Thursday, July 30, 2009

Learning to be a Travel Companion

I've been in Chicago for nearly a week. Although it's not my first trip, it is for my children. They are almost thirteen and nine, and, as time goes on, they teach me more than I teach them. I've learned as much about myself this visit as I have about the wonderful city we're experiencing.

We started off in Evanston, seeing a dear friend of mine who was my housemate in university some two decades ago. She and her husband and two young daughters have made a lovely life in that beautiful town on the North Shore. We have been here during the most perfect week of the summer--Chamber of Commerce weather, my friend's neighbor called it--and spent our first days on the beach and having dinner outside. The kids also went to an (indoor) swimming lesson and later, ice-skating of all things. It was my younger child's first experience, and he says he's not sure about it, although he had fun.

We got to the city and arrived at an apartment in Wicker Park, generously loaned to us through a connection from my parents. It's a perfect spot in what I think of as an ideal urban neighborhood. We've travelled to the Magnificent Mile and to Lincoln Park and made a quick trip to Hyde Park to the Museum of Science and Industry.

What have I determined from our few days? First, watching my kids and my long-time friends interact is even better than I imagined. My friend adores my children, and they feel the same for her. I love watching her daughters, though they are younger and so a little more shy with me than mine are with her. But they love playing with my kids, and hearing their laughter drift through the kitchen screen door was delightful.

I've also seen how my travel style isn't for everyone. I like to think I roll pretty well when I am on trips, but now I see I tend to cram in more than the average person might enjoy. As I said to my son, "When you grow up in a series of boring small towns, a place like Chicago is more thrilling for you than for other people." My kids live in a perfectly nice town of about a million people, and they have grown up knowing good grocery stores and great works of art around the corner, so they don't feel the push I do to make the most of every visit to a major metropolis. Consequently, they also don't understand my enjoyment of walking for six or more hours a day to Enjoy the City. I've spent a little more than expected on cabs as a result.

When I relax, good surprises happen. Today we wanted to get to the museum in Hyde Park and then had to make it back for an architectural boat tour I'd paid $84 in tickets for, and then were supposed to meet a former colleague for dinner afterwards. We didn't get up particularly early, then got turned around on the way to breakfast. I am still not that confident navigating public transit here, so we ran even later, but then found our bus stop just fine.

We waited about ten minutes as a few different buses passed, and finally ours arrived. As I turned back to tell the kids to follow me to the rear seats, I saw my daughter hugging a girl about her age. Turns out one of my daughter's soccer teammates was on the bus with her dad. She has spent the summer with him in New Mexico, and they are taking a similar trip. The kids had a great time, and then after our boat tour (which I highly recommend) we met them for dinner, my colleague having cancelled via email while we were on the boat. We had a huge, if expensive, Italian dinner on Rush Street, and rode the bus home happy and full.

Today we are packing up and heading back to Evanston for a short visit before we fly home to Fort Worth tomorrow. I am doing my best to fend off thoughts about the work that awaits at the office and at home. I want to enjoy our last bit of time here. So today and tomorrow morning, I'll be sitting in the kitchen of an 1897 Victorian three blocks from the lake, talking to an old friend and listening to our child laugh together. The office will be there on Monday.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Minimalist

The most-read article on the NY Times website this week is "101 Simple Salads for the Season," an installation in the series entitled The Minimalist, which is the creation of food and travel journalist Mark Bittman.

Mr. Bittman also writes a blog entitledBitten http://bitten.blogs.nytimes.com/on the Times site, and he's the author of a number of books including How to Cook Everything and Food Matters. He is one of the lucky three who get to travel with celebrity chef Mario Batali on the PBS series Spain: On the Road Again. His eponymous website has links to all of his work.

He refers to his lifestyle as "Vegan Before Five," avoiding animal products until dinner. He became an advocate of this approach because he discovered he could still eat fish, cheese, and some meat and yet by limiting them in this way he enjoyed many health benefits. His weight and blood pressure dropped, and his cholesterol is now at a recommended level. Additionally, he cites the major implications of this lifestyle for the environment: if all of us in the developed world ate half the meat we do now, our impact on the earth would be vastly reduced.

