Seattle: You Beautiful, Passive Aggressive Bastard

img_2119I’ve lived in the Emerald City for two years now, and that’s long enough for me to form some qualified opinions. Hopefully the people of Seattle will handle criticism a little better than the folks of Austin!  Because, who am I? Why get pissed at some girl and her blog? This is just my opinion. I’m  writing from my  personal experience. That experience may be different from your own. And, I hate having to even say this, but there is always some asshole who has to comment, “Not ALL ______ are _____.” No shit. It’s called a generalization and it takes into consideration that, of course not every person in Seattle will be like I describe. But, there. I’ve said it. Feel free to give up now if you don’t like reading criticism of things which you might not agree. 

The Nature: You can’t get a greener, more beautiful city than Seattle. It’s the first thing you notice when you get here. There are trees everywhere! Green spaces all over the city. And there is the bay! Most days you can see Mt. Rainer in the distance. Even grey, cloudy days are beautiful here. And you still get all of the seasons, more or less. As I type this, I can feel Fall on the horizon. People here genuinely love to be outdoors, and there are plenty of places within city limits to do just that. Whether you love being on the water, hiking in the mountains, or just taking the long way to brunch – you’ll fit in here. Seattle prides itself on its green spaces and dedication to being a Green City. And it is on a large-scale. It’s when you get down to the personal level that it gets fuzzy. For example I see people getting their groceries delivered by Amazon (as well as everything else) and then drive to work in their SUV plastered with an SHOP LOCAL bumper sticker. When I worked in a bookstore, people would tell me how much they detested Amazon…until the book they “had to have right now” wasn’t available. Seattle can’t put its money where it’s mouth is.

This is a dog loving, baby loving, cat on a leash loving, chickens in your back yard loving, bike loving city. If you happen to be a Bike person, you will love it here. There are tons of Bike trails for you and your dog and baby to cruise down. There are bike lanes all over the city which go unused because this city has no clue how to drive anything. Cars. Bikes. Strollers all seem too overwhelming to the Seattleite. The Seattleite in control of a vehicle is an oxymoron. They are not in control. The Seattle Driver will stop at any given moment to let you, a pigeon, or a stray dog cross the street. But if there is a Stop sign, they’ll ignore it. The only city in the world responsible for its own traffic.

Weather and StuffThe weather here is awesome! I loathe heat and humidity, so the cool bay breeziness of Seattle is perfect. It gets hot here in the summer (90-95 F) but it only lasts a few days at a time. It rains here, but not as much as movies and TV would make you think. I like it here. I often leave my flat and say, “Man! It’s beautiful today!” Sun and clouds. It’s usually not too hot, and not too cold. YAY! img_0193
I don’t drive here. I donated my car to charity a few years back  and I feel free! Seattle is FOR SURE, a walkable city. You do not need a car to get around here. There is public transit (bus, tram, metro) and it’s pretty good towards getting better. Not as good as Europe, but way better than L.A. or Texas. Traffic is a real thing here, but I never deal with it.

As far as Culture and stuff – Seattle is awesome. There are tons of museums and galleries here at different price points. So if you can’t make it to see art and shit, that’s on you. The EMP Museum, The SAM and the Asian Art Museum are awesome, and that’s just scratching the surface. It’s like San Francisco here in that, what ever you are into – you can indulge it here. For example, I happen to love Drag Queens. Seattle is a fantastic place to love Drag. Or all things Gay. Or Food. Or sports. (Which is HUGE here, but I loathe sports so I ant gonna write about it.) Or tech. Or Dance. Whatever “Lifestyle” you identify with is welcome here. Seattle prides itself on being welcoming. And it is. To an extent. (See PEOPLE, below)

Food: What ever you want, you can get it in Seattle. Seattle is not only a Foodie paradise, but a Chef’s Haven as well. Seattle not only has some of the best restaurants in the country, but also some of the best available ingredients in the world. Fish, produce, meat, artisan ice-cream … whatever you want you can find it here. And unlike Austin, the finest food isn’t reserved for the rich. You can get a really good meal here for $10 or less if you know where to go. From food trucks to pizza to fine dining, you can’t beat Seattle for food. People here like to eat and take pictures of their food and talk about it. You could go into any neighborhood and get a good meal. That is something.

img_2177Seattle is a BRUNCH and HAPPY HOUR city. It LOVES Brunch. It LOVES Happy Hour. But be careful. Not all Happy Hour and Brunch menus are created equal. You might end up paying an arm and a leg just to be in a cool place with shitty food. But, that’s also part of Seattle. For the Seattleite getting a pretty picture of the food is almost better than the food tasting good.

