Monday, August 24, 2009

Well Played Nora Ephron

Mad props also to Meryl Streep. And blogs.

If you haven't already guessed, I just got back from seeing the thoroughly delightful Julie & Julia. Here's hoping a whole new generation rediscovers the love for Julia Child (including both Meryl's and Dan Akroyd's interpretations). Highly recommended for the characterizations, depictions of various lifestyles, glimpses of good marriages after the happily ever after moment, and most of all the food. The Food!

Even more, here's hoping that Hollywood will continue to fund and produce quality films starring women of all ages. At the local writer's group meeting I stumbled into a couple weeks back, one of the writers used to be a successful actress. She knew her career was screeching to a halt when men her age got to play Supreme Court Justices and she got to play a Supreme Court Justice's wife, and make him a sandwich in her big scene. You'll notice in Julie & Julia that the women have the strong lead roles even if they are making their husbands Boeuf Bourguignon. Nicely, the male roles weren't throwaway - they were strong supporting roles, just as the real husbands were (according to the accounts) strong, supportive husbands. It felt really healthy to see this movie. Which should counteract at least a little of the butter I'll most likely be eating very soon!

The score/soundtrack is something I'll search out if I get around to it. I think at least one song was from Chocolat. (Wonder if they also cadged a song from Big Night? Nah, that was Italian food, but both have Stanley Tucci!)

Some funky coincidences - I used to live around the corner from Julia Child's Cambridge house, right around the corner from the woman who revolutionized home cooking. The entrance to her neighborhood was the next right past my laundromat. I'm pretty sure I only found out after she'd moved away, but I had a friend who would take walks over there, living in hopes of a Julia sighting back in the day. Now I live, more figuratively, around the corner from Hollywood. Where hopefully Nora Ephron will have people beating down her door to hand her heaps of money to make more good movies with women in the power positions - producers, writers, lead roles, directors, etc...

[Tangent: Look at the recent movies coming out - what looks to be a lousy piece of garbage about badly behaved men with nothing to recommend them trying to sell cars comes to mind. Just try to find me a supporting female role in that movie that is worth anything more than a couple months rent to the actress. Why is it that all manner of crap written by men, about men, & starring men can get funding? And why can't they even pretend to put in a female role that's worth a damn? It's one reason I didn't hate Baby Mama as much as it deserved. At least it was crap written by women about women and starring women that got funded. It was certainly no worse than half the other movies out at the time.] Back to J&J...

While I had heard of the blog, I don't think I ever checked it out while it was in progress. Quite the undertaking! I had a hard time liking Julie in the movie, but I've decided it's better to have flawed characters making a go of things than perfect paragons who are also thinner than the rest of us showing off their perfection. I didn't have a problem with the meltdowns, those seemed quite reasonable for mid-way through an extensive, time pressured project. But the dinner with frenemies kind of put me off. (Not as much as the 2 horror movie trailers in the previews, but I digress.) She didn't like her friends - fortunately discussed later, rather than dropped cold, if not much resolved. And she seemed more jealous of them than happy for them. While that could be natural, especially around a milestone birthday, it played to me as more solipcistic and mean than it had to. I came out of the movie adoring Julia Child and pleased for Julie that she accomplished such a feat for herself.

Despite my criticisms of Julie the character, lord knows I sympathize. When I was that age I also worried about never finishing something. I'd graduated and written a bachelor's thesis but hadn't set the world afire. It was around that age I found Cued Speech and worked toward my instructor's certification driven in large part by the desire to meet a recognized level of accomplishment. Now I just bitch about the cost of living, mostly, and watching everyone who made bad choices get bailed out while I try to maintain a good humor about watching it happen and get the runaround when I try to merely fix my interest rate. That can't always come off as sweetness and light. I'm hoping future birthdays won't freak me out so much as this one. For the cherry on top, I just received my birthday card from my grandma (93 in two weeks) saying "Ah, Sweet Youth // it's all behind us now!"

Feels almost like a Julie & Julia moment, dontcha know.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Gracious Access

This sunday afternoon was a beautiful day to be at the Getty, overlooking the Los Angeles basin. Good thing that's where I was. (Slideshow link) My architecture friend and I made a day of it, caught the architectural tour, wandered through the galleries we were interested in, took pictures in the garden, chatted up the room monitors, and overall had a lovely day.

