Virgin's Guide to Burning Man

A Virgin's Guide to Burning Man can be found here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Tasting Grace is on the Move

Tasting Grace is moving! I have designed a new website, and with the help of my husband Toby, have set up Tasting Grace at a new location: So for those of you who are following through google reader, google friend connect, blogger dashboard, or rss feeds will need to update the web address (sorry!). The new website is through Word Press instead of Blogger, so should be much easier for nonmembers to make comments.

The website design is done 100% by yours truly, so I'd love to hear feedback and commentary on whether you like the new art and layout.

Sorry for any inconvenience, but hopefully the new site will be cleaner and easier for everyone in the long run!

Spontaneously Not Spontaneous

I am spontaneous. I love going out on random expeditions at the drop of a hat, whether it be just out to a movie, visit family, or to scamper off to a foreign country (when the wallet permits). If a friend calls me up wanting to do something fun, I have no problem dropping everything to show up on their doorstep seven minutes later. And I'm adaptable. I can go with an itinerary or without.

Unless I have serious work to do. Then I either need a little extra cajoling or perhaps an hour or two to finish up and then head out.

I kind of like this part of my personality. It gives me freedom and variety in my life, and I think inserts a dollop of vivacity and fun in my otherwise reserved demeanor. If I had to write a Top Ten list of things I like about myself, this would probably be on it.

So it comes to my surprise and dismay when I learn that actually I don't always do well when there is no plan at all and I expect there to be one. This isn't true in foreign countries because...well, frankly, I generally expect things not to go as planned in foreign countries. But if I have notions that things will pan out one way and then everything is suddenly up in the air, I get frustrated. I seethe. Especially, as my husband points out, when the lack of plan gets in between me and the consumption of food within reasonable intervals. I get grumpy and sarcastic and am suddenly that old man grumbling incoherently at innocent passersby.

I don't think it's a control issue because I don't always feel I need to be in control or always have to have my way - though things going my way is, of course, desirable. But it might be true that the crux of the biscuit lies somewhere in the category of whether I feel the plan changes involved consideration of me. For example, if someone says they'll visit at a particular hour, but then calls 15 minutes after they were supposed to arrive to say that, actually, they'll be there in another half hour. And then this happens repeatedly until half my day is wasted waiting - because what can you do for half an hour when you're prepared and expecting to leave? - when I could have spent the time doing something else until the time the person actually showed up.

And this is when I face the fact I'm a self-centered curmudgeon who appreciates punctuality, and failing punctuality, at least an apology. Nothing big, just some token to show they realize they've been obnoxious. Because people should always be thinking of the effects their actions have on me, right?

...No? ....Oh. Darnit.

I mean, because that's the consideration I would show them.

...and I expect everyone to act like me., that's not what I mean either.

So, yes. Self-centered curmudgeon. Must work on that. Oh, the failings of being an only child.

P.S. This post is my 100th post! I had actually hoped to celebrate with the unveiling of my blog's new location, but am still waiting for new location to be ready. It's thisclose to being ready, but alas, it is not. So I'll have to settle for Ugly-Truth-About-Self blog instead.

Friday, August 7, 2009


The yogini walked around the class dabbing essential oils in our palms; some mixture of roses, citrus, and yleng yleng. As I rubbed the oils between my hands and brought the scent to my face, I was hit, forcibly, with the scent of my grandmother. She died two years ago, and still her scent has the power to undo me. Overcome, I lay there, crying in shavasana.

My grandmother was the salt of the earth. Raised on a farm in Supunburi, Thailand, she knew what it was to till the soil and set ancient roots. She gave birth to five girls, and when her husband met an untimely passing, she raised them on her own. She was solid, heavy-boned. Her skin looked like worn, browned leather, but felt like soft butter cream. Barely 4'11", she was compact in size, but dynamite can come in small packages. She didn't talk much, but she never hesitated to tell it like it is.

She used to tell my father, who had quite inappropriately never paid a dowry when he married my mother, that proper Thai women will massage a man's feet when he comes home from work. My dad would eye my mother and say, "I don't get any of that." My grandmother would retort, "You get what you pay for."

Because we lived on two different continents for most of my life, I never spent much time with my grandmother, and most of the time we did have together, I was fairly young - around 7 or 8. She spoke only Thai, and at the time I spoke only English, so most communication revolved around sleeping, eating, and making funny noises at each other until we both heaved with laughter. With such little verbal communication between us, I don't suppose I can say I knew her in the way most people know others. But somehow I don't feel that I needed to. Because sometimes, when it comes to family, words are superfluous. I feel in her my blood, and in my bones, and it is there that I know her.

My Asian grandmother was like a solitary storm cloud hovering on the south east horizon. She was silent and steady, heavy with the volition of ancestral spirits. Though diminuitive in size, her presence was larger than life. She was hardened, tough, and weathered by the processes of time. But there was a depth to her; a depth so profound that one couldn't help but always keep her in the corner of one's eye, even when she was far away. She was the matriach. It was foolish to make a move without first considering her. All of life moved below her, under her watchful eye. When she passed, it was like the heavy storm cloud dissipating into the light. Though she is gone, the memory of her is an indelible imprint; like a footstep pressed into sand.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

You Capture – You

I have a confession to make.
I'm a mommy blogger wannabe.