Cost of Living: If you are reading this hoping for statistics and facts, you should stop now. The following is based solely on my personal opinion and experience living here and there. So that being said… Is Seattle expensive? Yes. I mean, I guess. It’s like a slightly less expensive San Francisco. You get everything you could want in a city: diversity, culture, night life, boozygoodtimes, live music venues, and all the other things people look for in a cool city. But it’s not unlike any other major US city. It depends on where you live. I happen to live in a small studio with my boyfriend. We split rent. It’s a little cramped, but it’s alright. We are walking distance from work and fun so it evens out.

The law passed making the minimum wage here $15.oo and weed is legal. Like You can go to pot stores. Or have it delivered like I do. A bag of Peet’s Coffee will set you back about $8.00 at the market. Don’t ask me how much Starbucks is because I’m not an asshole and I don’t spend money there.

The People: Anyone will tell you that the folks of Seattle, WA are nice. And that’s true. They are. Excessively. Seattleites will happily stop what they are doing to give you directions or say hi. It is a friendly city. On the surface. Which is to say that friendly is surface level only. If you wanna make friends with a Seattleite, good luck. Welcome to the land of Passive Aggressive.

img_1933It’s called The Seattle Freeze. Basically it’s a nice way of saying that everyone here is so far up their own ass that they don’t want to make new friends, but they are too passive aggressive to just say so. Nobody wants to offend here so they lie instead. If you Google the term SEATTLE FREEZE, you will get this: refers to a belief that it is especially difficult to make new friends (particularly for transplants from other cities) in the city of Seattle, Washington. According to KUOW radio, a 2005 Seattle Times article was the oldest reference to the term found. 

That shit is real. Two years in and have like three actual friends. I’ve made friends all over the world, easy! But Seattle? Sorry girl. Not here. The free paper here, The Stranger, wrote an article last year which basically blames YOU for Seattleites bad behavior. Honestly. YOU should smile. YOU should get out there! The article says, if a Seattleite bails on plans you should do the following. “Rather than mope about how this person let you down by not doing what they said they would do in a hastily sketched conversation days or even weeks before, try to empathize with them. People are busy, and it’s impossible to fulfill every potential social commitment. Pretend for a moment it’s possible that they might have something more important on their calendar than you.” Did you notice how full of excuses that was? Like its hard to pick up the goddamn phone and cancel. Be a grown up.

img_0175And that’s Seattle in a nutshell. It expects you to make excuses for its bad behavior. If you get stood up, that’s your fault for expecting people to do what they say. I don’t give a shit where you are from, or what excuses you have all packed up,  don’t be a dick. Don’t make plans you don’t expect to follow through on. And don’t expect ME to be the guy who fills in lulls in conversations. Why can’t YOU help? Stop blaming everyone who isn’t from Seattle for your shortcomings. You guys aren’t perfect.
For starters, learn to be direct. I grew up in L.A. and it’s hard for me to deal with people who are not direct. People who are not direct come across as self-indulgent, time-wasting jerks. How hard is it to ask for what you want? How hard is it to say what you mean? I worked at Seattle’s Snobbiest Bookstore for two years and endured people taking ten minutes to ask where the goddamn bathroom was. Here is a typical conversation: “Um, excuse me? Um…Hi. Um. Do you work here? Okay good. I was wondering if you happen to know if there might be a place  for me to use the bathroom around here.” Are you fucking kidding me? Try this: “Where’s the bathroom?”

So. There it is. The good and the bad. In a nutshell – Seattle is a fantastic place to live. It’s pretty. The food is great. There is a ton of fun stuff happening here year round. Theatre, Dance, Burlesque, Karaoke, Festivals, Live music – Seattle has it all. And, If you get along well with passive aggressive people who don’t think they are passive aggressive, then you’ll be ahead of the game.