The Getty is a relatively young museum with space to grow. What that means now is that their collection is of a size you can take in without getting overwhelmed. I quite liked several of their impressionist paintings, an offbeat bust of a cranky guy, and some tremendously detailed tapestries of China made in France (leads to very strange looking personages). Maybe they could establish a turtle or lobster scavenger hunt to find all the artworks that contain them. (Paintings, present tense tureens, tapestries, veneered cabinetry and more!)

Because the architecture of the grounds is so pronounced, featuring bold squares of travertine (the nearest thing to white the neighbors would allow), and I was hanging with an architect, we talked architecture. The path through the gardens zigs and zags. I think it looks a little like the Vietnam memorial, but unlike the washington version, this didn't give me the chills. It's built to be wheelchair accessible but meant for everyone. We spoke about that for a while and my friend came up with the word to describe the handicapped accessible features that I prefer: gracious.

I absolutely detest when architects or engineers or designers know full well that they will be designing a public building and the handicapped entryways appear as clunky afterthoughts wedged in during a fit of pique. Don't fight the requirements, use the constraint to force a more thoughtful design! Turn it into a feature. Make sure the entrance isn't just functional, but make it so gracious that everyone wants to use it, not just those who require some accommodation. Like the path through the garden and over the fountain at the Getty. (Although I do hope there's an elevator somewhere to help get back up! LA is hilly!) I'd love some links to good examples of gracious accommodating entrances to look at while I wait for my bathroom photos to upload.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

That Was Easy!

Dang! It really has been a week since my last post, so I'll back date this one to fill in a bit. It's really monday. But I had a string of things that just worked out like magic over the weekend and I want to capture the burst of happiness that came along with it.

Aside from the clumsy brouhaha with the sliding door, friday and saturday turned out really well. After an Outback Special with a Sam's Summer Ale to wash down the workweek and the dread birthday, I decided to head over to the Home Goods and see if there were any goods worth impulse buying. Had I still needed a freestanding toilet paper holder, I would have been in heaven. I've never seen so many functiona and attractive designs of t.p. holders before in my life, and trust me, there was a time when I was looking. They might even supply my next bathroom mirror or medicine cabinet.

I hit the jackpot right away. My saturday plans included a princess themed birthday for a colleague's 1 year old. Similar to the plush books I've been picking up at art fairs for friends' children, I found a Gund version of a princess story kit. It had a princess, a magic wand, a kissable frog, and for some reason a sleeping bag with teddy bear. It's a style that I like and a friend just let me know was, in fact, useful for story props, and it was Princess themed to satisfy mom and dad's princess. Could there be a more appropriate gift? Much better than the other generic gift I'd had in mind from my stash. I personalized it a little with some ink and stamps, and sewed all the loose parts on to connecting ribbons.

At the party in the park, the day was lovely if a tad muggy (not a common state of affairs around here making it worth a mention). I knew some others of the friends and relatives so it was socially comfortable. It was a fairly international party with grandpa over from Europe and a family friend in from South America. I got an invite to stop by their place in Quito should I find myself in town or on my way to the Galapagos, after I mentioned that I'd wanted to see the Galapagos islands since I was about 12. (Natl. Geographic World was giving away trips to there and Easter Island. I can't remember if I talked myself out of entering the contest or if I just didn't win.) It was kind of funny to be thinking about tortoises then see a bunch of them in the art at the Getty a couple days later.

After the party, I hit the car wash and another birthday gift jackpot. I had a gift idea in mind for another quickly approaching birthday but didn't know if I'd be able to find what I was looking for. I'd almost decided to try making something myself when I found exactly the right thing - at the car wash of all places.

Lastly, I hit the dollar store that mom found because they sell tasty brand-name fruit beverages two for a dollar. They also sell stainless steel sieves of the correct mesh for a dollar. I'm going to see how the dollar store sieve stacks up to my not-remotely-dollar-store (but flimsier than I wanted nonetheless) sieve from Willams Sonoma. If the mesh or frame rusts out, I'm only out a dollar. If it doesn't, I might be able to return the pricey one that I don't love.

Turns out I also hit the jackpot at the Getty store. They have some wonderful board books with good text and quality pictures and some other funky drawing stuff for kids. I was able to restock my kid-gift stash a bit.

Now to make a list of what I actually need for myself in office supplies so I don't impulse buy too badly at the back to school sales.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Birthday Bash

I've been really freaking out about this birthday. While I have suspicions, I don't really know why. It's the first year I was ever dreading my birthday and naturally it's not one of the classic "big ones". However, time marches on.

