Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pity poor Gwynnie

What is it about Upper East Side-educated, Oscar-winning, musician-marrying Hollywood A-listers that makes everyone so testy? I have been reading about the GOOP backlash for a few weeks, first with amusement and then with growing irritation. Even The New York Times got in on the act recently.

For those of you who don't spend all your time on gossip sites, GOOP is the brainchild of actress Gwyneth Paltrow. It's a lifestyle site that sends you a weekly newsletter with tidbits like "Police your thoughts." I had never visited it until today and what I found, though hardly groundbreaking, wasn't as insidious as I had been led to believe. Yes, Gwynnie is a very rich, very fortunate and very famous woman. And no, she doesn't necessarily have the qualifications to be a lifestyle guru, or a gym owner, or a food show host, or (and I'm being mean here) an Oscar-winning actress (come on, Cate Blanchett and Meryl Streep were both nominated that year!).

But since when has a lack of qualifications stopped anyone from blogging?

I can't believe I'm saying this, but cut the poor girl some slack. If we had to be qualified before we were allowed to expound on a subject, there would be no Internet. If there's one thing I can count on every day, it's that I will read reams of information from complete know-nothing nobodies who are convinced that their opinions are sound and not to be questioned. This is the entire foundation on which conservative talk radio is based! To mouth off on matters of which you have little knowledge or experience, this, my friends, is what it means to be an American.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ticking away the moments that make up the dull day

One of the four or five good things about having a full-time job is the demarcation of time. You know you have a long and probably boring week ahead of you but, eventually, Friday will come. You might spend the whole week planning for it, talking about it and daydreaming of it rather than actually getting any work done. The anticipation is painful, but delicious — and makes your Friday night happy hour seem all the more deserved.

What happens, then, when there is no 40-hour work week? How can you anticipate the weekend with any fervor when it looks the same as, say, Tuesday? This thought hit me on Saturday morning, as I was waking up and poked Royal in the shoulder with my usual Saturday, "Hey, what do you want to do today?" His anticipated stock answer, "I don't know. What do you want to do?" bothered me more than usual. What did I want to do?!

You would think, given that I had my choice of things to do, that I would come up with a thousand creative and fun things to keep us occupied. But exactly the opposite happened — I was completely paralyzed by the options. I had already cleaned the house, done the laundry, shopped for groceries and paid the bills for the week, so we had none of that usual last minute housekeeping to do. Nothin' but time and my imagination. Unfortunately, I have the former in droves and the latter not at all. The things I really wanted to do — go try a new restaurant, see a movie, drive to Atlanta for the weekend — involved spending more money than is feasible at this time. So that left cheap/free things, none of which come easily to mind in Birmingham.

I spent most of the morning fretting about fretting the hours away, while Royal played WoW and generally feigned sympathy at my plight. He's fine not doing anything. Not doing anything is like his favorite thing to do. But it makes me feel lazy and unproductive and then I feel even worse come Monday.

Finally, at around 1:30, I declared we were going for a walk, and not around the neighborhood either. So we drove the mile or two to the little gravel lot outside Moss Rock, and walked the winding trail into the neighborhood. It was cold out, but the sky was breathtakingly blue and the exercise was invigorating. We talked about things we wanted to learn — Royal wanted to learn Spanish and brush up on coding, I wanted to learn origami which he mocked me for — and stopped to pet a friendly dog on the trail. Afterwards, we stopped by The Purple Onion for gyros and drove home sated and spent.

I am slowly learning that it's OK to not have anything exciting on the agenda. I just need to learn to turn that phrase "we have the whole weekend in front of us" into something a little less panic inducing. I do expect this unemployed stint to be short-lived — and I should enjoy frittering away time while it lasts.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Quotidian joys

I'm not accustomed to being home during the day. This week I've been trying to create little daily rituals to make each day seem special — and not an endless slog until I find my next job. I've been exercising as soon as I get out of bed and get fully awake (and as soon as Royal has left so he doesn't have to endure my singing and wheezing on the treadmill), then eating breakfast while watching The Golden Girls. [I had forgotten how good that show was. Ridiculous? Yes. Dated? Definitely. But this was the first show that let older women actually have sex lives!] Then I putter around the house cleaning and Febreze-ing. I now understand my stay-at-home mother much better, as a clean, fresh-smelling house makes the whole day easier, even if that day is spent updating Facebook and watching Law & Order reruns.

So something I noticed today was how good these tiny little things were making me feel. I looked forward today to going to my neighborhood Pig and buying a few things, stopping off at the post office next door to pick up a package and cancelling my gym membership (actually, I didn't enjoy that one as it was awkward for everyone involved). I cleaned out my car and hand washed things that have been in my car for two months, intended for the dry cleaners. Then I snipped some forsythia branches from the hedge and placed them in vases around the house.

For the record, I am not a woman who enjoys house cleaning or hand washing or flower picking (maybe a little). But when the whole day is spread out before you and you don't really have anything planned, even the smallest, most everyday task can be a pleasant experience. I am taking more time to appreciate these little things because, well, I have the time. Now all I need to do is remember this feeling when I get a job and time is all too fleeting.

