Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Are you Drifting?

I mentioned in an earlier post that I have a trio of goals for 2010 based on three books, one of which is Gretchen Ruben's "The Happiness Project."

Well, Gretchen Rubin came to town!

To Berkeley, to be exact, and since that's only 25 minutes from me, and I already own Gretchen's book (and how cool would it be to meet her and get it signed?), I decided I wanted to go and I have had it on my calendar for a couple of weeks.

Well, in typical "me" fashion, when today rolled around I wavered.  It would involve leaving my house at night and driving to Berkeley by myself (in this cold January weather!), to a bookstore I'd never been to before (Books, Inc.) and wasn't exactly sure where it was located or what the parking situation might be (it's not unusual in Berkeley to have to park several blocks away from your destination and walk).  I'd asked a couple of friends if they wanted to go with me but neither were available.

Last evening I asked Mike if he wanted to go.  He never did give me an answer; over the years I have learned that silence means "no."

But I really wanted to go.  I didn't want to just say, oh well, maybe next time, as I do so often, and then regret it later, as I inevitably would. One of the (as yet unwritten) goals of my own "happiness project" is to actually follow through when I have found something that I want to do and have gone so far as to put it on my calendar.  Ok, I thought, I'm going, no matter what, but I also decided to give Mike one last try.

When Mike got home from work I informed him he was going with me because, since he hadn't answered me one way or the other the night before, I had assumed his answer was "yes."

What could he do but smile and agree to go?

One of the things Gretchen talked about, and that's not in her book (another reason I'm glad I went!), was "drift."  I found this topic very interesting and true of so many people; in some areas of my life, true of me as well.  This is where you just sort of drift into a decision . . . instead of making a conscious one.  Gretchen's own "drift" consisted of taking the LSAT and passing it.  Well, since she'd passed it she might as well apply to law schools.  Well, she got in, so she might as well become a lawyer.  Then she was a lawyer.

But over time she discovered that was not where she belonged; that what she really longed to do was write.

How many of us have done the same thing? When I was in college, as a Business major I was required to take some sort of computer-related courses.  So I took a programming class.  It was fun, so I took another.  I did well in them, too, it was like solving puzzles or a secret code.  I figured since I did well in them, and that there was money to be made in that field (this was in the 90's, before the dot com bubble burst), I'd concentrate my studies in the computer field.

I graduated with a Business Administration degree and a concentration in Management Information Systems and went to work as a systems analyst/programmer.  Over the next twelve years I made a lot of money but with each subsequent year it was more clear that I didn't fit in.  I didn't mind the programming so much as the rest of the high-tech corporate stuff; the committees, the meetings, the travel, the politics, never enough vacation time, inept and clueless supervisors, harrassment from co-workers, and the never successful task of pleasing end-users, customers, and management.

For a creative, changeable (ok, moody), unpredictable, and routine-resistant person like me, it was hell.

All because of drift.  Making careful, conscious decisions is a lot more work than simply drifting into decisions or, as Gretchen mentioned, not making a decision at all which is a kind of decision in itself.

Finally, two years ago I made an actual conscious decision to take charge of my own happiness and I left the corporate world to pursue a more creative line of work.  It was hard, really hard, to leave the security of a job, even one that I hated, and face a totally uncertain future.  I still don't know how everything will ultimately turn out, whether I'll find success, or simply manage to get by while doing something I truly enjoy.

But I do know one thing for sure; I'm back to being me - the real me - and I'm really happy to see me again.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Back to School Way Back When - Memories of Me Monday

{Franklin Park - formerly Franklin Elementary School; Redondo Beach, CA.}
TODAY'S MEMORY JOGGER: "Describe the grade schools you attended (what were the buildings like, the area; did you walk or bus), and physical descriptions."

Most of my grade school years were spent in the suburbs of Los Angeles.  All southern California elementary schools looked alike in those days.  Three or four classrooms were strung together in long rectangular buildings separated by concrete walkways and some grass and trees.  At one or the other end of the classrooms were the bathrooms, and sometimes an audio-visual room.  One row would also have the library, which was the same size as the classrooms.  Another long building usually stretched perpendicularly across one end of the row of classrooms, with space between for walkways.  This was the administration building and the front of the school.

