Things I Discovered in 2014

Wow. I haven’t written a blog since early summer. I’m not sure I remember how. No…wait a second…I remember! What have I been doing these last six months you ask? I’ve been discovering things that have slowly taken over my life. Not all of them are food, either.

Xfinity On Demand

I probably shouldn’t admit a love for cable television. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with my TV for decades which now seems to be hovering closer to love. I enjoy being able to watch TV when I feel like it. Janet and I caught up with Game of Thrones these last few months and I look forward to April’s new season. Although, GOT does leave me a little jittery and nauseated. Good stuff! Our new binge watching show? The Good Wife. It just wouldn’t be normal for us if we didn’t totally ignore a show for the first several seasons and then try and catch up over the summer for the new fall season. Love On Demand!

Zatarain’s Dirty Rice with Cheese

When my daughter Jesse (now thirteen) was really little, I enjoyed telling people she only liked to eat five things. One of those things was ketchup. She was so picky I worried about her ability to grow. Thankfully, she has broadened her palette for food. I never thought I’d see the day she wouldn’t want McDonald’s nuggets for dinner. Not only was she picky but she never wanted any of her food mixed. No casseroles, soups (she’d only eat tomato soup) or heaven forbid a burrito came into view. Now she can’t get enough burritos and has discovered a love of potato soups. She still won’t eat a salad but, hey, neither will I.

I bought a box of Zatarain’s Dirty Rice with Cheese and Jesse and I instantly fell in love. I’m not sure why we like it so much but I’m thinking it’s probably the same reason why I love Jack in the Box’s weird tacos. I’m not sure what it’s made from but, darn, that’s good stuff! We’ve had this once a week for a few months now. I panicked when I couldn’t find it at Bartells, our local drug store, and ordered a case from Amazon. That’s probably why Amazon sends me a Christmas card every year.

Cadbury Crunchies

This is a candy bar which originated in the United Kingdom. All I can say is: Bless you, UK! Bless you! This delicious milk chocolate wrapped honeycomb delight is hard to find here in the states. A specialty candy store in Portland sells them occasionally but Janet determined it was cheaper and easier to have them shipped directly from the UK through Amazon. Yes, I am that serious about what I put into my mouth. I blame my mom for my new candy addiction. She brought me home a Crunchie when she visited London last year. Rotten woman. Brought me home an addiction to another candy, where’s my t-shirt for godsake!

Athens Pizza and Pasta

One of our many resolutions last year was to eat and shop locally. We did a pretty good job in 2014 and will try and keep it up in 2015. One local restaurant we now love in Des Moines, Washington (yes we have a Des Moines too) is a Greek restaurant named Athens Pizza and Pasta. Their meatball grinder (we called them hoagies or subs growing up; some people just call them sandwiches) is delicious! We loved the roll so much we determined all of their grinders must be wonderful. Our favorite item, however, is their to-die-for BBQ chicken pizza. It was my very first BBQ pizza and I’m so glad it came from Athens. The crust was crispy, the chicken lean white meat and the BBQ sauce had just the right amount of tang. Having spent some time in Texas, Janet and I have had our share of great BBQ. We will continue to eat at Athens when our calorie counts allow (it’s a new year so of course we’re trying to lose weight yet again).

Stack the States

Janet sent me a link to free apps from Amazon (I’m all about that: free and Amazon and together is even better). I picked out one game because it said it was fun and educational. It’s called Stack the States. When I first showed Jesse the app, she gave me a disdainful look and said, “I’m trying to read here, Mom.” Rotten kids aside, the states game is a blast. It starts with a platform at the bottom of the screen and a line a few inches above (the line moves higher the more you play). You’re asked a geography question about various states and if you answer correctly you get to drop that state down on the platform. You keep answering questions, and keep dropping the states on one another, until your stack of states reaches the finish line. It’s a lot more fun than it sounds. The higher the level you drop the states from the harder it is to keep them on the platform. The states are also proportional to their relative size. Alaska and Texas are huge and sometimes cross the lines all by themselves. Other, smaller states such as, um <throat clearing>, the New England states are rather tiny and not very helpful when trying to stack them. You know who you are Rhode Island! It’s so much fun I now can’t pry my Kindle out of Jesse’s cold, long fingers.

I hope everyone had a great 2014…I know I did! I can’t wait to see what 2015 has in store for us.

Happy New Year,

jenn

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Our Giant TV

Janet and I now own two TVs. I’m not really sure how this happened but we now have the spare TV in our bedroom. This is helpful when I want to watch Orphan Black and Janet hasn’t caught up with me yet because she attached herself to Apple while I jumped all in with Amazon.

