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Does This Kind of Thing Only Happen to Me?

So.

I’m no stranger to embarrassment.

I mean… I survived a 3-hour interview with a spider bite on my ass.  I showed a middle-aged woman at the airport a vagina on my kindle.  I read every book in the Gossip Girl series until the original author stopped writing them and they tried to continue the series with ghost writers and then they started sucking.

Because I’m pretty positive they didn’t suck before that.

And admitting that is embarrassing.

Which is probably why my face didn’t even flush a little yesterday when it probably should have.  Because the good thing about embarrassing yourself on a regular basis is that you actually get used to it.  You learn how to laugh at yourself in a way that says to any witnesses, Yeah I just did that.  Yuck it up, Chuckles.  It’s just another day.

And yesterday was no exception.

It was supposed to be a balmy 78-degrees, so I figured I’d take advantage of possibly the last unseasonably warm day this year by wearing a lightweight dress to work that had a wrap skirt.  For the fellas, this is basically a skirt that overlaps on itself, like when you wrap a towel around your waist coming out of the shower.

The whole ensemble was probably around $28 at Tarjay.  Because I’m spendy like that.

What I didn’t realize is that if I want to start earning a little extra cash, wearing this dress would be a good place to start.  Following a lunch meeting yesterday, my boss, Alpha and I were standing outside of the restaurant along one of the busiest streets in town, engaging in a healthy work debate that had spilled out into the parking lot.

My boss was mid-point, and it was a good one at that, when a mischievous gust of wind decided to entangle itself in my skirt, “unwrapping” it, so to speak, in one of those Marilyn Monroe moments that would be all hot and glamorous if I were… you know… Marilyn Monroe, but I’m clearly not,  and instead I was just a 29-year-old woman flashing her undergarments to her co-worker, her boss, and countless passerby on a 5 lane road.

Yeah, that’s not me.

All I can say is, thank God I was wearing undergarments.  Cute ones.

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Apparently My Design Genes Have Been Replaced With Wine.

It occurred to me that I’ve never showed you our living room.

I mean, aside from this picture from move-in day:

And, while it’s far from finished, I think it’s come a long way since then.

This is slightly embarrassing.  This is a photo I quickly snapped when the room was clean for about 4 seconds.  It’s especially embarrassing after recently publishing photos of my friend Matt’s ridiculously awesome home on Re-Nest.  I wish I could replace everything in my house with his delicious, paint-peely, story-filled furniture, but alas.  New furniture — even old new furniture — is just not in the cards right now.  Which is why, dear readers, it’s important to collect things you love slowly over time.

A lesson I still clearly need to learn.

Anyway.  Looking at the above photo, it’s obvious I like things cozy, and, as determined by that style quiz of yore, I’m into a room with craftsman style that’s apparently filled with booze.

Hey, that’s the quiz talkin’– not me.

But it’s also me,

The overstuffed sofas have seen better days, as I’ve mentioned before.  They’re too big for the room and happen to be the first new furniture Justin and I bought together… seven years ago.

Everything else is way too matchy-matchy — my entertainment console on the left, which I’ve had for 9 years, used to be blonde wood laminate that I’ve since disassembled and painted dark.  Then apparently I went on a dark wood kick, because the Target bookshelf, end tables, and sofa table (not pictured), are also all dark wood.  Matching dark wood.

And finally, the carpet.

That carpet is nasty.

Like, installed-in-1994-and-survived-years-of-renters nasty.

And I use the term “survived” loosely.  As in, it’s still there.  Mostly.

And this, my friends, is next on the list.  We’re getting ready to order some laminate floors.

Why laminate?

Well, we’re set on a DIY install to save some much-needed moolah, and wood requires a lot more work (nailing, gluing, etc.).  Also, while we’re getting a really nice laminate, the material is less expensive than wood.  Also, we’ve really already spent too much money on this house for its price point, so we really shouldn’t expect to recoup anything else we spend.  Higher end laminate will look just as nice as wood floors, and while it doesn’t have the classic longevity, frankly, we’re not going to be here long enough to care.  Plus, with the warranty, this laminate should last much — much – longer than carpet.