I want into that club. But no matter how badly I might want to, I cannot join that club because I am missing one key ingredient: a child. I want children. I want to hear the pitter-patter of little feet down wooden hallways. I want to read my kids stories, to see their first steps, hear their first words, and meet their first friends, favorites, and loves.

But since I cannot have children or even a house just yet, I have to soothe the beast that is my biological imperative by any means I can. So I embarked upon a project to take our tiny little shoebox apartment and upgrade everything I could to make it a home. (To see the results, you can go to my blogpost on it here.)

So this is me. Laying bare my heart's desire and my modest attempts to seek it.

This is my hand, painting my dream, that I may call it a home.

These are my feet, bearing me upon the precipe, that I might reach for the sky.

This is my face wishing, and my heart thrumming, that I might satiate the beast within...
... just one day more.

“I must obey the inscrutable exhortations of my soul.” - Calvin & Hobbes

For more self-portraits, check out Beth's website: I Should Be Folding Laundry and this week's You Capture challenge!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Things I Wish I'd Learned in High School

When I look back on my high school education, there's not much I can think of that I learned that's really stuck with me over the years. Geometry? Pssh. Biology? Ha! History? Doubt it. Most of what I know of history I learned after high school. Pretty much only some books I read in my Literature class and the lessons on how to write essays really stuck with me.

And really, I'm not feeling like I'm missing out on too much for not remembering most of those four years because in my daily life I just don't encounter such things often.

But what I do wish is that high school had a Life Skills class. This class might be similar to Home Ec, which my school actually didn't have. But a Life Skills class would be more comprehensive; not just cooking or carrying an egg around, pretending it's an actual child. It should be a year long course, senior year, when students realize that hey, maybe this stuff could come in handy. (Yes, I know, I hear teachers and administrators grumbling "Good luck finding resources for that.")

It would include segments on:
- How to write a business letter and resume

- How to do well in a job interview, and other professional etiquette

- How to change your oil & tires, and other basic car maintenance
Because you never know when you'll actually need this kind of information. Or at least, if you'd rather not spend the dough to have someone else do it for you (because pedicures are much more fun ways to use that money).

- How to use a sewing machine
I confess. For the life of me, I cannot use a sewing machine. I can sew well by hand, but that takes forever. So I borrowed my mom's machine and I got online instructions on how to thread it and of course it was step-by-step with illustrative pictures for mounting the spool and getting the thread to the needle. But then the complex bit with the bobbin was reduced to "you just put the doohickey in and around the thingamabob, turn and pull the loop up tight and there you go!" Wait, what? The more sure I was I had finally gotten it right, the bigger disaster I created when I actually tried to use the thing. In the battle between me and the machine, the Singer won.

- How to understand credit cards, mortgages, and manage them wisely
Credit crisis. Need I say more?

- A whole month could be devoted to conflict management
In college, I took a class on conflict management and it was definitely one of the most useful classes I've ever had in my life. People don't know how to deal with conflict, and often end up exacerbating the argument when they're just trying to resolve it. Little do they realize, their own actions are what fuels the conflict more than anything else. Learning how to stand up for yourself, listen to what the other is saying, and still find ways to de-escalate a tense situation is a lesson everyone can use. Might save a marriage or two. At least, people might come to understand that everybody has a role to play in creating a conflict and that we all must own up to our own responsibility when things go wrong. Nobody is only victim, much as we might like to think so.

- How to be a good citizen
More than just understanding the process and knowing the institutions (which is what your Government class is supposed to cover), students should be taught the importance of various civic duties like voting and charity & community service, as well as how to perform such functions. But they should also learn more about other roles they can perform as a citizen, such as: buying products in a socially conscious way, engaging productively in discussions with others about politics to learn about different points of views, serving in the military, and the myriad ways they can make themselves heard (not just once every four years at the ballot box). Not saying everybody has to do all these things all the time, but students should be encouraged to engage with society in deeper and broader ways.

- How to live in a more eco-friendly way
This is a huge topic, so maybe it would work best to be directed by class interest, beyond such staples as recycling and being product conscious. But it could cover anything from energy efficiency to urban farming, all in ways that are simultaneously cost-conscious. Ultimately, people are free to choose to live life how they want to, but I do think these things are becoming a big enough fact of life that people should know at least how to go about living in a more eco-friendly way, should they decide to do so.

True, we live now in the great age of the internet, where most of this information can be found online. But who wants to learn everything the hard way? (wink) Are there any life skills you wish someone had taught you, or that you think more people need to know?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Something's in the Water

The weirdest thing just happened today. I was thinking about things I just need to get up the gumption to go out and fight for. Things that require leaving the comfort of "I will do it someday" to actually go out and do right now. There will almost inevitably be frustration and disappointment...but the dream is worth fighting for.

And as I was thinking those thoughts, I strolled across a blog I read regularly that spoke right to me and told me to get out there and fucking fight for it, and what the hell are you waiting for, already? Pardon my french.

And I was thinking: What a strange thing to come across something I needed to hear when I wasn't looking to hear it. Was it fate? Was it coincidence? And as I was thinking those thoughts, I came across a blog I've never read before in my life that said, quite randomly, at the very bottom of its page:

I don't believe in coincidence.