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana. ~ Groucho Marx

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Frosting delivery system

While searching for the ultimate cream cheese frosting recipe (the one on the Kraft site is good, but you can't go wrong with mixing cream cheese, butter, vanilla and powdered sugar until you get the consistency you like), I found the phrase "a cupcake is nothing more than a frosting/icing delivery system" in dozens of articles online. I couldn't imagine that so many disparate food blogs and publications (even the esteemed magazine The Atlantic uses the phrase) would come up with such a witty turn of phrase all at the same time. After some preliminary investigation (ok, looking up more recipes), it looks like Ina Garten, food goddess, coined it. In her honor, here is her recipe for Peanut Butter Frosting. Top chocolate cupcakes with it or, you know, just eat it out of the bowl with a spoon.

Peanut Butter Icing
from Barefoot Contessa
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
5 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup heavy cream

Place the confectioners' sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as you work. Add the cream and beat on high speed until the mixture is light and smooth.

Another reason to not go in the water

This article scared the bejeezus out of me:
What Invasive Species are Trying to Tell UsLink

At right: a lionfish — beautiful, resourceful and a harbinger of the impending apocalypse

Monday, February 16, 2009

Farewell, Lipstick

Thanks to Media of Birmingham and The Terminal for getting the word out about Lipstick folding. If you've come here from either site, here's a bit more info.

The Birmingham News launched Lipstick in November 2007 with high hopes (and a low budget). Our staff included art director Michelle Hazelwood Hyde, managing editor Laurel Mills, administrative assistant Nadria Tucker, and myself as editor in chief. All of us were laid off on Friday. According to the News, it was strictly a business decision. We had to make money to survive, and in this economic climate it just wasn't happening.

For what it's worth, the News was always supportive of our editorial content. Nervous, but supportive. We established a somewhat irreverent voice early on that was a challenge in a city as conservative as Birmingham, but we had a loyal, vocal following. I am so grateful for the opportunity to serve the women (and men!) of Birmingham in whatever small way. I look forward to the next chapter.

Big, big thanks and hugs to Anne Glamore, Catherine McCarty, Kim Hildenbrand, Chianti Cleggett, Helen Grebe, Abigail Millwood, Cindy Riley, Melanie LeMay and so many others I'm probably forgetting for writing such fantastic essays, profiles and articles. I wish you all the best in your journeys.

Meanwhile, please pick up the March issue of Lipstick! It will be on racks throughout the city around March 1. And if you're upset the magazine is going away, drop a line to the News and let them know. :)

The eternal to-do list

Now that I have some extra time on my hands, what with being laid off and all, I figure there's no time like the present to get started on my "life list." I like to think of it as a really lofty to-do list. Only instead of looking at it morosely right before bed and realizing I have done nothing on the list all day, I can look at this in the nursing home right before death — and regret not having done anything on the list for decades. I'm just being realistic.

In no particular order, here are 10 of the things I want to accomplish this lifetime:
-Learn Spanish. In college, my Spanish IV professor told me I had a natural ear and should consider a job as a translator or interpreter. Now I can barely order a chimichanga at Hacienda Grill.
-Learn German. I know what an ausfahrt is and how to order spaetzle, but I bet there are more important things I can learn in German. Like cursing.
-Write a novel. Autobiographical, of course. I've been talking about this for at least 10 years and have yet to set pen to paper (er, keystrokes to screen? I am such an old person). A few of the integral people in my story have died, so the threat of lawsuits is diminished, at least.
-Learn how to use power tools appropriately. This may seem trivial addition, but I would really like to know how to use an electric drill without fearing I will bore through my hand.
-Learn to make bread from scratch. I have a bread machine, but it can't create the crusty exterior, chewy interior of my favorite artisan breads.
-Knit a sweater I'd actually wear. The reason this one is worded this way is that I can actually knit, but everything comes out misshapen and malformed. I made a "hat" for Royal once that I later had to turn into a totebag. It was about 20 times too big for his head. And Royal has a really big head, y'all.
-Take dance lessons. Now, I took bellydancing classes a few years ago, so I know I'm not completely uncoordinated — but I'm pretty close.
-Pay off credit cards. Who doesn't have this one on their list? If you don't have credit card debt, you are clearly a better person than I am.
-Work on a political campaign. I really, really, really wanted to work on the Obama campaign, but it didn't pan out. Not that I applied or anything.
-Plant a garden. I grew up with a huge vegetable garden in my back yard, and I really wished I had paid attention. Yes, Mom and Dad, I know you told me so.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The first post is always the hardest

Today is Valentine's Day. I got laid off yesterday. My husband and I made homemade red velvet cupcakes with vanilla buttercream frosting (verdict: meh) and spent the rest of the day playing WoW. We had good intentions to go hiking today and Royal was going to teach me to play tennis, but I felt like today needed to be as unplanned and relaxed as possible. Yesterday was hellish.

The worst part? I knew it was coming. I just didn't know when, and that was making me sick with anxiety. I couldn't decide if I should start looking for something else — or fight harder. The magazine was so special and so beneficial to a lot of people... It doesn't feel real yet that we don't have it any more.