Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Edible Accessory

Just a mere ten days after I wrote about my black and white cookie problem, Etro sent their Spring/Summer 2017 collection down the runway in Milan. Coincidence?

I think not.

But those are still the wrong black and white cookies.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Importance of Naming Cookies

I frequently find myself at a loss for the official/proper name of random items, and have to rush to Google to figure out what the thing is called. It's most frustrating when said thing is a cookie. In the olden days, when I was temping in Seattle, I would work in various big, shiny office buildings which usually had a sundries shop on the ground level. That was, incidentally, how I learned what "sundries" were. In these sundries shops I would find delicious, individually-wrapped cookies, which I would refer to as "black and white cookies". "I'll be right back, I'm going to get a black and white cookie." One episode of Seinfeld discussed the importance of the black and white cookie. However, when Jerry purchased and bit into his black and white cookie, I noticed it was not the same black and white cookie as my black and white cookie.

The wrong black and white cookies
Having moved away from Seattle, it has been years since I've seen my black and white cookie. When I asked the Whole Foods bakery manager, he directed me to the Seinfeld black and white cookie. When I visited other bakeries, the same thing happened. I realized if I ever wanted to see one again, I might just have to make it myself. When I Googled "black and white cookie", the only results that came up were for Seinfeld's black and white cookie. So many results for the wrong black and white cookie. Pages and pages of wrong cookies. I became agitated, stressed, and eventually despondent. I wanted my black and white cookie. Where was my black and white cookie? Based on my unsuccessful Google results, I knew I must have been calling it the wrong thing, but I didn't know what the right thing would be.

I finally Googled "double chocolate chip cookie dipped in white chocolate," because that was exactly what my black and white cookie was. The first image result was perfect. THAT was my black and white cookie!


But the link went to Ebay. I didn't want to buy a cookie from Ebay. The Ebay lister called them "Homemade White Chocolate Dipped Double Chocolate Chip Cookies!" That just takes so much longer to say than "black and white cookie," but if I wanted the right cookie, I was going to have to refer to it in the right way. Except that most of the other results were not for this type of cookie.



What? No!

Urf. There needs to be a standardized, proper name for my black and white, white chocolate dipped double chocolate cookie.

This brings me to a recent conversation I had with my cousin-in-law, Sarah, who was rolling her eyes when I was trying to get her to say "macaron" instead of "macaroon". Yes, saying "macaron" makes you sound totally pretentious, and like you're trying to be all French and whatnot. But it is important, because a macaron is an entirely different cookie from the macaroon. I like them both, but if I'm having super-cravings for the wee French sandwich cookie and mistakenly say "I'm dying for a macaroon!" Some kind, thoughtful person might show up at my door with a small bag of these.

When I really wanted these.

All because I said it wrong. This is a widespread problem, evidenced in the Google results for "macaroon". There are bloggers all over the place, using "macaroon" incorrectly.

So, it's not only important to name the cookie, it's also important to pronounce that name correctly. The English language seems to be devolving into a grotesque mish-mosh of acronyms, slang, word-fragments and emojis. But, people, please. Please think of the cookies!


Friday, June 24, 2016

Some Advice for the Traveling Girls

Traveling has become something of a bummer in recent years. No one dresses up anymore, you can't bring normal sized toiletries in your carry-on, you have to remove your shoes (!) and pass through the Star Trek Radiation Pod in order to be allowed to board an airplane. All the rules and regulations have been implemented in the name of safety. "Have a safe trip!" is an oft-used phrase when sending someone off. "Safe" is what we want to feel when leaving our comfort zones and traveling from point A to point B. But, what to do when your seatmate sees the trip less as a way to get from A to B, and more of an opportunity to work his way around the sexual bases with an unsuspecting stranger?

Two recent stories illuminate how unnecessarily creepy a necessary voyage can be, especially for women. One was about a sixteen year old girl who had fallen asleep on her flight, and had her creepy seatmate try to kiss her while she slept. This is not a Disney flight, and you, sir, are no Prince Charming. The other was about a thirteen year old girl who was trapped in the window seat, with the creepy seatmate next to her in the middle seat touching her inappropriately for roughly a half hour before the flight attendant noticed the girl was crying. These stories threw me into a stompy rage where I found myself screaming (inside my head) "WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?" What's most unfortunate is that the villains of these stories are almost always men. So I find myself screaming "WHAT IS WRONG WITH MEN?" (again, still just inside my head). And I know, hashtag notallmen, but this kind of thing still happens way more often than it should (which is never).