What I like best about his philosophy, though, is that he believes cooking is not a complicated thing, solely the province of those with fully tricked-out kitchens. Keep a decent pantry and have the most rudimentary kitchen (he is clearly addressing New Yorkers in this regard) and you can make a healthy and delicious dinner, so he believes. The 101 Salads article is divided into several sections---vegan, vegetarian, salads with seafood, salads with meat, and salads with pasta. They are all short recipes. Even better, he's got a number of basic salad dressings detailed on the sidebar, along with a video on how to make a good dressing with three elements: a fat, an acid and a flavoring. Do check out his website and the Times article. Contrary to the celebrity culture, we don't have to be chefs to enjoy the kitchen: we only need to be cooks with appetites. Dine well!

Monday, July 20, 2009

What's Changed


This is a photograph of the Flatiron Building in Toronto, one of my Dad's favorite structures in the city. There is of course one--the famous one--in New York, and oddly there is also one like this in Fort Worth, where I now live. Odd because in my city there is a pride in making buildings that reflect our own culture rather than that of Back East. Anyway, when I walked by it after I'd made my way through the Saturday crowds at the St. Lawrence Market, which used to be one of our favorite places to go at lunch during the year we worked in the same office at the police force (or,police services, as they are now politely called in Canada) headquarters, I thought of him and smiled.

My Dad and Mom grew up in rural Ontario and we stayed there as a result of my Dad's work through my entire childhood. Then, when I was in second year at university and much to my delight, he received an offer to work at General Headquarters in Toronto, and my parents decided to take a leap and go off to the Big Smoke, as the city is known in Canada.

This meant when I went home from school it wasn't to a town of 1,800 very boring people--only those who grow up in cities think small towns are filled with interesting and tolerant people--but to the city which at that time represented everything I aspired to be. I was thrilled, and I spent most of the first several months walking everywhere I could, up from the shore of Lake Ontario past Bloor Street. This habit continued for much of the decade I lived in the area.

So my trip was about seeing friends, and walking. The first night I met my friend who is in the money business, and we had drinks at a bar in the financial district, then continued to tony Yorkville to see and be seen, and catch up on several years of personal history. But since we used to go for a beer almost every evening when we were in university and pretty much grew up together there like brother and sister, our friendship is such that it felt like we'd seen each other only last week.

Before I met him, I skipped along Queen West, which has changed from a very grungy strip to a slightly gentrified strip the locals lament. That said, The Rex still has blues playing all the time and, as I can confirm from walking past the doorway, still smells like Molson Canadian lager.

My second day included a walk past the University of Toronto and a recollection of the graceful lines of the architecture on the campus, followed by helping a woman find Women's College Hospital, where my daughter was born almost thirteen years ago.

I got past Bloor where University becomes Avenue Road, and could not resist heading towards the apartment where I lived for several months with the man who would become my husband. I got to Davenport and looked at the spot where he had parked the 1971VW bus when he rolled into town from Arkansas two months before we married. I remembered the bus at 45 degrees on the tow truck coming down when we bribed the driver with a partial fee, and then moved the vehicle I remember not where. I continued along the street to look for the Idler Pub, a place intended to subsidize a literary magazine owned by the same man, where we'd gone for pints and fries afterwards. The pub was demolished and replaced with a small but ugly concrete building. Back I went to see the doorway to the staircase up to the apartment where we lived. The flower shops downstairs still smelled lovely, and as I approached, one of the current tenants happened to be coming home from her workout, and I had a brief glimpse up the narrow passage where we once tripped over a homeless man someone had let in on a night when it was thirty below.

I met a dear friend where a storied bookshop has now become a Starbucks, went to Chinatown, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and had a beer at another favorite pub that remains intact on Madison Avenue. Then to The Beaches for dinner with another friend and met daughters who had not yet been born when I left. Saturday I went with the first friend with her family, sitting on a lovely deck looking at the sailboats on the lake at the National Yacht Club. I ate fish and chips to compensate for the Malbec I bought at the LCBO the evening before. Then I headed to the suburbs on the GO-Train to see still other friends who've known me since I lived in that town of 1,800, but were well and truly the exception to the boring rule.

