Seth Godin on Data

Actually, more data might not be what you’re hoping for. They got us hooked on data. Advertisers want more data. Direct marketers want more data. Who saw it? Who clicked? What percentage? What’s trending? What’s yielding? But there’s one group that doesn’t need more data…Anyone who’s making a long-term commitment. Anyone who seeks to make art, to make a difference, to challenge the status quo.Because when you’re chasing that sort of change, data is the cudgel your enemies will use to push you to conform. Data paves the road to the bottom. It is the lazy way to figure out what to do next. It’s obsessed with the short-term. Data gets us the Kardashians.

Racing a Baby

Entering my third trimester of pregnancy sounded a silent alarm that triggered a flurry of progress on the house. In the past two weeks we had the crawl space cleaned; Kevin, Matt, and Mike had a ball furiously demolishing the place; we hired help to frame the two bathrooms and kitchen wall; the bathroom plumbing is complete; and we purchased toilets, faucets, a bathtub, and mirrors.

I want it to be beautiful, practical, and concordant with the architecture of the house–or at least just look like the home of mature grown ups. We really are gut renovating the entire place which is scary because we’ve never done anything like this before, but it’s also fun being absorbed in this dream space with nothing but visions, possibilities, and a blank slate–a very blank slate.

Kevin and I are running at full bandwidth. During the day I’m at the office doing user experience research (and baking our little love bun!) while Kevin is the foreman overseeing construction with Matt, going to auditions, working on his production company, and preparing for another film. Evenings are spent cooking dinner, running to Home Depot, scouring the internet for tile patterns, and planning the to-do list for tomorrow.

As with most worthwhile projects getting started was the hardest part. Now that we’re deep in the rubble there are tiny shafts of light that must be the end of the tunnel because I’m daydreaming about hosting parties with the record player on and sparkly lights strung around the yard with baby girl wobbling across the kitchen floor. One day.

Baby is already moving fast. It’s incredible to me that at 29 weeks of pregnancy she has grown into a perfect tiny human with all pieces in place. Now it’s just a matter of fattening up. She’s about 16 inches, two and a half pounds and it’s hard to believe she’ll nearly triple in weight over the next 11 weeks. I feel huge. My back aches and cardio exercise feels like I’m at a high elevation and breathless. Does going to the gym count if your workout is lying down to foam roll your back and legs?

Baby girl wants sweets and fruit, especially the ripe summer cherries in season. She’s also loving this homemade lemon curd. Though, tonight she sent Daddy to In-N-Out Burger to get her a chocolate milkshake and fries. Mom is absolutely ok with this.

Her little kicks got stronger over the past couple weeks, announcing growth spurts and startling me every time. She gets the hiccups and my belly twitches. My sister-in-law, Yvonne, threw me the most thoughtful, beautiful Peter Rabbit themed baby shower that is still making me tear up when I think about it. Baby is already spoiled with a tower of gifts from dear friends and family.

Every day the mist clears more and I see visions of a future that I’m racing to get my mind around.

Kevin and I will no longer be a couple. We’ll be a family.

Parents tell you, “Everything changes.” What does that mean? This piece in the The Atlantic begins, “The artist Sarah Walker once told me that becoming a mother is like discovering the existence of a strange new room in the house where you already live.”

What will this new room be like? Who will I be in this room? Will I become a better person?

Will my relationship with my husband change? Will he change?

I can see him holding her in one hand while eating a burger with the other. I see her strapped to his chest as he walks through the hardware store. I can see her snuggled between us in bed getting showered with kisses.

Maybe this room won’t be a room. Maybe it will be a whole new world that we’ll explore together, discovering a new kind of love, new colors, and different lights.

Speaking of, one of the final discoveries of my pre-parenthood life is homemade lemon curd. (It’s a great way to procrastinate when you should be reading your stack of childbirth books.) The neighbor’s tree yields the sweetest, juiciest lemons; you can practically eat them like sliced oranges. I’ve bought delicious jarred lemon curd from Trader Joe’s but avoided making it, assuming it involves a wasteful amount of egg yolks and delicate hours of stirring. It does not!

This recipe turned out silky and divine. Eat it off a spoon, on crepes, over yogurt, layered with cake, on toast. I first served it over angel food cake with fresh vanilla whipped cream and cherries. Baby was dancing.

Quick and Easy Lemon Curd

Makes 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 6 lemons
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs

Preparation

  1. Grate zest from lemons to equal 2 Tbsp. Cut lemons in half; squeeze juice into a measuring cup to equal 1 cup.
  1. Beat butter and sugar at medium speed with an electric mixer until blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition. Gradually add lemon juice to butter mixture, beating at low speed just until blended after each addition; stir in zest. (Mixture will look curdled.) Transfer to a 3-qt. microwave-safe bowl.
  1.  (Stove-top) Prepare as directed through Step 2, transferring mixture to a heavy 4-qt. saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, 14 to 16 minutes. (Microwave) Microwave at HIGH 5 minutes, stirring at 1-minute intervals. Microwave, stirring at 30-second intervals, 1 to 2 more minutes or until mixture thickens, coats the back of a spoon, and starts to mound slightly when stirred. Proceed as directed in Step 4.
  1. Place heavy-duty plastic wrap directly on warm curd (to prevent a film from forming), and chill 4 hours or until firm. Store in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 2 weeks.