Every woman I know has at least one story of trying to get from point A to point B and being harassed by a man. The comments sections of those two recent stories are rife with other stories of women I don't know, trying to get from point A to point B and being harassed by a man. THIS IS NOT GOOD FOR MY STOMPY RAGE.

Hyperbole and a Half (go buy her book, she's hilarious)
Your pepper spray is not allowed, your mace is not allowed, you may not have anything sharp onboard the flight (I once read of a woman who rode the train in India with a sharp fork she kept in her pocket). How are girls supposed to defend themselves in the tiny, cramped, uncomfortable space, where you can't even stretch out your legs, much less give a swift kick to the crotch? What to do?

Get loud. Get very, very loud. LOUD! Perverts dislike having attention drawn to them, probably because they know they're doing something wrong. Yell anything to get the attention of someone who will help you. "STOP!" is good, "PERVERT!" is better. An airplane is a vehicle for transportation, not a human petting zoo for the boundary-free male.

If your seatmate happens to be simply manspreading, you could always do this:

Hyperbole and a half

But maybe not that loud. Reserve the loud for when your safety is threatened, not just your legroom.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Met Gala

Lauren Santo Domingo won the Met Gala this year:

(Photo courtesy of the New York Times)

It's not a contest. But she won anyway.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Project Runway - A Model UN

This is the best reality show of all time. I wish it were on year-round, but I have to be satisfied with Project Runway, and then offshoots (Under the Gunn, Project Runway Juniors, etc) to get me through the rest of the year. Project Runway AllStars is satisfying, because it's essentially the same as PR, just with a different host and judges. Alyssa Milano is a much cuddlier version of Heidi Klum, and Georgina Chapman and Isaac Mizrahi, as judges, have a knack for offering constructive and encouraging feedback without being hurtful.

The reality of the show is not forced. It's REAL. The designers have talent and vision and a tight time-frame in which to create designs, so the drama that comes out is genuine. I don't love drama for the sake of drama. When the designers are sleep-deprived and stressed it just happens. I prefer when it doesn't, which probably makes me an unlikely candidate for a reality show audience (an aside: I do love the drama on "Dateline", because Oh My God that sh*t is crazy, and really real).

I love how multi-cultural the designers are, and then how quickly you cease to notice that after the first episode. It's a racially-even playing field, which is not something you get to see on television very often.

This season of AllStars has one of my absolute favorite designers, Dom Streater. GOD ALMIGHTY she comes up with some of the most original and gorgeous designs, and I will love if she wins.

(She made this on last night's show and I WANT TO HAVE IT NOW!)

But, I also love the other two finalists, Kini Zamora and Ken Laurence.

The only thing I cringed about this season (tangent alert) was when Kini basically made part of Sam's outfit in the partner challenge, and Sam gave him no credit. This is a major pet peeve. You have to give credit where credit is due. Sam is a talented designer in his own right, but he really should have admitted to the judges that Kini made part of that look. Since he didn't, Kini got very prickly and the prickly carried over for the next several challenges. Then Kini and Sam were throwing all kinds of shade at each other during their single-camera confessionals, and in the workroom and I wanted to smack them both. Sam: APOLOGIZE TO KINI. Kini: BE THE BIGGER PERSON AND FOCUS ON YOUR WORK. (tangent finished)

Ken was drama personified in his Project Runway season, and he frightened me a little. His temper was off the charts. We see more of his personality in AllStars and I LOVE HIM.

He is hilarious and adorable, and I could listen to him say the words "Fabulous" and "Woman" on a perpetual loop, all day long. He says Fah-buh-lus, and Wuh-man. It is awesome. He brought a centimeter of drama when he called Sam out on his nonsense, flirting with the judges and letting his popularity carry him through challenges. But then, they resolved it. Like grown-ups! Sam actually admitted that he could be defensive and immature, and that takes a very big person to do. People on reality programs hate to show weakness, and most people see admitting faults as weakness, but it's really the opposite. Admitting when you've been less-than-admirable is actually quite admirable.