Janet and I always talk big about these farfetched plans we have for ourselves. For instance, every time we rent a car we enjoy we talk like we are going to run out and buy one. We never do but you wouldn’t know that by listening to us talk. The only time we’ve ever talked the talk and actually walked the walk is with the giant TV we bought.

It was the smartTV part which pushed us over the edge from dreaming of a big obnoxious TV to bank account draining reality. I love the idea of being able to stream a movie or TV show on my time and not strapped to my couch on a certain day at a specific time. Mother Nature doesn’t help either: being sunny until 9pm or later (here in Seattle) doesn’t scream ‘Hey! Go inside and watch some TV!’ to me.

We started talking about buying a new smartTV a couple of years ago but never actually pulled the trigger. A few months ago, right before Superbowl Sunday, we got serious. We wanted to get rid of cable and decided buying a new TV would help. Our old TV would freeze up, when watching TV on an antenna, so we decided a TV built in this decade might help with this problem. It didn’t, we still have cable, but that’s another story.

Janet and I did the research, went to Costco repeatedly to test drive the TVs, and watched the ads every week for the right deal to come along. The TV which seemed to be the best of the lower end TVs, a 70” behemoth, was deemed too big for our little condo. We found the 60” version on sale at Fred Meyers (Freddy’s to locals) and went out to take a look.

Sixty inches sounded like a huge TV – our old one is 32” – but when we saw it in the store it looked pretty normal to us. In hindsight, our naiveté is adorable. A sixty inch TV on display in a warehouse amongst other, sometimes much bigger, TVs might give the impression of being small. It is not small, however, in a two story 1300 square foot condo.

We were so proud of ourselves when we made our purchase. We’re normally all bark and no bite but this time we sure took a bite out of our savings account! (Uh oh, I think I just heard Janet fainting again.) The helpful electronics worker, Todd, brought out our TV and it looked a little big but we decided the packaging added several inches to both sides.

When Todd called for two other employees to help get the TV to our car we were a little concerned, but decided it was a slow night and they needed something to do. I went and got the Prius and brought her up to the front door. When they wheeled the TV next to the Prius my first thought was, ‘hmmm…they’re the same size.’

The TV did fit in the car, a nice snug fit with the back seats down, and we were on our way home. We could even shut the hatchback without tying it down…see, it’s not so big! When we brought the TV into the condo, that’s when we realized the enormity of our purchase. I could hear Janet mutter, ‘I hope there’s a lot of packaging on this thing.’ We left the TV in the box overnight hoping it wouldn’t be as big as we feared. It was.

In the morning we opened the box and realized, no, not much packaging going on there. We hung it on the wall, not an easy feat I might add, and sat down to stare at the screen. We didn’t watch anything just sat there saying, ‘Did you know it would be this big?’ ‘Is this really only 60”?’ ‘I can’t believe you bought such a big TV, Jenn.’

Two months after our giant TV purchase Jesse said, ‘I think I’m getting used to the TV, Mom, it’s not as obnoxiously big as it used to be.” Good, that was the look I was going for, Jesse. Thanks for that. So, let this be a lesson to you. Everything in Costco looks small. 60” is five feet. That’s like hanging your medium sized kid on the wall. Or your mother-in-law. The picture looks much better, though.

jenn

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One Thousand Books

I like to think of myself as a likeable, well-read individual. Not true, but I sure do like to think of myself as such. Whenever I see Pride and Prejudice in the bookstore or on TV, I always point out that, hey, I’ve read that book! I just refrain from telling anyone I read it so I could then read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Nobody has to know that part.

I decided late last year I really need to read more older significant books (if I was going to tell people I’m a writer) so I searched for lists of the best books to read. I ended up copying the BBC list of the 1001 books you should read before you die. I wanted a more ‘worldly’ list and was afraid if I went with an American one I would miss out on some fine reading. As a proud American, I sometimes have a hard time seeing beyond my own borders.

The BBC broke their list down into seven categories: Comedy, Crime, Family and Self, Love, Science Fiction and Fantasy, State of the Nation, and War and Travel. I’m not thrilled with some of the categories (war and science fiction are glaring examples for me) but I figure I’ll read a few excellent books I normally wouldn’t touch with a stick.

I’ve only read four so far…this will be close…seeing if I can actually read them all before I die. I’ve enjoyed two: The Face of Another by Kobo Abe and Silver Stallion by Junghyo Ahn. The other two, not so much: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and Money by Martin Amis.

I must say, the reason I didn’t enjoy the books by Achebe and Amis is because I’m a woman. I don’t like reading books where women are treated like property or treated poorly. Achebe’s world is much different from mine and Amis just doesn’t seem to like women.