This is what we’ve been eyeballin’.  In the Cosmopolitan color.  Yes, it’s high gloss, which worries me, too.

Anyway.  I’ll share more details on that when we actually order.

I just thought you should know.

Any strong opinions out there on laminate vs. hardwood?   Are we making a horrible mistake?  Should we just abandon the house and move now to a yurt in northern California?

Actually, the yurt thing doesn’t sound like a bad backup plan.

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What say you?

Stone Soup. With Chicken, Cheese, Spices, and Tortilla Chips.

When I was a kid, I had a book called Stone Soup.  It was about a hungry traveler who wandered into a village one day, but none of the suspicious villagers would offer him anything to eat.  So he somehow found (or brought?) this giant pot, filled it with water, and stuck a stone inside.  A curious villager walked by, and asked the traveler what he was doing.

“Why, I’m making stone soup!” he said.  “It really is an excellent dish — rich and hearty, but could really be so much better with just a few carrots.”

Intrigued, the villager ran home, grabbed some carrots, and tossed them into the soup.

After that, villager after villager stopped by to learn about the interesting soup, and each one contributed something — plump chicken, fresh herbs, hearty vegetables — to “help” the stone reach its full potential as a primary soup ingredient.  At the end, they all enjoyed delicious stone soup together, and the traveler was heralded as some sort of culinary genius.

Of course, I didn’t realize it at the time, but while reading this as a kid, I was learning a valuable lesson about how to trick people into giving you what you want sharing.

And now that the weather is properly chilly, I couldn’t help but think of stone soup last night as I made Nearly Famous Chicken Tortilla Soup contributed to TastyKitchen.com by Sommer from A Spicy Perspective.

As usual, head on over to her site for much better photography and a printable version of her fantastic recipe.

I only recently started getting into soup.  Last year’s post-hard drive crashing discovery of Spicy Tuscan Soup made me realize that soup should be the comfort food of choice come winter.

Spicy Tuscan Soup

Aside from the requisite prep work of chopping ingredients, soup requires very little effort with very big rewards.

And this one — This Chicken Tortilla Soup — is definitely no exception.

*All of the following photos are examples of why it’s so important to have natural light with food photography.  Unfortunately for you, I’m not willing to cook my dinner at 3 in the afternoon, so you’ll have to deal with my funky light photography.

To make it, you will need:

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 small chopped onion
  • 2/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro (divided)
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic (yep, I cheated this time and used the pre-minced stuff)
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes (the recipe doesn’t say whether these should be drained, so I drained them.)
  • 3/4 Tbsp. ground cumin (Can I please take a moment to say how much I love cumin? It’s my favorite spice.)
  • 1/2 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 whole bay leaves
  • 4 cups chicken broth (I used the chicken goop stuff that makes broth when added to boiling water. I hear it’s better than the bouillon cubes, and if you look at the ingredients, I think you’ll agree.)
  • 2 large carrots, sliced thin
  • 1 can black beans, drained & rinsed (optional — this isn’t part of the recipe, but I added them.  Because I’m crazy like that.)
  • 1 whole chicken breast, sliced thin (this means both breasteses.  If you buy your meat at a meat counter, you can get the whole breast, which is 2 halves attached in the center.  If you buy the packaged stuff at the grocery store, what you’re really getting is chicken breast halves.  So in that case, use 2.)
  • 1 1/2 c. freshly grated Monterrey Jack cheese (divided)
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 c. crushed tortilla chips, plus extra for garnish
  • 1 avocado, sliced (for garnish)

1)  Heat the 2 Tbsp. of oil in a large pot, then saute the onion and 1/3 cup cilantro and 1 Tbsp. garlic for 3-4 minutes.

2)  Add the can of diced tomatoes, 3/4 Tbsp. cumin, 1/2 Tbsp chili powder, 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper.  Stir it around and smell the goodness and let it get nice and hot.