Recipe courtesy of Southern Living

Good Book: The Son by Philipp Meyer

The Son is an historical epic set in the American West. Separate plot lines follow three generations of the McCullough family in Texas. The stories of Eli, Peter, and Jeannie are driven by ruthless violence, survival, power lust, coming-of-age, and guilt. The panoramic scope spanning over a century and multiple generations would make its 550 pages seem limiting, but I was entranced with just one of the three plot lines:

Eli McCullough was the first child born in the new Republic of Texas. At age eight the Comanches raid his home, destroying the homestead and killing his family. He watches his sister being raped and killed. He and his brother are taken captive and he slowly learns the ways and life of the Comanches.

To research the novel, Meyer read more than 250 books on the West. But that wasn’t enough for him. To get a sense of what life might have been like for the Comanche, who play a central role in the book, he spent months in the desert and the plains, eating and sleeping outdoors.

“I taught myself to bow hunt; I took weeks and months of tracking classes on how to track animals and how to understand how Native Americans related to their environment,” Meyer explains. “I went to a buffalo rancher who raises organic, grass-fed buffalo for restaurants and I helped him kill several buffalo. After we shot these animals, basically I took a coffee mug and filled it with the blood from the animal’s neck and drank it because that was another thing the Comanches did with some regularity.” NPR’s author interview

As the moral compass, Peter’s story is a lot of guilt-ridden brooding and consequently the dullest. The story of Jeannie, the fifth richest woman in Texas, is a bit more fleshed out and could even be the basis of good standalone novel. But Meyer’s depiction of Eli’s life with the Comanches is by far the most riveting of the three. It’s such a fascinating account. His journey threads through the book like gold and I didn’t want his time as a Comanche to end.

The length of the book makes it a bigger commitment than a weekend read, but if you have any penchant for the American West, any interest in Native American culture, it’s well worth it. I’m excited for the slated television drama series adaptation on AMC.

Year of Change

Hello, again. I’m back.

We plough ahead day-by-day, often burdened by everything that didn’t get done. But if I stop and turn around to see the mound of changes behind us, it makes me feel better, more patient, and pretty floored.

In a single year:

  • Destination wedding in Provincetown, Cape Cod
  • Mini-honeymoon Princess cruise along the California coast to Ensenada
  • Put in several offers on income properties and failed. Then gave up and tried to buy an escape cabin in Idyllwild, also failed.
  • Finally found the one – we closed on an income property in North Hollywood
  • Honeymooned in Europe
  • Made a baby after trying for nearly a year

Most people spread these sorts of life events over several years. In our case one followed the other like dominoes, each unraveling far beyond my expectations. And now here we are, fully focused on making a neglected house habitable and preparing to embark on our wildest and longest adventure yet: parenthood.

First, an update on the houses.

Our dreams for this property are to restore the front house–by hand–to its original glory, and to begin generating a steady stream of passive income renting the back house.

Kevin, the perfectionist, is making the front house beautiful. I promise to post some pictures. The past six months in a nutshell:

Home projects completed

  • Restored original hardwood floor
  • New roof
  • New electrical throughout the house
  • Original windows restored
  • Interior wall restored in living room and dining room (re-stucco, painting)
  • Ceiling fans (one big ass fan. No, really.)
  • Recessed lighting throughout
  • New circuit breaker box installed and moved from the exterior to the interior
  • Laundry room exterior – awning removed, repaired roof trim and door trim, painted

Home projects in progress

  • Front door – restore and beautify
  • Get plans and permits to demo the single bathroom and replace with two
  • Demo the kitchen wall and make it an open floor plan with galley kitchen and bar

Did I mention we are hoping to finish before baby girl arrives? Yet again, another series of things that we are cramming into one year. Pray for us.

Second, an update on the really big change: did I mention how excited I am to be pregnant? Full disclosure – it has been tumultuous. Many things took me by surprise. One sentiment sums it up: “Hey, nobody tells you that….”Read More »

E. B. White on the writer

A writer should concern himself with whatever absorbs his fancy, stirs his heart, and unlimbers his typewriter. I feel no obligation to deal with politics. I do feel a responsibility to society because of going into print: a writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.

Adventures in Amsterdam

October has arrived unannounced. I suppose that’s how it feels when most of one’s September is spent on an ambitious jaunt across Europe and the UK. Wildly ambitious.

  • Amsterdam – 2 nights
  • Paris – 2 nights
  • Edinburgh – 2 nights
  • Inverness (Loch Ness) – 4 nights
  • Isle of Skye – 2 nights
  • Glasgow – 1 night
  • Belfast – 1 night

Kevin and I are not your worldly jetsetters traipsing coolly across the globe every year. We are far too cheap and struggle with planning beyond the current week, so vacation means backpacking in the Sierras where lodging is forever free and vacant. I’m ashamed that a year after our wedding, the honeymoon remained unplanned.

