Sunday, August 28, 2011

T-0: 14 hours 'til I'm 40!

I doubt I'll be online until late evening, but just wanted to thank everyone for reading and to Demetra for suggesting this challenge that I almost met...still need to write 8/27 and post 8/9 and some photos.

Look forward to seeing everyone tomorrow!

Friday, August 26, 2011

T-2: How I Recovered From the Worst Break-Up of My Life

I'm not sure who turned their back first. Probably me. Sometimes, you just can't hear. Mostly, I couldn't feel.

Tonight, I ran a bunch of errands after work. I turned toward the mall and it hit me. The tears. An absolute flood of them. I parked at the next place on my list and let it happen. It wasn't just some, SNAFU of the day sob, but the kind of deep, cathartic weeping that comes seemingly from nowhere, but miraculously lifts something.

It needed lifting. I needed lifting.

When we talked, after so, so long -- it was with much more clarity than I've managed for years. I could finally express my gratitude. I said how much I appreciated the love that was so clearly given me, the intimacy I'd never known before.

I was given an opportunity to experience things most people do at half the age and that I was and I am thankful for that unexpected sweetness and innocence. I talked about how I hoped the person who was the vessel of that find the strength to be true to his breathtakingly beautiful heart, his faith and be the man he was raised and destined to be. That I hoped he'd come to understand how much more special that is than the dime-a-dozen jerk act that all those girls with severe daddy issues rewarded.

When I was accepted to Columbia in 2003, my dear friend John sent me a T-shirt with a Columbia logo surrounded by ivy. The back read, "It's lonely at the top." At the time, I took that to mean, because the numbers were sparse, that so few made it to such a pinnacle. Indeed, that is true.

But, after spending most of my 30s in the godless, amoral upper echelons of academentia (shout out to Mary Daly!), I'd come to understand that message in a very different way. It's lonely at the "top" because there are so few people you can trust, who are honest, who value and regularly employ moral principles of any sort and who learn they will be rewarded far more for a dearth of integrity.

I expressed my gratitude for those who were able to maintain their principles, in spite of being in environments that didn't value having values.

I wasn't raised in any formal tradition, we were secularly Christian at most. My parents always told me I could choose whatever I wanted. Having nothing to cleave from or to, I never did find a formal religion that resonated with me.

Yet, there had always been something in me, something surrounding me that guided me to do the right thing, that protected me, that gave me extraordinary gifts. But I had felt so disconnected from that, from my very self for so long.

Until last night, when I felt the light inside me again and the warmth embracing me. Getting my spirituality back, is about the best 40th birthday gift I could have asked for. God, whatever you are, wherever you are, I'm glad our break up is over. I missed you.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

T-3: Random Days are My Fave!

It's nocturnal, like me.

I can already feel the gossamer memories of the day fading. I type 80 wpm, people speak 120-160 wpm and I'm quite sure inner dialogue is at least twice that. So much gets lost, but then something suddenly reminds you, scents are particularly evocative. But so are photographs, one of the many reasons I love them.

10:00 am - Food Bank
So this guy at work has been on me like white on rice since my first hour. He came up and called me "Miss Lady." Since that isn't my name, I didn't answer.

"Oh, so you're bourgie."

Here we go. It's like clockwork. This only happens with African American men, I'm sorry to say. As best as I can understand it, they assume I'm black, approach me in an overly-familiar manner that I find rude and then insult me in some way for not responding as if it were the height of charm. To me, this is largely a cultural issue. Since I'm assumed to be from the same "culture," I'm seen as snobby when I find this (as yet) unearned familiarity rude and fail to respond in a positive manner. I can't reprogram myself to feel differently about this sort of approach any more than I can cease being a big old nerd long enough to keep up with slang (which also elicits similar accusations of snobbery or "trying to be white").

It really highlights the absurdity of the American addiction to race. If I were of 100% African extraction, well, I probably wouldn't be from this country, since the vast majority of "blacks" here have some to nearly all European ancestry (last I checked the figures, about 10% of "whites" are part African, thanks to ancestors who secretly passed for white). But let's say I was exactly as black as this guy. Does that mean we're the same? That there are no regional, linguistic, cultural, educational, political, familial or individual differences between us? Obviously not.

Before I go on, a couple of things...when I describe myself as biracial, which is factual inasmuch as this country recognizes the humanly-constructed, yet biologically meaningless (or else I'd be a scientific impossibility), concept of race, most of the time, black people are offended. I understand, it's a vestige of slavery to think those with lighter skin and other mixed features are treated preferably by whites and thus think they are better than those with darker skin. I've been receiving hate mail to that effect for decades. However, as the product of 2 people's choice, rather than an owner's dominance over his property, there are vast differences.

Also, I don't describe myself as "white," although it's about 55-60% true (and 0% percent accepted), whereas it would be 100% accepted if I referred to myself as "black," about 35-40% true. I describe myself as "biracial," always have. That's not a rejection of black ancestry, but a recognition of 95-100% truth (5% represents the distinct possibility that I'm actually the full human race trifecta).

Moreover, as apparently violates the civil rights of rich, white people, I have been known to think I'm as good as, if not better, smarter and more important than them. Hate me, if you must, but recognize this: my confidence, emanating from within the most hated and constantly derided body in American history and popular culture, is nothing short of a miracle. Personally, I believe rich, white people need a lot more exposure to people who look like me, but refuse to act stupid or inferior as a social lubricant in the same manner all-too many women do to be liked by men. Progress is not made by anyone playing small or playing at all. While downplaying one's intelligence is, unfortunately, often expedient and useful for the individual, it only perpetuates gender and racial disparity. That is no way to thank those who came before you, fighting and often dying to give you freedom and unprecedented opportunity. Nor is it the legacy one should aspire to leave future generations. So I flatly refuse. Actually, I don't refuse so much as I am just not able to be fake.