3)  Add the 4 cups of chicken broth, then toss in the carrots, bay leaves, and raw sliced chicken breasts.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and let the carrots and meat cook for 10-12 minutes.  Also, this is where you can add that optional can of rinsed black beans.

4)  This is where we get a little crazy.  Take out the bay leaves, then stir in half of the Monterrey Jack cheese (or, if you’re like me, grate extra and stir in about a cup of cheese).

Then, crush up a cup of tortilla chips (I find that placing the chips inside a ziploc bag and using a wine bottle to do the crushing works nicely), and toss those into the soup as well.

Spoon it up into a bowl, add some more cheese, sliced avocado (this is a must), and a few more tortilla chips.

Mmmmm.

Make this today.  If you’re really smart, you’ll start with a rock in a pot of water and get your neighbors to do the rest.

But if you decide to do it yourself, I think you’ll find it’s not that hard.

Enjoy!

And That is Why Heads is Better than Tails

Back in 3rd grade, they made us do the dreaded Mile Run in school as part of physical training.

Do they still make kids do The Mile?  Or has that gone the way of Red Rover and those plastic things we used to use to corral our giant t-shirts into a fashionable dangling cloth tail on the side of our hip?

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Anyway.  They made us run a mile, then they would herd us back inside the school and make us stand in those double lines — do you remember the double lines?  I guess they did that because single lines were too long, and they worried kids might start falling off the back or that the end would get pinched off like the tail of a lizard and then they’d have to explain to parents that their children are missing because line length got way out of control and no one wants that job, so it was best to double up the lines to keep everyone together yet still encourage a little healthy competition and line placement envy among classmates.

For example.

My BFFTTILIM (Best Friend For The Time I Lived In Minnesota) ended up in line A, while I was in line B.  And, via careful eye judgment (I was so good, I didn’t even have to count to measure someone’s line placement), I could tell that she was effectively 2 spots ahead of me.

Not cool.

It was a known fact that ideally, BFs would be in the exact same spot if they found themselves in separate lines, so they could walk directly next to each other down the hallway.

No hierarchy in a healthy friendship, nosiree.

But, if they were in the same line, then one needed to be directly in front of the other.  There could be no intruders between them in the friendship bubble.

So the fact that I was in a separate line and approximately 2 spaces back served up a bit of a predicament.  In third grade, this was the kind of thing that could ruin a whole day.  Something had to be done.

I decided to employ Heads or Tails.

In case you’re unfamiliar, this isn’t the heads or tails of a coin flip.  No, it’s much more elementary with a decidedly higher risk factor because the outcome is not based on chance, but on a person’s decision.  See, any good kid knew that  you couldn’t just cut in line.  But, if you had the permission of the person in front of whom you wanted to cut, it was acceptable.  The rest of the line just had to deal with it.

Pensively, I glanced over at my BFFTTILIM.  She knew what I was thinking.  I smiled, knowingly, and asked, “Heads?” just loud enough for the students in close proximity to hear.  The girl behind me perked up, knowing this could potentially lead to a line promotion for her.

My BFFTTILIM thought for a second, then, to my slight dismay and embarrassment, smiled and said, “Tails.”

I sighed.  Tails was acceptable, meaning I could come over and stand behind her, rather than in front, but the public slight introduced that hierarchy thing back into the sitch, and no one is comfortable when that happens.  Everyone knew that Heads was better, because it showed true faith in the friendship.  Heads was about loyalty.  Heads was about trust.

A boy named Jason was standing behind my BF, and he did not look pleased about the fact that I would be cutting in front of him.  But them’s the rules in Heads or Tails, and there was no logic in arguing with that.

He had a slight frown, and looked a little upset.  I shot him a sheepish smile and sauntered over to the spot directly behind my friend.  “Everyone face forward!” directed the teacher, and that we did, but not before exchanging a quick BF high-five.

Then it hit me.

Quite literally.

A powerful blow of projectile vomit all over my back and in my hair and down my shirt.

It was red.

The smell was not pleasant.

I was right.  Jason had been upset.  But not about me cutting in line.  More likely, he was regretting the apparent gallon of Kool-aid he’d decided to drink before running the mile.  So he expelled it.