So when our dear friend Jay announced he was celebrating his birthday at the only habitable castle(!) on Loch Ness(!), we came to after fainting and started planning a real vacation; an extended birthday / honeymoon / one year anniversary trip to Scotland, plus as many other cities crammable into two weeks.

Having little international travel experience, we ordered an outlet adapter and decided, as Americans do, to Just Do It.

Our adventure began in Amsterdam. As the plane descended into the Netherlands, stretches of lush green perked our tired eyes. Approaching, we realized the roads dividing the plains were actually canals. This place is soaked! How lucky they are to have an abundance of flowing water.

Plane to Amsterdam

Canals run throughout Amsterdam like streets, but in semicircular rings of a spiderweb rather than square blocks. Much of the land is actually below sea level. The three main canals date back to the 17th century. I’ve always thought of moats as features of castles, but I read that the Singel canal encircled the medieval city of Amsterdam, serving as a moat to protect the city from 1480 until 1585.

Amsterdam is nicknamed “Venice of the North,” and while I haven’t been to Venice yet, it recalls every depiction I’ve seen; boats float past tall, gabled facades lining the water. Beautiful old trees shade couples lounging on the roofs of houseboats, playing cards in the cool afternoon. This seems like a dreamy place to retire (mental note).

Canals at NightWhat I loved most, besides luxurious water, was the architecture–the very old and the very new. Read More »

1920s Spanish Home Floor Restoration

A month and a half has passed since we moved in and I’m not sure if it’s gone by fast or slow. It depends on which house I’m looking at.

In the back house, our current residence, time is dragging. It still looks like we moved in yesterday. Furnishings for two houses are being hoarded in one much-too-small house. Our cat Zoinks, on the other hand, has never been happier. She had requested a castle long ago and it appears we’ve finally delivered.

Zoinks in the boxes

Meanwhile, the front house is breathing new life for the first time in decades. The floor restoration is nearly finished. It took much longer than expected because numerous boards needed replacing and even the subfloor in areas was damaged.

Kevin’s entire body aches from days of sanding. Over the course of several days I would return from work to find a human figure caked with sweat & sawdust and two weary eyes peering out. Seeing how half the floorboards went towards adorning Kevin, I doubt the floor could handle another sanding in the future. He researched for hours to make sure it was done right. We want to give it a proper last life and protect & maintain it going forward.

subfloor

IMG_2842

Matt working

Lesson learned, Weasel: Play with the table saw and you lose fingers.

Kevin passed outRead More »

Kevin’s Birthday and Bolognese

To celebrate turning 42 years young it seemed appropriate to do something Kevin would have loved doing at age 8 (and beyond). We copied our friends Jason & Daisy and planned a day at XLanes, one of the city’s best kept secrets. They have bowling, karaoke, a sports bar, and an arcade in one place so your husband can run amok.

For me, the most tantalizing part is the walk there. It’s located in Little Tokyo Galleria mall and you pass a row of small restaurants serving noodles, sushi, Korean BBQ, ramen, and tofu bowls. If it weren’t his birthday I would have snuck out and inhaled as many noodle dishes as possible.

Kevin's Cookie Puss cake

It was so good to get everyone together. Yes, this is a Carvel Cookie Puss cake from Jay & Yvonne.

After a sizeable bottle of Jameson had been passed around the karaoke escalated from “Dick in a Box” to a “Ghostbusters” dance battle.

Then it escalated again to deafening death metal Pantera. We were in a private room, but I’ve no doubt their howling echoed through the entire place, vibrating tables and making toddlers cry.

We had all lost track of time at this point and their ear shattering screeches were just begging to get us kicked out. Sure enough, I turn and through the glass there’s an extra large security guard in a black suit hovering outside of our room. I’m thinking, “That’s it. Fun’s over. They’re going to charge us extra for the room for sure now.”

I see our friend Dan open the door, have an exchange, and then Dan closes the door(!) and continues with the karaoke. Moments later the general manager appears. Good grief. Now we’ve ignored the first warning and they called in management. The security guard and manager are now arguing outside of our room.

We quickly cut the music, pack up, and start to leave with apologies ready. The manager left so Kevin approaches the security guard, prepared to do damage control.

“So sorry sir, we lost track of time. It’s my birthday and we were just having fun, we had no idea how loud it was—”

“I LOVE PANTERA! You guys killed it. In my twenty years working here nobody has ever sung Pantera before. You just made my night. The manager was mad and wanted to kick you out, but I told him to leave you alone. Let me buy you guys a drink.”

Devil horns all around. I find myself thanking the gods of metal surprisingly often.

The party continued into the night and Kevin had a three-day hangover so I made him some bolognese. I avoid making bolognese because the one key ingredient–hours for simmering–is scarce for me. But this version is much faster and pretty delicious. And you can drink the rest of the bottle of red wine in the name of being unwasteful.

I cut some of the butter and cream, and I admit I’ve made it more often with bacon instead of pancetta because really, who happens to have pancetta in the fridge?Read More »