It's only been since the Clinton administration that there have even been either multi-racial check boxes or the option to check more than one box. Prior to that, I checked three boxes (white/Caucasian(itself inaccurate), black/AA and Native American which, while only rumored in my black family, seems evident in my eyes, cheekbones and the inordinate number of times I'm mistaken for a Latina or someone insists I'm part Chinese). Second Bestie recently told me that she remembers that, at 15, I often drew my own box. She said it was a profound idea and struck her so that she never forgot.

The absurdity, at least in part, is that only Americans see me as black. I've been in the United States for nearly 40 years and I'm TOLD I'm black with bizarre regularity. I was in Paris for 12 hours and the two Frenchmen I met at the Eiffel Tower one white and one black -- ASKED me, "Vous-etez metisse, oui?" over dinner in Montparnasse. A few days later, in Manchester, for reasons I don't recall all these years later, I said to my friend's boyfriend that I was biracial or that X parent is white. His response was something a long the lines of "I know," "obviously" or "of course."

Back in my own country, other Americans completely overlook my brown (not black) eyes, Cockney nose and other features carbon copied from my mother and see only my skin and hair. Even I'm just learning, at nearly 40, that the latter is not entirely afro in texture. It's everything from bone straight to kinky coils, with large, loopy curls and mostly tightly waved strands. Funny what you learn when you shave your head and get an intimate knowledge of your own hair in its natural and lightly processed states. This makes sense, as my mother has wavy hair.

I've been told I'm not biracial because I "look black." When pressed, the person will cite my skin, eye or hair color, my nose and even the size of my derriere. My skin, on a continuum between that of my parents, is far closer to that of my white parent, who also gave me my brown eyes, nose and build. If a person is only biracial if they have pale skin, light and straight to loosely curled hair, blue or green eyes -- then are white people with dark hair, eyes and junk in the trunk not white? My cousins, who are half white and half Filipino, are often mistaken for being Mexican. Does that make it so?

In America, my skin tone is seen as if it is identical to that of the darkest person of African decent. Although this entirely defies logic and fact, this is what Americans learn. They also learn to disregard 5,000 years of Judeo (and later Christian) matrilineal descent and label bi or multi-racial people with even "One Drop" of African "blood" as black, regardless of the remainder or actual compositions of their ancestry. More importantly, it denies at least one person who raised them, who taught them, who loved them. Worst of all, it denies everyone -- black, white, Asian or some combination thereof -- that most fundamental human right: self-definition.

On an almost daily basis, someone announces to me, apropos of nothing, "You're black." I can't think of any time I've gone up to someone, completely ignored whatever they were talking about and informed them, "You're Asian!" (You thought I was going to say "white," didn't you? We'll never transcend the black-white binary like that).

Certainly, I've written about this many times over the years. I wasn't given this heritage and my writing ability for nothing. There has been incredible progress, the fact that we have a biracial President is only the most prominent. But the fact that he is only referred to by the race of his mostly absent father, indicates we have much further to go.

3:00 pm - food bank
The tension mounted most of the day, particularly after he called me "a man hater," when I, once again, was not charmed by his incessant personal questions on everything but my weight and net worth, or the gratuitous familiarity. It doesn't help that this dude is a mumbler. Even without the bizarre pet names, half the time I didn't hear him until mid-sentence.

Then, a funny thing happened. He called me "Miss Lady" again. I ignored him again (to be fair, the first time, I did tell him my name). Another guy had been sent from another area in the warehouse to work with us. He turned to the first guy and said, "Ask her name and stop calling her 'Miss Lady.' What's wrong with you?"

So he asked my name and he began to use it. He talked to me not like one black person to another, a black person to a biracial person or even a man to a woman. He just talked to me like one person to another. That, for me is always the key to healthy human interactions. Yes, it takes more time. You can't take a short cut and say to yourself, "This person is X, so I will treat them like an X." It requires effort, but only a little, to open your mind and heart to another human being and, rather than setting out to define them, letting them tell you who they are, bit by bit.

Of course, it's absurd that he only listened when another man told him how to talk to me, instead of when I did. One step at a time.

5:00 pm - Mom Advice
I went to a friend's house to pick up gift bags for the kids at my party, since she had a few left over from the party she threw for her son and daughter a few months ago. I was expecting the flat, thin, plastic bags you often see and concerned some of the items would be too heavy or too bulky. They were more like small versions of the paper gift bags with sturdy handles that one might put a birthday or baby present in. Plus, they're in an assortment of colors.

I also picked her brain about components for the bags and other details about the day. She also threw in some streamers and will bring some vegetarian proteins for the BBQ.

Her older daughter, who is 6, asked me how old I'll be on my birthday. When I told her, she said, "Wow! You're old! Mommy's not old. Daddy's 35, that's OLD. But you're REALLY old!" My friend was a bit embarrassed, but I thought it was hilarious.

It just reminded me of what it was like to be 6. Everything was new to you and every year seemed very long. Birthdays seemed so far apart and Christmas felt like it would never come. If your parents mentioned something that would happen in a month, it sounded like forever.

Besides, it wasn't malicious.

About two and a half years ago, a woman who often threw herself at the man I was dating (and, alas, it went to his head), snidely referred to me as "40." It was hard for me to figure out the worst part of that -- the fact that someone with a Master's degree in statistics couldn't add 36 + 1, that a 31 year old woman thought 40 was an insult or her apparent delusion that 40 wasn't just around the corner. As my dad used to say, "Getting older sure beats the alternative!"