 

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Travel: Seattle

SN858760I’ve only been in Seattle for a month and a few days and I already love it here. I’ve found a job doing something I love doing, and we are close to having our own flat. I’m excited! Seattle is great. Sure it rains, but that only matters if you don’t like rain and I don’t mind it so much. When it’s not raining the skies are blue, the sun is shining and people walk around with smiles on their faces. The people here are nice, and everyone is fit. For reals. The folks here don’t just talk the talk (Ahem, Austin) they literally walk the walk. Or bike the bike. No matter what the weather, the good people of Seattle are outside walking, riding, gardening or chatting on the corner. This city thrives on being healthy. It also thrives on Happy Hour. You can find a “Happy Hour” anytime of day or night, and every day of the week. Some places have better prices than others, but there is one on every corner so no worries.

Here are a couple of my favorite Seattle spots. So far. I’ll try not to make it all food. And I won’t mention any of the places that weren’t up to snuff. I’ll get to that later. It’s more fun to talk about the great things.

Pike Street Fish Fry – 925 E Pike St, Seattle

The fish and chips here rival London’s best. Light and crispy batter on your choice of fish and a basket of well seasoned, fresh-cut fries finished with coarse sea salt. I would have taken a picture but I ate my food too fast. It’s a small, street side place designed for takeout or fast meals. The music was loud and all the cooks there looked like they were in the same band, but it worked. The vibe was cool and the food was badass. \m/

Seattle Library Central – 1000 4th Ave

SN858730Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and former Seattleite Joshua Ramus designed the 10 story building, and it’s pretty awesome. The Central Library has a capacity for more than 1.45 million books and materials, and currently there are 1 million items in the collection “and 9,906 shelves devoted to books. All of those books move around the building in a high-tech book-handling system that operates for the most part out of public view.” My fella and I spent a Saturday exploring the place and three hours later, we still weren’t finished. It’s ten stories tall and the views are pretty great from up there. The 4th floor boasts a Red Hall and it certainly is. I highly recommend going there for a free and fun place to check out. 

lThe Honey Hole – 703 E Pike St, Seattle

Again, I didn’t take any pictures of the food because I was too busy eating it. They do sandwiches and they do them really, really well. We’ve eaten there twice and I expect it will be more since it is near my work and our future home. The tagline is “Damn! That’s a good sandwich!” and it fits. Honestly one of the best sandwiches I’ve eaten that I didn’t make. You get to order a hot or cold sandwich, or even a burger. They have Happy Hour (of course. Drinks only) and it gets crowded on a Friday after work. Cocktails and good food accompany the cool vibe of the place. Prints of actors and rock gods adorn the walls, and a framed photo of Scott Baio hangs next to a booth so that you can look at Chachi while you eat one. They name sandwiches after famous characters like The Gooch, The Dude, Chachi or The Corleone. So. Damn. Good.

1458583_10152043785722496_310531287_nRavenna Park

Ravenna Park is a ½ mile wooded ravine which connects two picnic areas just north of the University District. It’s a great spot for hiking, jogging, picnics and various activities with four-legged friends. It’s not a Dog Park, but there are many dogs running this way and that. The park has a play area for kids, a wading pool, ball field, trails, and tennis courts. And did I mention it’s beautiful and free? It is! It is 49.9 acers, so there are plenty of trails to explore. And it’s GREEN. One of the best things about all of the rain in Seattle is the beautiful green that results. After a year and a half in the land of brown and flat, it is so nice to see snowcapped mountains and vivid green trees in the same view.

10152525_10152073534187496_2550977964728250440_nRainbows – Everywhere!

Seattle boasts the best rainbows I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen beautiful rainbows in Prague, L.A., Mexico, and even Ireland, but I’ve never seen any that compare with Seattle’s. And surely none can come close in quantity. Just a few weeks ago we saw a DOUBLE RAINBOW over the cascades. And, both rainbows were full arc. Just like a five year old would draw. I had never seen anything like it. And there were two of them! And they would have made a full circle if the world hadn’t gotten in the way. The Emerald City. Indeed.

10168068_10152069907117496_6156378946509874960_nBimbo’s Cantina – 1013 E Pike St, Seattle

This is our go to spot for Happy Hour. It’s always pretty busy, but you’ll find seats if you venture downstairs to the Cha Cha Lounge. The place looks like a cross between a tiki bar and what an American thinks a Mexican Cantina might look like. There are black velvet paintings on the walls, and Luchadors painted on the tables. I loved it. The food was fantastic as well. We’ve had the happy hour nachos two times and burritos as well. All of it was good, and you get a bucket of chips and salsa for a buck. Can’t beat that. The margarita was pretty good, but I got a watered down version with my second order. It happens, so I switched to beer. Other than that, it was great. Again, it’s loud but worth it. And they played great music while we were in the Cha Cha lounge. You can’t beat Sergio Mendez while you eat nachos.