I like to think of PR & PRAS as tiny nations, where we could all learn a thing or two about how to interact and behave. For the most part, the designers, regardless of wildly different backgrounds and personalities, all come to genuinely respect and care for one another by the end of the season (and if they don't, they're doing it wrong and need to try again). In the single-camera confessionals, when I hear them praising their competitors and complimenting their work, it always makes me cry. The more diplomatic they are, the more I love the show. Don't listen to anyone who wants "more drama". Project Runway is better than that.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Winding Road of Writing

I've been reading. And writing. And reading a lot about writing. Reading about other writers' experiences is enormously helpful when trying to navigate some of the frustrating waters of publishing, particularly when it comes to querying agents for representation. I had signed with a literary agent for my memoir, and she helped me edit and shape it into something that sold to a publisher. Six months after the book was published I made the decision to leave her. Not because she was a bad person, or because she was a bad agent. She was neither of those things. But she also really wasn't right for me. Your relationship with your agent is much like a romantic relationship: you have to feel a connection, you have to feel like that person "gets" you, you have to feel secure and supported. And you absolutely know in your gut when it's just not right.

So, you put on your big-girl panties, and make the difficult decision after agonizing over it for several weeks, and then, you're single again. And getting another agent is not quite as simple as logging onto or OKCupid or Tinder. It's a lot more agonizing, and there's a lot of second-guessing and far too much personality-analysis you as a writer have to do, to make sure you're pitching the right person.

Kathryn Stockett was rejected sixty times when she was querying The Help. This both inspires me, and pains me. I loved that book so much that when I finished it I tried to email Stockett through her website (no longer live). My email bounced back, so the email never reached its intended recipient, but I did try to let her know how much I loved those characters, and how sad I was when the book ended. To think that I might never have had the chance to read the book makes me completely insane. Sixty rejections. That is sixty professional literary opinions that The Help wasn't good enough to be published. I have read so many mediocre novels, represented by top-notch agents (although, to be fair, they may have had a difficult time getting published as well), and I just think, "So-and-So Big Mucky-Muck represents this slop? Well, missy, maybe you don't understand anything about anything." Indeed.

In addition to weathering rejection, writers must be able to incorporate useful feedback into what they're writing/pitching. Jennifer Tress hilariously suffered from "creative interpretation" when reading feedback from an editor:

"What my editor said: This is a fun and compelling read and you are an engaging, accessible writer. But story X is too long – you give too much weight to it – and I feel like you have more, maybe different stories to tell.

What I heard: This is great, you are great. Time to find an agent!" 

This made me laugh hard, and out loud, and reminded me of when I had queried a great agent for my memoir. I remembered the feedback as:

"There is so much I like about your voice, but ultimately I was hoping the book would be a little more like Eat, Pray, Love."

My reaction was exasperated bluster: "Well, SURE! Don't we all wish our lives were like Eat, Pray, Love? Who wouldn't want an agent/editor to send her off to Italy to eat delicious pasta and gelato and write all about it, and then end up in Bali having a passionate romance? Psssht."

When I revisited that email, months later when I had stopped huffing and puffing, what it had actually said was:

"There is so much I like about your voice and your energy, but ultimately I wanted more of an organizing principle (Like EAT, PRAY, LOVE)..."

And I was like, "OH, an ORGANIZING PRINCIPLE! She's absolutely right." The manuscript I had sent her was wildly disorganized and kind of all over the place. She was 100% correct in her assessment, but when I read her email that first time all I could see was the rejection and her wish that my book was Eat, Pray, Love.

The lessons I learn from the query process are the same that I apply to the writing itself. Read it, but then walk away from it for a while, then go back and read it again. And do this when you're having an awesome day (hair, body and otherwise), and are in a super-positive frame of mind, and with a little luck you can say "This is great! You are great! And your new agent is sending you to Italy to eat pasta and gelato!"

Monday, April 11, 2016

Our Lady of Perpetual Cat Ownership

Every day now seems to be National Something Day. National Secretaries Day, National Cheeseburger Day, National Talk Like a Pirate Day. Today would have been a major trigger for me. National Pet Day. Six weeks ago I took my little fur-monster, Herbie, to the vet.

