I've been in media too long. I have little shame left.) To be honest, I was absolutely stunned at what I was given. I'm getting a second chance from someone who is a relative stranger. I'm stunned by the kindness and, considering that I'm hoping to form an ongoing professional relationship with this person, it speaks loads to me about how desirable involvement with such a person would be in my life.
I've always thought the best gifts were homemade, but sometimes, they can leave you speechless.

12 March 2011

Where Will You Find What's Next?

"The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind; the answer is blowing in the wind."

Ever tried to catch that wind? Ha! Now you're getting it!

A friend emailed earlier this week and asked if we could talk on the phone and toss some ideas around. When she called, she said she had seen a news item on a network's evening newscast. The newscast was discussing a dearth of a specific type of products that she and her husband produced. She immediately saw an opportunity for their company and wanted to brainstorm with me how she and her husband could answer that need.

This is one of my friends whose intelligence, beauty (inside and out) and charm have never been doubted. By anyone. Ever. So it's always flattering that she wants my ideas. This time, she asked what my experience with that group was? Had I been in their stores lately? I said being a Washingtonian, I tried to avoid such places at all costs, but it turned out that wasn't really what she wanted. She just needed a little "goosing" to get to the meat of the matter. I said if it was me, I would start at the top and go straight at it: "Google" the person in the news report. Find some company contact information. Call the main office (of the huge national group) and ask for the person and talk to them.

She said "Just like that?" Absolutely.

Here's the good part. The next day, she emailed back to say, "Ok, I've got the number for the person. I'm going to get up and try to contact them tomorrow."

And the day after that, her email said, "I called the person and you know, we hit it off. I'm going to put together a proposal and send it to her."

No one in the history of this woman's universe has ever failed to "hit it off" with her, so why wouldn't she succeed? No reason at all. Except that right now, some of us are too tired, worn down, scared, exhausted, freaked out, lazy, distracted, over-stimulated, over-indulged and all out done over to try.
As a people, we're watching the stock market, Charlie Sheen, earthquakes in Japan, the Chinese economy and the unrest in the Mideast a little too closely. It wears on a soul, doesn't it? (Listen, if that much mental terrorizing doesn't wear on you, then you don't understand the import of events at hand.) But it's time to put them aside. Particularly Sheen. Put him FAR aside.
The good news is, putting in a little elbow grease and one thin dime's worth of technological effort (although maybe she has free nationwide long distance?) can pay dividends. My friend may have found a whole new market for her husband's products. They would never have found that if she hadn't caught a glimpse of something as she walked through the living room picking up her kids' toys. There wouldn't be a chance if she hadn't motivated herself into finding that contact information and making those calls.

The same goes for all of us: we never know what we can do unless we try. A lot of time can be wasted wringing hands and worrying the what-if's or we can get started, go forward and find out.
There is nothing as satisfying as putting a hand up in the air and asking a question that gets the ball rolling. I would know. I ask a lot of questions. As Martha Stewart would say, "It's a Good Thing."
By the same token, there's nothing as powerfully seducing as getting a positive response. In general, emotionally healthy people want to say yes. They long to hear about a great idea, incredible new product (iPad 2? You don't say!) or a new way of doing things. But they can't hear about it if we sit on our hands.
The worst thing that can happen is someone says "No." But even then, that's information. Something is learned. Sometimes information that helps tweak the idea-product-way of doing something into another thing even better.
Which opens the door to The Best Thing; when they say yes and a whole new horizon opens up.
But until you ask, the answer and you, my friend, are just blowing in the wind.

10 March 2011

"Gee, Thanks!" (But definitely NO THANKS!)

I was talking with a friend this week about his chances of getting re-employed after being sort of unceremoniously dumped from a high profile position a few months back. He told me, "At my age, some friends are telling me that it's time to find something else do to do."
I realize the helpful intentions of someone like that, but they aren't really a friend, are they? "Helpful folks" like that are the ones that are leading smaller lives because they didn't dig in and fight for what they wanted in their own lives. They "settled" for something less and now are busily preaching the gospel of piddly lives. I can't tell you how many times I've heard similar helpful wanna-be advisers and had to simply keep my head together long enough to move past them. No one else knows what's going on in your life, your business, your head and your world.
This particular friend is very high profile (I'm always so darned flattered to be a friend of is because it's fun to hang out and listen to his mind click) and capable of many more productive years. If he "settles for less" now, what does say about the mindset of Americans? Should all of us be settling for less? And what will that mean for our country, our future, our economy, our expectations and our way of life?