Food: How to Make Perfect Stovetop Popcorn

SN858682I consider myself a popcorn connoisseur. I eat it almost every day, and I’ve been known to eat it for dinner. I like sweet popcorn, salty popcorn, cheesy popcorn, movie theater corn, and even bacon popcorn. I love popcorn! One thing I never really enjoyed though, was the filmy, oily texture of microwave popcorn. I always hate to look in the bag and see all that yellow “butter” stuck to the sides. Yuck!

When I moved to Prague I began living sans microwave. A girl needs her popcorn, so I taught myself how to make it! It took trial and error, but I finally got it mastered. Not only does my popcorn taste better than microwave popcorn, but it’s WAY cheaper too! And, it has the benefit of being healthier. I also have a air popper, but honestly, this way of doing it yields the most popped corn and the least unpopped kernels. And I never burn any.

  • SN858679You can substitute any kind of oil you like: peanut, coconut, sunflower… I don’t recommend olive oil as it is heavy.
  • Once the oil is hot, you should run through these steps quickly.
  • You’ll need a pot with lid, a big bowl, oven mit

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons Canola oil (or enough to coat bottom of pot)
  • popcorn kernels, approximately 1/2 cup
  • salt
  • butter
  • brewers yeast (optional)
  • Tony Chachere’s or Lawry’s season salts (optional)

Directions:

  1. SN858676Pour oil in pot (with lid) enough to coat bottom
  2. Turn heat to med/high (not too high), put THREE kernels into pot, place lid on pot 
  3. Relax and Listen until you hear that all three kernels have popped.
  4. Remove pot from heat, pour kernels into pot (enough to fill the bottom in a single layer. (Not enough corn will result in soggy, oily popcorn)
  5. Wearing an oven mit, place the lid on the pot, place the pot back on the heat and shake! Jiffy pop style! You are trying to coat all of the corn so it pops evenly.
  6. SN858677Once the corn begins to pop, tilt the lid so that some steam can escape. If you leave the lid tight you will get chewy popcorn.
  7. Every 10 to 20 seconds remove the pot from heat, secure lid and shake. Place pot back on heat, shift lid. Repeat.
  8. When you see that the popcorn is getting to the top of the pot, you’ll want to pour some into your serving bowl. This part can be tricky. While holding the lid down, begin to let some of the top popcorn fall into the bowl. SN858680Pour enough out so that the remaining kernels have room to pop, and the popped corn doesn’t burn.
  9. Melt the butter in the microwave. Slowly drizzle over the popcorn, while spinning the bowl. Season and Serve immediately.

Ratna Ling Week 3: The Hunger Games

SN858122When I arrived here 2.5 weeks ago, almost everyone I met said the same thing to me: “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.” And to some extent it’s true. I’ve gotten used to working in the bindery, and I’ve gotten used to waking up at six every morning. I’ve gotten used to the excessive chanting, the classes, and the people. I’m pretty good with most of it. What I haven’t gotten used to is the food.

I’m not a vegetarian, but that isn’t the problem. I can deal with vegetarian food. The issue here is the quality of the food, and the amount of left-overs we are asked to eat. One shouldn’t heat and re-heat couscous over and over again. It makes it rubbery. I don’t like being served salad greens that are wilted, or slimy. A lot of what is served here I would return at a restaurant. I guess I should mention that my description of meals applies strictly to the food served to the volunteer staff. The guests here appear to get cooked meals every evening, and they share our lunches. They eat well. Us? Not so much.

We’ve spent money buying food the past two Sundays, something that we will be unable to maintain as we are not making any money here. We bought some cans of soup and chili, and even a few cans of Spaghetti-O’s for those nights when we just can’t handle left-overs again. Canned soup is a luxury for me now. While a handful of folks here share our disdain for the cuisine, the majority don’t seem to mind at all. That “majority of folks” are in their early twenties, and thus happy they don’t have to worry about grocery shopping or cooking. Food quality doesn’t come in to the equation. I happen to enjoy grocery shopping and cooking. But I’m also at least ten years older than most of the people here, and I like food. I like eating.

Can we do six months here with the food being less than we had hoped?