There'd be a huge square of asphalt behind the school, that was the playground.  It was partitioned off into a number of zones: the kindergarten play-yard was always separate from the other kids; there was another fenced off area where we parked our bikes and which was closed and locked during the day; an area closest to the classrooms held the playground equipment (slides, swings, monkey bars, parallel and chin-up bars, teeter-totters, and a merry-go-round); there was a grassy area in a back corner with a baseball backstop where we played ball games; the rest of the playground was either open space, or were painted with lines designating basketball, tetherball or dodgeball, hopskotch, and foursquare.

There was no cafeteria.  We all brought lunch from home and if you forgot yours, hopefully your mom would bring it to you, or the teacher or other students would share theirs with you.  We had metal lunchboxes with thermoses and our moms packed tuna or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cookies, and fruit, and milk.  No one had yet come up with the bright idea of installing soda or snack vending machines on school grounds.  You ate what your mom packed or you traded with the other kids.

That would've been a pretty typical California elementary school in the 1960's.  All of the students walked to school, or rode their bikes.  No one lived so far away that they had to be bussed or driven to school.  We went to school with the same kids we were neighbors with.  Our parents all knew each other.  Our moms were active in the PTA and were our Room Mothers.  Our dads volunteered in the Boy Scouts, put us to work in the yards or garage on weekends, and did all the home repairs.

There were no drugs at school, except maybe an aspirin from the school nurse if you were running a fever.  But even that was rare; our moms were at home so if we got sick, they came and got us.

 {a school similar to how I remember Eden Prairie Elementary School}

I attended the 3rd and 4th grades in Minnesota where the schools were very different.  Instead of rows of classrooms with outdoor walkways, in cold-weather Minnesota the elementary schools were one huge multi-floored brick building.  Classrooms lined either side of long dusty hallways.  The bathrooms, or washrooms, as they were called, held rows of stalls (at least in the girl's, I never saw the boy's facilities) and, in a large open area at one end was a round, free-standing sink, about belly-height to a 9-year old.  Girls could gather all around the edges of this sink, step on a chrome ring that circled it at floor level, and hold their hands under the sheet of water from the round faucet in the center.

I loved that sink!  It was very social.  We girls would stand there letting the warm water run over our hands, and chat.  We had a great time in there, sharing secrets and giggling.  There was a lot of camaraderie.  The teachers often had to run us out of there.  I've rarely seen "communal" sinks like that since those two years in a Minnesota grade school.  It's really a shame.

In California we had huge windows on both sides of our classrooms, a hard sheeting on the floor that always seemed dusty, and a small closet for our coats and lunches. You could tell what time of the year it was, or what the class was currently studying, by the drawings and projects taped to the windows.  The teacher had a large desk at the front of the room, where huge blackboards covered the wall.  There was a white projection screen, and maps, that could be rolled down out of metal tubes above the chalkboard.  Our desks were one piece with plastic chairs, a laminate surface for the desktop. and a basket under the chair to hold our books and papers.  I can't remember for sure whether the laminate tops were hinged and opened into a storage well, but they probably did.

Our desks in Minnesota were similar in that they were all one piece, but there was no basket underneath, and they had had a very deep well for our books under the hinged wooden lid.  The lids had inkwells so obviously they'd been around a long time!  Just inside the well was a tray for our pencils and crayons but we used them for another purpose as well.

Eating powdered Jell-O gelatin was very popular then; we'd sneak a box out of our mom's kitchen and take it to school.  There, we'd carefully pour a small mound of the green, red, yellow, or orange powder onto a corner of the pencil tray.  Then, throughout the day we could slip a moistened finger inside our desk and then nonchalantly bring that finger to our mouths for an sneaky treat.  It got so popular that it was bound to be found out, and jello was soon banned from our classrooms.  I remember well my 4th grade teacher, Mr. Lindgren, striding up and down the rows of desks checking every student's fingers for tell-tale stains!

