Sunday, August 28, 2011

Project Happiness: Carnival Rides

So my town has a carnival this weekend every year called Mountaineer Days (cuz we're in the mountains - clever!).  There are slurpee-drinking contests from 7-11, pie eating contests, salsa dancing contests, and lots of fair-rides.

I haven't ridden fair-rides in almost 10 years.  The last time I can clearly remember riding one was the giant swings in 2002.  I didn't ride anything else though.   Just the swings.  And the last time I can remember riding carnival rides before then was somewhere around 1996.  So it's been a while.

Last year was the first year of the carnival, and we went but I couldn't ride anything because I was pregnant.  I remember thinking that maybe we'd come back with our six month old the next year, and go on the kiddie rides together.

Well, we all know how that turned out.  (Cue tiny violins)

So we went back last night and rocked those rides.  We were like little kids, going on everything.  We went on the ferris wheel.  We rocked the obstacle-course thing where you climb up ropes and slide down big slides.  We went on the giant swings.  We went on something called the Scrambler that made my head explode.  We did it all.  And then we staggered back to the car in the dark, looking quite drunk, and nearly passing out.

Good times were had by all.

And maybe next year we'll be closer to going on the kiddie rides with a little one.  On that subject, I saw my OB this week, and he gave us the go-ahead to start trying again whenever we want.  We're going to give it another month or so and start again around October.  We might be pregnant by Christmas.  I'm taking my basal body temperature, getting the ovulation predictor kits, starting my prenatals, going light on caffeine, and all of that good stuff so that when it takes we'll be all ready.  Folic Acid is my friend.  It's hard not to be scared, but I am taking comfort in the fact that I'm in a very different place than I was last year.  I'm healthier and stronger, and I have my angels there to watch over us.  Plus I have a nose piercing and purple hair.  Miscarriages can't screw around with girls who have purple hair.  It's a scientific fact.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Secret Salon

A summer project I've been working on has been to organize all my digital pictures.  I've got nearly 10 years worth of unnamed files, that supposedly represent some of the greatest times in my life, but I've got them everywhere, in no order.  So every day I sort through a folder or two, and I can start to see a very faint light at the end of the clutter tunnel.

Today I found this picture.  It's somewhere near Hemet, down the 15 freeway, in some nowhere ghetto-fabulous strip mall.  I remember being there.  I think we were on a road trip and had to pee and this was the only place that looked promising.  I asked J, "why the hell did I take a picture of a ghetto strip mall?"

And he says, "because it's the trendiest salon in the world.  It's so trendy, it's got no door."

It's like a secret society.  You've gotta know the password, and they let you in through the quickie-mart.  I bet you go through a check-cashing place on your way, too.

But seriously.  I give you Trend Setters Salon.  It's so trendy, you can't get in.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Technology Glee Meltdown

OMG you guys...I'm at the airport blogging...with my new wireless bluetooth keyboard on my phone.  I am seriously going to faint from the goodness of this.  I can actually type.  With keys.  It makes me tactile-happy.  That is all.

Monday, August 22, 2011

What the hell CAN I Eat?

I'm going to start a new segment on my blog, called What the hell CAN I Eat? because there is seriously, like, nothing that is edible in the grocery store.

I've long been a proponent of shopping on the perimeter of the grocery store, even when I wasn't actively trying to lose weight and be healthy.  The stuff down the middle aisles, aside from some of the baking ingredients, and the occasional bit of rice or pasta, is largely chemical-filled junk.

But I'm paying even more attention now because we're getting ready to start trying to get me pregnant again, and as I get healthier, I realize how much further I have to go, and how much more feeling-awesome there is waiting for me.   I've started using agave in my tea instead of sugar.  I switched to the "natural" coffee creamer (milk, sugar, cream, and vanilla).  I eat a lot of veggies.  I'm doing the whole oil-pulling thing.

I am trying desperately to get off of diet coke right now.  I've read enough about aspartame to know that it's no good.  It can screw up your fertility, make you gain weight, probably causes cancer, and lots of other bad stuff.  I've been drinking it for nearly 20 years.  I did quit at one point, for Lent a few years ago, but I went back to it after we lost Baby T, and have been off the wagon since.

So I think it's probably ok to give up diet soda, and I won't have to worry about aspartame, right?  I go to Whole Foods, see they have stevia-sweetened soda, order a 24 pack on Amazon and sign up to have it delivered every month.  I think I'm doing good, right?  I'm gonna get rid of aspartame, and be super-healthy.