The entire time I looked to see what was different. Some things, like the demolished pub, the slight reconfiguration of neighborhoods, were. But the city's spirit was the same. It is still impossible to sort out the tourists from the residents (apart, to my chagrin, to a few Americans who clearly do not live in walking cities) because there are so many languages being spoken. I found myself comparing Toronto to other big US cities I've visited in the intervening years, and although it's still wonderful, it didn't awe me the way it did when I first stepped out of Union Station in 1987. And evidently I sound (and perhaps look) differently, since the waitress at a pub on my first evening said, "Wait! Let me guess: you're from Mississippi. No, Georgia." When I said I was from Ottawa, she said she didn't believe it.

The Yacht Club friends, who are also both expats to Canada and in addition spent several years in Texas, told me I have a Southern drawl. (My Texan friends will find this uproariously funny, with good reason.) Then they asked me what had changed the most in my Toronto visit. "Me," I answered without much consideration. It's a good thing, one of them said. And I must concur, although this trip I remembered fondly the girl who walked out of Union Station in 1987. She really knew what exploring meant.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Off to Toronto


I am looking forward to my trip to Toronto tomorrow. It's infernally hot in Texas, and I can't wait for the cooler temperatures, even though my friends who live there deserve a warm summer after a dreadful winter. The picture attached to the post is a sculpture that's part of an addition to the Art Gallery of Ontario.* It, along with some trips to funky walking neighborhoods (or should I write, neighbourhoods?) and a couple of pints of Sleeman Ale are on my to-do list. I've got several visits with friends on tap, too, and know my long-time peeps will remind me of where I came from. More to follow..
*Have been informed by a loyal reader that the photo is in fact at the Royal Ontario Museum. And now that I've in fact made a visit, I know this.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Clutter

As my friend Colin once said, "There are two kinds of people. Those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don't." Okay, I agree it's wrong to oversimplify, but I do think most of us fall into one of two categories when it comes to our attitude to stuff: we are keepers, or we are throwers.

My parents are the ultimate throwers--they personify "A place for everything, and everything in its place." They are admirably ruthless about sorting and throwing on a regular basis, although my mom would protest that her closets run contrary to this. (Note: I've looked, and they are pretty darn impressive.)

So I am a thrower, and admire those who manage it better than I. For a decade and a half, I was married to a serious keeper. Let me correct myself: he is not just a keeper, but a gatherer. He's got plenty of interesting things, although unfortunately he is not an organizer, so my desire for order and his desire for Cool Things That Might Come in Handy just didn't jive.

Having said this, full-time work, two kids, a dog and an enjoyment of many pursuits other than cleaning mean I don't always keep up with my own aspirations. I used beat myself senseless for not having the perfectly appointed linen closet, but now I stick to maintaining certain areas. I keep my own bedroom tidy, and the tiny kitchen and well-loved living room are also places I strive to keep clutter-free for my own mental health. Ditto for my office, although I let it go more than I should.

The kids' rooms? I could continually harp at the kids for their habit of stepping over toys, dirty clothes and the occasional empty water glass, but it's easier to close the door. I ask as calmly as I can when I notice it (and they are pretty good when I do this) but they really only get cleaned well about once a month. I've come a very, very long way on this: as a stay-at-home mom about three lifetimes ago, I would stay up late picking up the toy room and scrubbing baseboards. Much of this was done in an effort to impress The Keeper. I was surprised and hurt when he didn't give me a gold star for it, but now of course I wonder what I was thinking. Never mind what it says about the relationship--the real cure, in hindsight, was a challenging job outside the home. Good thing I found one, or I would really have turned into a Mad Housewife.

There is a good blog called The Unclutterer that has tips on how to keep things organized, although it's a little preachy and I don't think it would appeal to the typical Keeper, who, in my experience, really doesn't care. But for those of us who can use a little inspiration, it can be helpful. Last Friday I spent a couple of hours cleaning my office and, when I walked in on Monday morning, I had forgotten and felt a rush of pleasure at the order I found. Then I proceeded to have a wonderfully productive day. At times like this, I remember it's worth the time it takes to create order.