Message received.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Nesting Pains Soothed

For those following the Nesting Pains saga, today we find its culmination. In the final fit of turning Shoebox Apartment into Home, I painted our kitchen cabinets and living room walls (landlord be damned). And the result is deeply satisfying.

I sought to try out a new aesthetic: something along the lines of vintage Victorian; classy, with a little funk.

These were my tools.
This was the coffee I cracked myself out on.
This is what the kitchen used to look like.
This is what it looks like now.
Instead of the drab old gray, I introduced a sunny, minty green. With cute little accents like these.
And these.
Then I took our boring, white living room walls and painted them a lovely, dove gray, which complements so nicely the new kitchen green.
And looks so elegant with the white trim, and blends so well with our new bathroom decor.
I especially love little details like this pink orchid against the gray wall.
And the gorgeous new pillow covers I found on Etsy (from seller Clee27).
I'm still waiting for my new table runner to arrive in the mail, but once it does, my renovations will be complete.

A little paint will go a long way towards soothing one's soul.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cinnamon-Nutella and Coconut-Raisin Cookies

I really wanted to make some cookies as a gift for friends, but we're on a bit of a tight budget lately, so I tried to scrounge around the kitchen for something I could make with just the ingredients I happened to have on hand. What did I come up with?
Coconut, raisins, and nutella. What the heck was I gonna make with that?

I figured coconut and raisins would go well together and nutella could probably stand on its own. So I went to a recipe for cinnamon cookies, which I thought would make a good baseline recipe for my little treat experiments.

I should probably take a minute to explain my style in the kitchen a bit. My mom owns a Thai restaurant and was trained by the chefs for the King of Thailand. So let me just say she knows her stuff. I grew up helping her in the kitchen and she doesn't go by such silly things as "measurements". Pshaw. She was taught to know something is right by how it smells. I'm no where near her league, but being her daughter, I learned to cook by sight and smell. So discussing recipes for cooking in terms of precise measurements is a bit difficult for me. My measurement system consists more of scientific terms like: “some”, “a few splashes”, and “until it smells right”.

But when it comes to baking, I've always followed recipes religiously because baking does seem to require more precision. Which, funnily enough, is why my mom can't bake. Her pineapple upside-down cake is only upside-down 'cuz that's the only way she can get it out of the pan. With the help of a hammer. And a lot of sweating and a rapid stream of Thai expletives. So the family - in a fit of self-preservation - calls on me at Christmas time to deliver the baked goods. And for that reason, I follow baking recipes down to every last 1/16th of a teaspoon. The fact that I'm experimenting with baking recipes is actually me going out on a serious limb here.

Anyway, back to cooking.

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup sweet butter, room temperature
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ brown sugar

Add ins:
about ¼ - ½ cup nutella
½ cup raisins
¼ cup shredded coconut

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Sift flour, salt and cinnamon into a bowl.

3. In a separate bowl, cream butter until soft. Add white sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Beat eggs and vanilla together, then stir into the butter-sugar mixture. Mix well, then stir in the dry ingredients. Add brown sugar and mix thoroughly.

[Interesting side note: The baseline recipe I used to launch my experiment called for only 2 cups of flour, but this produced a mixture so wet it reminded me of the time I worked at a B&B and was making chocolate chip cookies for a busy weekend. I got distracted by the phone and ended up with only half the flour I was supposed to have, leading to a chocolate-buttery splooge instead of proper cookies. Being busy and not a little panicked, I scooped it up into little bites and sprinkled powdered sugar over it, and smiled nonchalantly as the guests gobbled it up. Goes to show: add enough sugar and butter and you can't go too far wrong with what people will eat. However, for this recipe, there was no way the sticky mess would roll into a decent log, so I doubled the flour and added a little brown sugar and salt for good luck.]

4. Spread out a generous handful of flour on a rolling mat or cutting board. In the bowl, knead the dough into a ball and cut roughly in half. Take one half and roll out into a ¼”-thick rectangle (I think mine was about 9 x 12” in size.) - orienting it with one of the longer sides facing you is probably easiest.

[Another note: a superb rolling pin is a MUST in any baker's kitchen. Anything less is like showing up to the Preakness with a mule.]

Using a butter knife, carefully spread a thin layer of nutella across the dough, trying to get as close up to the edges as possible. Then very carefully, take one of the longer ends and begin to roll the whole piece into a log. The first bit takes a little bit of coaxing, but it goes fairly smoothly if you're delicate with it. Wrap the log and stick it in the freezer to chill until hard to the touch (about 45 mins – 1 hour).

5.Take the bowl with the other half of the dough and knead in the raisins and coconut.

6.Grease two cookie sheets really well. Scoop spoonfuls of the dough and roll each like a ball between your palms until smooth and round.
Place them at least an inch apart on the cookie sheets and bake about 15 minutes or until the edges just start to turn brown. This will leave them crispy on the outside but still soft on the inside. Let cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

7.When the nutella log is ready, pull it out of the freezer. Unwrap the foil, and with a sharp knife, cut the log into ½”-inch pieces. Like so:
Place them about an inch apart on lightly greased cookie sheets (I just reused the ones from the coconut raisin cookies, without washing them in between because I was lazy to get the perfect amount of grease.).
Bake for about 12-15 minutes, or until the edges start to brown. Let cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Yields about 18-20 coconut raisin cookies...
and 32 cinnamon nutella cookies.