In Minnesota, like in California, we taped our special papers and projects to the windows.  But the windows were a lot smaller and when your classroom is on the 2nd floor there isn't going to be anyone walking by outside to see the papers, so we taped them facing in toward the class instead of out.  Our classroom floors were wood, and so were the long hallways.  Inset into the walls outside each classroom was a long bench with hooks above and space underneath.  This is where we sat to remove our knit hats, mittens, scarves, boots, and snowsuits when we arrived at school on a winter morning, and where we again sat at the end of the day to bundle back up.  The same routine was repeated to go outside to the playground, where we went on all but the coldest of days.  There was also a large glassed-in display window, similar to what you'd see at a department store.  The back opened into our classroom.  There were glass shelves.  This is where we displayed some of the projects we worked on; usually art projects.

Once, during a arts and crafts period, I got creative and made some 3-dimension animals out of construction paper.  I had horses and cows, dogs and cats, and even an elephant.  Mr. Lindgren was so impressed he dedicated the display window of our classroom to my creations for two whole weeks.  I was very proud.

Minnesota was much more rural than where I'd lived in California.  Houses were further apart from each other, there was no little corner store, and school was definitely not within walking distance.  We were bussed from our housing subdivisions to school.  Can you imagine how long it must have taken my mom to get three of us out of the house in full winter regalia?  Not to mention keeping an eye on my two little sisters, who weren't in school yet.  Actually, it was just Mike and I who took the early bus; Steve was in Kindergarten, and his bus came about an hour later.  Which was a good thing because whenever Mike and I didn't manage to get out of the house and over to the bus stop in time, we simply waited and got on the bus with "the little kids."  That was embarrassing, though, and we had to take notes, from mom, so we'd be excused for arriving late.

I didn't like riding the bus, either one.  I was so shy that it was a daily challenge to screw up my courage and climb those steps.  Our bus was crowded and I never knew if there'd be an empty seat next to a child who wouldn't tease me or pick on me.  Boys were the worst, the 6th grade boys, a terror.  Bullies gravitate to children who are timid so I got my share of pokes, jeers, and rude comments.  They often tried to get me to talk but I'd grit my teeth and just stare straight ahead.  I don't remember ever saying a word on the bus.  My brother told the other boys that I only had  half a tongue, and that's why I never spoke.  They all wanted to see that for themselves but I never gave in.

Our bus passed by a golf course.  Every day I'd stare out the window and try to see down into the ditch between the road and golf course.  The older kids had passed the rumor that there was a decapitated corpse in that ditch.  I wished desperately to catch a glimpse of it, but was also terrified of that wish might coming true.

In Minnesota we had a huge cafeteria at school.  My brother and I usually brought lunch from home but now and then we were thrilled to be given 25 cents to buy the school lunch.  You collected a plastic tray at one end of the long metal counter.  As you moved down the counter you were handed a plate of food, perhaps a small dish of jello, and a piece of fruit.  At the other end was the cashier who also presided over racks of milk cartons.  You were allowed one carton of milk with your lunch.  If you wanted another carton of milk it cost a penny.

Yes, a penny!

There was a small white dish at the cashier's table for us to put the pennies in.  This way she didn't have to stop ringing up the student's lunches, taking money and giving change, and could keep the line of students moving.  We also didn't have to wait in line again.

I don't know where I got the bright idea that I could just pretend to put a penny in the dish.  I like to think it was my brother, Mike's, idea, but I have to confess I think it was actually all my own.  I only did it a few times - I'd walk up to the cashier when she was very busy. I'd have my thumb and first two fingers pinched together as though I were holding a penny.  Then I'd pretend to place it in the dish, at the same time giving the existing pennies a little swirl to create the tell-tale rattle of coins. 

Then I'd pick up my carton of milk and head back to the lunch table.  I thought I was pretty dang clever!