If you're wondering, I did have help with the cleaning for a couple of years. But about six months ago I decided that if I and two able-bodied children couldn't keep a 1,200 square foot house tidy enough for our own purposes, we just weren't terribly organized. And it's actually better-kept now than before, because I know someone else won't take care of it. Let's just say I didn't fall into the camp of "I'd better clean up because the cleaning lady comes tomorrow." There is the other half of the population, of course. And I'm definitely on that side of it.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Five Things I Like About Getting Older

Popular culture tends to look at aging in one of two ways. The first is that it's something to be avoided at all costs--or at least as a way of looking it is to be avoided at all costs. The other is to celebrate older people who do remarkable things like climb mountains and live to ages such that they have no peers left standing.

For those of us who aren't trying to Botox our way back a couple of decades or who haven't the time or disposable income to start a non-profit or climb Mont Blanc, there isn't much to go by.

For me and other mere mortals, however, there are some very nice things about getting older. The following are among my favorites:


This too shall pass. On her excellent blog, The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin discusses how worry can drain us. One of her insights on this struck me: almost everything one is worried about today won't matter in two years. When I wake up at three in the morning and start to brood, I list off my worries and determine she is quite correct. And most of the time it helps me let them go and drift back to sleep.

I've been to this movie before. Almost twenty years ago I had a rather eccentric boss, an immigrant from Israel. He had seen a good many serious things in his life, and as a result had perspective, which meant he was irreverent. When some ridiculous issue came up in office politics, he would say, "I've been to this movie before. I don't need to go to a meeting to see how it ends." It was totally refreshing, not to mention hilarious to watch everyone else's reaction when he blew off a meeting, although now I look back on his attitude as rather unprofessional as well. But as my career progresses, things happen in my work environment and people freak out, as people do, and I know it was ever thus. And often I even know how it will work out. Sometimes that means it's time to go, because the situation won't resolve itself, but mostly it means riding it out and not taking much of it too seriously. So graduating into a recession, it turns out, was a pretty good thing.

There are real things to worry about. Now that I've passed forty, I've watched neighbors lose spouses much too soon. I've seen others face huge debts or foreclosures, get stuck in awful marriages, struggle with the death of a parent. I haven't suffered any major losses in my life, and know there is little I can do to prevent tragedy striking. But watching these people manage the hand they've been dealt with strength and grace grants me humility and, with effort, a sense of gratitude.

Control is an illusion. I like security a lot. A regular paycheck, good benefits, savings accounts, taxes filed. I get a real sense of pleasure from paying all of my bills online because I can see it's gotten done all at once. But once it gets more complicated than a simple transaction and it involves complicit behavior from other human beings, I understand that there isn't much I can do. I used to use up a lot of energy trying to get others to do what I thought was the right thing. But that is of course a matter of opinion, so others didn't always see it my way and in fact decided to do the opposite. Now I try to detach and sometimes it works out my way, sometimes not. And on occasion when it's the latter, it works out better because it didn't go my way. Again with the humility.

Being right isn't the most important thing. In my young life, politics was life and death to me. This only got worse as I got older, but moving to Texas and being exposed to the kind of people I used to think were, well, misinformed, gave me a greater tolerance. Even if we disagree, we can still get through a work or neighborhood relationship. Although I still enjoy a productive discussion, those are difficult to find. I don't really want to spend time with people or media who just reinforce my point of view, but American culture has become so polarized this is difficult to do. Now when someone is trying to convert me, I just switch to another subject. Passive aggressive? Maybe. But I don't believe any arguments I make will change minds, and now I believe preserving a friendship or even a good work relationship is much more important than winning an argument.