 (This was when he was fat and happy)

He had been losing weight, and then just stopped eating altogether. The vet poked and prodded around, and said that he had a tumor, as well as issues with his kidneys. He was fourteen and a half, and the vet thought that was kind of "old age" for a cat anyway, but my last kitty cat had lived to be twenty-three. I had high hopes for all future pets. So optimistic, was I, that back in October I had ordered the 3-year rabies vaccine for Herb. It was not to be. So, armed with some prednilsone, and an appetite stimulant, Herb and I went back home. The vet had said the prednilsone might grant him an extra "couple of weeks". I was distraught. But, after starting the prednilsone, his appetite kind of came back on its own, and I didn't need the appetite stimulant.

I fed him deli turkey, tuna, whatever he wanted to eat, and he did put some weight back on. The vet called to check in on him the following Monday, and I was happy to report he was doing well. I had decided to just watch him carefully, and at the first sign of trauma or physical difficulty to call an in-home euthanasia vet. I did not want him to suffer at all. I got another four weeks of Healthy-ish Herbie, during which time his litter box habits were the best I'd ever seen from him. (He used to communicate in angry poops left around the house).

When I saw his hind legs start to wobble a bit when he went down steps, I knew his time was limited. No suffering for the baby! On a Friday, I called and scheduled the euthanasia appointment for the following Monday. I then made sure his last weekend was awesome. He got pork chops and lamb and junky Fancy Feast in gravy. I would lift him up onto the bed, and then down onto the floor, so he didn't have to try to jump. Sunday night, I didn't catch him in time before he tried to jump up onto the bed by himself. His claws caught the corner and he pulled himself up, and then his body started to convulse. I grabbed him and put him back on the floor, tucking his body in, because I felt like he might have stretched the organs or something. I didn't know - it was just an instinctive reaction, and the convulsions stopped. But seeing that was traumatizing, and I knew I had made the right decision for Monday. It was time to put him down. On Monday I took him outside and let him wander around and eat as much grass as he wanted, and then sat petting him until the vet arrived.

I was grateful for the four weeks of time to get used to the idea that he wouldn't be around. I cried at the first diagnosis, and one or two nights afterward, but then I would look at Herb, who wasn't suffering and just hanging out doing his kitty-thing, and I realized that I didn't really need to get upset until he actually died. What was the point of all the crying if he's right there next to me, pushing his whiskers against my shoulder and purring? He was still there. Once he was euthanized, though, I cried a lot. The Ugly Cry. Red-faced, puffy-eyed, numerous boxes of tissues destroyed crying.

The next day I drove about 40 minutes south to a cat rescue organization, and adopted a sweet little 4.5 year old longhaired girl named Minnie.

You can't do this with people, which is why losing a family member/friend is so much more devastating. But there are homeless animals everywhere, in need of care and love. You do need to make sure you connect with the animal, and I just knew Minnie was right. A furry, snuggly, purr-monster is something I have to have. She is the best: super affectionate, talks to me in her little mewly voice, and has the best litter box habits. When I'm reading, she shoves herself into the crook of my elbow and stretches her dainty paws out over my shoulder, then curls up and falls asleep. Without her, I'm sure I would have had further sobbing episodes as I drove past the vet clinic, where Herb used to go, or the pet food store, where I used to buy his fancy organic food (which apparently did not keep him from getting cancer), or when I looked at his scratching post and toys (which Minnie is enjoying), and definitely today, on National Pet Day.

I've had kitties since I was five years old. Mercy, I got as a kitten when I was five and named her all by myself, after my mom said "No" to naming her Cindy. Mercy had feline leukemia, and died my first year away at college. Kitty overlapped Mercy a little: I got her for my 13th birthday from two school friends. Kitty was the one who lived to be twenty-three. Then came Herb and his sister Laverne. I, sadly, had to surrender Laverne after a few years because I was afraid Herb was going to kill her - he was really Alpha and really possessive.

I am the Constant Cat Lady. I will, however, take solace in comparison. At the check-in counter at the Humane Society, the desk clerk asks you several questions, including, "How many pets do you currently have at home?" While I was sitting and waiting to see the cats, a woman came in and her answer to that question was, "Five cats, two dogs".

I patted myself on the back for not being a cat-hoarder. Oh, now wait. That sounds like I'm being judgemental. I am! Five cats is too many. Unless you have a farm.

I don't have a farm. And one cat is plenty for me.

My mom once said, "I can't picture you without a cat." And now she won't have to. R.I.P. to my little Herbie, and Happy National Pet Day to pet owners, everywhere!