Now, I enjoy snacking on yogurt.  And I'll admit, I'm a sucker for those Yoplait ads that show the lady talking on the phone about how she's eating red velvet cake and still losing weight while her hubby goes foraging through the fridge and only sees yogurt.

Plus, they're usually the cheapest yogurts at the store.  10 for $6.  It's a deal.

They look innocuous enough.  Pretty innocent. It's just yogurt, right?

Till you look on the back, and not only does it have Yellow #6, which is a carcinogen (and has been banned in several European countries), but it also has aspartame.   What the hell CAN I eat???

Looks like after I finish this batch, I'll just be getting the all-natural stuff.  Which really sucks because I like the raspberry cheesecake flavor a lot.  But, you know, not enough to stay addicted to aspartame for.

Stay tuned for my next installment, where I find out that my fiber bars will also give me cancer!  Who knew the grocery store was such a frigging death trap.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

the present

After having seen Joshua Bell last week, I was reminded why I was totally crushing on him in 2001.  But that's not what this is about.  That's just the prologue.  It just explains why I've been reading a lot of stuff on the interwebs about him.  And I came across something I have to share.

In 2007 the Washington Post did a study.  The study consisted of taking Joshua Bell, one of the world's greatest violinists, had him play some amazing (and amazingly difficult) classical music in a Washington DC Metro stop at rush hour.  They dressed him up in normal street clothes, put a baseball cap on him, threw a few dollars and change into his violin case, and waited to see who would notice.

This is what happened:

At first, the Washington Post was worried about crowd control.  In a city as sophisticated as DC, they thought, someone would surely notice him.  Flashbulbs would go off.  Things would escalate.  The National Guard would arrive.  There would be teargas.

Over 11000 people passed right by him in the 45 minutes he played. One person recognized him.  She wasn't a violinist, and she didn't know classical music that well, but she had been at a previous concert of his.

The Washington Post interviewed people afterwards about whether they noticed him, whether they stopped, and why.  The article is a fascinating study in psychology.  The Post wrote down names and numbers of people who were willing to talk with them about "their commute" for an article.  Later on, when reporters called the commuters, they asked whether anything interesting had happened that morning.  One man said that he had seen a superb violinist, but he hadn't recognized Joshua Bell, even though he was a fan.

The reporters told the commuters what had actually happened, and why they were actually being interviewed, and most of them were disappointed that they hadn't realized just who they were walking past.

One man remembers all the lottery numbers he played that day, but he can't remember that he was 4 feet away from a virtuoso.  One guy took no notice of him at all because he had earbuds in, listening to his ipod.  

"For many of us, the explosion in technology has perversely limited, not expanded, our exposure to new experiences. Increasingly, we get our news from sources that think as we already do. And with iPods, we hear what we already know; we program our own playlists.

The song that Calvin Myint was listening to was "Just Like Heaven," by the British rock band The Cure. It's a terrific song, actually. The meaning is a little opaque, and the Web is filled with earnest efforts to deconstruct it. Many are far-fetched, but some are right on point: It's about a tragic emotional disconnect. A man has found the woman of his dreams but can't express the depth of his feeling for her until she's gone. It's about failing to see the beauty of what's plainly in front of your eyes."

I'm fascinated by this experiment.  Not just because of all the normal lessons (ie, pay attention to what's going on around you because you never know what you're going to see) but all the subtle stuff.  The preparation that went into the experiment, and the things that were going on in the heads of the people who stopped (and didn't stop).

When I was younger, I used to annoy my dad by asking him why he bought what he did.  He got a new toothbrush, and I was fascinated by what it was that made him decide on the one he finally got.  I mean, if you look in the toothbrush aisle, there are, like, at least 50 you can choose from.  I wanted to know what it was about the one he chose that made it the one.  Was it the price?  The color?  The bristles?  What?!  He never would answer me.  He'd just say, "I liked it."  Yes, but *why*?

This article starts probing that part of people's brains to find out why they did or didn't stop and listen.  Why they did or didn't give money.  It's blowing my mind.

If I saw Joshua Bell play in a metro station, I'd totally faint.  I'm going to have to keep a lookout now that I know he's prone to such antics.  But I wonder what else I could miss because I'm so busy watching out for Joshua Bell.  I could miss something equally amazing.  Oh man, it's too late to be thinking about all this.  It's making my head spin.