5:30 - 7:30 - Y
Arrived early before my aqua aerobics class and did some physical therapy exercises. The class was pretty full, but the lifeguards took out some lane dividers to give us some room. It was a fun class, with a lot of new people and lots of changes in the exercises to keep it interesting.

The Circuit City Ross

9:30 pm - Walgreen's
I went to pick up some additional items for the gift bags, since more people have responded. I said something to the cashier about hoping it was enough. "I wouldn't want one of the children to not get a bag, because their parent didn't RSVP," I said.

"Respond Soon Very...what does that mean?"

"It's actually in French, not English."

Then he tried again to make English words fit the letters.

"It stands for 'Respondez S'il Vouz Plait."

He tried once more to make the letters work in English, to no avail.

Just when I thought we might go around and around like that all night, he finished scanning all my coupons and handed me the bags. Merci beaucoup!

10:00 pm - Food4Less
I went to scope out some last minute prices. I need to plan the final shopping for my party, minus things friends have volunteered since I made my list.

An employee announced over the PA, "______ and ______, you need to finish zoning before you leave tonight." If you've never worked in retail, that means they need to finish restocking items that are in the wrong place or that customers decided not to buy or that were returned.

A few moments later came the reply, "Orale!"

As a Californian for about 30 of my 40 years, that brought back countless memories. I take back what I said earlier. I'm a Chicana!

I picked up a few things I thought I might forget later -- birthday candles, salt & pepper shakers, sprinkles for the cupcakes (funfetti - for wee ones who don't dig red velvet).

I didn't have many coupons, but I did score one deal. My mom wanted all-beef hot dogs, even if they were expensive. I'd planned on only turkey or chicken and smart dogs. I found a decent price on some Farmer John all beef hot dogs, $3 each. They scanned in at 2/$5. A few weeks ago, Second Bestie gave me a coupon for $5 of any Farmer John item and 2 $3 off 1 coupons for Moran's hamburger patties. I handed the $5 coupon to the woman at the service desk (for self-check out) and said, "I'm not sure if this one will work." I had a back up $1/1 from a Sunday coupon insert, but hadn't clipped 2 because I guess back then I couldn't imagine buying 2 packages of hot dogs. The $5/1 coupon worked, making the hot dogs FREE!

As I walked out, I realized I could have handed her the $1/1 coupon. At worst, it would not have worked. At best, I would have made $1 off of the hot dogs.

11:15 pm - home
I unpacked the day's purchases and sorted them into bags for their various functions in the ever-growing birthday party pile. I printed out some photos of myself from birth - age 10 (so far). They are mostly from my birthday parties, since we almost always take a photo with our cakes. But there are some others, particularly with my cousins when they visited post-Phillipines, pre-Hawai'i and the great years when my uncle was stationed at Camp Pendleton. where at least the last 3 generations of Jackson Marines were trained there, as well as my dad*.

At any rate, during that process, I found this photo. I believe it's from Knott's Berry Farm, back when the big attraction was that leaning/forced perspective house. Surely, this pic is worth 1,000 words...

...but here are a few. I vividly recall protesting wearing a dress at all. I mean, I loved me some Little House, both the book and tv versions, but that dress was wrong to me in every way. Not to mention the bonnet...and don't even get me started on the doll. After all, my Barbie wielded cocktail swords (don't worry, I made her a first aid kit). I even tried to appeal to basic logic. It was a Wanted poster. What kind of bandit(a) wears a bonnet and carries a doll?! I think I even tried to strike a last minute bargain of ditching the doll and throwing that sarape over myself. But noooooo!

11:58 pm - PureWow email
I'm archiving most list emails lately, having so much to do. I read this one, because the subject line referenced Google Earth as art. The main article, of course, was about an artist who uses it in her art, but it also mentioned this KFC logo, visible from Outer Space.

Although I'm sure I saw it before, tonight it reminded me of something entirely random. In the 5th or 6th grade, we went on a field trip to a taping of Diff'rent Strokes. This must have been in '82 or '83. I loved the show and my dad bought me a tube bed, like the one Arnold and Willis did. The trip was an incredibly big deal, since the show was, back then, known for being one of the most popular on TV, rather than as an object lesson in the tragic pitfalls of child stardom.

Before the show and during breaks in taping, the emcee explained the production process and took questions from the audience. Wish I could remember his name. He was a stand up comic and I saw him in bit parts on Diff'rent Strokes and other shows for years afterward. At one point, he spotted a man in the audience who he joked looked like Colonel Sanders.

We all turned around. Sure enough, the man stood up and he was the spitting image of Harlan Sanders, right down to his white linen suit and skinny black tie (an aside: what kind of tie is that? it's not a regular bow tie, nor a bolo). He said he was the Colonel's brother. I can't remember his name, but wouldn't it be fun if it was Marlon?

It was the episode in which Kimberly snuck into the bathroom and took a photo of Arnold's bare tush and won a photo contest for it. I'm just glad it wasn't the bicycle shop episode. I couldn't stand to see Mr. Carlson that way!

After the taping, a bunch of girls from school hung around the set, hoping to meet Todd Bridges. I wonder, given all that has transpired in the intervening decades, if anyone else today can remember or imagine how big a star Todd Bridges was then. I wasn't particularly a fan of his myself. I never did understand why girls always liked/dated older guys. More on that double standard another day.

A group of us and some poor, beleaguered teacher waited outside for the girls trying to catch a glimpse of him. Naturally, after maybe 15 minutes, Todd Bridges zoomed past us in a sports car.