A small drop got onto BF’s shirt, and she was quite distraught.

I’m pretty sure that’s the first time I ever wanted to punch someone in the face.

I don’t remember much of what happened after that — riding home in a garbage bag, a very long shower, then cheerily walking back to school with BF and homemade ice-tray popsicles.

They were orange.

Not red.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I had learned 2 valuable lessons that day:

Heads isn’t better because it represents loyalty and trust.  Heads is better because you know the person standing behind you.

Also, if you’re going to screw someone over, make sure that what you get out of the deal is worth it.

In most cases, it’s probably not.

P.S. My first post got published on Re-Nest — check it out!

Sticks ‘n Stones…

I think I want to talk about ugly people this morning.

Not “ugly” as in physically unattractive, but people who are coarse and calloused.  Like unpedicured skin under a big toe.

Abrasive.

Sandpaper.

Fortunately for me, it’s rare that I’ve encountered these people in my life.  The ones who are genuinely mean.  The ones who take pleasure in causing others pain.  And especially the ones who know it.

I can tell the real ones — the genuinely bad ones — apart from the ones who were just brought up rough, who don’t know how to handle themselves, who have issues deeper than the need to hurt, by the way they make me feel.  If I mostly just feel sorry for them, they’re the ones who can still be helped. Who probably aren’t really mean, but, for whatever reason, have a hard time with the world.  They’re fixable.  And one day, if someone is patient with them, they can find a way to be happy.

But the others?  The unfixable ones?  They make me feel frustrated.  Angry.  Sometimes hurt, if I forget myself and the fact that they don’t matter in the scheme of things.

And the bitch of it is, they’re relentless.  An air of nastiness precedes them when they walk into a room, and your muscles tense, and your jaw clenches, and you can feel the eggshells scatter across the floor like a flower girl tossing out so many petals.

How many times can a person not react when a rock is thrown?  A jibe is tossed?  A button is pushed?

The answer is, countless times.  Because as difficult as it is to not react to a person like this, the alternative feeds them.

It’s the oldest lesson in the book, but for some reason it’s one of the hardest to grasp.

Just ignore it.

It’s HARD because words do hurt.  But it’s important, my friends, to take into account where the words are coming from.  If they’re coming from an ugly person — a person who feeds from your pain — then their words have no meaning.  They’re just tools that person uses to get what she wants from you.

A reaction.

And if there’s anyone in this world who doesn’t deserve to get what she wants, it’s the calloused canker sore of a bitch who will never understand.  Who will never know what it’s like to have friends or people in her life who don’t tiptoe around her acidic aura.  And I’d pity her if it weren’t a waste of my time, because she likes how she is.

So.

It’s unfortunate that these people exist.  But they do.  And we can choose to let them affect us — to make us uglier, too, with our reactions.

Or we can let it slide.

I know which way I choose.

How about you?

 

 

My First 29th Was A Good One.

I’ll admit it.  I was kind of spoiled for my birthday this year.

Apparently Justin was feeling generous.  Or he was in a rare shopping kind of mood.  Or he was worried that if I walked in on him hastily filling out my card at 6 p.m. on the day of for the 8th year in a row, that I’d be taking myself somewhere special for celebratory drinks.

Like Morocco.

Not only did he have my work breakfast all set up for me…

…but he also had a card with a note, part of which read, “I love you and hope to help make your 29′s special — no mater how many of them you want to have.”

Can I hear a collective awwwww?

And the card was about beer.

He knows me so well.

Speaking of knowing me well, he also bought me new wine glasses.

These.

I was down to 3 remaining cheapo glasses that would break if you looked at them too intensely, so these were perfect — especially if I ever want to, you know, share my wine with friends.

He also bought me this:

We spotted it at the Sanford Antique Mall a couple of months ago.  For some reason I’ve been wanting a retro desk fan, and this one had me at “I saw you on the floor in some forgotten corner, and I knew we were meant to be.”

But alas, the store proprietors wouldn’t satisfy my need to haggle, so we walked away empty-handed.