Yeah, it's hard to believe I was brave enough to do that.  It seems totally out of character but maybe it was a way to make myself feel better after the crap I'd get handed on the bus nearly every day.  A way to prove to myself that I wasn't a complete retard.  I wasn't brave enough to ever tell anyone, though . . . 'til now. . . gee, I hope that school doesn't come after me for their three cents.

FOR NEXT WEEK: "Describe at least one family tradition that you remember from childhood.  Do you have a favorite tradition?  Describe that one.  Which did you like the least?  Describe that one, too."

Friday, January 22, 2010

Vegan Tamale Casserole

I spent a lot of time in my kitchen yesterday.  It was a rainy afternoon, and I enjoyed the warmth and comfort of my kitchen while I cooked lentils, chopped fresh herbs, and threw spices around.  I was trying out yet another new vegan recipe, which I found sometime back on VegWeb (one of my new fave websites).

When I was a kid my mom used to make a ground beef/green bean casserole with a mashed potato topping that I loved.  When I ran across the "Vegan Tamale Casserole" recipe, it immediately reminded me of that dish that my mom used to make, but with a southwestern flair, and it's vegan. Perfect!

Here's the recipe:

Vegan Tamale Casserole
{original recipe here}
Serves 6-12

Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 1 hour


1 cup lentils
28-oz. can tomato sauce
14-oz. can diced or petite diced tomatoes
1 small can green chilies
14-oz. can black beans, drained & rinsed
8-oz. frozen corn or 14-oz. can corn, drained
1 medium or large onion, chopped
2 cups cornmeal grits (polenta)
cumin (to taste)
onion powder (to taste)
garlic salt or garlic powder (to taste)
oregano (to taste)


Rinse lentils, combine lentils and 2 cups water in saucepan and bring to boil.  Stir, cover and reduce heat; simmer 30 minutes.  In a large mixing bowl, combine lentils, tomato sauce, tomatoes, chilies, beans, corn, onion, and spices.

Bring 5 cups water to boil in a saucepan.   Mix 2 cups polenta in 1-1/2 cups cold water.  When water in saucepan starts to boil, slowly stir in polenta.  Reduce heat to medium, continue to stir until polenta thickens.

Pour lentil/tomato mixture into a 9 x 13 inch pan or casserole dish.  

Pour polenta on top, spreading to cover.  Bake in a 350 degree oven about 1 hour.

A couple of changes that I made.  I added a LOT more green chilies (we love 'em) and I added some sliced black olives and a huge handful of chopped fresh cilantro to the lentil/tomato mixture.

Next time I make this I will halve the recipe; this makes a huge amount, way too much for just Mike and me.  I ended up freezing more than half of it.

I thought the polenta topping was a bit bland; next time I'll add either chopped cilantro (for both color & taste) or a teaspoon or so of sea salt, or both.

I thought the lentil/tomato mixture was a bit runny.  I think I'd cut back on the tomato sauce and perhaps add some barley and/or quinoa to thicken it up a bit.

In spite of the minor flaws, I LOVED this casserole, and will definitely make it again.  It's a totally comforting dish and was a lovely, lovely dinner on a rainy evening.  And so colorful alongside a salad of bright greens, red, and orange.

Got any recommendations for vegan dishes and/or websites?  Would love to have 'em.

Have a great day, every day!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I Forgot to Call in Sick

I'm sorry!  I've been down with the flu (thankfully, not H1N1).

"Memories of Me Monday" will return next week!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Roasted Yams - Easy Delish Vegan Dish

One of my new favorite dishes; so easy and soooo yummy.  You don't need to be a vegan to enjoy this.  You'll never crave french fries again!

          Roasted Yams

"Roasted, thinly sliced yams or potato of your choice, quickly adds a yummy side-dish to your meal. Best when served with chicken, steak, or a mild fish."
1 large yam, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch thick
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line a baking sheet or shallow baking dish with aluminum foil.
Arrange slices of potato in the prepared pan so they are overlapping slightly. Season with salt and pepper and then drizzle olive oil over them as evenly as possible.
Bake in the preheated oven until potatoes are tender and have begun to wrinkle around the edges, about 30 minutes.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED © 2010 Allrecipes.com
Printed from Allrecipes.com 1/14/2010

A Trio of Goals for Twenty-Ten

This year I'll be focusing on three areas of my life, based on these three books:

"The Happiness Project," by Gretchen Rubin.