* Contrary to popular assumption, Jackson is not a "black" or "slave" name, as I've been told countless times. My brother and I each took our same sex parent's surnames. That's one way to address patriarchy, rather than just repeating it because not to do so is "too hard" or "weird" or "we wouldn't feel like a family." With all the possible variations of family out there, I just don't buy it. We all know families whose members all have the same last name, but are adversaries or virtual strangers. I've seen more than a few families with 2 or 3 last names, due to blended families, adoption or fostering, where they couldn't be more lovingly attached. Indeed, an inspirationally close knit family I know have at least 5 different last name combinations between the parents and children.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

T-4: Positive Reinforcement

In the backyard of our house in the Valley, circa 1975

Spent most of today at my volunteer job. Since I started so late in the month, I need to work about 3/4 time for the rest of this week and Monday-Wednesday next week. I'm gradually increasing my hours to get used to it, especially being in a bad chair all day. At least I can get up and stretch a lot. It reminded me of grad school -- there were different kinds of chairs in all my class rooms, but none of them were supportive or comfortable. My back and neck constantly made crunching sounds as I walked up and down the hills on campus.

I'm also stepping up my swimming and aqua aerobics, which helps strengthen and stretch out my back. It relieves pain like nothing else, except massage. I pray everyday to find work, because aquatic exercise is really the only kind I can do. Everything else, even walking, hurts more than it helps. The one drawback is it costs money to use pools. I feel my strength coming back, bit by bit, thanks to the water. It's so literary and symbolic.

After the volunteer work, I did a range of physical therapy exercises, water yoga and aqua aerobics. Felt so much better afterward. It's a great reminder to keep it up.

Second Bestie called while I was working. I'd sent her far more Red Velvety Thoughts than I shared here and she called to tell me her ideas. The cake is going to be very grand indeed. She's excited, which is great. It's a wonderful favor, but you don't want it to be a pain in the neck for them. Actually, I didn't even have to ask, she offered to make it. She's really the perfect person to do it. I was so excited by her ideas. Glad we're on the same page. Don't know why I gave it a thought, we've known each other almost 25 years. She's like my sister.

The cake is going to be pretty, but it's also going to be irreverent, like my cake 10 years ago. As she said, if you can't laugh when you're turning 40, what have you got?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

T-5: Volunteering, Finally!

Finally got motivated and made it to the food bank to volunteer. I guess, because I've almost always working in offices, that's what I pictured. I imagined asking for donations or helping needy people get them.

There was a small office up front, but it was an enormous warehouse. My mind is still a bit blown by the size of it and the sheer quantity of goods. I remember learning in a communications class eons ago that one is in a semi-hypnotic state in a typical grocery store. This place would be that cubed over and over again. I've just never seen so much stuff at once. I felt like I'd walked into the warehouse at the end of Citizen Kane.

Fortunately for my cranky back, I was mostly sitting, but also able to get up and stretch frequently. I was a bit concerned, upon seeing the vastness and bulk, that there would only be duties like lifting. What I ended up doing was sorting through donations to pack like items into boxes. Many of the items were smashed or otherwise damaged, so we needed to determine whether the inner seals or packaging were open. Then we taped the packages that were intact inside. Repetitive and mindless, which is probably what I need right now. Busy work for those idle hands.

I was reminded of my first volunteer experience (other than campus clubs and student government, in which I was active in high school, undergrad and grad school). My friend L started law school the same year I went back to finish my B.A. I went to visit her in the midwest during orientation week her second year. She was in charge of 1L student volunteers at one of the volunteer sites, a Ronald McDonald House.

L gave me the option to stay at her place or a cafe or volunteer with her. We arrived and were given a brief tour of the main floor, then told what they needed done. I distinctly remember one of the volunteers complaining that she'd been told she would be able to teach kids art. That was all she was willing to do. I think they finally rangled some kids and art supplies.

L and I ended up weeding the front of the property. Not glamorous, but that's what they needed doing. If that freed up a few hundred dollars they could spend to provide a comfortable place for sick children and their families, then it was worthwhile.

Afterward, we were given a tour of the garden and I took photos. They let us pick produce, because the garden produced more than they needed for the families at the time. L and I went back to her apartment and I made fried green tomatoes from the garden.

Monday, August 22, 2011

T-6: Red Velvety Thoughts


Seriously, looking for the right red velvet cake decoration is the only thing I can claim to have accomplished today! Second Bestie's a great baker, she even worked in a bakery for a while. I was so glad when she volunteered, there's no one better.

I found a recipe, in National Inquirer, of all places, about 20 years ago. It was beautiful, with red coconut sprinkled on the white icing, so colorful. I love the contrast of the red and white. I have no idea where it is, but this one is the closest to it, even though it has crushed candy canes, instead of red coconut.

I made a big pot of pasta with ground turkey, baked some chicken for meals later in the week, earned some SwagBucks and made a few phone calls.

Oh, also, a ton of people added 6 Degrees of EJ on Twitter today. I wasn't sure why at first, but it seems related to RuPaul's Drag Race. Sutan, a friend from college won Drag Race in April, so I added alot of the queens around that time.

Need to be more productive tomorrow, I'm really behind on a few fronts.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

T-7: Birthday Freebie Bonanza!