SN858167Of course we can. But that isn’t the right question. The right question is: Do we want to do six months with lack-luster vegetarian food? That is a harder question to answer. Both my boyfriend and I are enjoying much of what Ratna Ling has to offer. I like that I get to see dozens and dozens of birds take flight as I walk past multiple times a day. I like that the deer seem to follow me everywhere, and take lunch outside of my cabin. The scenery here can’t be beat, and we are just a hop, skip and a jump away from the coast. We’ve met some really interesting people here, and even made a few friends.

I know that any new situation is going to seem daunting and strange at first, and I’m keeping an open mind. I’m rolling with the punches. The food sucks. So what? I managed to live in Prague for seven years, and the food there is far from good. Like really far. Czech food is somewhere between bland and nothing special. And what they do to international cuisine should qualify as a hate crime against food. If I can manage there, I can manage here. But then again, I was making money and had easy access to grocery stores. I could cook what and when I wanted.

SN858161Between the shopping we did last weekend and the care package of snacks my mother sent, we should be alright for a few more weeks. But after that? I don’t know. I have to decide if I want to work my ass off every day and cross my fingers that we get something good that day, or if I want to just say … screw it.

At this point my feeling is that we’ll stick it out. I’m shamelessly campaigning for care packages from my FB friends, and I’m going to cook some stuff on my one day off – if I’m not too tired. We’ll see how it goes. So far, we’re having fun and working hard. One day we’ll look back and smile at the time we ate microwaved cans of Spaghetti-O’s while watching Top Chef in our cozy, little cabin in the woods.

11 Commandments of Dining Out

DINING1Perhaps you’ve had the pleasure of dining with someone who doesn’t know how to conduct themselves in a restaurant. Maybe your date had a laugh that turned every head in the place. Maybe your BFF switches tables like 10 times and is never satisfied. Nobody likes to eat with the jerk who doesn’t tip, or the jerk who snaps at the servers. I don’t know what makes people think they can be rude when they go out to eat, but people are rude when they go out to eat. Hopefully this will shed some light on what to do (and not do) while dining out.

  1. Always Pay – I know. This should go without saying, but you would be surprised at how many people think they can just walk out if they aren’t happy. I don’t care how bad your food was, or how poorly you were treated- you still need to pay your bill. Dining and ditching is rude, juvenile and really bad form. If your experience at the restaurant was horrible, tell someone about it. A manager might give you the meal on the house, and they might also appreciate knowing what the problem was. When you simply “walk out” on your bill you have taken money away from the servers, the dishwashers, and the hostess.
  2. Tipping Isn’t Optional – I had an annoying conversation with a clerk at the Target yesterday. He said he doesn’t tip unless he thinks the server is “a good person”. If the server is deemed a bad person by this young man, they don’t get a tip. I was furious. I tried telling him that many servers depend on tips as a part of their salary, and who the heck are you to judge who is a good person anyway? Everyone should tip. If the service is poor talk to the manager, but don’t be a dick and leave nothing. Most restaurants pool tips. And in places like Texas, servers make $2-3 per hour + tips. The tips are included as part of the salary, and they are taxed on it. When you stiff your server (for any reason) you are taking money out of their pocket.
  3. Respect Reservations – When you reserve a table you are agreeing to be there on time. When you show up early or late you cause the pace of the restaurant to slow down. If you need to cancel the reservation do it as early as possible so the restaurant can re-book your table. And, if you must cancel – CALL.
  4. Be Nice– Do not snap your fingers at your server. Say please and thank you. Make sure you are asking for things rather than making demands. Servers work on their feet and have a lot to remember. Having you snap your fingers at them doesn’t help. Not even a little.
  5. Be Respectful – I once had a customer who insisted that we change the music we were playing to something less “loud”. Next she asked that we make the lights brighter for her. Finally she asked for the windows on the patio to be shut. Not only did I not do any of those things for her, I couldn’t do any of those things for her. Things like music, temperature, and lights are usually decided by the owner. Your server isn’t your servant. If you have that many special needs then perhaps you should stay home.
  6. The Chef Isn’t Your Personal Chef – I know this is a confusing concept to some diners. Restaurants have a menu. Usually, the chef comes up with the menu him or herself. When you ask for substitutions, or make changes to the menu items you are disrespecting the chef. You are also doubling the work in the kitchen. Do you tell the guy who works on your car how to do his job? Probably not. Then don’t tell the cook how to prepare your food.
  7. Talking – Shhhhhhh! There are other people here! In Prague I encountered many, many loud Americans. They would be sitting in a restaurant laughing loudly, high-fiving, and slamming fists on the table with zero regard to anyone else around. It sucks to eat a meal next to people like that. It also sucks to eat next to the woman who talks on the phone. Loudly. For the entire meal. Turn your phone off, and lower your voice please.
  8. Keep Your Kids In Line
    This is NOT ok