"Unclutter Your Life in One Week," by Erin Rooney.

"All New Square Foot Gardening," by Mel Bartholomew.

Join Me!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Short Skirts, Pompons, and Go Go Boots - Memory of Me Monday

{1972-Redondo Union High School drill team}

TODAY'S MEMORY JOGGER:  "Were you in a band, drill team, pep squad in high school?  Describe your experience."

As I wrote in an earlier post, I tried out for the drill team in the spring of my freshman year at Redondo Union High School, and made it, and so did my best friend, Judy.  That fall we performed at every home game for the football team, the Seahawks.  The above photo shows our uniforms.  We had crepe-paper pompons that we made ourselves, and we wore white tennis shoes and red bobby sox.  We had red wool sweaters with our names embroidered on them to wear on cold evenings.  Unfortunately, because they were made of wool, if it rained we had to take them off and put them under the benches so they wouldn't get wet!!  Why?  Well, have you ever smelled a wet sheep?  Not good!  Someone goofed up when they chose wool for our sweaters!

We also had a "Friday uniform" which we wore every Friday to show our school spirit. The outfit was a red-and-white gingham bodysuit-style blouse under a short white skirt. While our "official" uniforms were issued to us, each girl sewed her own Friday uniform, or found someone to sew it for her.  Judy and I both made ours and we loved wearing them since that was the only time we were allowed to wear our skirts shorter than 2" above our knees!

I remember when I finished sewing my skirt and tried it on with the blouse.  I was horrified to see that the red and white gingham fabric showed right through the thin cotton of the skirt.  It looked ridiculous and stupid.  I hadn't lined the skirt because I was still a beginner at sewing, and putting a lining in just looked too hard.  It was the night before the first day we were to wear the Friday uniforms, was late, and I was tired.  I burst into tears.

My mom took the skirt from me and told me to go to bed.  In the morning when I got up there was my skirt, fully lined, and it looked great.  My mom had taken it all apart, added the lining, and then re-sewn it.  I was thrilled. My mom wasn't up yet and I was being picked up to go to an early seminary class, so I wrote her a quick little thank you note.  I don't remember exactly what I wrote, but I do remember being in tears again.  It was a great day!

Football games that fall were always very exciting and a lot of fun.  I loved being part of the drill team and, naturally, I had a boyfriend who was on the football team which made the games even more fun to watch.

In the middle of my sophomore year my family moved from Redondo Beach, CA., to Woodland Hills, CA., and I transferred to Wm. Howard Taft High School.  I wasn't happy about the move; the teen years are a tough time to have to leave your friends behind and try to make new ones.  The kids at Taft were very different from Redondo.  At Redondo most of the students were just regular kids from average-income families; we rode our bikes to school or took the bus.  At Taft many of the students had their own cars with speedboats to match!  Instead of a beach party they held car & boat shows. Yeah, I didn't really fit in.

Still, I did have a small group of good friends, Laurie Thatcher and Nancy Solomon were my two closest, and I tried out and made it onto Taft's drill team.  We were the Toreadors.  Here's a photo of my squad (there were about 10 squads in all) from our yearbook:

{1974-Wm. High School Drill Team}

I'm in the back row, second from the left.  I didn't think the uniforms were nearly as cute as the ones at Redondo High, and we wore white gloves, of all things!  Still, I had a lot of fun.

But guess what?  My high school drill team experiences weren't my first!  I was also a Sailorette at Adam's Junior High!