Don't wait until tomorrow. The first time I went to New York, I had the privilege of staying at The University Club, a storied place--originally only for men, of course, but now for women too--and was sitting in the watering hole in the basement of the building. I hadn't travelled by myself before and was a little uncomfortable, but was sitting at the bar with my book and a burger. (Okay, a glass of wine, too.) I ended up having a lovely conversation with gentleman in his seventies who told me how he was moving to Paris for several months. A true New Yorker, he was worried about what he would miss in his beloved hometown, and then how his grandchildren might change while he was gone. But, he said, I only regret the things I've never done. Were that I could get to this place completely, as there are a good many things I did in fact do that I would change. But his words stay with me. It's why I went to Toronto last weekend, the reason I bought a single floor ticket and drove down to Austin by myself to see Van Morrison a couple of years ago. I haven't actually seen The Bucket List, but my Dad explained the plot to me because he loved the movie, and I realized I'd already made mine and was busy knocking them out, with great pleasure. It's trite but true--figure out what you want, and go do it, no matter how the "what if" part of your brain is arguing against it. At the very least, you'll have a great story.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Space


How much space do we actually need? Here in North Texas, people feel they need a lot. Urban sprawl is ubiquitous in cities across the continent, but everything really is bigger here. Shortly after I moved to the area, I was sitting in the "watching room" at my kids' gymnastics class, and heard a woman say, "My house isn't that big. It's only 3300 square feet." My own sixties ranch house had about a thousand square feet less, but our yard was almost half an acre, with huge, beautiful live oak trees and the requisite sprinkler system. After ten years in Toronto, I felt overwhelmed by the sheer amount of room I had around me. This woman (married to an orthopedic surgeon, she later disclosed quite loudly) thought my quarters quite close indeed.

Now my house is a little "cottage" of about 1,200 square feet, positively Lilliputian for Fort Worth, but perfect for my life now. The ranch house with the live oaks felt positively huge during the first weekends I spent without my children, and couldn't possibly keep it up. So my husband moved back in and lives there still, giving the kids a place with history, at least half the time.

When women walk into my house for the first time, they usually gasp, "Oh, it's so pretty! And you have it almost all to yourself." Men mostly say, "Wow, it's small." In truth, now I know it's more than I need, at least half the time. My friend in Houston is now an empty-nester and has moved into a 1/1 apartment, albeit in the building with the infamous pool. I can imagine myself in such a small space (although not at party central, which I can visit but would wear thin inside of a week) but at this point, a house with a yard in the neighborhood where my children's classmates live is the life I need now.

Today there was an article in the Real Estate section of the New York Times website. It showed photographs of a 350 square-foot space in Greenwich Village. It is lovely, but I laughed when the tenant--who is a buyer for an upscale retail chain--said she'd moved from Portland where she'd had twice the space for half the money. Living small isn't necessarily inexpensive, even if it's a relative bargain.

A wonderful magazine called Dwell has some fabulous ideas for small spaces. The magazine is devoted to showing how regular people (not those of Architectural Digest pedigree, it's implied in their mission statement) can enjoy good, comfortable design, often in diminutive floorplans. Their website features photographs and lots of resources for good home design. See the link on my right sidebar.

Back to real life, far from bohemian Village garrets. A couple of years ago, the kids and I were in the car, stopped at a light. My son looked over at an admittedly nice house and said, "Maybe I'll live there when I grow up." I asked he and his sister if they thought they'd live in Fort Worth all their lives. Their response was along the lines of, where else would we live? I decided then and there that they needed to see more of the world. Fort Worth is a wonderful, livable town, but I want them to know people live differently elsewhere. Although I am not about to haul them off to a Calcutta slum, I do want them to see that people live happily in spaces that don't include a media room or a poolhouse.

It's taken me some time, but in a couple of weeks we are off to Chicago. A very generous friend of my parents has offered to let us stay in an apartment on the ground floor of her house, and I can't wait to show the kids the joys of a city where one can take public transit and walk, walk, walk. I want them to know that a big city isn't necessarily impersonal, that there are neighborhoods where people will get to know them. I grew up in a town of about 1,800 people, and felt, with good reason, like I lived in a fishbowl. Fort Worth has nearly a million residents, but inside Loop 820 it is almost as socially incestuous as my hometown. Someday my kids might get sick of this, so I want them to have a little street sense if they decide to head off to the big city. Which I hope they do, at least for a little while.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Beautiful People

I spent the Fourth of July long weekend down in Houston, Texas. One of my girlfriends invited me to visit her, as she has just moved from the suburbs into a building in a tony, urban neighborhood adjacent to downtown. The building is pretty fabulous, with a fully tricked-out gym, and two enormous fancy pool areas. We spent the most of the daytime hours by one of these pools, and it was a scene I don't think exists anywhere here in staid Fort Worth.