Survey said:
YUM! These make really cute, decorative cookies, and being a little less malleable than regular chocolate chip-style cookies, they're easier to stack, organize and present. The flavor combinations are really wonderful too, with the coconut raisin cookies more on the spicy side and the nutella cookies on the nuttier side. I'm not usually a fan of the harder, crispier, crunchier cookies, usually erring more on the side of soft and gooshy, but these are super flavorful. In fact, they're downright deceptive: so easy to pop in your mouth, you don't even notice you've become a glutton until you've eaten half the plate. (cough) 'Cept I would never do a thing like that. Nope. Not me. (cough) All in all, these would be great additions for any party! ♥♥♥

Rating System:
♥♥♥♥♥ Omigod this is awesome, I could eat it every night!
♥♥♥♥ Wow this is amazing for a special meal!
♥♥♥ Great choice for a dinner party!
♥♥ Hey, that was pretty good. We should have it again sometime.
♥ Eh. S'all right....
♠ Ugh, no! That was so bad I just had to share.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

You Capture - Friends


After months of lurking around Beth at I Should Be Folding Laundry's website and checking out the various contributions to her You Capture challenge, I finally decided I would up and take that challenge. When I saw this week's You Capture was Friends, I thought to myself, “Sweet!” We had a slew of friends visiting this weekend, and even better, a bunch were coming up to collaborate on a project: the birth of the Spearmint Dino art car for Burning Man. What better opportunity to capture true friendship than a bunch of friends putting their heads together to create a communal art project?

Goes to show, what works in your head doesn't always turn out on film. So we're just gonna have to make do with “happy accidents”, m'kay?

I wouldn't say these are the most gorgeous pictures I've taken aesthetically, but oh, I do love them for their irony.
You can see here, the guys are contemplating the art car because they have effed up have been presented with a challenge. Having built the majority of the art car, they (yes, apparently just now) realize they need to get it from the shop to the house where it will be stored and they hadn't quite planned that far out in their schemations. Trouble is: with the dino coming off about a foot on either side of the golf cart, it no longer fits in the bed of a truck. Being a golf cart which zooms along at a stunning 25 mph, it can't exactly be driven down the 101 – lest even slow-ass old grandpas be reduced to gesticulating rudely in our general direction. Built for the playa, it's meant to be outpaced by passing butterflies. And the guys, as proud little papas of their new baby, are loathe to dismantle it for transportation.

So what do they do? They call AAA.
This picture makes them look like a Christian rock band. 'Cept they're burners. Which is pretty much the antithesis of a Christian rock band.

AAA is entertaining the idea and asks for the addresses of pick-up and drop-off. My husband is negotiating with AAA, but doesn't know the address of the guy's house where it will be stored. Jeremy, the guy who does know the address has gone to the loo. So our friend, Jaime, is calling the guy in the loo for the address on one phone and relaying the information to Toby, who is on the other phone to Triple-A.
They're talking to each other while on their cell phones – just not on the phone with each other.

So while this week's You Capture was supposed to capture friends, and I was going for collaboration, what you see in the pictures is anomie. And a whole lot of technology.
Oh, the irony. (But hot dang, my man – the one in the black top – has a hot bod. Mm. Sorry. Easily distracted, I am.)

And as it turns out, AAA has no problem towing a recreational white and pink dino. What they do have a problem with is the fact that it is unregistered. No unregistered white-pink dinos for Triple A. Their dinos must come with papers. So after all that, the boys had to rent a U-Haul to tow it. Then the U-Haul turned out to be about 4 inches too short and they had to dismantle the dino anyway.

Because this happened:
Dino upload FAIL.

But it'll all be worth it once that dino hits the playa.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Virgin’s Guide to Burning Man

I believe everybody deserves the opportunity to go to Burning Man. Whether or not you decide to take that opportunity is a decision only you can make. Never let someone else tell you whether you should or shouldn’t go. Only you can determine just how willing you are to deal with adverse climates and how open you are to letting go of all societal inhibitions. But there’s nothing worse than being left behind because you’re told you probably can’t deal with it (especially if, in your heart, you disagree). I have a pretty rigid layer of societal inhibition, but it is also pretty thin. When I made the decision to go to Burning Man for the first time, I also made a decision to let that layer go. Turns out, when I opened my eyes on the playa that first morning, I took to that dry lake bed like a duck to water.
That said, Burning Man is not something to take lightly. It’s not camping in Yosemite with the grandparents and it’s not a spectator sport. It’s a mindf*ck, and it’s everything and more you could ever want it to be. But it helps to be prepared. And not just with your camping gear, but with your entire being, mind, heart and soul. To really go to Burning Man, you really have to BE there. To do that, you have to come mentally prepared.
So here is a list of suggestions to help you prepare for your virgin trip to Black Rock City:

1. Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely, you MUST read the Event Survival Guide. In order to be mentally prepared for Burning Man, you must first be physically prepared for it. Make sure you have good shelter, proper equipment to protect yourself and your camp, enough food and water, and other creature comforts to ensure your basic survival. People think Burning Man is all about dropping acid and having sex in the desert, and while for some people that is true, you can’t do either of those things if you’re suffering from dehydration or you’ve effed yourself on some wayward rebar in a duststorm. While people are more than willing to help, there is no guarantee they can and it’s not fair to assume you can leech off the good will of others. It IS radical self-reliance.

