Here Figgy, Figgy!

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(originally posted on www.createdbychance.blogspot.com on 7/5/11)

We have an embarrassment of figs here at my house.

I don’t think I ever even ate a fig until I moved to LA.  Figs were something that made brief appearances in songs around Christmastime, not something I’m accustomed to having on my plate in the summer.

But now we have an enormous fig tree in our yard, with my hammock from El Salvador hanging underneath – I’m so excited to finally be using it!

tree

About two weeks ago we started getting our first ripe ones.  From what I can tell, it seems we’ll have fresh figs from now until mid-fall.  At least 100 pounds of them.  Question is – what the hell do you do with all those figs?  I certainly don’t want them to go to waste.

When Adam and I went to Ecuador last November, we stopped for some street food at an outdoor market in Otavalo.  A black, bubbling concoction served with cheese on a roll.

dulce de higos

Turns out they were figs, and they were beyond delicious.  As soon as we got home I tried to find the recipe, which I finally did online at http://laylita.com/recipes/2008/09/23/dulce-de-higos-or-figs-in-syrup/ and is reprinted below.  At the time it was hard to find figs, but now that I’m pulling about 20 a day from our tree, I’ve made it twice in the last two weeks.  It takes three days to prepare, but it is worth it!

figs from our tree

Ingredients:

  • 20 fresh ripe but firm figs, washed
  • Pinch of baking soda
  • 1 ¾ lb brown sugar
  • Cinnamon sticks, cloves and other spices – optional
  • Water

Sides – Slices of cheese, bread (we found Hawaiian bread particularly tasty with this)

Preparation:

  1. Make a crosswise cut on the thin side of each fig.
  2. Place the figs in a bowl, cover them with water and let them soak for 24 hours.
  3. Rinse the figs, place them in a saucepan, and cover them with water, about 8 cups.
  4. Add the baking soda and bring the water to a boil over medium heat, cook for about 15-20 minutes or until soft.
  5. Remove from the heat and let the figs soak in the water they cooked in for another 24 hours.
  6. Drain all the water from figs and gently squeeze each fig to remove as much water as possible.
  7. Place the brown sugar and the spices in a large saucepan, cover with about 6 cups of water and cook on low heat until it is completely dissolved.
  8. Add the figs and simmer until the syrup begins to thicken, at least a couple of hours, stir occasionally.
  9. Serve either warm or cold with a slice of quesillo, fresh mozzarella, queso fresco, farmer’s cheese or the cheese of your preference.

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Guerilla Gardening

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(originally posted on www.createdbychance.blogspot.com on 6/1/11)

Seems my love of finding new uses for old items has extended to the garden.  Or at least my love of all things free.

Recently Adam and I were watching the Today show, and chef Rick Bayless was a guest.  He was talking about the Sowing Millions Project that he’s involved in with the company Seeds of Change.  They committed to giving away 100 million seeds (you just pay the shipping).  Give away?  Free, you say?  Well, gee, I’ll try anything if it’s free.  So I went to the website, signed up for my free seeds, and promptly forgot all about it.  About six weeks later, after we moved into our new place, a big, unmarked manila envelope addressed to me showed up on my doorstep.  I love getting packages in the mail, and the best part is when I don’t expect them, so the giddy anticipation of finding out what was inside was delicious.  I carefully opened the package to find…dozens of packets of seeds, of course!

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There were sunflowers and corn (LOTS of corn) and eggplant and different kinds of radishes and lots of different kinds of lettuce and beets and on and on and on.  I have little (okay, no) experience with vegetable gardening, and my backyard is mostly cement, but I’m proud to say I’ve done quite a bit of container gardening in the last few days and I also dug up the soil next to our fence and planted two rows of corn and two rows of sunflowers.  The daily excitement of watering them and seeing how much they’ve grown since the day before makes me feel like a little kid.  I can’t wait til they’re all growed up!  Pictures to come when there’s something a little more exciting to show you than just soil.

Speaking of gardening and free stuff, I’ve become addicted to trolling the free section on CraigsList looking for plants and pots and just about anything for the garden.  Having lived in an apartment for over a decade, I have no outdoor accoutrements.  But one man’s trash is often my treasure, especially if it’s going to live outside.  A little scrub, a little paint, and a little love is usually all it takes to make something usable and nice again.  And I can’t believe the stuff people give away for free.  A couple of nights ago I happened to see a posting for some free palm trees and aloe vera plants that someone had dug out of their yard and were sitting by the curb.  My conversation with Adam went something along the lines of:

Me:  You wanna get some free palm trees and free aloe vera plants?