After the clock struck midnight, I was down to the last week of my ‘30s. I received 9 birthday offers overnight:

  • Ruby Tuesday - Free Burger of your choice
  • Auntie Anne’s Pretzels - BOGO Pretzel item
  • Cold Stone Creamery - BOGO ice cream (last year, I think it was FREE)
  • Fuddrucker’s - Free 1/3 pound burger
  • Ben & Jerry’s - Free single scoop and $3 off a handpicked ice cream cake in choice of flavors
  • Denny’s - Free create your own Grand Slam (on birthday ONLY)
  • Arby’s - Free shake (also received a free regular roast beef sandwich w/drink for my anniversary w/Arby’s a few days ago)
  • IHOP - Free Rooty Tooty Fresh & Fruity Breakfast
  • Mimi’s CafĂ© - Free meal w/another paid meal. Who wants to treat me to my free birthday meal by having a meal themself?

Later today, I received:

  • Souplantation - BOGO Dinner
  • Dunkin Donots - Postcard good for a free coffee drink (too bad there’s not one within 100 miles!)
  • Islands - Free Kona Pie or Chocolate Lava

Thanks to The Frugal Girls' Big List of Birthday Freebies!

Today was a quiet day, took a very quick swim, collected coupons and picked up some free and discounted photo collages at CVS.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

T-8: Time Warp Again

After a few days of hibernation and a browser crash before I could post last night, I wanted to stretch my legs. My back is cranky, but I'm not hunchy and crunchy, thanks to the swimming.

I had a Fandango code burning a hole in my virtual wallet, so I went to see "Rise of the Planet of The Apes." I wonder how the next few generations will be, since I was all pop-referency in my head throughout the movie. When Draco Malfoy said, "Take your hands off me, you filthy ape," I started singing "Dr. Zaus" from the Simpsons, itself a reference to TPOTA films and simultaneously to Falco's song "Amadeus." If my feeble memory serves, that song was a reference to the film "Amadeus."

So again, what will the generations after me, who have always had MTV, the Internet, cell phones, etc. be like? Either very dumb or very smart, or, worse, both.

Then I walked over to Borders, both wishing I had the money to buy all the books I want at 40-60% off and mourning the end of bookstores.

I was born at an incredible time. So much rapid change in my lifetime: integration, women's lib to post-feminist bimbos, demographic shifts and then there's the technology. I remember when we were the only people in the neighborhood with a VCR, when they were still $1000. I remember ON subscription tv, which began at 6 pm, just one channel. You turned the box from off to ON.

I learned to type on manual typewriters at school. I learned BASIC on an Apple IIc about 30 years ago. Got an Apple IIgs for Christmas '87, which ran off 3.25" & 5.25" floppies -- no hard drive (until my dad bought one and it was temperamental). You had to reboot to start a new program -- no multitasking! Then I got a compact Canon typewriter with a snap on cover and slide out handle like the original iBook. It had an LCD screen and memory. I had that from '86-92. In college, I bought a word processor with a flip up screen and handle, it used 3.5" floppies. Then I bought a Mac Performa for school. That was 19 years ago and I've had at least 2 desktops and 4 laptops since then.

It just keeps moving faster and faster.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

T-10: At the Car Wash, Whoa-oh-oh-oh!

Who washes the car wash?

That song goes through my head every time I'm in a car wash. I even see Richard Pryor in a white suit. I love that movie, it reminds me of growing up in LA and the Valley in the '70s. I miss the old fashioned car washes like that. I remember riding through them with my dad when I was a wee girl.

I'm THIS many! It kind of looks like I'm making a "0" with my left hand.

After my errands, aqua aerobics and more errands, I made a meatless dinner -- Gardein Tuscan Chicken, spinach and brown rice. The texture was better than other chicken substitutes I've tried. I was fortunate to be exposed to a lot of different foods since I was little, so it's not unusual for me to have a meatless meal (burrito, beans and cornbread, veggie lasagna) or one that's mostly vegetables (stir fry) that isn't even pretending to have or focus on meat.

I've been more surprised at how easy it's been to substitute turkey for beef in chili, bolognese sauce, meat lasagna and even meat loaf. I don't miss beef in most recipes at all. I do like to have a steak now and then. I figure, if I'm only going to have beef once every month or two, I'm going to make the most of it.

I'm glad meat subsituting hasn't felt like a big sacrifice or drastic change. I don't think I'll ever be a vegetarian, let alone a vegan, but eating low on the food chain is a good thing. These are things one must start considering in their 30s and 40s.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

T-11: Nesting

First birthday

Nesting is a phase in late pregnancy during which a woman gets a burst of energy before getting too pregnant and unwieldy and begins to prepare her home and life for her baby. I seem to be in just such a phase.

I'm alternating super busy days with very quiet, keep to myself, nourish and rest days. I've always been like that to some degree, but it's becoming more pronounced as I get older. I think, in addition to weeding out people and things that aren't good for you, there's also an increasing need for time alone.

I sense I'll birth many things in the coming year, so this phase of nurturing and resting my body, mind and spirit is vital to the success of all my future ventures. I'm on the cusp of great things, I can feel it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

T-12: Pushing Myself

Pretty quiet day. For the first time in almost 2 weeks, my regular aqua aerobics instructor was in the water. She must have missed it, because she was jazzed up AND pushed us pretty hard. She was mixing up things and adding new moves. It seemed like we also went up and down the pool more. It intensifies whichever exercise we're doing, because there's even more resistance from the water.

I'm glad, I needed the push. It is easy to get complacent and I realized I'd reached a plateau. I try to use weights, but I can barely stay in the water with the foam weights. I try the solid weights now and then, but they drag me down. I keep trying them, though, because at least I can keep working on that. I'm already so bouyant, the foam weights lift me higher, so I'm distracted from the exercises.

Also made tentative plans to share couponing tips with more friends. I clipped coupons from the last two weekends, because having all the inserts since June were getting bulky. There are so many half and full page ads, it really reduced the bulk. Now I just need to do the June and July coupons. I sorted them into ones for me, those I think friends can use and expired ones to donate.