2. Bring the craziest, awesomest costumes you can think of. Nobody expects you to act or dress in any particular way – and that is the beauty of Burning Man: you can be WHOEVER the f*ck you want to be. You can go as Superman; you can go in your prom dress, you can go as your total free self; you can even go completely naked the entire seven days you’re there. If you could step into an alternate universe and your outfit could really reflect your inner mushu dingbat fliftybuck, what would it look like? Whatever that is, wear that. You can look however you want to, but do think about it and prepare for it, because otherwise when you get out there and see everyone else floating around with their mojo shining, you’re gonna wish you did that too. My absolute favorite outfit from my first time was a bright hot pink miniskirt with matching cowboy hat and Hello Kitty pasties. And I was hot. Not because I was topless save for two little stickers, but because when I wore that outfit I just exuded confidence and my own little spirit and other people responded to it. It’s not uncommon to walk around the playa and have random strangers tell you how beautiful you are. Because not only are you less inhibited to be yourself, you’re also less inhibited to recognize the beauty of others and tell them you appreciate their existence.

By far, the biggest concern I hear most often from Burning Man virgins is that they fear they don't have the self-confidence to put themselves out there like other burners. My first response is: Don't worry about it. Absolutely nobody cares what you wear or don't wear. So if you don't feel comfortable dressing up, just go in your comfy camping/vacation clothes. Wear whatever you feel comfortable in. There are absolutely NO expectations regarding dress codes. My second response is to remind you that you have an entire week to get acclimated. So bring what you would wear if you had the cajones, and decide once you're there whether you want to wear it or not. Most likely, once you see all the cool stuff people are wearing, you're gonna want to do it too, and you'll have started to get used to the whole no-judgment atmosphere. The only thing that would suck is to wish you had an outfit to wear, but to be stuck having brought nothing. It's better to at least have the option.

If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, take a gander at Patrick Roddie and Scott London’s photos of what people have worn in past years.

3. Set your intentions and release your expectations. It helps to go to Burning Man with a goal in mind, but you cannot have any expectations for what will happen, how people (including yourself) will be, or what it will be like. Burning Man will screw with you if you expect something out of it. But if you have a little wish, it’ll deal it back to you in ways you could never dream. My first time, I wanted to recover from a very difficult and traumatic experience. My only aim was to go write something on the Temple and hope that it helped. When I arrived, when I discovered the Temple that year was the Temple of Forgiveness, I cried. It was exactly what I needed to hear; it was exactly what I had come for. I made my gift for the Temple and when I sat in the silence with tens of thousands of others watching it burn, I felt the most incredible cleansing and release. I found forgiveness, and I found it in abundance. So come with a wish. It can be as little as to just have a good time, or as big as a soul-changing experience. Just don’t have any preconceptions for how it’ll play out.
Photo by Toby Keller

4. Bring a gift. You’ll hear this a thousand times: Burning Man is not a spectator sport. It is full participation. One of the best ways to participate is to bring something you can offer the community. This year, my camp is bringing a full bar stocked with $1,500 worth of good booze. We will unload ALL of it by the end of the week. And remember, it’s a GIFT economy; you give, you don’t barter, and you sure as heck don’t sell. In fact, it’s very odd and disconcerting to make your first cash transaction after leaving the playa and re-entering the default world; it seems a gift economy is the way things should be. But the number one reason why giving is great participation is because you put yourself out there and meet so many wonderful people. My first time, I baked 200 cookies and walked around with a little spray bottle filled with water and lavender essential oils, asking everybody I saw whether they wanted a cookie or a misting. I met so many wonderful people and got to see so much cool stuff, it was pure joy to do it - it just feels good to give. And within two days, people would recognize me and call out, “Hey it’s the Cookie & Mister girl!” (Don’t be surprised if you develop a playa name.)

5. Lastly, I would recommend bringing one or two items that would just make your trip the tits. The one or two creature comforts that transport you from doing just okay, to saying, “Life is aaaalll rriiiiight...” For me, that is baby wipes and the lavender water. I take little “baths” with the baby wipes every morning to freshen up, and the spray bottle helps cool me down in the heat and the lavender oil is relaxing and refreshing. Perfect for my soul. But find your thing, whether it’s your kick-ass homemade bloody mary mix, your favorite tunes, or your must-have comfort food (dry ice does wonders for keeping things cold), and be sure to bring that along.

Burning Man is a million things indescribable, but the first words you’ll hear when you step foot on the playa are “Welcome Home.”

Come find our bar at Spearmint Dino (Adapt & 7:30) and we’ll pour you a drink!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Ballad of Jack & Rose

Watching this movie, for me, was something like watching an exquisitely produced and gorgeously rendered slow-motion series of train wrecks. It was so beautiful, and yet so traumatic to watch. The acting, direction, and cinematography were all absolutely superb, and the characters had such great - or at least understandable - intentions and desires, but they went about them all the wrong way. And you, the audience, know the travesty is coming and are powerless to stop it.

My husband and I got two very different readings of the movie. Or perhaps, more accurately, we came away from it with two very different messages. Honestly, what he got from it was probably much closer to the filmmaker's intent. It's as the film wanted to say "See? This is how it's supposed to be! Happiness is freedom from the corruption of others."