Almost everyone was young, and those who weren't young were really hard workers with good genes. I do quite a bit of work but thank my parents for the rest, and I felt like I looked fine, much better than I would have felt two decades ago. Back then I was self-conscious and and saw only my flaws in the mirror. When I did get attention I assumed that person was just being nice.

But raising two kids and knowing I can support myself has given me a sense of self I didn't have then. I know what clothes look good on me now. I can travel on my own with confidence, hail a cab in a big city. Years of being bookish mean I am comparatively well-read. I know how to find a good restaurant, order a decent bottle of wine.

That confidence was certainly put to the test poolside around all those tanned, hard bodies. As my friends and readers know, I put a high premium on intellectual growth and admire accomplished people. Part of what I consider a high-functioning life is staying in good shape and good health, so I still have some game. But clearly in this environment, my articulate wit was not what was on display.

That's not to say that I wasn't chatted up in the spring break cavorting that both afternoons ended in. (One day there was a beer pong table floating around, which pretty much gives you the idea.) I'm pretty sure it wasn't just the libations consumed by the gorgeous crowd, nor my proximity to my somewhat younger and very attractive friends. I am told I look younger than I am, and I just wanted to have a fun weekend. Still, I looked around and thought, maybe I should have stayed home and made sure the tomato plants got watered.

Because I live in Texas, I know many people who've had work done. I decided a long time ago that only the gym will stand between gravity and my body. But when I looked in the (admittedly magnifying) mirror in the sunlight on the plane on the way home, I wondered if it might be something to consider. Then I picked up the latest issue of Vogue (admittedly, again, not the best choice if I wanted to be intellectually reflective) and read an article about a woman who had been through a divorce before the economic meltdown and who has learned some lessons that might apply to readers who are giving up facials at Bliss or trading down from Christian Louboutin heels. She wrote, "Comparison is lethal to contentment."

Of course, I know she is right. There will always be someone more fabulous, someone with a better body, nicer clothes, an enviable house. Those things shouldn't matter, we're all told in those magazine articles. Then we turn the glossy page to see yet another impossibly perfect image and remember our economy is built upon turning wants into needs. We all feel evaluated to one extent or another upon how we appear.

While I was talking to a few of the breathtakingly gorgeous young men (some of whom were actually interesting, although maybe those six-pack abs blurred my objectivity somewhat) I realized when I was single the first time, these guys wouldn't have given me the time of day. At least now I know enough to enjoy it.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

How to Stock a Pantry

One of the things that contributes most to my health is cooking my own meals at home. I do eat out, but notice when I go through phases when I am cooking less that the bathroom scale--not to mention my bank account--tends to catch me at it.

So rarely is there an evening that I can't, if I expend a little effort, put together a real meal for myself just from what is in my pantry. Here is a rundown of how I keep my pantry stocked.

Salt and Pepper. I don't use much salt, but having some good quality seasalt is good for a little seasoning of meats and to throw into sauteed spinach. I go through one container in about three years. Pepper should be in a peppercorn grinder, which you can get for about twenty bucks. If you have a bulk food section in your grocery store, they can be purchased really cheaply there.

Pasta and Rice. I like to have some nice pasta around, along with a couple of different kinds of rice. Wild rice is great with some toasted nuts tossed in, and I am learning to make reasonably good risotto. But the stuff in the bag that you can steam in three minutes is genius, and really pretty healthy if you buy the brown variety.

Canned fish. I like to have high quality tuna around, but any kind is good to have in the house. And I love anchovies (admittedly, not for everyone) ground to a paste in my mortar and pestal and thrown into salad dressing.

Canned Tomatoes. Good for a quick pasta sauce, combined with a few fresh herbs and some freshly ground pepper, along with some anchovies, if you like them.

Garlic and Green Onions. I use garlic every day, whether I put it in salad dressing--it's really easy to make your own, and it tastes infinitely better than the preservative-filled stuff on the shelves--and it smells wonderful when you cook it.