Adam:  Sure.

Pause.

Adam:  Oh, you mean now?

Me:  Duh.

So at 10pm we hopped in the car, basically in our pajamas (amateurs!) and drove to this house which wasn’t too far from ours.  However, the street had no lights, and my flashlight didn’t work, nor did we bring gloves or wear appropriae shoes (I had on flip flops – amateur!).  So hoisting a 5 foot tall, 100 pound palm tree covered in sharp spikes into the trunk of my car was amusing to say the least.  We made so much noise the owners came outside, although they were cool and informed us that one of the palm trees in their yard was in the movie The Ten Commandments.  Even trees in Hollywood get their 15 minutes, I guess.  They watched as we struggled with the palm.  Okay, we watched as Adam struggled with the palm, and I nonchalantly picked which of the 30 or so aloe cuttings I wanted.  Adam finallygot the palm in the trunk – incidentally, most of it sticking out the back end, and we gingerly and laughingly made our way home.  Okay, maybe I was the only one laughing.

Our plan is to plant the palm in a big pot, so we can take it with us wen we eventually leave, but Adam thought we needed to plant it somewhere right away so it didn’t die.  So at 11pm we were in our front yard digging a big hole to put the body, I mean plam tree, in.  It’ll be a little embarrassing when the gardener comes by (again, amateurs!), but so far it’s hanging in there.

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Some of the aloe have made it into planters, but many are hanging out in a pot full of water at the moment.

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Of course, the pots either came from garage sales ($2) or from the neighbor’s trash (free!).

Did I mention I love free stuff?

Layers of Tasty

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(originally posted on www.createdbychance.blogspot.com on 5/17/11)

I believe I’ve found one of my favorite go-to recipes:  Moroccan b’stilla.

“What the hell is that” you say?  Well, I didn’t know what it was either until I was browsing through one of Adam’s dozens (okay, hundreds) of cookbooks looking for a recipe that called for filo dough.  I had never used filo and had an itch to try it out.  From the dizzying array of recipe books to choose, I hesitantly pulled out one specializing in Moroccan fare.  Now I’ve had Moroccan food before (a particularly romantic Valentine’s Day dinner comes to mind) but I’m not well-versed, or even vaguely familiar with the names of dishes, types of ingredients or characteristic flavors from this North African state.  I’ve been to North Africa (Tunisia, to be exact) but all I really remember is the couscous and getting severely dehydrated which resulted in hospitalization.  But I digress.

This particular collection of recipes contained instructions for making b’stilla, which is encased in filo dough  -so I knew I had my dish.  I informed Adam via text message my plans for dinner, to which he responded “that’s really hard to make”.  Oh – a challenge!  I was determined to make this work.

What I discovered is that although not technically difficult, it is a time-consuming recipe (about 3 hours from start to finish).  Not necessarily something you’d want to make on a weeknight (unless you are temporarily unemployed, like me, then it becomes a practical time-filler).  The smell of it cooking is intoxicating, a thick mix of sweet and spicy.  The sight of it coming out of the oven – wow.  I actually jumped up and down with excitement.  It’s a beautiful dish that’s also fun to eat.  Traditionally, the thumb and first two fingers of the right hand are “plunged through the pastry crust into the steaming filling and the size mouthful required is pulled out and quickly transferred to the mouth”.  Finger food at its finest.  Here’s the recipe, from Hilaire Walden’s “The Moroccan Collection”, if you’d like to give it a try, which I highy suggest you do.  You won’t be disappointed.

  • 1 small chicken
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • good pinch of crushed saffron threads
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup blanched almonds, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 9 ounces packet filo pastry
  • olive oil, for brushing
  • salt and pepper

To serve:

  • confectioner’s sugar
  • ground cinnamon (optional)

1.  put the chicken into a saucepan with the onion, ginger, saffron, cilantro, 1 tsp of the cinnamon, parsley and season with salt and pepper.  Add enough water barely to cover the bird and simmer gently, covered, for 45 minutes until the chicken is tender.