I’m enjoying (mostly) reading from the list the BBC kindly created for the world. I’m currently reading Le Grand Meaulnes by Henri Alain-Fournier and am enjoying it immensely. Too bad he died so young, he has real talent! I’m sure I’ll love some and hate others but I’ll try and make it through them all before I cross the rainbow bridge. Maybe I can see if I can’t find Things Fall Apart and Zombies and Money and Zombies. Those might be a blast!

Jenn

Ps – Happy Birthday, Sue Grafton!

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Dear Jesse: Happiness Comes From Within Yourself

“Money can’t buy you happiness.” You’ll hear this when you get older followed by, “Only rich people say that.” I can see both points of view, but don’t confuse lack of money stress to happiness.  Happiness can only come from within and no amount of money or cars or outside things will bring you joy.

I read a report once about the link between enjoyment of life and the amount of money people make. Sixty thousand dollars seems to be the dividing line. The further down from sixty you go the less happy people are with their lives. After one starts making sixty thousand the responses were more positive from the participants. As a matter of fact, the relative happiness of people didn’t change much no matter how much more than $60k they made.

Sixty thousand isn’t a magical number; it just seems  $60k is the number where most people’s basic needs are met and so the stress associated with not having enough money is much less than for people making under that level. There’s a huge difference between not stressing out about money and being happy, though.

“Only rich people say that.” If you are a miserable person (someone who is unhappy all the time…don’t worry you’ll meet a bunch in your lifetime) without money you’ll also be a miserable person with money. If you are not happy with yourself, if you don’t like yourself, nothing you buy will bring any kind of lasting joy.

There are plenty of miserable rich people out there. People who never have enough of anything, who are constantly striving for more things in their portfolio to show people because they have a void in their life they are trying to fill. There is nothing out there in the big world that will fill your void if you don’t like yourself and aren’t happy.

I’m not telling you to sit around and not strive for success. By all means…get out there and be successful! Some of the greatest people I have met are people who like themselves AND have money and success. On the other hand, people who choose to live simply, who don’t have a lot of anything, are also tremendous people. Because they like themselves and don’t feel a need to impress other people or fill a void which is already filled with love and self respect.

If you find yourself, Jesse, not feeling good about life don’t bother trying to buy things to make yourself happy. And please don’t go into debt doing it! Stop your life and look around. Why are you unhappy? Talk with people; get therapy; talk with your parents. When you figure out what’s holding back your happiness…change that thing or rid your life of that thing.

You should have a basic level of happiness and add things to your life which grow your baseline. Make $100k a year? Great! Now you can save for retirement and take care of your mom and Janet. Have a best friend you love and adore? Wonderful! Go to Europe after graduation and have a ball. Meet the love of your life, have kids and grow old together? Super!

These things should add to your happiness, not MAKE you happy. Trust me, there are people who will do all these things and still be unhappy without knowing why. And there are people who have done none of these things and still enjoy every minute of their lives.

Money can’t buy you happiness, no (it can make life a lot easier, though) because true happiness comes from within each of us. Be happy, embrace yourself and live the life you want to live.

Love, Mom

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Austin Texas 2014 Part Two

I must admit, when Janet and I went to Austin this time I fully realized everything I missed. I miss the fact it can be 80 degrees in February. I also miss the music, food, our friends and our neighborhood.  I really like what’s happening on the eastside at the moment. Not everyone will agree with me but I like the changes.

It all started with Franklin Barbeque. They moved into the hood and it drew in the barbeque lovin’ crowd. Now, the Quickie Pickie has transformed from a dark scary place into a beer lover’s mecca. A new restaurant has moved in across the street from Quickie and it was packed with people sitting outside eating and enjoying the weather.

The only reason Janet and I left the eastside this trip was because we had to go to Chuy’s, one of our favorite TexMex establishments.  Janet developed a taste for Margarita rocks, I enjoyed a burrito as big as my face and we missed Austin terribly even as we sat surrounded by its glory.

We never made it out to El Sol y La Luna, our favorite spot for migas tacos, but I indulged my need for migas at Kerbey Lane Café. I had never been there before but I will definitely go back (even though they made their migas with tortilla chips). We also stopped by Hula Hut for Margaritas (!) and tres leches cake. It tasted better than it sounds.

I’m sure we did more than eat when we visited, I just can’t think of anything. We did go for a jog along the hike and bike trail around Lady Bird Lake but that was mainly because we needed to burn a few of those margarita and cake calories. I’m glad I’m not tracking my eating habits at the moment.