And it marched on while I failed to make plans. I had considered getting tickets to Depeche Mode, a favorite band since high school. FF two dozen years, and I can afford tickets. Kind of. I didn't have anyone on the hook to go with me and I didn't want to commit to two tickets if there wasn't a guarantee someone else would go. I thought I'd do my usual trick of going to the box office on the day of, but the Hollywood Bowl just uses ticketmaster instead of handling their own tickets for some shows and this is one. With two previous local-ish shows cancelled, there was too much competition. I did almost get a ticket from someone, but I was on the waiting list and the original invitee actually went.

Last week I realized I had no plans and that felt pretty sad. Until my brother called, saying he'd be in vegas with friends. I asked if I could crash that Honda and join him and he said yes. I decided friday, mostly, to go, and moved my Saturday brunch date up.

A book club friend came over to my area (whew!) for a lovely brunch at a local place which I like because the food is good and they have buy one get one free coupons to make it affordable. We then went shopping for random junk and snacks for my trip before hitting the bookstore. I went a little wild in the bookstore. I got $150 worth of books, including a 3 audiobook set of my favorite author to listen to during my drive.

After briefly tossing some stuff in a bag (not dithering for hours about how to pack things for a plane) and seeing my friend off, I set out for the bright lights of Vegas. It's a very odd drive. Tons of high density traffic, then nada for a couple hours. There's nothing built up out there. Don't get me wrong, I don't think it needs building, but damn. Audiobooks were a good call. Even worked out that they were abridged (not my usual preference) because I could finish one and the scarier parts were edited out.

Vegas started off annoying. It took me a half hour to get from the freeway to the hotel because of road construction and bad signage for the hotel. I did finally make it and calmed down enough to enjoy dinner at the Bellagio. I got a look at the Chihuly in the entrance as well as their atrium water garden with giant red glass poppies. We each popped a few dollars in the slots. My brother came out up a hundred, I was down $10. Given the "free" drinks we got before dining, it was actually cheaper to lose my money for free beer although I wouldn't have minded winning!

Yellowtail Sushi at the Bellagio does overlook the fountains, which is nice, but it was only so-so for the money. I expected it to be more or better but I think they're selling the location, not the food. The dogpile mash of king crab, corn, and wild mushrooms in aioli was pretty tasty and the saki helped the rest go down easy. It wasn't bad by any means and I was happy to share the company of my brother (and have the big winner pick up the tab).

We managed to stretch dinner late into the night so just wandered the strip a bit, checking out fashions and hairstyles. "Now that ain't an accident!" is not necessarily a compliment. My brother's a bit of a style diva. He was totally dicomfitted by someone telling him that another guy had been wearing the same striped pink shirt. The wandering and judging was pretty fun. Finally grabbed a cab back to the Renaissance, which is difficult to get to but has nice rooms.

It also has a really nice all you can drink Sunday Brunch! We lounged at the pool in the morning then the cocktail waitress for the pool (good times, good times) recommended the brunch. In addition to the king crab legs and omlette station, the requisite pile of bacon and fruit, there was a bloody mary bar and all you can drink mimosas. We enjoyed ourselves enough that we weren't hungry later at all.

The drive back went less smoothly. It again took a half hour to get to the freeway, but this time going directly, just being so stalled in traffic that my bro got out and walked, reaching his destination before I did. I filled up on gas and noticed the freeway was slow. I paralleled it as long as I could, but it never let up. I got as far as the border casinos and outlet stores before giving up. It was 107F in full sun and stop and go traffic. I pulled off, parked in the shade, and went shopping for impractical shoes. They're really comfortable, I just can't let down my guard with the heel placement or I'll be felled like a tree.

Monday was a slow day at work. I had arranged to get the afternoon off if the concert ticket thing worked out, but it didn't. I went out with the date to Claim Jumper and got a salad and split a pot pie and cupcake. Didn't split the Tropical Storm.

All in all, not a bad birthday. Thanks to all who dropped me a line or a card! Hopefully I'll stop freaking out and won't break my ankle in my new shoes. I also ordered a cheapo netbook laptop so we'll see if I can make the picture upload work on that and I'll fill in pictures of the brunch and the shoes. And Alaska.

Friday, August 14, 2009


I posted a while back (and I'm a little too lazy to search for it) about how, in my lifetime, there has been an increasing trend to mainstream children who are handicapped in one way or another. While not every child can be accommodated in a regular school classroom, I think it's a positive step forward to make sure the children are incorporated into the daily routine of everyone. Because I think familiarity breeds content, not contempt, in the case of knowing people who are more "other" than one is used to.