2.  Transfer the chicken to a plate.  Boil the cooking juices until they are reduced to a thick, dryish sauce.

3.  When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and take the flesh from the bones.  Coarsely chop the flesh.

4.  Beat the eggs and butter with half of the cooking juices and cook, stirring constantly, until scrambled.

5.  Toast the almonds in a dry, heavy frying pan, stirring frrequently, until lightly browned.  Add the remaining cinnamon and sugar.

my frist time blanching almonds – so easy!

6.  Using overlapping sheets of filo pastry and brushing each sheet with oil, make a square 3 layers thick (I acutally used 5) and 18 inches across on a baking sheet.  Spread the remaining cooking juices in a 7 inch circle in the center of the pastry.  Cover with the egg mixture, then top with the chicken and the almonds.  Fold up the sides of the pastry to enclose the filling.  If necessary, patch any gaps with more pastry, brushing them with oil.

7.  Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and crisp.

8.  To serve, sieve confectioner’s sugar ove the top and make a random or lattice pattern with ground cinnamon, if desired.

Be careful, it’s super hot!!!!

 

BEFORE

 

So pretty!  But it wasn’t long until it looked like this:

AFTER

 

This Is Not An Exit

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(originally posted on www.createdbychance.blogspot.com on 3/10/11)

I got a sense the other day of what it feels like to be trapped.

Not trapped emotionally, like in a bad relationship, or trapped mentally with some problem or other that seems unsolvable. No, I was trapped physically, and in a pretty disgusting place: a public bathroom.

Yeah, I managed to get myself locked inside a public bathroom.

You see, I was at an audition, and like the good student I am, when I arrived at the audition location I went directly to the bathroom before checking in, just like they taught me in grad school. Have a pee, check the hair, apply a little lipstick, you know the routine. At this particular casting location, they have a co-ed bathroom. You walk in, and there’s the sinks and a mirror and then down a short hallway are two bathroom stalls, completely enclosed with locking doors. The first time I went to this particular office, I had a moment of complete embarassment when I walked into the bathroom and was immediately confronted with a man standing there. I assumed I had walked into the men’s bathroom by mistake and was just about to make my mortified apology when a woman walked out of one of the stalls. Oh. Co-ed. How forward-thinking of them. Or cheap. The only other time I’ve been in a co-ed bathroom like this was on a party boat in Amsterdam, which was not only co-ed but had urinals to boot. What do you men do with that? How do you navigate without actually directly focusing on anything? How do you find the toilet or the sink without accidentally looking at a penis? And how do you think women feel walking into this situation, completely unprepared? Needless to say I ended up holding it all night. But I digress.

It was pretty late in the day, so the casting office was mostly cleared out. There wasn’t a soul in the bathroom, which was unusual. The Modest Mouse part of me (yes, I do have one) was thankful that I wouldn’t be running into a man in there, and that I didn’t need to rush since there was no line. I chose the first stall, painted a nauseating lime green, and noticed that, of course, the seat was up. Men! I was tempted to try the other stall, because there’s something about using a men’s bathroom that kinda skeevs me out, but I though, hey, that’s ridiculous, just get over your damn self, Amy. So into that first stall I went, closed and locked the door, and went about my business. I won’t get into those details, of course, but in no time I was finished, hands washed, and ready to have my leave of this germ-ridden toilet closet. I unlocked the handle, pushed the door and….the door wouldn’t open. Wait a minute, I thought, maybe I didn’t unlock the door all the way. So I jiggled the handle a little bit, turning the lock this was and that and tried to open the door again. Again, the door wasn’t budging. Perhaps it’s just stuck, I thought. I gave it a good shove. No dice. The door didn’t move.

At this point, my brain went into overdrive. Am I stupid? I thought. Am I missing something really obvious? If I start banging on the door to have someone let me out, am I going to embarass myself in front of everyone? This office has a distinct funereal atmosphere – there may be 50 people waiting in the lobby, but you’d still be able to hear someone fart down the street. So I paused a moment to figure out the best way to proceed. Clearly I’m stuck. I examined the door, I pulled up on the knob as I pushed the door, thinking perhaps the door is just a bit out of alignment. Nope. Still stuck. I thought about getting out my credit card to jimmy the lock open, but I could see that the plunger in the knob was turning, so that wasn’t what was keeping me trapped. Is there a door open on the other side maybe? Is that forcing my door closed? What time does this place close? Do they check the bathrooms before they leave at night? Will someone not find me until morning?