I miss parts of living in Texas but I love most of living in Seattle. Solution? We talked about keeping the house on the eastside and being snowbirds…living in Austin during the winter and the rest of the time in Seattle/Portland. Yes, we had that much fun.

jenn

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Austin Texas Part One

Janet and I noticed, last year, that Jesse had a weird five day weekend in celebration of President’s Day and decided to take advantage by heading over to Austin. What a brilliant idea. I can’t remember enjoying myself that much on another trip in recent memory. It was all about the food. Oh…and we saw friends too, but it was mostly about the food.

It’s quite startling to get on a plane in Seattle and step out into Austin weather. It’s brutal in August but really lovely in February. We landed during the perfect Austin weather weekend: clear skies and highs in the low 80s. I can’t remember when I felt 80 in Seattle. August, maybe?

We dropped Jesse off with her BFF and immediately went to dinner. What can I say about our favorite barbeque place, Rudy’s? DELICIOUS! I swear I want to open up a Rudy’s in the Seattle area but I would not be as small as I am now. Janet ordered her usual moist brisket and I ordered the dry (I have issues with fatty meat). There was a long line and I love the fact they have bottles of beer and sodas lining the Disneyland like barriers.

We sat down like little kids and dug into our brisket, coleslaw, white squishy bread and delicious bbq sause. I hope the noises we were making didn’t go far beyond our table. You try and be discreet but sometimes, especially if it’s been a while, you just can’t contain the noises of joy. We had ordered enough for leftovers and rolled out to our rental Jeep, the sweet smell of brisket leaving a trail of delicious behind.

The next morning, fueled by a breakfast of brisket, we met a group of friends for a hike. We went to one of the gems of Austin: McKinney Falls State Park. I used to live just to the west of McKinney Falls, on William Cannon, and would go there to hike around and relax. I just love it there. The trail we hiked, the Homestead trail, hadn’t been too damaged during the October floods but parts of the park are still closed.

The women we went with, members of TOWN (Texas Outdoor Womens Network), were a joy to be around. I miss these women and their group immensely. I have never met a group of women who were as nice, caring, accepting and full of life as TOWN women. I miss them mostly because they made me realize how important friends can be in life. That’s what life’s all about, friendship; and brisket, of course.

jenn

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Seattle Seahawks

I can hardly believe the Seattle Seahawks are NFL champions. My beloved city of Seattle is in full party mode right now. On the day after the Seahawks win, on a Monday no less, I had not one but two people use the word glorious in their morning greeting. How often does that happen? Never here in Washington; I can’t remember the last time two people said any kind of greeting.

Janet told me we should feel good about our win in only 37 years. She grew up in New England and apparently those poor Red Sox went a very long time in between World Series wins. Something like eighty years. I can honestly say I will not be alive eighty years from now, in case this is the Seahawks only win, so I will bask in the glow of Seattle goodwill for as long as I can.

I vaguely remember when the Seattle Supersonics won the NBA championship back in 1979. Wow, that’s a long time ago (if I’m trying not to admit how old I am). Come to think of it, I must have only been a couple of weeks old. Tee-hee. It sounded very similar: lots of fireworks, shouting and loud celebrations and partying in the streets; all of the streets. (I do want to say our WNBA team, the Storm, won two championships, I believe, but I was living in Texas at the time and as you can imagine I couldn’t follow the games.)

The celebration parade for the Seahawks was held yesterday and the route went through Belltown and Downtown ending at Century Link Field. 700,000 people showed up, filling the stadium and the two mile parade route. I’m not sure where all those people parked but I’m glad I live in far south Seattle and didn’t venture out in my car yesterday. I’m not sure if you’ve heard but Seattle has, on a normal day, traffic issues and I can’t imagine what it was like yesterday.

I want to explain how we won the NFL championship. It’s simple really. Some might say it was our defense. Some might point to a particular player or drive. I’m here to tell you the real reason: I didn’t write one word about the Seahawks all season. Yup, I’m just beginning to realize the full depth of my powers. So, I’m wondering…should I write about the team next season? If they lose, will I be blamed? Have I jinxed them already?

This morning, I feel emotionally tired, drained really. The actual Superbowl was easy…who knew Denver could be dominated like they were? No, I’m drained because being happy, smiling and high fiving strangers, inquiring into other people’s lives and feelings, is really quite exhausting. Now I realize why I don’t do it on a regular basis. I swear, if I see one more wonderful picture of a smiling Russell Wilson, holding up the Lombardi trophy, my face will crack and I’ll look just like Heath Ledger’s Joker.

Luckily, I now have Sundays to rest up and get back to my normal introverted ways. What else do I have to do, now that football is over? I’m sure Janet has a list of things we should do, now that Sunday’s many viewing hours have opened up to us. She probably has visions of us being productive and actually getting things on our list done. Hey, wait…don’t the Olympics start today?

jenn

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