I wanted to shout "No! You've got it all wrong!" Because if that is indeed what the movie intended, then I disagree with it's basic view of human nature and the purpose and effects of human society, and I can draw evidence from it's own characters and plot to show why I disagree.

I realize at this point I'm not doing a very good job of selling this movie. But if you like independent films, films with multiple possible interpretations, or movies that make you think about where you stand in this world, then this is the movie for you. (Highly recommended for burners, artists, philosophers, and political and literary theorists. Burners especially will relate to the difficulty of moving between an ideal world and the 'default world'.) I don't want to spoil any of the movie for anyone, so I won't say exactly what happens in it. Beyond its premise, I'll only say what it made me think about.

Daniel Day-Lewis does an outstanding job of portraying an environmentally-conscious father, Jack, who raises his daughter, Rose, on a remote island where they are almost entirely self-sufficient. They live in near total peace and happy harmony until he becomes terminally ill and realizes he must work out some other arrangement to care for his daughter when he passes away. So he tries to introduce other people to their little happy commune and trouble ensues from there. Catherine Keener, Paul Dano, Jason Lee, and Beau Bridges also star in this film.

It's rather difficult to discuss without getting into specifics, but what I thought when I saw the movie was that it shows just how powerful socialization is in shaping us. Our parents and all the people around us have a very important role to play in shaping our beliefs, in how we interact with the world, and what we know to be right and wrong. And what I really thought when I saw it was that what is really important is to have a variety of people around us, to teach us right from wrong as well as how to interact well with others. Perhaps it's the Buddhist in me speaking, but what I saw was a need for balance: that going too far for one ideal means sacrificing others (and in this movie, it puts you in the awkward position of facing the question: is incest wrong because society says it's wrong, or is there something inherently wrong with incestuous relationships?). Growing up with only her father, Rose acquired all his ideals, but she also suffered tremendously because of his failings. Because he didn't know how to communicate, she didn't either - and her attempts at communication devolved into increasingly hurtful and dangerous actions designed to protect her self interest. I'm not saying she is wrong; only that she didn't know better. She had only ever been allowed to be with her father, could only know what it was to love him, which led to a sexual mess when it came to any positive feelings towards men.

We may not always like what people different from us do and say, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are indecent people. As different as people may be, we do share commonalities, and more importantly, there is often something we can learn from others. Ideology is important, having a set of values is what defines us as a people and as individuals, but sometimes ideological coherence is not itself ideal. Ideals taken to the extreme can lead to suffering, and ultimately undermine their own purpose.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sandwiches on the Grill

I {heart} summer, and most especially for the plethora of divine fruits and vegetables sprouting cascades of color and earthly delight. For the past week or two, I've been enjoying the abundance of zucchini and summer squash by grilling up sandwiches. These are so yummy and filling, I just had to share.

To make them, I slice up about a third to a half of a zucchini, and the same of summer squash. I cut thin slices of a third of a red bell pepper. Then I slice one portobello mushroom and grill them up with a couple of sprays of olive oil. I use a panini press (and every day thank the glorious person who got us this wedding gift) to grill the veggies and then press the whole sandwich, but not everyone has one. So if you don't have a panini press, go out and buy one now you can just pan-fry the veggies together. Toast two slices of wheat bread (with a spritz of olive oil on each side) and add a little mayo, garlic powder (or a garlic clove, chopped, if you're feeling feisty), oregano, and salt and pepper. Layer the hot veggies on the bread and add a slice of provolone to melt. Et voila!

And I can definitely give this five hearts: ♥♥♥♥♥ because I have been eating this every day for lunch. (If you have a toaster oven at work, you can make these babies ahead of time and just heat them up in the toaster oven.) It's mouth-watering tasty, and plus it's just so pretty with that riot of color! But as difficult as it might be to hold off, you might want to let this one sit for a few minutes before eating "to let the cheese melt"...a.k.a. the veggies will be nuclear and we don't want to sear the skin off our delicate little mouths. Says the {sad} voice of experience.

Rating System:
♥♥♥♥♥ Omigod this is awesome, I could eat it every night!
♥♥♥♥ Wow this is amazing for a special meal!
♥♥♥ Great choice for a dinner party!
♥♥ Hey, that was pretty good. We should have it again sometime.
♥ Eh. S'all right....
♠ Ugh, no! That was so bad I just had to share.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Nesting Pains Continued

In the unending saga of desire to make a nest and call it home to fill with approximately two munchkins, I've decided that if I can't have a real nest at least maybe I can have a half nest and fill it with pretty things to help me pretend I have a real nest.

I recently visited a friend who lives with her husband in an apartment in San Francisco. It's a two-bedroom, but they've decorated with nice furniture. Furnishing we call adult furniture. Not college furniture. Not the fossilized hand-me-downs from parents. Not the Back-To-School sale items from Linens N' Things, and definitely not the lumpy old couch filled with beer stains, old farts, and that one sticky spot that nobody can quite identify ('Cuz really, does anyone even remember what happened that one night?).