At this point, I started to feel a bit panicked. I only had a couple of minutes before my scheduled audition slot. If I was late, would they believe that I was really stuck in the bathroom? Or just chalk it up to some lame actor excuse? Suddenly this germ-infested man toilet starting feeling really small. I started imagining what it might be like to be trapped in the rubble after an earthquake. Okay, it wasn’t that bad, but I could imagine it! Fuck it, I thought, I’ve exhausted all my ideas for getting out of here, save breaking the door down (which probably wouldn’t have been to hard, it was a cheap hollow-core door anyway). It’s time to start knocking.

Knock, knock, knock. Nothing. KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK, a little louder this time. Seriously? Is there noone out there? Or is everyone so wrapped up in prepping for their audition that noone will come save me. KNOCKKNOCKKNOCKKNOCKKNOCKKNOCK!!!!!!!!!!

“Hello?” comes a voice from the other side. Finally!

“Hey, hi, um, I’m stuck in here, the door won’t open even though it’s unlocked.”

“Oh. Hmmmm. Do you want me to get someone?”

No, asshole, I want to spend the night in here. “Yes, could you please? Thank you!”

I hear the clueless guy walk away and seconds later that door magically opens, completely unhindered. On the other side is the befuddled Asian guy who found me in there and the girl from the desk.

“This happens alot” the girl said, completely deadpan.

“Oh. Hm. Well, thanks. I was starting to get a little panicky.”

The girl gives me a vague stink-eye as I high-tail it out of there. How’d the audition go? I can barely remember. As a friend suggested to me, perhaps the bathroom interlude was my audition for No Exit. Or my introduction to an existential crisis. Or just some silly story I can now entertain my friends with.

Regardless, I’m never using that stall again.

Where Is Home?

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(originally posted on www.createdbychance.blogspot.com on 12/21/10)

Here I sit on a Southwest plane, mid-flight, on my way from California to Chicago.

That time of year is upon us again:  the holiday season.  My absolute favorite time of the year.

But before I get into that, dear Blog-Friends, I must take a moment to apologize for my prolonged absence.   Many friends who have become unemployed recently had warned me as I began this adventure that within a month I would find that, suddenly, I was completely overwhelmed with things to do.  This is one of the big ironies of unemployment.  I have no idea how I got things like laundry and cleaning the bathroom done when I had a job, because I hardly have time to do them now.  I suppose for me, as a way to transition into this new way of being, I have over-structured and over-planned my days, weeks and months.  I definitely operate from a schedule, and strive to have concrete activities to complete every day, however mundane they may seem (organizing and labeling all my crafting supplies into a tower of tiny drawers, anyone?).  I’ve gotten a little wrapped up in all these varied tasks and have neglected this particular project.

And not only have I become obsessed with the minutiae of everyday life, I’ve also had the privilege and luxury to do some international travel and mull over the idea that I am part of a much larger world.  And I’ve begun to get my life as an actor in order.

But all that is for a different blog entry.  Tonight I am consumed with thoughts of home, and family, and snow, the ending of an interesting year, and the beginning of a new one.  I suppose it’s normal to take time for reflection this time of year, and I’m certainly no different.

Adam and I had a friend over for dinner the other night at our apartment in Los Angeles (I made really delicious pizza from scratch, but again that’s another blog entry), and he asked me what I was up to since we hadn’t seen each other in a few months.  Since I was in the throes of planning Christmas presents and travel itineraries and packing and all that, I remarked that I was getting myself ready to go home.

“You are home” he replied.

Which, really, brings up a question that I’ve never been able to successfully answer:  where is home?  For the last 17 years I’ve lived away from my family, sometimes thousands of miles.  And I notice that every time I visit the place where I grew up, where my whole family still lives, I tell people I am going “home”, and that when I tell people I am returning to wherever it is that I live, that I call it by the city name.  I rarely refer to my apartment as my home, unless I’m talking to local friends (as in “I’m sorry, I can’t have another margarita because we’re in the Valley and in order to get home, I have to drive on the 405 in the dark”).   Yet, by definition, I feel “home” is fundamentally where one lives, and I know that I can no longer imagine myself happily living in Indiana.  So why after half a lifetime away do I still call it “home”?