I suggested that he thank those friends for their thoughtful considerations and then quietly shut the door in their sweet faces. Then go to the back room of the house (since they might linger outside listening and talking amongst themselves... since they clearly have nothing better to do all day) and shout loudly, "IT'S NOT OVER UNTIL I SAY IT'S OVER."
Feel free to do this yourself. On a regular basis.

There's no shame in being "a too little busy" dealing with a crisis to listen to well-intentioned but unasked for advice from friends. And anyone who runs down your aspirations and motivations isn't really helping, are they?
Feel free to say this to yourself. Starting now.

08 March 2011

Getting Started

The most difficult part of any project is getting started. It can often seem like you're taking on the world, like a boulder the size of a house is before you, like there's a meatball the size of your head waiting on the dinner plate in front of you with only a fork beside it.
But the reality is somewhat different. You have to step out of your house (and your comfort zone) to get started. The boulder may be a useful piece of the puzzle. And meatballs are often fork-tender, so what's the point of a knife.
Change is good. Starting something new is easy because you don't have to worry about repeating yourself. There is no "rut" to get out of because you haven't been that way before and, if you're fortunate, you won't go this way again.
So put on the new shoes, get a few blisters but get on your way. Otherwise, you'd just sitting around in the muck waiting for someone to come by and dust you off.

07 March 2011

Now I Lay Me Down to (Not) Sleep...

As I was laying in bed last night, not sleeping once again, I came up with a new game for myself. You're all about to be gamed. Thank you, as ever, for providing my entertainment. I actually hope you'll enjoy this one, too.
I've putzed along with this blog for the last 7-8 months because I've been busy in website development. But I've missed it a lot.
In saying that, I'm not saying I'm missing the previous discussions about media, politics, news events and such. They were interesting at the time, but then faded. Much as I think they do in general. But I do miss People providing my daily candy.
I used to joke to my coworkers that I didn't "need them. I can do news with or without cameras, video, audiences or ratings. I can blast away all on my own."
Those who know me will attest this is true.
The truth is, I greatly prefer to have People as my daily candy, but I can also generate the daily sweetness all on my onliest. And I'm going to start.
So I'm going to try a daily run of positive writing. I've always suggested that people need to be allowed to try a range of things, good and bad, and work out their bugs while working. Therefore, I'm not going to worry about length, quality (well, that's not true. I think bloggers who aren't polite enough to use a spellcheck are the worst kind of lazy, don't you?) or photographs.
I'll try but some of these posts won't lend themselves to pictures.

I generally think we get enough scary stuff about the economy, world situation, refugees streaming out of countries that we know we'll never get them to return to in their lifetimes so they'll start demanding stuff in other people's countries to be provided by all other countries, poverty, hunger, famine, dirt, Charle Sheen rants, insect infestations, disease, obvious examples of mental illness masquerading as "winning," poor sportsmanship and gumball shortages elsewhere.
But for me? I need an exercise in finding something positive daily.
Please feel free to come along for the ride, if you wish. I think I'll sleep a lot better.

22 February 2011

The Fat Cat's Tale

I just saw a news promo about a fat cat.

No, literally, a CAT that is FAT. Otto the cat weighs three times what a normal cat would weigh or "500 pounds in human weight." Poor thing couldn't get up on his paws and was being helped to crawl along on some indoor turf. The news story (to be presented on the evening news) was about "What is being done to Save Otto."

Unless Otto has opposable thumbs (making him an evolutionary wonder), he has been badly abused by an owner. Clearly, he didn't get to that size by living off the land, catching and eating mice to grow that girth. Sorta makes me wonder what kind of person would overfeed a beloved pet that way.

I've always heard that cats have an innate signal inside of their head that stops them when they have eaten enough. Have cats now evolved to the point where they don't know they've eaten "enough" and stop? How did they become so much like people?