    This is NOT ok

    Everyone loves going out to eat. Even kids. It is the parents job to teach their children how to behave in a restaurant. Screaming, crying, running, throwing tantrums are all examples of unacceptable behavior. The servers cannot look out for your kids running around, and if a hot plate gets dropped on their head it is totally your fault. Think about dining early when there aren’t as many people. Also, bring some things to occupy them, but make sure they are not electronic. Things that beep and make noise are not good choices for public spaces. Remember: The restaurant is a work space. It is fast paced and dangerous for little people.

  9. Leaving a Penny Tip Makes You a Dick – As a server, nothing made me more mad than getting a penny as a tip. I once followed a guy out and told him never, ever to do that again. Like I said before, if you have a problem with the food or service, tell the manager. Speak politely and give detail. Leaving a penny tip won’t help the restaurant, it won’t help the server, and it certainly doesn’t help you. If you want to be a dick write a YELP review like everyone else.
  10. Did you Enjoy Yourself? – If you had a great time at a restaurant let them know. Hearing how great the food was, or what a nice time you had can mean a lot to a server or cook. Restaurants are hard work, so if you enjoy yourself be sure to say thank you. And tell your friends! People who have great dining experiences tell one friend. People who have had bad dining experiences tell everyone.
  11. PDA – When I see people making out, or playing Footsie under the table it makes me uncomfortable. Why? Because I was eating my steak, and now I want to hurl. Save it for later.

(Not quite) Masterchef

SN856889My latest obsession is cooking shows. To be more specific, cooking show contests such as Iron Chef, Masterchef and Cooked. It all started when I discovered Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares”. I watched all of them. I have worked in a number of restaurants and it was fun watching stupid owners and chefs get their asses handed to them. But it also reminded me that I know quite a lot about food and what makes food “good”. I come from a family of cooks. My dad cooked, my mom is the world’s best home cook, and my brother is a chef in California. I was always told I couldn’t cook. But my family only saw me in my lazy 20 year old period. It’s been getting better each year since then.

So tonight when I went into the kitchen to see what was for dinner, I realized that all we had was left over pizza (again) or boxed mac and cheese. The Mac & Cheese is what I call “Lazy food” – food we buy because we are too lazy to go shopping. The irony being that we didn’t go shopping because we were watching Masterchef. I grabbed the mac & cheese and thought to myself, “What would I do if this were the secret ingredient?”

SN856878I grabbed the butter, sour cream, cheddar cheese, bacon & hot dogs and went to town. I added spices. I cooked the hotdogs in a little bacon grease. I baked it after I cooked it on the stove top. I even added some fancy spread cheese and whole wheat breadcrumbs. When I was finished my dish looked almost homemade. Not only did I impress myself, I had fun doing it! This coming hot on the heels of my baking triumph of yesterday. (I tweaked a cupcake recipe and ended up with chocolate brownie cupcakes with cream cheese butter frosting. Delish!)

Watching other people cooking for countless hours on end seemed to make me a better cook. It also reaffirmed that I know what I am doing in the kitchen. I am proud of myself for taking a few extra steps to make my box of pasta into something actually edible. It tastes rich and creamy. There is bacon in it. BACON. And doesn’t look like it came from a box. Even if it is all organic – a box, is a box, is a box. But still, I used it and I used what else I had on hand to make it  into something better. I elevated the shit out of that box of pasta! I transformed a plain dish made for children into something that looks, and tastes, like it is for adults. It was simple, cheap and used minimal ingredients. The minimalist cook strikes again!

Simple Living with Kids

zerowastecupboardsLiving a simple life is not easy. There is no easy solution or road map to follow. It’s not for everyone, but it can make you happier. Last time we talked about editing your life in order to make room for the things you love. For me that meant cutting back on work hours so I could spend more time with my fella. If that sounds crazy to you, then you aren’t ready yet. For me, it is crazy to spend the time I have at a job rather than with someone I love. What could be more important than that?