I just finished reading a quiet, lovely little book by Dominique Browning called “Slow Love:  How I Lost My Job, Put on My Pajamas, and Found Happiness”.  In it, she also reflects on this idea of home, and has rested on the idea that home is the place where you want to go to die, or to be buried.  Since my parents had the foresight to get cemetery plots for themselves, my brother and myself when I was five years old, I know that unless something drastic happens, my final resting place is in Calumet Park Cemetery in Schererville, Indiana, with the rest of the Armstrong clan, my mom’s side of the family.  So by that definition, I guess Indiana is home.

But I can’t shake the feeling that I’m missing something – or more appropriately, missing out on something.  I spend 95% of my time right now in Los Angeles, living with my boyfriend of 4 years, surrounded by wonderful friends who feel like family.  I want it to feel like home, but somehow all the satisfying parts don’t add up to a whole home.  Is it possible that I can’t feel a sense of home unless I have blood relatives living in close proximity?  I don’t feel any less connected to them, all of them, living so far away.  I don’t have the luxury of popping in on a moment’s notice to chat, or to have dinner together on a week night, or to attend every birthday celebration, anniversary, or, sadly, even funeral.  But I still feel like I’m a part of their lives and they are a part of mine.

But none of them has ever set foot in my apartment, or met my boyfriend’s kids who live with us part-time, or marveled with me at standing outside in shirt sleeves in February in that miraculous southern California weather.  I don’t get to share these things with them, things that have become part of my everyday life.

As 40 is no longer a far away concept, something that will come upon me naturally when I’m “older”, I’d like to feel like the place I’m living, the life I’m building, the relationships I’m nurturing, gives me a sense of being “home”.  But that feeling still eludes me.  And I don’t stop getting older.

I’m curious if any of you wonderful readers have felt this sort of thing?  I know many of you have chosen a similar path to mine, which is to say the path of a creative person, a life a little off the beaten track.  Is there something endemic to this lifestyle that promotes this sort of restless yearning for a place to call “home”?  Or is it something bigger than that?  Something generational, perhaps?

I don’t anticipate solving this question over the coming week, but I’m certainly going to enjoy playing cards (Michigan Rummy), chatting with my dad over a cup of coffee while my mom is at work, skiing with my brother (apparently you can ski in the Midwest, who knew?), and in general reveling in the grand, messy splendor of my uniquely weird and lovable family.

HOME?
HOME?

The Rat Race

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(originally posted on www.createdbychance.blogspot.com on 10/27/10)

Last Sunday I ran my second half marathon.

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If you’ve never run in an organized race before, I can tell you that you learn a helluvalot about yourself during those precisely measured miles – and the hundreds of miles of training leading up to the event.  I’ve learned that I am the following:  tenacious, disciplined, determined – and also irritable, complaining, bitchy, competitive and that in the “tortoise and the hare” scenario I’m definitely the slow-ass turtle.  Let’s examine, shall we?

Tenacious, disciplined, determined:  there is something about distance running – and perhaps any sort of endurance event – that magnifies aspects of your personality.  I think I can confidently assert that I have drive and stamina.  Well, at least if I have a specific goal.  Let me make this absolutely clear:  I hate running.  I always have.  I joined the track team in 7th grade so that my BFF wouldn’t have to go it alone.  The 100 meter was my event, and if memory serves I never even came close to winning a race.  The only thing I hated more than breaking a sweat at practice was actually running in front of people at the meets, showing the world that I look moronic, perhaps even slightly “challenged”, when I run.  Not good for this nerd’s already precarious social standing in those cruelly awkward adolescent years.  Needless to say the team (my BFF included) breathed a collective sigh of relief when I didn’t  go out of the team the following year.

But I digress.

It’s not running that I like so much as achieving something that is both physically and mentally difficult, in my case that is running 13.1 miles.  I like the challenge.  I don’t don my running shoes at 6am and head out into the dark and smoggy LA morning because I’m an eager, thrill-seeking masochist. It’s because if I don’t I’m gonna regret it on race day, when at mile 6, huffing and snarling and sweating in sheets, the race chews me up and spits me out and I lay in the filthy LA streets next to the dog poo and used hypodermic needles until someone decides to come by and scrape me up.    So maybe it’s the fear, or the latent Catholic guilt (I heard somewhere that God doesn’t like quitters), that propels me out of bed at that dreary hour.  Whatever it is, it works.  And keeps me hurtling towards the finish line, arms and legs akimbo, come race day.