{1971-Redondo Beach, CA.; Adam's Jr. High Sailorette Drill Team}

How 'bout that gold trim & buttons, sailor collar, and go go boots???  Ha ha!  Unlike high school, where we performed at football games, the Sailorettes team marched in parades and performed at school rallies and other events. Let me just say those boots were NOT for marching!  I always had blisters afterwards, but I did think they were really boss.  It's too bad you can't see the back of my head in the photo.  We were all required to wear our hair pulled back into a pony tail and we wore hairpieces!  Yep, I had what we called a "fall" of bouncy curls that I pinned on and that matched my own hair color.  I remember my mom had to take me to a special shop to buy it.  It was expensive, too, and it was probably tough for my parents to afford it.

The Sailorettes didn't just have pompon routines; we also twirled flags AND rifles.  The rifles were my favorite.  They weren't real rifles, of course, just rifle-shaped pieces of lightweight wood and painted white.  But if was fun to twirl them, toss them in the air and catch them again, and "present arms."

This drill team also differed from high school in that our program expenses (equipment, parade fees, etc.) were not covered by the school, instead we had outside sponsors, one of which was the local Elk's Club.  One of the first times I performed with the team was at the Elk's Club.  It was on a bright, sunny weekday afternoon.  We lined up outside and then marched single file into a huge dark room.  A haze of smoke hung in the air (this was wayyy before cigarettes were banned from bars & clubs in California).  The center of the room had been cleared for us by crowding the round tables and chairs around the perimeter of the room.  Every chair was occupied by men, most of them with large bellies, heavy jowls, and a cigar or cigarette in hand.  I remember being terrified and not really knowing why.  I didn't yet know the word "leer;" if I had I'd have been able to perfectly describe the way those men were looking at this group of 12 and 13 year old girls in their short skirts and go go boots!

FOR NEXT WEEK: "Describe the grade schools you attended (what were the buildings like, the area; did you walk or bus), and physical descriptions."

Monday, January 4, 2010

Life Lessons from my Siblings - Memories of Me Monday

{back, left to right: Steve, Lisa, Denise, Mike; front, left to right: Debbie, Kristen, Karen, circa 1994}

TODAY'S MEMORY JOGGER:  "Talk about, describe, the oddest or most unique person in your family tree." 

This made me laugh.  How would I ever pick just one??  There's just no way. Even among just myself, my two brothers, and my four sisters, you're going to find some of the oddest and most unique people you could ever hope to meet. And we're all so different from each other that I can't for the life of me figure out how we ended up in the same family.

Politically diverse, opinionated, competitive, independent, and at once both rebellious and loyal, we argue over who has the better claim on Dad (I do), we each think we're Mom's favorite (pssst: she secretly told me that I am), and every one of us would rather fight than switch.  We're our parents' greatest joys, and their worst nightmares. Family get-togethers can be calm and loving or erupt into screaming fights with someone jumping up and down on the couch or slamming a door, but most of the time they're somewhere in-between: boisterous, rowdy and loud!

Over the years I've learned a lot from each of my sibs. I've watched them go through tough times and good times, lose jobs, find new ones, get into trouble, cause trouble, help each other out of trouble, change careers, change direction, better themselves, move to different states (in one case, to a different country), marry, divorce, start businesses, buy homes and cars, and raise kids.  It's been a wild ride at times, but no matter what, we've always come through for each other, and always will.

For each of my brothers and sisters, I've listed just one of the many little life lessons I've learned from them.  Here they are, in birth order:

#1 Mike:  If you're a square peg living in round-hole world, then be the coolest & hippest square-peg the round-holed world has ever seen.

#3 Steve:  Surround yourself with people you love and who love you, and cook great big meals for them.

#4 Denise:  Casual, throw-a-meal-together entertaining is just as much fun for guests as the formal three-full-days-of-preparation kind, and it's a lot more fun for the hostess.

#5 Lisa:  No matter your age you can always look fabulous and have gorgeous feet.

#6 Kristen:  Let your emotions out; you'll feel better and  everyone around you will know exactly where they stand.

#7 Karen:  There's nothing so terrible that can't be made better by spending a quiet afternoon with knitting needles, yarn, and one or more cats.

I wonder what my siblings have learned from me?

FOR NEXT WEEK:  "Were you in a band, drill team, pep squad in high school?  Describe your experience."