I bought a townhouse when the market was good and I had a well-paying job, and I remember being overwhelmed with how much it would cost to furnish the townhouse with nice things. It seemed practically empty. But when I made the decision to go to grad school (what was I thinking?), I had to rent that one out, turn it in for a shoebox room in a (crazy) house, shared with other (crazy) people. Enter boyfriend-now-husband, I've upgraded to shoebox apartment. And now I'm stuck in a tiny space, with furniture crammed in without an inch to spare.

But the nesting pains are hitting hard, with no end in sight for the foreseeable future. And when it does come time to buy a house, I don't want to be quite so overwhelmed with all the stuff we'd have to get to fill it properly.

So I figure, in the meantime, it would be worthwhile to at least UPGRADE the stuff we do have. We can exchange the college things we have just because we have to have something to sit on/eat at/cook with, and turn them in for nice things in an aesthetic we actually enjoy (the wedding went a long way towards helping with this). We have nice dishes, stemware, and bedding we adore. We have a big ass flat screen TV (and pretty much everything Apple has come out with). I can't control the fact that we live in a shoebox, but I can control what a lot of our stuff looks like. With a few low-cost touches, I think we can make our place much nicer, much more OUR OWN, spread out the financial pain of getting stuff to fill a real home, and also try out different aesthetics to get a feel for what we like and what we'll tire of before committing whole-hog.

Step 1:
Upgrade the bathroom. Now, some of you might remember the fiasco that was our shower tile remodeling. For those who don't, you really ought to read this post: Construction Madness.

There's still not much I can do about the navy blue tile, but at least I can hide it behind a shower curtain. And not this one:

This curtain was a gift from Toby's stepmom (and I'm pretty sure she purchased it with an inordinate amount of glee from Ikea). The little dancing stick animal figures are not entirely my aesthetic, but it was a gift, kind of cute, and it has served us well for several years now. That rug has definitely served its time, having come from my old college roommate, Katie, back in oh-naught. Somehow, move after move, it has ended up in my possession, and I am very ready to retire it.

I saw a gorgeous satin teal and brown shower curtain (honestly, the picture doesn't do it justice) and had to snap it up immediately.

I got towels and mat to match, and am very pleased with the results. For a full two days afterward, I kept walking by the bathroom just to bask in the glow of excitement for pretty, new decor. (Yes, I am this domestic. Bite me.) I plan to add a couple more accents, but that is for a later post.

Step 2:
Renovate coffee table. We don't have a dining room; all we have is this coffee table that serves simultaneously as a work station, TV viewing spot, and dining table. It is a hand-me-down from my parents. I'm pretty sure it's approximately 20 years old, and given perhaps another 10 years, it might actually come back in style. But it is still a perfectly good table, and I think combined with our current living room furniture, would serve really well in a future office, den or game room. It's worth holding on to, but after 20 years, it definitely collected some dust, grime, and gunk.

So last night I spent a couple of hours scrubbing and sanding it down. I really wish I had the forethought to take a Before picture. But even just cleaning it was a marked improvement. It looked quite pretty.

But this morning, we hauled it out onto the front lawn and I whipped out my trusty little brushes and stained it.

And now it's all pretty. And shiny! Who knew it could shine? Not me. It just needs to dry a couple more hours, I'll slip the glass back on and ba-da-bing! Brand new old table. I'll cover it with this table runner, and our living room will have a much needed face lift.

Steps 3 & 4 will involve painting our living room walls and kitchen cabinets. True, our landlord would have a hissy fit if he found out, but we plan to paint it back when we move out. And I have officially decided I Say No to swiss coffee. I am so tired of that stupid wall paint. From henceforth, my walls shall have color! We have visitors coming this weekend, so next weekend I will continue the decorating extravaganza. So stay tuned! Same bat time. Same bat channel.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Because Maybe Accountability Works

I have been much less productive than I have wanted to be lately - and certainly less productive than I need to be, and I am seeing the result in my waistline and to-do lists. Why, oh why, can't conspicuous consumption and consummate laziness equal health and prosperity?

Truth be told, I haven't been lazy exactly. I've just been too lax about my priorities. A little too much socializing, too little work, too much eating, too little exercise, and so the story goes. It's so much easier to forget to do something, or to bullshit away the time than to commit to a project and see it through. I do have discipline and can be disciplined, but the past couple of weeks haven't really proven it.

So today begins a new day. I got up at a decent hour, showered, exercised, and created my list of things to accomplish today (because nothing is more satisfying than crossing of items from a to-do list - even if the item you crossed off is "create a to-do list"). The fridge is stocked with fruits and vegetables, and I'm re-committing to my healthy diet. I'm also restricting my socializing, at least for now, something I haven't had to do since the first few years of grad school. But socializing is cutting too much in to my time to get work done. Moreover being out with others also inevitably introduces food and alcohol that I shouldn't be consuming. And the more alcohol there is, the more food I am guaranteed to shovel into my mouth. Oh margaritas, how you mock my resolve.

But not today. Today, I've got my running shoes on, and I'm raring to go.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Asian Orzo Salad Served Up With Fresh Lemon-Lime-Mint-ade

We've been eating out a LOT lately, with heavy and large meals on the menu several days in a row. While it's great to be social and get out on the town a bit, it does do a number on our digestive systems. So this week, I really just wanted to do something light, healthy and super fresh. My bloodstream was clamoring for a detox, so I delivered.