Monday, August 15, 2011

T-13: First Birdday Card

From my friend LJ in NYC. The envelope was oddly lumpy.

So then I opened it was a musical card. "Shake a Tail Feather."

Earlier, I gave my friend T a few couponing tips and we clipped our expired coupons and those we'd never use to donate to military families. This is only a few of my printables and the June 5 inserts. Wait until I clip July through August. It helps me clean out my overburdened coupon bag and helps families stretch their dollar as well.

It's already hundreds, especially the non-food coupons

Meanwhile, in this week's Target ad:

You've been warned. She's taking over and we all think it's cute!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

T-14: Sharing the Wealth

Today, I bought many newspapers for coupons (as a writer, I feel a tad guilty about that sentence...sometimes I read the articles, too). Then I shopped, of course! Scored this week's free $10 gas card at CVS for buying toilet paper, paper towels and Starbucks drinks.

Tonight, I'm prepping my weekly coupons and watching an Extreme Couponing marathon. Next, I'm prepping for a mini-coupon lesson, exchange and donation I set up with some friends tomorrow evening. I've always been a big believer in sharing your knowledge, good fortune and food. Where would I be if people hadn't done the same for me?

Finally, I'm older AND wiser!
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An extra photo for the day:
I was all for this when I had a salad by that name at City Diner in NYC many years ago. But seeing it packaged up like that, I thought, "What did John Lennon ever do to you?!"

Saturday, August 13, 2011

T-15: Aging a Bit Too Well

I'd welcome a wrinkle or two. I wouldn't be 20anything again if you paid me. I'm all the more certain of that, having spent the bulk of my 30s around 20somethings.

It was a vivid reminder of the insecurity, drama and poor excuses for friendship I'd had years to forget. You weed those people out, as you get older and realize how precious and fleeting time is, that you can never get it back.

Worse, though, is being mistaken for a 25 year old and not being taken seriously. Wasn't a fan of that, even when I was 25.
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Bonus picture:
I couldn't resist hitting the red button when I was in Walgreen's

Friday, August 12, 2011

T-16: Limpy and Looking Back

My cake 10 years ago

Didn't get much sleep last night and, after a little bit of job hunting and email answering, it caught up with me and turned into a long nap.

Took it easy today, my ankle is still sore and stiff, which started somewhere between the showers and the pool at the Y last night. I've been doing a lot more walking, just running errands, than I used to do in the same amount of time. So it's not great that it's sore, but it is taking much more to make it hurt. I need to remember that's progress. I really miss how well my body worked before this injury, but I'm continually adjusting to varying iterations of this new normal. It certainly makes one appreciate their health and times when things are working better. I may never get back to where I was, but I'm trying hard to do what I can.

Birthday Week kit from 2001. The green and yellow pieces are envelopes for
different days, which were in a giant matchbook style package. Each
contained a small gift, like the fortune and shell pictured.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

T-17: My Theory of Hello Kitty World Domination

This was my concern when I accepted this challenge. I'm not having big adventures every day and my rich inner life is interesting to me, but not so much to anyone outside my head. My days are mostly spent job hunting, shopping, cooking, running errands and going to aqua aerobics. I try to mix it up, but I also need a lot of solo, quiet time.

Then there are the Friends reruns. The writing is great and I didn't see several seasons because I didn't have a TV from 1998-late 2001. Of all the things I sacrificed to move to New York twice, that's probably the thing I missed the least. It was bizarre, the reaction when someone tried to strike up a conversation about a TV show and I said I didn't have a TV. It seemed oddly upsetting and offensive to them. It's not like I was all self-righteous and anti-TV. The way I saw it, we tend to watch a ton of TV in the U.S., but most importantly, I was enjoying the city of my dreams everyday. My life was very full.

On my deathbed, I doubt I'll regret not watching enough TV. If anything, there are many things I didn't get around to in New York. Or, for that matter, San Francisco, London, Paris and Amsterdam. Besides, there are still so many places left to see!

. . .

If nothing else, I can document further evidence of Hello Kitty World Domination (HKWD), from boo-boos to bon-bons. The fruit snacks photo (above), was taken today, these in the past few months.

This isn't the first HK car wrap I've seen, just the first one I caught!

Showing extreme allegiance to our mouthless, feline
overlord: decal, medallion, license plate frame.
Wonder if they have the steering wheel and seat covers?

Here's a vintage one, from 2004:
HK microwave cake mix & pan

This one, of the Sanrio store in Times Square, was taken in July 2001, shortly after I moved to NYC for the second time. So much changed, so fast.

Wanted the TV, cordless phone, toaster, wafflemaker, sleeping bag...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

T-18: Well, This Makes Up for Yesterday!

Above it all

Today, I got up earlyish. I started the day with a guilty pleasure, enjoyed it so much, that I did it all over again. Although I can't write about that or what happened next, this day just kept on giving.

The SeeHere album I won with my camera arrived today. I decided to make it a portfolio of my photos and they look great. They are bigger and more vivid than I expected. I'm really pleased with how it came out.

When I got back into the car, it wouldn't start. The electrical system has had problems for a while. When I first tried to take my driving test, the turn signals didn't work. The clock rarely comes on. A few weeks ago, the AC outlet didn't work, so my phone was dead when I was trying to meet Second Bestie in OC 2 weeks ago.

Tonight, the alarm kept setting itself and going off when I tried to start the car or open the door. I've been driving for almost 3 1/2 years, so perhaps it was time for my first call to AAA.