The lesson, I guess, is that you pay attention to what's in front of you, because that's all there is, really, to pay attention to.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

New Renaissance English History Podcast

If you click on over to that EnglandCast tab, you will see that after a looooong hiatus, I finally did a new Renaissance English History Podcast.  This was spurred on by a listener who emailed me at work, and I checked the stats on the podcast, and dontcha know, each episode has had about 25k downloads.  Yep, that's right.  The same amount of people download my EnglandCast as lived in Washington DC in the mid-19th century.  Pretty sweet.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

the best facebook posting ever

Ten years ago, I saw Joshua Bell at the Wigmore Hall in London when my violin teacher Mark was playing the bassoon in a quintet with him.  I know, it's all very confusing.  Along the way, I got lost, and talked to a friendly-looking man, Oliver, asking him if he could tell me where the Wigmore Hall was.  Turns out, he was going there too, and we became instant friends, even more so when he stepped in a puddle and splashed my shoes.  Or maybe I splashed him.  I forget, but I remember someone had splashed someone else.  There was definitely splashing involved.

Oliver and I exchanged numbers, and met up several times within the next few weeks, and he became one of my bestest friends.   After the concert, I went to Wagamama's with Mark, and sat across the table from Joshua Bell, and watched him slurp noodles.  I've never seen someone look so good while they slurp udon.

So fast forward six years, and Oliver is in Santa Monica visiting his cousin, and I'm supposed to go see him, but something happens and I lame-flake-out on him.  I think I was tired, or something equally inexcusable.  Oliver and I stop facebooking, and stop chatting, and that's just it.  We both feel weird, and I feel ashamed, and as far as we're both concerned, that's it, friendship over.

Today I posted on facebook that I'm going to see Joshua Bell tonight at the Hollywood Bowl, and how it's crazy that it was 10 years ago that I first saw him when Mark was playing, and that's the night I met Oliver.  Not three minutes later, an IM comes up from Oliver, and he's apologizing, and I'm apologizing, and we're both apologizing, and before you know it, we've set up a time to skype this weekend.  We're each going to have a glass of wine, and pretend that we're in a wine bar in London (he's in Thailand now, and I'm in California), and we're going to have a good old-fashioned gossip.

I'm so excited.  Yay for fabulous facebook posts.  And Yay for Joshua Bell being the restorer of friendships.  I had to email him to tell him about the byproduct of his musical career.  I hope it makes him smile.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

In Which I get New Agey

Ok, you guys, so it's been a big couple of days.  I got purple hair extensions, and librarian-chic glasses.  Combined with my nose piercing, I look punk-geek.  It's my new thing.  Now I just need the wardrobe to keep up with it.  It's hard to look punk-geek with clothes from Old Navy.   But I'm still wearing the same old stuff because I'm at another weight plateau.  It's ok, though.  I'm gonna bust through it, and do back-to-school clothes shopping, even though I'm not going back to school.  

punkgeek w/purple hair
However, I am still keeping up my Italian, in case you've been wondering.  I've even joined livemocha to find other Italian people to be friends with, so they can practice English, and I can practice Italian.  I tried posting on craigslist in Rome and Florence, but the only people who seemed to use it much were Americans looking for places to stay, so I wasn't counting on getting many responses.  We're planning a trip to the UK this fall, and I really want to go to Italy while I'm over there, just to order a cappuccino in Italian.  

AND I went to BlogHer in San Diego on Saturday.  It was a lesson in expectations.  I HAD been expecting to hang out with other punkgeek girly bloggers like me.  Instead, it was full of 3500 Mommy Bloggers.  Just what Heather needed.  A day with freaking Mommy Bloggers.  Yuck.  I had to leave the final keynote, with Ricki Fucking Lake waxing poetic about her new project, a documentary on natural childbirth.  And all the mommies looking enraptured.  Oh yes, do tell us more about a water birth, Ms Lake!  Please, do another talk show, and become the Oprah of water births!  

(I might feel differently about this whole thing once I actually manage to carry a child to term...but for now, puke)   

That being said, I did learn some stuff, and got some ideas and inspiration.  Stay tuned for the product of my inspiration, which I'll be talking about in the next few weeks, as I get it up and running.  Oooh.  Excitement.  I can tell everyone is waiting with baited breath!