The previous post was prompted by a high school in Arizona electing a homecoming queen with Down's Syndrome. Parents who have handicapped children go through a grieving period when they find out because they know their child will be limited in what they can achieve and do. And since one of those things is often "achieve high social status", it's especially touching to see exceptions. And as there are more exceptions, they will be come less exceptional and I consider that a good thing.

With the news coverage of Eunice Kennedy Shriver this week, I'm starting to wonder just how much of this "mainstreaming" is because of her, and it's looking like most of it. Because back in the day (and still now in many countries), handicapped members were a source of shame who were hidden away from the world. While we haven't totally overcome that taboo, great strides have been made. And largely it seems they were made because the presidents sister came out and said something like, "I love my handicapped sister and I want her to be able to live in society and fulfil her potential. There's no shame in her existence and we all love her very much. It's best for her and best for our family and best for our community if we incorporate our beloved family member into our lives rather than keeping her tucked away and limiting her even further than nature has done already."

And from that foundation, has come a generation of progress. My irreverent self sees the most noteable thing being the improvement in haircuts for kids with Down's syndrome. Used to be you could tell who they were by the haircut alone. Not so much anymore. Turns out one symptom of DS is very fast growing hair. Who knew? Well, I do and now you do because a friend from chorus was able to tell me about her daughter and why hairstyling was challenging. There are all sorts of educational and social improvements leading to improved outcomes for people that couldn't, or worse wouldn't, be helped at all a generation or two ago. I don't delude myself that we've achieved perfection, but we're maintaining forward progress in allowing more and more handicapped adults to live with dignity and hold a postitive place in their respective communities. (Now that I think of it, this has been happening with women and other minorities as well. How much is it all tied together?)

Growing up, we had some bright red winter coats in the closet with the Special Olympics logo on the chest. I had no idea until this week that the concept was brand new as of a few years before I was born. For all my life, there have been Special Olympics; it has just been a given. In all groups of people, there are some who love to compete and get public recognition for their accomplishments, and providing a forum for that for people who can't succeed without intervention, is the sensible, humane thing to do. And we do it because one strong woman with vision and compassion. Go with God, Eunice.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

World Peace and Quiet

I keep trying to come up with a topic worthy of the mashup title but will settle for amusing license plates I've seen around town. All on big SUVs, which is only informative for one of them.


I'm the kind of person who will likely never have a vanity plate because (1) I'm not sufficiently decisive (2) I don't want to make my car stand out in way that could get it keyed or me less sympathy when pulled over and (3) I'm not clever with those things. I do better on the appreciation end of the equation. Plus, I keep getting decent off the rack plates. Some people even thought my last plate was a vanity plate.

As to my current plate, it's a small town. The other day I was stopped a light and the car in front of me shared the first 4 digits (they were 52 people ahead of me in line I guess) and the car next to me shared the last 3 digits.

Have you seen any good vanity plates lately? Or come up with a great word for a tricky 3 letter combo?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

Had a good day today. Lots of things went right.

I stayed up a little late last night putting in even more work on a training presentation for our sustaining techs at work and it was worth it even though I’m a little punchy now. The audience is the first level “engineering” response group for when production goes wrong. Having more background information about how my processes work will help them make good decisions - and not need to call me. We process engineers were asked us to put together the training - since I was the only one without a crisis last week or conflicting class this week, I volunteered to go first. I think I did a pretty good job because they seemed to get the main points. Last week at lunch I got some useful advice and reminders from my friend who puts together training material at the neighboring biotech company; I'm so glad I remembered to ask for her advice. I also found some good pictures to swipe from the internet. I managed to finish up a reasonable presentation in time to get our admin to print it out while I was off taking a different training class after lunch. I’d also gotten permission to have snacks brought in on work’s dime (almost literally, my budget was $10 if I “try to make it healthy”). So with all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed, I felt really professional as I gave the seminar. Also, I remembered to encourage them to contribute, which probably helped them stay awake, and hopefully get a little more out of it.

While polishing the material for today, I called into the fab for help and got better help than I was expecting. After saying a cheerful thanks, I dropped a note to the tech’s boss with a quick statement about how he was helpful, then added that both techs in my area are generally cheerful and know what they’re doing. Nothing really exciting, but general acknowledgment of a job well done. I’m really pleased now that I took the class that pointed out thanking someone is a good start, but telling their boss is better. I felt good that I had something positive and, in one case specific, to say about people who are doing a good job. One of them came up to me later to say how touched they were that I thought so well of them that I’d tell their boss. Yay! Good deed done.