It was only a pick up truck, half the size of all the trucks that pulled into the post office and prompted me to look up from my portfolio, expecting to see a big tow truck. Luckily, it just needed, well, I don't really know what he did. But he got it working and told me to run it for 10 minutes or so to charge the battery. While I waited, a man pulled up and asked me if everything was OK. So chivalry is not dead.

It was a full day and I'll get an honest sleep tonight.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

T-19: A Fairly Uneventful Day

It was a quite day. Phone calls, emails, errands.

I went to aqua aerobics, as usual, but our instructor was out. The substitute instructor did very different exercises, which was a nice switch up, especially after working out for over an hour the night before.

I went shopping to catch deals on beverages for my birthday party and get some other odds and ends. I decided to use self-check out because I was tired and didn't even want to make small talk with a cashier. That didn't work out so well.

This particular store had someone supervising the self check out area. She decided I needed to put the 4 cases of soda I had in the bagging area into my cart and to do that, she needed to hit the "Finish and Pay" button. I hadn't asked for or needed help and it happened in a few seconds. Unfortunately for me, that meant the $25 credit I'd added half an hour earlier by transferring my prescription went toward food, which I planned to buy with funds only usable for food. So that left me in a quandry when it came to the non-food items, since I no longer had the credit on my store card.

This took a great deal of explanation on both parts. The self-check out hoverer and the store manager insisted there was nothing they could do and I'd have to come back in the morning and ask the pharmacy to give me another credit. That didn't seem very likely to me. So, after much wrangling, I was given $21 in cash, but then the self-check out lady thought the better of that and gave me a store gift card with the cash. Fair enough, it was their money all along and I could have walked out with cash, instead of spending it there.

This was just needlessly complicated and aggravating, but at least it was finally resolved. I still had two more stops and, because the first one took longer, the second planned stop went from being across the street to several miles away, as the nearest location of the next store closed at 10.

Other stops were mostly uneventful and finished in a reasonable amount of time. But boy, what a long night.

Seeing all those cases of soda and water stacked up for my birthday...I'm excited.

Mmmmm, Bakers! While I waited to get through the drive thru, "Baker Street" came on the radio.

Although I know it's about Baker Street in London, the song unfailingly reminds me of Baker Street in San Francisco. I have photos of both Baker Streets, but can't seem to find them.

Going to Bakers drive-thru, however, always reminds me of Second Bestie, who worked there in college. In my memory, she worked there at the same time she worked at a bakery in the morning. Alas, my memory fails here, but my way is better than the facts! Before the craziness at the grocery store, while I was still shopping, she and I texted back and forth because she's baking my cake. Yay! Wouldn't have anyone else do it. Can't wait to see and taste it.

Monday, August 8, 2011

T-20: Getting My Body Back

First photo today, I forgot to take my camera to the pool with me or back in after I'd showered and dressed. I was too preoccupied with the great deals I was about to get at CVS.

Second confession...It's rather weird for me to be using the expression I have up there in the title. I haven't been anything resembling thin since 7th grade. So that's not at all what I mean, although it's the common usage.

I broke my ankle in January 2006 and had a bad fall around October 2007. Between the two injuries, my body just hasn't been the same since. I've been in pain nearly everyday for 5 1/2 years, though the intensity varies.

I'd lived most of my adult life in San Francisco or New York and walked miles everyday without thinking much about it. It was just built into my day or I'd take a walk to clear my head or ponder or stretch my legs after dinner. I've really missed my walks. They were a big part of who I am, or who I was.

Before the fall in 2007, I was starting to get my body back. It was the strength and stamina I missed more than anything -- the kinds of things you take for granted when every part of your body works fine. That summer and fall, I felt strong again. After doing aquatic therapy for about 6 weeks, I felt miraculously better. I could walk several blocks, though not quite as well as before and I certainly paid for it at night. Pain shot up my legs and I was a hunched mess when I wasn't laying flat on my back with my feet elevated. But still, I could walk for several blocks again, which was a step in the right direction.

For almost a year now, I've been doing the exercises I learned in aquatic therapy, with varying repetitions, in tandem with deep end aqua aerobics and some swimming. In the water, I feel graceful, even if I don't look it. It feels fantastic and most nights I don't want to leave. When I was away for a few weeks, I was able to walk all over Memphis, New Orleans and San Francisco -- cities I know well and love. I was so thankful I could take full advantage of the trip.

After less than two months in the water, I was able to do something I hadn't been able to do for years. When I got back home and returned to aqua aerobics, I woke up the next day with that burn in my abs I hadn't felt since doing sit ups for those Presidential Fitness tests in high school. It's good to remind myself of that, because being in the water is so supportive and flowing that it doesn't feel like work, or a workout, it feels like play. I need to remind myself, sometimes, to work, to push harder.

Tonight in the pool, I really pushed myself. I'd plateaued in my progress. The water is so gentle, it's easy to do. In particular, tonight I spent a good 10 minutes jogging up and down the pool, as fast as I could. I usually just jog in place on my solo workouts. In class, we jog up and down the pool 2-3 times and I am inexplicably slow, so I tend to skip it on my own. But not tonight, I was zooming all around. I was actually out of bbreath, which doesn't generally happen during aqua aerobics (I'm leaving the typo, so appropriate).

Near the end, a woman sidled over to me on a noodle. I'd been avoiding the area she was in, first because her kids were belly-flopping and splashing and later because her husband did the same, making enormous splashes and waves that threw off my jogging. So I was already dubious.

"I used to tread water, too, but now I peddle on the noodle, like on a bike, and it's a much better workout."

"I'm not treading water."