(oh, and the funniest part was in the exhibits area.  There were a lot of household brands wanting to attract the mommy bloggers with free samples that they would review on their mommy blogs.  And lots of baby products, there for the same reason.  I did score two tubes of mascara from CVS, some high-heel foot insoles from Dr. Scholls, a bunch of toothpaste from Arm and Hammer, and a tempur-pedic lumbar pillow.  But the best, and I mean best, was a sex-toy company.  If you checked into their booth on 4square, they gave you a free vibrator - a $75 value.  The highlight was seeing this gay guy engaging in conversation with the sales reps about the available shapes, which weren't to his liking.  It was, beyond a doubt, the most surreal moment I've had in a long time.  Standing in a soulless convention center watching a guy dissect sex-toy design flaws while surrounded by thousands of women wearing their babies in little snuggly things on their shoulders discussing lactation.  It almost made my head explode.)

But the big thing for the week is Oil Pulling.  Yep, you read that right.  Oil Pulling.  It sounds more new-agey than it actually is.  My friend Sandor started doing it back in November, swears by it, and has me doing it now, too.  Essentially, you take some oil - not the kind you put in your car, but almost any other kind - and you swish it around in your mouth for 20 minutes a day.  This is supposed to cure diseases and make you feel awesome.  Some people say it's because there's a vein under your tongue that is a fast highway for all the toxins to get sucked up.  But I read this book, which essentially says that the reason it works isn't because of any weird thing having to do with veins or anything like that.  It's because swooshing oil around in your mouth for 20 minutes a day gets your mouth insanely clean, and since your mouth tends to be a massive breeding ground for bacteria, if you get it insanely clean, it frees up your immune system to work on other things in your body, like, say, arthritis.  

So I got some vegetable oil and stuck a tablespoon of it in my mouth, and went to work swooshing (it's called "pulling" because you're pulling the oil through your teeth, though the new-agey contingent calls it that because it's pulling the toxins from your body).  Then, after 20 minutes, I spat it out in the trash and rinsed my mouth out really well.  And I have to say, a week into it, something is happening.  The first thing I notice is how clean my mouth is.  My teeth are whiter, and yesterday I almost left the house without brushing them in the morning because my mouth felt so clean.  

I've only been doing it a week, and nothing miraculous has happened to me yet (well, I do notice that my skin seems to be getting better - the bags under my eyes aren't as dark, for example, and I haven't been sleeping any more) except I feel like I have a crazy clean mouth.  Sandor has done it since November, and didn't get sick all winter, even living in dirty London, so I don't know.  There might be something to it.  Ask me in a month - it seems like 30 days is about what it takes for people to really be fully detoxed.  Anyway, it's a funny way to spend the morning...     

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Thinking outside the Church Paradigm

So I was going to blog about other stuff tonight (like my purple hair extensions, my weekend at BlogHer, or the fact that I managed to cook a recipe that actually looked like the picture in the magazine tonight) but then we watched Curiosity on the Discovery channel, and I had to write out some thoughts.

For an hour (minus commercials) Stephen Hawking, who is unarguably one of the greatest scientific minds in history, argued why God doesn't have to exist for our universe to have been created.  He was able to use quantum physics to explain how sometimes particles just appear for no reason and with no cause.  So that put an end to the idea that there had to be a cause to create the universe.  Then he explained how time stops in black holes, and since the universe was essentially a black hole at the time of the big bang, there was no time.  So since there was no time before the universe, there must not be a God to create the universe because there was no time for God to do the creating.

So.  Couple of things.

First, I get so annoyed with people thinking that God has to look a certain way.  He's God, people (I'm using the masculine just because it's quick and easy.  I don't think God has a gender).  God isn't really something that our human brains, no matter how awesome they are, can grasp.

It's like saying, "I have black cats who sometimes pee on the carpet.  Therefore, Mozart was a bad composer."  Your first response is, quite rightly, "huh?"  How does one prove the other?

There was no time before the Big Bang, therefore God doesn't exist?  How?  I don't get it?

Maybe the traditional paradigm of a benevolent God watching over us, guiding our every action, can be proven wrong; but nobody has believed in Thor for a while either, but it doesn't mean that there's no God.  Just because one society's interpretation of God evolves, and beliefs fall by the wayside when and if they are disproved - that doesn't mean that there's no God.

Here are two big things I believe in, that I don't believe are disproved by the fact that there was no time before the Big Bang:

1)  The Butterfly Effect.  When I do good in the world, somehow, that makes a difference beyond my sphere.  It might somehow cause someone else in Africa to do good, too.  Similarly, when I sit on my ass watching four episodes of The Daily Show at once, it has an effect beyond my small world.