Justin, who’s never cared much for haggling, went back to get it to surprise me.  And apparently it doesn’t count if you didn’t get a bargain on your birthday.  Because it’s your birthday.

She’s a little scratched and dented.

Kind of like me.

But the best part?

I have to say the best part was the homemade cheesecake.

The homemade key lime cheesecake with black raspberry swirls.

Yep.

Spoiled, I was.

And this doesn’t even cover what we did this weekend.

And now, all I can say is, wow.

He really set the bar for my next 29th.

Ode to the Good Stuff

I’m feeling exceptionally poetic today.

Not particularly articulate, but poetic.

So here’s to the good stuff –

like screen porch naps on warm October afternoons…

(Cell phone pic)

like men with dogs…

like the word “persimmons”…

like sticking your hand in a colander full of cooked noodles…

like fuzzy bees…

like babies with cell phones…

like my office… wherever it happens to be.

I’m sitting in my backyard office and it smells like fall.

I think I’m starting to be okay with that.

And even if I’m not, I will deal because my office has wine.

Does anyone else like to stick their hands in colanders of cooked noodles, or is that just me?  What kind of stuff are you oding these days?

I’m Pretty Sure My Dog Was the Happiest Dog

So.  Even though I didn’t get to tell you about the most wonderfully delicious hot dog ever on Tuesday because I was distracted with 2 flat tires (no, not Fat Tires — flat tires. big difference.) and ended up turning hot dogs into a philosophical discussion on life, the post still spurred some interesting and impassioned hot dog comments.

Well.

I hope you didn’t lose steam, because this is the actual hot dog post.  I kind of love it when you comment, because it validates my existence or something.  And I look forward to reading every single one of them.

Anyway.

I love me a good hot dog.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s a rare occasion that you’d ever find one of those pink, plasticy, compressed impersonators that squeak when you bite into them sitting inside of my fridge.  I’ll eat those, yes, but that’s not a proper hot dog.  I’m talking about big, brown, juicy beef franks with real meat grease and manly grill marks.

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See what I mean?

The best dog I ever ate purely for the meat taste factor was actually at a Five Guys restaurant.  Yep, a fast food joint.  Once I moved mentally past the oddity of a hot dog split lengthwise down the middle, the thing was gone in 3 bites flat.  It was insanely good, to the point where it probably didn’t need a single topping.

But.

The great thing about hot dogs is that your options are really limitless when it comes to dressing it up.  It just never occurred to me how limitless until my brother took us to Happy Dog in Cleveland.

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When he parked outside of the dark, corner bar, I was thinking, Great!  Pre-dinner drinks!

I definitely wasn’t thinking, Great!  Dinner!

Until, that is, I saw the menu.

I’m sorry once again for the blur.  It was pretty dark in there, and all I had was my cell phone camera.

For someone who’s terrified of making decisions, this menu was daunting, to say the least.  The first part was easy — I just had to choose between a veggie dog and a real dog.  Um… do they even know me?  (No, but they probably should.)

I checked the circle for the real dog and moved on.

Uh-oh.

So many things to try!

What’s Brazilian chimichurri?  And would it taste good with Oaxacan red chile and chocolate mole, topped with Polish ‘cwikla?

And is it socially acceptable to order a hot dog chopped with Korean kim chee, Greek feta cheese, and Marcella’s grape jelly and chile sauce?

Are we allowed to mix ethnicities, or is this a segregated hot dog joint?

Is this going to end up with me mixing a bunch of things I like but they don’t actually taste good together?

What’s more, if I don’t know what these things taste like alone, how am I going to know if they’re good together?!

OMG-if-someone-doesn’t-help-me-soon-I-might-die-from-overstimulation-caused-by-50-topping-choices-and-countless-combinations-and-where-is-my-frickin’-BEER?

Then, just when I started to break into a cold sweat, the server told me they had a suggestion menu.

My savior.

Among the suggested options were:

“Childhood Favorite”: ketchup, traditional yellow mustard, chopped onions, Spaghetti O’s, and nacho cheese.