A friend of mine had once made an Asian Orzo salad, and I remembered how light and crisp it was - perfect for summer eating. So I decided I would try that too. I perused a bunch of recipes online, and they all seemed to be roughly the same (but rather heavy on the oil). I wanted a lighter version, so with the online recipes as a vague guidepost, I came up with this variation to serve two:

Asian Orzo Salad

1 chicken breast, cooked & shredded
4 oz. dry orzo (or 2 cups cooked)
1 carrot, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
3 green onions, chopped
3/4 cup sugar snap peas, steamed
3/4 cup cherry or grape tomatoes
1/2 cup canned sliced water chestnuts
1/4 cup diced cucumber
4 tsp. oil
3 tsp. rice vinegar (rice wine vinegar also works)
2 tsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. hoisin sauce
salt and pepper

1. I first grilled the chicken on a panini press to cook it, but pan frying it would work just as well. While the chicken was grilling, I boiled the orzo until cooked (about 8 minutes), drained the water and set it aside in a large bowl. Then I shredded the cooked chicken and added it to the orzo bowl.

2. Next I steamed the sugar snap peas, and chopped up all the veggies and chestnuts, and added them to the orzo and chicken.

3. Then I mixed the oil, vinegar, soy sauce and hoisin sauce until blended. Then I added it to the salad and tossed until mixed. I added a little salt and pepper to taste for the finish.

4. Chill for at least half an hour before serving.

My thoughts:
The Asian Orzo salad was perfect for what our mood was: it was light, crisp, cool and a great summer eat. I loved that it was heavy on the veggies, with chicken for protein (and of course the chicken can be substituted with tofu for vegetarians, or delete it completely and just use more orzo for balance with the veggies). The orzo was filling, but I didn't put a lot, so it was decently light on carbs. My husband thought it was great, so I'm happy when he's a happy camper. For me, as a recipe itself, I would probably give it two hearts: ♥♥. It was pretty good and I would be happy to have it again, but I'm not sure it'll quite make it into our usual repertoire. I might also experiment a bit more with the sauce. Hoisin sauce is not one I use regularly. I might try substituting it with oyster sauce instead and adding a little sugar or Splenda if it needs extra sweetening.

EDIT: A week later I tried the same dish and added a dash of white pepper and a few splashes of fish sauce and it was perfect! Just the thing the sauce needed for a little kick: a little savory to counter the sweet of the soy and hoisin. I'm pretty sure that officially bumped it up to three hearts ♥♥♥, and I served it to dinner guests with fresh cherries and lychees for dessert and it was a hit. Light but filling. Yup, fish sauce fixes everything.

However, I did serve it up with fresh, home-made lemonade, which I absolutely LOVED. I have a feeling I'll be making this all summer long.

The Best Lemonade Ever

What makes this the best lemonade is that it is not just lemons. It is lemons plus limes and mint. YUM. I make it with Splenda because I try to avoid too much sugar, but of course it can be made with sugar.

4 lemons
4 limes
8 sprigs of fresh mint
18 packets of Splenda (or 3/4-1 cup sugar, depending on taste)
1 cup of water to boil
2 cups of cool water to add

1. Add Splenda to 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. Stir occasionally to dissolve Splenda in the water.

2. Squeeze the lemons and limes (makes about 3/4 cups of lemon-lime juice).

3. Add the Splenda-water to the lemon-lime juice, and add 2 cups cool water. Taste to see if you prefer more lemon-lime juice or more water, but this amount is my personal preference.

4. Muddle and mush the mint sprigs in the bottom of a glass with a spoon (this helps release the menthol). Add to lemonade. Chill for at least an hour before serving.

My thoughts:
I LOVE LOVE LOVE this lemonade. I first stumbled upon it by accident when I only had one lemon available, but a bunch of limes and REALLY wanted lemonade. The limes add just a hint of complexity to the lemons, and the menthol adds a real fun kick. This would also make a great mixer with some good tequila (not Jose Cuervo, but something more along the lines of a Corzo Reposado). I give it: ♥♥♥♥♥ because it is simply amazing.

Rating System:
♥♥♥♥♥ Omigod this is awesome, I could eat it every night!
♥♥♥♥ Wow this is amazing for a special meal!
♥♥♥ Great choice for a dinner party!
♥♥ Hey, that was pretty good. We should have it again sometime.
♥ Eh. S'all right....
♠ Ugh, no! That was so bad I just had to share.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Nuala & Garren Get Hitched!

Yesterday, yesterday
In a land that time forgot
Nuala Mansard and Garren Fisher
Lately did tie the knot.

In a sacramental service
Oh so beautiful, intimate, and sweet
At the Santa Barbara Mission Rose Garden
Two beloved hearts did meet.

Some pretty pictures
Toby that day took
So all that maybe wish to
Can later have a look.
And under threat of Michele's fury
Hellfire, damnation, and rot
Toby processed them and published them
Where all can be quickly seen and got.

They look so happy!
They glow with such bliss!
Nuala smiles lightly, lovely and often
As she gazes at her man.
And well you can see love shines bright
When Garren gazes at his lamb.

And a muppet in his pocket
Apparently 'tis what I am.

We are so honored to have been a part of this glorious, wonderful and special day.
Congratulations, newlyweds!
(Apologies for the crappy poem. This is why I am not a poet.)