2)  Energy can neither be created or destroyed.  You can't kill energy.  The energy in all of us will continue to exist, albeit probably in other forms, after we die.

These two thoughts, to me, show that we are all bound to each other in ways we don't understand, for eternity.  My actions influence you.  The energy that comprises you will go on forever.  And has been going on since the beginning of time.  We all started out from the same speck of matter at the time of the Big Bang, and we are inextricably linked now.  I am you, and you are me.

Maybe there's a whole different paradigm of God that needs to be discovered.  Since we all came from the same particles of mass and energy, maybe that spark that ignited the Big Bang lives on in each of us.  Maybe we are all, collectively, God.  Maybe it's our collective consciousness that shapes the world.  Maybe that's what Jesus meant when He said, "Behold, the Kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:21).

Ok, so the brilliant Dr. Hawking can prove that there was not a linear time (as we know it) before the Big Bang at which point God could have created the Universe.  And He probably isn't sitting up in the clouds watching us, checking to see if we're being good or bad, with a list, like Santa Clause.

But that has never been my view of God.  Well, ok, maybe for about two years when I was going through a teenage rebellion phase - not having been raised in a church, I rebelled by becoming a fundamentalist for about a year.

My understanding of God has always been more fluid, a relationship to the cosmos that is both more complicated and more simple than anything I learned about in my Methodist church.  Something deeply personal and immediate, within me right now, that also links me with every particle of dust in the universe.  My  understanding of God is about being part of something bigger than me; not for the salvation of my soul, but to be connected to humanity, to every living thing that has ever lived and ever will live.

Dr. Hawking wasn't able to disprove that belief.  In fact, if anything, he solidified it more than ever.  I wish he could have expanded his view of God outside the proverbial box, but I suppose it's what he grew up with, and people hang on to that stuff for a long time - even as he spent time trying to disprove it, he was demonstrating that there was something that needed to be disproved - a dark matter paradox, indeed.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Swoon Time

So I unabashedly nurture a serious crush on Mark Hoppus, right?  Blink 182 is one of my favorite bands, and he is one of my favorite people-in-a-band.  It's completely platonic, though.  I secretly want for J and I to be best friends with him and his wife.  I imagine long afternoons with the four of us walking around London, where they just moved, eating noodles at Wagamama's, walking on the Heath with him making witty comments on demand about EastEnders while his wife Skye and I talk about fashion, yoga, and managing our work-life balances.

Of course, that would probably necessitate me being an entirely different person (the kind of person who talks about fashion, yoga, and managing a work-life balance, for example).  But still, the dream lives on.

And it got a serious boost when Mark Hoppus accepted my GoodReads friend request.  Now there's another thing we can all do together!  We can hang out at Waterstones in Picadilly!   Mark Hoppus is a nerd too!  I love it!

Geek that I am, I had to take a screenshot of me on the top of Mark Hoppus' friends list.  I'm such a nerd.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The feral cats outside

Last weekend the Outdoor Kitty brought us a mouse.

I was kind of grossed out, but he was so proud that it was hard to stay mad for long.

I think this was his way of adopting us formally, and now he's become a fixture on our deck.  We're planning on making a really awesome outdoor shed/cage for some of our cats who are having bathroom issues this month and we will probably add this little guy to the mix.  I mean, if a kitten brings you a mouse, who are you to turn down that kind of love?

Tonight one of the feral cats is in a cage in our bathtub.  He is going to get fixed and vaccinated tomorrow, and will probably spend the night in there again tomorrow, and then will get released back into the wild on Wednesday.  Maybe he'll fight less with less testosterone.  The last time we captured a cat and then released him, he hardly came back at all afterwards; I think he was afraid that it was going to happen to him again.  So who knows how much we'll see of him in the future, but I'll rest easy knowing that the likelihood of little kittens being brought into the world is lower with one less testosteroned cat roaming the streets.

I don't have much to say otherwise.  I went up to the Bay Area today for three hours.  Enough time for a meeting, a stop at Yumi Yogurt in San Mateo, and lunch at Subway.  Then back on a plane and home again.  I woke up at 4:45 and I'm tired.  But I did spend the hour long flight home doing the crossword, which made me feel proud that I exercised my brain.  Then I managed to walk around the lake, which made me proud that I exercised my body.  And now I'm going to go to bed and dream about cats.