Irritable, complaining, bitchy,competitive:  is it telling that I can come up with more negative words than positive to describe how I am when I run?  It brings out the best – and the absolute worst – in me.  Just ask my boyfriend.  If he innocently decides to question whether or not I’ll be heading out for a run that morning, he gets a three-minute expletive-peppered tirade about the minutiae of my schedule that usually ends with something like “and I don’t see you out running today, old man!”.  I get pretty touchy.  He’s a saint.

And have I mentioned that running is perhaps the most boring exercise on the face of the planet?  On those dreaded days when I have to put in serious miles, I find myself compiling a laundry list of things to think about while I’m out running, such as “what outfit am I going to wear to dinner on Saturday?”.  “What can I make for dinner this week?”.  “What are some most-excellent comebacks I can craft to win any argument?”.  “What will I be doing when I’m 40?  Do you suppose I’ll still be in deferment on my student loans?” and so on and so forth.

The funny thing about race day is that all of sudden this solitary endeavor becomes a huge social event.  Instead of passing another runner here and there, you are surrounded by 15,000. And I have to tell you, some of those people don’t have the same ideas about personal space as I do.  Take, for example, the “speed walker” next to me whose arms, bent at right-angles,  furiously pumped at his sides, as though he’d still be able to cross the finish line if he found his legs suddenly stopped working.  Just try to pass this guy, you’ll get clocked in the face.  And pass him I tried, but the fucker kept pace with me the entire race.  He could walk as fast as I could run!  It did not do wonders for my self-esteem.

But I did manage to make it to the finish line with a time of 2:42:36.  Not as good as I had hoped, but I finished and without much injury (unlike the woman who took a face-dive while crossing the finish line moments before me, I hope she decides to buy one of her commemorative finish-line photos).

I think I’ll be doing yoga for the rest of year.

In and Out

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originally posted on www.createdbychance.blogspot.com on 10/12/10)

This morning I had my dreaded “Job Search Assistance” appointment with the Employment Development Department for the State of California.  Barf.

For the last two weeks I’ve had to record all the jobs I’ve applied for as well as upload my resume to the job search assistance website for California.  Double Barf.  I’ve also spent this time imagining the horror that awaited me – body pressed against sweaty, smelly body in a crowded flourescent-lighted city office as I and dozens more listened to an underpaid and overworked city official describe in excruciating detail how to conduct a job search online.  Having the same city official look at me with disdain in her eyes as she encourages me to apply for any job out there – hey, we have a receptionist position open in this office! – nevermind that I have a very expensive graduate degree that I have yet to pay for (8 years later and counting, groan…).

So it was with barely-contained anxiety that I dressed myself as professionally and cute as could be this morning, as if my clothes could shout “Hey, I don’t need you to tell me how to find a job!  See how well-dressed I am?”, while having visions of myself pulling a George Costanza with my petulant interviewer.

Imagine my surprise, then, as I pulled up to the office in Marina Del Rey with plentiful parking just steps from the office door, walked in and noticed that not only were there no other people waiting in line, but that there were only two chairs in the waiting room – as if they never expected anyone to wait.  Guess I didn’t need to bring my book.  I sauntered up to the counter, vaguely confused by the situation, where a very cute man took down my name and asked me to hold on just a moment as he rounded up my interviewer.  Should I have a seat?  Oh no, that won’t be necessary.  Why thank you.  Smile, smile, make eye contact with the Very Cute Man, bat the eyes a little.  Hey, if a little flirting is all it takes to make this process go faster, then I’m all for it.  I’m glad I decided to dress cute.

Just then, Darryl, my interviewer, appeared in all his big, black, boisterous glory.  He asked me for the paper I had filled out with my job search results, at the top of which I had written in big letters so I wouldn’t forget – BRING SS CARD.

“Can I see your Secret Service Card?”

“Huh?”

“You wrote up here to remember to bring your Secret Service Card.”

Wow – there’s even humor here!

“Yep, I brought it, it’s gold-plated, you ever see one?”

“Ah, I’m just joshin’ with ya’.”

I immediately like Darryl.