Lemons and Limes. Use them in marinades for meat and in salad dressing. They keep for around two weeks, so you don't need to buy that nasty stuff in the plastic lemon.

Eggs. The nicest fast food you can find. If I am in a pinch to feed my kids, eggs and bagels and fruit make a nice healthy meal of comfort food. I hard boil them and put them in my salad (in fact I am doing so right now as I write) and if you get good at making omelettes and quiche, which I am not yet, there are tons of options.

Nuts. I love pine nuts especially, and get those also in the bulk section at my beloved Central Market. I heat a little olive oil, and then toast them very carefully and toss them into tuna or salad. But walnuts and almonds are also great and can combine easily with lots of ingredients.

Vinegar. If you have the white wine and balsamic varieties, you're set.

Olive oil. You don't have to buy the stuff that's fifteen bucks a bottle, as even the cheapest stuff is better than corn or canola oil. Keep it in a dark cupboard and don't let it get hot. I go through a bottle every week or two, and my cholesterol is well within healthy bounds.

Cheese. I keep a little fresh parmesan in the house. It's got a great, tart taste and you don't need much on top of grilled asparagus or cooked chicken to give it some extra zing.

Chicken broth. Lots of people make their own (sometimes I make my own vegetable broth with a spring of fresh rosemary--which I, ahem, borrow from my neighbor Judy's very large plant--a carrot, a clove of garlic, a green onion and some salt) but having a couple of containers on hand is great when you want to throw together a soup or stew from leftovers.

Mustard and Worchestershire Sauce. I use Dijon and Worchestershire in my favorite salad dressing. See below, and enjoy!

Sue's Favorite Dressing

Juice of 1 lemon

Two tablespoons of olive oil

One tablespoon of white wine vinegar

One teaspoon Dijon mustard

Dash of Worchestershire sauce

Two anchovies, ground to paste

1/8 cup of freshly ground parmesan cheese

Three turns of freshly ground peppercorns

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Media Diet Update

I am at the halfway point in my week of self-imposed media blackout. So far I've been by and large successful, although it's not really been a blackout. I've cheated a couple of times--the website for Fort Worth's newspaper, the Star-Telegram, pulled me in on two occasions, both for local stories I felt might be important. One was about an elderly man who had gone missing (thought I might know him) and the other was about a police raid on a gay bar. I couldn't resist that one.

I've done my best to avoid the news flashes in the elevators at work, and haven't stopped to watch any ESPN while I get my cup of tea in the kitchen. But today I did look on the Wall Street Journal website because a friend wanted me to look at the Home of the Week, which of course is a $3.75 mansion in Las Vegas. She does aim high. I scanned the headlines, but swear I didn't open anything.

As I expected, it's been other people who have brought me news. "Did you hear Billy Mays died?" my nine year-old asked me when we talked the other night. The fact that my kids know the name of the yelling pitchman should probably be a cause of concern for me, but since their grandparents are cable news junkies, they are seeing a lot more than usual, as their dad doesn't have cable television and I limit what they watch, so I am going to put that worry aside for now.

Last evening we had a social gathering at work, and I was telling a few people about my experiment. Earlier in the day, my boss had pointed out, rather sagely, that I'd already conducted the experiment last week, since it wasn't like any of us got any actual news during the media circus that accompanied the death of Michael Jackson. During the cocktail hour later, though, one of my colleagues chastised me: "There's so much coming out! You're missing it all!" I asked her why I should think it was important to me. "It's all just so interesting." I smiled and nodded.

I want to stay informed. But somehow we're in a place (and perhaps it was ever thus) where we've gone from watching Iranians protesting in the streets one week to dissecting the life of a very strange, albeit very talented, pop star the next.

Today, I thought about how cable news outlets, much like soap operas used to uniquely do, succeed because they help people fill time. But I want to do a lot more than that. As Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon professor said in his famous Last Lecture, we must constantly ask ourselves, "Is this the best and highest use of my time?"

I'm off to dinner with a friend, and then I'm coming home to get in my new and marvelously comfortable bed, where I will read another chapter in a wonderful novel that has me under its spell. So for this evening at least, the answer to Dr. Pausch's question is yes.