Both today and yesterday I got to have some nice long phone conversations with friends. As much as I interrupt when people are talking, it’s usually so I can say “I hear what you’re saying, and I want to launch off of that and take it further because you made me think of something new”. Truly, I really do listen, even if it doesn’t always seem like it. I like hearing my friends’ take(s) on things and what they’re up to.

Overdoing the template by one, I have to mention the “Chinese Foot Massage”. Turns out there aren’t 5 brand new foot massage stores in my area. There are 6. And I know why. Generally, it costs $20 to $25 + tip for a one hour massage that is pretty much a full body massage, along with a hot water foot soak. aaahhhhhhh

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Well Played

Yes, there are many issues where one would like the government to just butt out. But there are others where personal attention could mean the difference between life, death, or a really painful life. Not everyone gets a former president to step in on their behalf, but I have to say I'm very relieved with how the release of the two journalists held in N.ort.h Ko.rea went. Well played by Bill Clinton and the current administration.

The thought that keeps playing in my mind is whether or not these ladies will try to go back right away or if they have enough story to last for a while. On one hand, I've heard in innumerable documentaries how journalists got into trouble and kept going back and going back because the story needed telling and they couldn't not tell it. We tend to idealize these folks - or never hear from them again if they disappear. On the other hand, I don't know how many get-out-of-foreign-jail passes a person gets before they decide to take on stories involving less risk of life, limb, and hard labor in order to continute to make a positive contribution to society. So while thinking, "don't waste this opportunity" along with "welcome home" in their directions (roughly 30 miles out when the landed, well within range :), I'm conflicted as to whether continuing their mission, adjusting their missions, or changing their missions completely would be considered wasting the opportunity. Good thing for me, it's not the hard choice I have to make. I wish them both good luck in pursuing their happiness.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Caffeineation Nation

I've been trying to avoid afternoon caffeine. I have a glass of caffeinated Irish Breakfast tea pretty much every morning, although not necessarily on weekends. Irish Breakfast is "assam" tea rather than orange pekoe, which is the default black tea. Assam tea has a completely different taste and smell which I find satisfying and compelling. I tolerate "floor sweepings orange pekoe" when required just as coffee drinkers who need soME COFFEE will drink whatever's been sitting on the percolator. We'll bitch a little, but we'll drink it and be glad to have it.

Aside from that I try to avoid caffeine. I used to think it didn't affect me but I was wrong. Really wrong. And now I think it affects me even more. For some reason the tea doesn't usually make me feel weird, but soda supercharges things. Remember how I got all happy about that pomegranate RockStar where they did half "sugar" half fake sugar and I didn't get crazy amounts of bad aftertaste? I can't drink it anymore - or at least I can't have more than about 4 oz at a time and it comes in 16 oz cans so I pretty much can't drink it anymore. Because it makes me crazy. I don't know if it's the caffeine or the fake sugar or the red dye but the last time I had some, I thought I was going to have a breakdown. I think I scared my boss and in the interests of staying employed, I have stayed off the RockStar sauce.

Back in Boston, I was down to one soda a week, if that. Out in CA, not only is soda more plentiful, they have Dr. Pepper routinely on tap. Every time I hold my cup under that Dr. Pepper tap I think about how hard it must be to quit smoking. I love Dr. Pepper. I did decide that my tendency had shifted more toward 2 large sodas a week in CA - enough to make me too fat - and that I should cut back to one again. I've pretty well done that but the downside is that I have no caffeine tolerance now. I think I would be more functional after a Sam's seasonal.

My head has been swimming all afternoon and it doesn't feel like a sleep issue but a chemical problem. I can focus if I have to, but then standing up suddenly isn't so great either. And now I know that while I could still nap right away, by the time the caffeine is either old or deconstructed, I'll be in a hyper-manic, easily distractable frame of mind and forget all about the late-day caffeine. So I'll probably be surfing the interwebs late into the night until I remember that a dose of allergy meds will knock out the caffeine and allow me to sleep like I ought to. Ugh! Why do I do this to myself? Oh, right. Dr. Pepper is tasty and it was right in front of me! Impulse control has never really been my strong suit; I really identified with that poor villainous fool from Snow Crash.