Darryl takes me back to his cubicle, where he reviews my passport (and my Secret Service Card, which was in my passport) and looks me up in the system.  He then proceeds to tell me that there are three things he needs to cover with me.  1) – that I am who I say I am, as evidenced by my passport.  2) – that I am capable and have been looking for work, as evidenced by my completed paperwork.  And 3) – that I have a resume posted on their job assistance website, as evidenced by my resume staring back at me from Darryl’s computer screen.  Bing, bang, bong.  Looks like we’re all covered.  Darryl then informs me he’s looking forward to his blueberry muffin and that he must accompany me out the door because, hey, if Denzel Washington were in here they don’t want him to be ambushed.  I’m not sure why Denzel Washington would be in the unemployment office in Marina Del Rey, but I went with it and also heard Darryl’s story of meeting Denzel while working as an extra on a film set.  Only in Hollywood.  I got my parking validated by the Very Cute Man and I was outta there.  It took about 5 1/2 minutes total.  Awesome.

Speaking of in and out, I am completely absorbed by the story of the Chilean miners and will be glued to CNN all night watching for the moment that they extract the first miner from that Death Hole.  The Chilean government has gone to great lengths to make this a media-friendly event (they have a live satellite feed of the process) and yet they also seem to be doing a good job of keeping the men separated from the media vultures that will no doubt be immediately swarming them.  I am interested to see this story unfold over the next couple of days.  I’ll be sure to have my box of tissues nearby.

All this talk of in and out, I think I need to go get a burger…

The Domestic Goddess

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(originally posted on www.createdbychance.blogspot.com on 10/8/10)

I started the morning with a good cry.

Don’t worry, it wasn’t over anything serious.  It was because I was watching Roseanne.  Well, maybe that is a reason for worry.

Being the domestic goddess that I am, I spent the early morning hours cleaning up the apartment and doing a few loads of laundry, and when I was done I sat down to eat the lovely egg white omelette with grilled peppers,sauted spinach, queso and habanero salsa I had made.  Normally I don’t watch TV during the day, but today I decided to click it on and plant myself on the couch while eating my breakfast.  While flipping through the guide, I noticed my all-time favorite show about The Domestic Goddess was on, so I figured how apropos, perhaps I’ll catch a few minutes and have a laugh or two.

Well, the particular episode that was airing was from the last season (the one where they won the lottery – not my favorite), but the scene that was playing was in the NICU at the hospital where Darlene’s premature and seriously ill baby was being kept.  All the women of the Connor family were passing this tiny baby around and telling her how much they loved her and how much they wanted her to hang on and fight.  Jackie (Laurie Metcalfe, a terrifically talented actress) was telling the little baby about how she had almost fallen out of the car when she was 5, but how her mother had grabbed her by the hair at the last moment and saved her, and that if she (the little baby) felt like she was about the fall away that they would be there to grab her and let me tell you I LOST IT.  The baby gets passed around to everyone, more stories, everyone’s crying, they keep cutting back to a shot of real, tiny baby, and I am on the couch, fork in hand, BLUBBERING.  I had to put my omelette down and go to the other room to grab a few tissues to wipe off the snot running down my face.

Now, there are lots of people out there, I’m sure, who don’t understand how I can watch TV, let alone Roseanne, for three minutes and turn into a puddle of goo.  But that show – that show has always been able to reach out, grab right around my heart and give it a good squeeze.  It’s the kind of show that makes me proud to be in show business.  I know there are lots of stories about how working with Roseanne and being on that show was difficult, but you never see that on the screen.  They all look and act like they really care about each other and the stories they are telling.  All I see is a real human story, with regular kinds of working-class people who have strong and complicated relationships with one another.  I feel like I’m watching my own life when I watch that show.  Whether it’s funny or sad or ridiculous, I come away feeling, well, a little more connected to the world.  Like we’re all having different variations of the same life experience.  Plus John Goodman really reminds me of my dad, so that certainly doesn’t hurt.

I know, I know, it’s just a TV show.  But it’s a damn good TV show.

 

roseanne

Me Today, You Tomorrow

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(originally posted on www.createdbychance.blogspot.com on 10/1/10)

Yesterday I attended a funeral.

Now I promise to try not to get morbid or unduly sad on you, dear Blog-Friend, but I feel it warrants mentioning because it’s often during these sorts of circumstances that one has moments of clarity.  The funeral was for a woman I had never met – she was the mother of a dear friend of Adam’s – but I wanted to be there to show my support for the family.