She looked at me like I was clearly treading water and in some sort of denial.

"Oh really?"

"I'm doing scissors," I said, still all breathy and listing exercises I still needed to cross off for the night.

"Oh, I couldn't do that without a noodle."

"I can," I said, scissor kicking with breast stroke arms to the deep end.

I really don't understand conversations like this. It feels the same as when men come up to tell me I'm not smiling or to ask why I'm in a bad mood (because, apparently, I'm the first woman they ever met who had anything on her mind).

It's not like I asked for advice. If someone strikes up a conversation with me and they mention having an injury, I'll recommend the deep end aqua aerobics class because they can do it as gently or intensively as they are able to, since the water takes weight off the injury and also provides resistance. But I don't go up to people and tell them I know a much better way for them to work out than what they're doing. Who am I to assume they are clueless about their body, their abilities and where they are right now?

And what if I was treading water? If I was treading water and that got me out of breath, that's all the workout I need at that stage. A little less than a year ago, I started doing the physical therapy exercises in the shallow end, then cycling up and down the pool on a noodle, then aqua aerobics on a noodle, then treading water and finally realizing I didn't need the noodle for aqua aerobics, swimming or anything. It's a process and even now, I need to remind myself to push further.

As I realized walking the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral many years ago, just because we appear to be walking right next to someone, we can't tell where they are along the path.

Third confession...I just realized that Justin Timberlake and I are, briefly, both in our 30s. That doesn't seem right at all. Why, I remember when he was just a young whipper snapper...

Sunday, August 7, 2011

T-21: Saving, But Not Swimming

I spent the morning chilling with the cat, who has taken to sleeping with me lately. He used to be the hissing, people and pet hating cat. He drove away 3 other cats and a dog. It's still weird to me that he's become clingy.

I tried to go swimming, but the pool was at capacity. That's happened several times in recent weeks, so I knew it was a possibility. Guess I could have spent less time in bed with the cat, but really, that's a perfect Sunday morning if you ask me.

I decided to get Sunday papers for coupons. Of all the stores I could go to buy the papers, I ended up parked by the guy with the zebra-striped truck. I love art cars, but rarely see them in the suburbs. Note the "War is the Answer" bumper sticker in the back window.

It was a good coupon haul, considering it was mid-afternoon by then. One paper even had several duplicate inserts. I couponed my way into another $10 gas card at CVS, which always feels good. It was stuff I either buy regularly or that I had on my list for later this month, so all the better to save money and get a bonus. I even found a coupon file that's actually large enough and has enough sections to be useful, but small enough to be convenient and useful.

Good day. My new Sunday night ritual is to watch Drop Dead Diva while sorting and stapling coupon inserts together.

A sign in the clearance bin?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

T - 22: Borne Back Ceaselessly Into the Past

10 points to Griffindor

Today, I watched Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, having fallen asleep on it last night and on Order of the Phoenix the night before, falling entirely behind on my planned marathon. I had forgotten that, in the movie, when Harry takes the Felix Felicis, he pretty much acts stoned. Which reminded me of Internet posts I read years ago about how you can turn any HP title into a drug reference. I can’t remember what the HP&tOotP title turned into, but surely #6 is Harry Pothead and the Half-Baked Prince.

Funny, how the mind works. The thing about rewatching the Harry Potter movies is how evocative they are of when I first read the books, not so much when I saw the movies. I read Half Blood Prince just after graduating from Columbia. I should say, after I walked at Columbia, since my chair ignored my emails asking what was required for my thesis and funding wasn’t what I’d anticipated that summer, so I had to spend thousands on an extra semester. I was so glad to be out of that, so glad to read a book for pleasure again, rather than as a race against the clock.
One of the first people in Manhattan to get the last book

If my feeble old mind remembers correctly, HP&tHBP was the first HP book to come out after I started at Columbia in Fall 2003, so it was like a return to my life B.C. Books were my joy and refuge again. I miss those Harry Potter summers, the buses and subways full of people carrying thick, harlequin-embossed books. In a city known for its toughness, millions were enthralled with a book about the archetypal battle of good versus evil. But then, we New Yorkers had evil hit all too close to home. I had no idea that my response to that evil would lead me down a path on which I’d be so clearly confronted with evil myself. Worse, by far, than evil are cowardice and complicity.
Adorable little girl and her older sister who were behind me in line. The parents wanted to take the kids to London for the last book, but could not afford it, so they drove from Florida to NYC to attend the release at Barnes & Noble in Union Square. I remember a man passing by in a taxi shouted, "Harry dies!" and that little girl's eyes were like a great, sad puppy's. A little while later, a man who looked vaguely familiar came out of the store and handed the girl a copy of the audio book. When her dad turned it over, we realized it was Jim Dale, who read the audio books. That night, he'd read selections from all the books and an excerpt from Book 7 at midnight.

The title today refers to the final lines of The Great Gatsby. I remember a friend, Rita, who knew it by heart. We were suitemates at journalism camp 23 years ago, the summer between my junior and senior years in high school. It really struck me, since I’d spent a good portion of junior year working on a paper about the parallels between Gatsby and F. Scott Fitzgerald, yet couldn't recite a line. That particular teacher’s term paper was notorious for taking over your life. We had to use books from the university library, because our high school library didn’t have scholarly sources. They called her “Killer Schiller,” because almost no one ever got an A in her class or on The Term Paper. But I did, which led to Sara nicknaming me “E. Scott Fitzjackson,” since "Erica Hemingway" didn't fit.

I remind myself of my stories, remind myself that’s what I am, what I’m meant to be, what I’ve become alienated from, what I’m trying to find my way back to, bit by bit.