“(no title)”: Bertman’s Original Ballpark mustard, killer steak sauce, bourbon baked beans, habanero pickled red onions, and Frito corn chips.

Justin ended up choosing the “Happy Dog Favorite” with Cajun mayonnaise – Remoulade, bacon spiked southern style beans, smoked Gouda cheese, and a sunny-side-up fried egg.  Or maybe it was the one with chipotle hollandaise, cheddar cheese, Nueske bacon, and a sunny-side-up-fried egg?  I can’t remember.  But it definitely had an egg.  And I’m pretty sure he ordered Gouda.

Wowza.

I ended up getting a bit fancy, choosing a title-less suggested combination of bacon-balsamic marmalade, pineapple-ginger chutney, caramelized onions, and French brie cheese.

And then I died.

And then I came back to life so I could finish the dog and name it “Sweet ‘n Savory a la Bacon with a ‘Stache.”  I’m not sure why.  It just works.

And then I died again.

I still have dreams about it.

My only complaint is that the bun wasn’t fantastic.  In fact, I had to finish the dog with a fork and knife, which is like… hot dog defamation, but what’s a girl to do when her brie is jumping ship?

Happy Dog really should invest in some sturdier buns, or even toast them to ensure they can handle the smorgasbord of deliciousness that gets piled on top, making even happier dogs.

After all, you can’t build a skyscraper on a soggy wetland.  Otherwise you get… I don’t know… The Leaning Tower of Pisa?

On the back of the menu is a simple choice of sides: tater tots or french fries, followed by a not-so-simple choice of dipping sauces and toppings.  I especially enjoyed the saffron aioli and the raspberry crunch mustard.

Just not together.

Pair your custom dog and tots with a Stella Artois (for me) or your beverage of choice, and the result is one happy dog.

Thanks, brother.  You know me so well.

They Say that Wisdom Comes with Age. I Hope That’s No Lie.

Well, it’s weird.

The earth has circled the sun exactly 29 times since the day I decided to grace all of you with my presence — not in the blog world, obviously, since I was old enough to remember my dad bringing home our very first Apple computer, complete with green screen and a joystick, of all the coolest things to get invented.

Next to jelly shoes and slap bracelets, of course.

It’s weird, because I don’t feel a day over 34.

Kidding.

I think it’s safe to say that I’m in a very different place from the one I was in at this same time last year.  Not just physically, since back then I was, as my dear friend Erin reminded me this morning, “sipping Imperials in grubby, worn-out flip-flops while sitting in an open-air restaurant that we had to walk 2 miles down a dirt road (and then scramble to somehow put together the 3 colones for the cab ride) to get to,” and tonight I’ll likely be sipping much-more-expensive mojitos with some fantastic girlfriends at a restaurant I drive to myself.

Morning view last year:

Morning view this year:

Sure, they both involve fog, but my, how times change.

Also, I’m different.

The quarter-life crisis (or maybe now it’s more accurately a third-life crisis) is still lurking, like a funky aftertaste or sticky morning mouth, but it’s less… potent.

And I think it’s because I’m finally starting to find my way.

Do you know that feeling, when you dive deep down into a murky lake, and somehow you become all discombobulated from turning and spinning and having a grand ol’ time, and then, out of nowhere, it gets scary because you realize you’re no longer sure which way is up?

Suddenly you’re terrified because there is a very real possibility that you’re swimming in the wrong direction, further away from the breathable clarity of the surface, until you find yourself face-planting into the sandy bottom.

Yep, I actually did that once.

But figuratively speaking, that’s me as well.  I’ve been face-planting for a while now, and it feels like maybe I’ve finally been able to gain some precarious footing and push off of the pliable sand.

I’m not sure where I’m going, but at least it’s somewhere.

And anywhere is better than hitting bottom.

I can already tell it’s going to be a good day, because I emerged from my steamy shower and padded into the kitchen to discover that Justin had left me this:

Coffee ready-to-go and a piece of bread in the toaster, just waiting to get crunchified and spread with peanut butter and jelly.

The perfect work morning breakfast.

And already I can see that the fog is starting to clear.