The internment ceremony – held at the celebrated and oft-filmed Hollywood Forever Cemetery –  was attended by just of few members of the family and close friends and officiated by a comfortingly gregarious Irish priest (complete with brogue!).  It was short and simple, but not without depth of feeling.  She had been married for nearly 70 years (!) and her husband, our friend’s father – was quite beside himself with the loss.  I had not anticipated having a strong emotional response myself, but seeing how much he (and everyone else) was missing her, I was moved to the point of needing a few tissues myself.  70 years with someone.  70 years.  Most of us will never know what it’s like to even know someone for 70 years, let alone at that level of intimacy.  All the stories.  All of those life moments shared, both good and bad.  I felt privileged, in some way, to be there while they said goodbye to her.

All those in attendance spent the day together, and I had several opportunities to talk with my friend’s father and share his memories not only of the times he spent with her, but of a lifetime totalling almost 90 years.  The Battle of Midway.  Traveling across China.  How downtown LA has changed in the last 60 years.  At one point towards the end of the night, he asked me “do you love yourself?”.  A pause before answering, “I think so.”  And encouragement to stay positive.

Other friends have had losses of loved ones recently, and it’s in these moments that we realize, however cliched it may sound, that life is precious, and short, and the only thing fear and hesitation brings is regret.  How I hope to remember that lesson daily.

My friend’s father’s place next to his wife in the mausoleum already bears his name and epitaph, taken from a phrase he saw at a convent in Italy:

Me Today, You Tomorrow

How true, how important to remember, and how difficult to comprehend.

Not a Significant Source of Cholesterol

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(originally posted on www.createdbychance.blogspot.com on 9/23/10)

I don’t know if I told you, but I’m in the middle of training for a half-marathon.  It’s my second, and I can tell you, I never thought I’d be the type of person to willingly run in races.  But…I’ve found running to be an easy kind of workout (you can do it anywhere, for free, without spending too much on equipment).  Plus it’s been an interesting challenge.  I joined the track team in 7th grade (only because my best friend, Kim, wanted to join the track team and we did everything together), and the only thing I can really take away from that experience is the fact that my mother told me I look funny when I run.  So there you have it.

Nonetheless, I am currently running 5 times a week, with a day of cross-training (bike-riding) thrown in there.  One of the things I enjoy about this daily run is the opporutnity it gives me to really check out my neighborhood.  I’ve run essentially the same path over and over for the last year and a half, but inevitably something new surprises me every time.  Today, instead of my usual morning run, I opted to go out at about 2pm (one of the luxuries of unemployment is the ability to workout at whatever time I want to, not necessarily the crack of dawn).   And it was definitely a different kind of experience.  Early in my run, I was joined by a pack of high-school kids, in the midst of their afternoon P.E. run.  I am proud to say I was able to keep up with them, although thankfully our paths did not converge for long (nothing like watching a teenager run effortlessly to make you feel old).  But the most amusing part happened when I rounded the corner to my street and was half a block from my apartment.  I live on a residential street, all apartment buildings, and it’s pretty quiet for the most part.  Not alot of pedestrian traffic, mostly just neighbors walking their dogs (and the occassional crazy homeless person, but that’s another blog).  As I rounded the corner, I was approached by an older man dressed nicely in a suit carrying an empty 2-liter Coca-Cola bottle.  He started to say something, and I had to remove my headphones in order to hear him.  He dramatically indicated the empty Coke bottle to me, and proceeded to ask me, in severly broken English, “Please tell, have cholesterol?”.  I thought, what the hell is he asking me?  Is this some sort of ambush?  Is some guy gonna pop out of the bushes while I try to decipher what this guy is saying to me?  But no, he simply wanted to know if Coke contained cholesterol.  As he went on to explain “Me no cholesterol.  Say doctor”, I understood that he wanted to know if this 2 liter he just sucked down was going to kill him or not, based on the recommendations from his doctor.  He and I both studied the label, which I tried to tell him said “not a significant source of cholesterol” but it took alot of hand gestures and figuring out different ways to say “no” (like nada, nothing, zip, zero) to get my point across.  I finally saw the light bulb go off, he smiled, seemed excited by my answer, and went on his merry way.  Why the fuck he was walking down the street asking strangers this question is beyond me, but hey, this is Los Angeles after all.