Yesterday, ThePioneerWoman.com's Ree Drummond announced that she isn't going to post daily on her blog anymore. Yes, she'll post recipes. And photography. And homeschooling stuff, along with her contributors. But in general, after more than four years of posting all her innermost feelings, thoughts, daily mental swervings and such, she's divulged enough. And well, she's got four kids that she loves more than blogging and wants to get back to paying attention to them.

It was the healthiest thing I've seen in a very long time. Ree Drummond has had enough.

I'm still looking for "enough." Thought I found a bit of something a few years back, but he was definitely not going to be enough. In fact, looking back, it seemed like was too much. Wrong stuff altogether.

I turn to the Internet almost daily in a search for "some," but I'm pretty sure "enough" won't be found on Facebook or LinkedIn.com either. It certainly won't be found in 120 character bursts on twitter.com. I do find a great amount of distraction there, particularly just lately. What a wonderful thing to be able to watch the creation of freedom in Africa and the Middle East as it unfolds, right?

I think lots of Americans are feeling the same thing. We're wondering what will be enough for us? Abroad, they seem to be happy just to be free, relieved of dictators and despots in those other countries. But we've had that for a long time and we're no longer satisfied. So what is enough? Where will we find enough? When we do find it, can we afford it? Can we eat it and use it to fill that gnawing ache that wakes us in the middle of the night to wonder whether we'll ever be satisfied? Thought about from that angle, it explains a lot, doesn't it?

I'm sure I don't know. I think a little more "People are Candy" might help fill my void. So we shall see. I do know I like people a great deal more than food and can't ever seem to get enough of you all.

01 February 2011

Egypt Bows in Prayer

Did you see this one? I was tossing through the NYTimes.com's photo spread on Egypt as a break from my other chores and I saw this:
This is Tahrir Square in Cairo as the crowd bowed for prayer on Tuesday. I was impressed because of the uniformity of their faith. You don't see any dissent or unbelievers. Everyone is down on the ground. Everyone.

And also, this photo reminds me of the time period prior to when the USSR fell and became the various new countries that it is now. Specifically, it brought to mind a song by Sting, in which he said "I hope the Russians love their children, too."

It's hard for us to relate to Muslims sometimes. It's hard for Americans to understand why they are so angry. Why some small segments are take such hostile actions, adopt harsh positions and generally act destructively.

But in this picture, you can see so much evidence of their sincere humility before their God. Isn't that what many in this country aspire to? Shouldn't we be happy that they love God, hold their children close and want a better life for them, too?

This is only one picture of the events in Egypt that are offered on the Internet right now. If you find more and better, please share them.

30 January 2011

Mubarak or ElBaradei

Isn't it fascinating to see people dressed like characters from a biblical "period movie" holding cell phone cameras over their swathed heads, taking pictures to send to us on the other side of the world? They've brought it all the way from Egypt to our doorstep using their pocket gadgets. You can almost smell the burning building in the New York Times photo below.

I'm glad they are demonstrating, mostly peacefully, and demanding their rights. I hope they survive to enjoy them.

But I would point out one somewhat painful thing that I find concerning.

For the last several days, one of the commonly heard chants in Egypt has been a demand to know which side the United States is on? Which side is the Obama administration, the U.S. State Department, the big back pocket going to back: Hosni Mubarak or the reformers led by Nobel Peace Laureate, former U.N. official Mohamed ElBaradei?

I was gladdened to hear U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on this weekend's Sunday talk shows, answering questions about that very issue: which side does the United States take. Their answer? It's up to the Egyptian people. It's for the people of Egypt to decide for themselves.

I love that answer. It was a huge relief to hear it and to hear both sides sticking to it. Like glue. Here's my other question. Since when are you asking us to take sides? That is a region of the world strongly influenced by a religion (which is their right, too) that has produced some extremely painful events in the last ten years. They are always suggesting that the United States should not intrude on such things. So it surprised me to see them demanding that we pick a side now.

In another 8 months, we'll mark the ten year anniversary of one of the most difficult moments in our nation's history, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. It would be great if Egypt was able to mark that date with free and democratic elections and decide for themselves without concern over what the United States is doing.

We wish you well, whatever choice you and your countrymen and women make.