Now that you have identified what is important to you (time, family, painting, exercise…) you can begin to make room in your life for them. This needs to happen in a tangible way and in an emotional way. First, the tangible. Go room by room, drawer by drawer and get rid of shit. Really purge! I went through my already sparse closet and still found a few things I never used. It made me feel good. I went through my pantry and took out all of those cardboard boxes and plastic bags and replaced them with jars. We bring the jars (or other containers) to the market and buy things like flour, cornmeal, quinoa or sugar in bulk so we don’t have paper/ plastic waste and we are making use of lovely sauce jars. Easy right? Just don’t let your emotions play a part in your purging. You can do without a lot of the “things” you have decided have value.

Clutter is very stressful and distracting. Walking into a messy room, or a cluttered kitchen just feels funny and uncomfortable. Every item in your home demands attention, and If you have kids, you might have a lot of “things”. If you have gone overboard on the buying, don’t worry. You can still fix it. The first step is: Stop Buying. Just stop. Little Bobby doesn’t NEED that Angry Birds plush toy. Little Stacy doesn’t NEED that coloring book, or that Princess video. Want and need are not the same. The sooner kids learn the difference the easier it will be. If your kids think Target is a fun place to spend a Saturday morning then you need to check yourself. Most of the kids at my school constantly tell me about things they “got” or things mommy “bought” for them instead of things they “do”. And that makes me sad.

6741750829_ebca16b816First and foremost, edit their rooms with them. You can’t go into your child’s room and just take their things away. Respect goes both ways. This is true whether you are 4 or 40. You can’t tell a child, “I bought it for you so I can take it away.” That is absurd and disrespectful. Instead, sit the child down and talk as a family. Start by saying that decision has been made to make do with less. Show her a finished space, and how you are unattached to what you are giving/throwing away. If you make it sound like a fun thing, and a cool thing – and if you are doing it – the kid will jump onboard.

Or you might have a fight on your hands. And that’s fine too. You (literally) bought it so now you have to deal with it. Give little Bob one hour to make two piles: Keep & Give. When you come back in an hour you can gauge if he needs more help or not. If he needs help, let him know that you (the parent!) will be making those choices if he cannot. Be brutal and merciless with your editing and let him know that after you will be MAKING some fun new things.

Sensory Bottle Collage for blogThat’s right – make. I promise that your kid doesn’t want or need a shit ton of store-bought, plastic toys. For the little ones: take all of those empty plastic juice or water bottles and fill them with anything. Seriously. Feathers, cotton, sand, bells, a little olive oil and some sequins or marbles. Babies enjoy rolling them, shaking them or putting them in the old pie hole. The fancy folks call them “Sensory bottles” but I call them cheap and easy. The point is, you don’t have to spend a ton on toys. The bigger kids will enjoy making cookies with you, or putting together a puzzle. Take them to the wood shop and build your own wooden toys. If you are saying. “Who has time for that?” then you might need to edit your commitments again. I mean, are you spending a ton of money on a fancy gym membership when you could be hiking with your kids? Exactly.

Hopefully after you have finished editing your home, closets, wardrobes, drawers, car, kids rooms and closets – you’ll feel lighter. You’ll feel happier. Your kid will feel the same. Life just feels nicer when it is free of crap. Below is a handy little system to help you stay on track. And remember, let your children have the responsibility of editing and cleaning their own things. It is not your right to decide what is important in their life. And, don’t pick up after them. Keeping the house “perfectly clean” isn’t the goal here. The goal is for a simple life in a simple home.

  • A place for everything… – Your child (and family) should know where to put something when it is not being used. If you are about to set something down on an available patch of surface space: STOP. Take a second to ask yourself, “Where does this belong?” and then take it there. Basically stop being a lazy jerk and put the dishes in the sink. Put the clothes in the hamper. Put the toys back in the toy bin.
  • Have a simple paper system – Incoming bills, notices, tax docs, school papers should all have a place where they are filed and looked at. Hopefully you are not using paper as much for bills and things, but in some cases it just can’t be helped. Help your kids to have a system for homework and projects as well. I can’t stress how important it is for a kid to feel personal responsibility. Never ever leave papers for “later”. File immediately. Throw junk mail out before it even reaches your door. Don’t leave papers lying around.
  • Clean up before bed & before walking out – I abhor waking up to a messy kitchen. I make sure (most of the time) to clean the dishes and the kitchen before bed, or before leaving the house. and stop multi-tasking. Multitasking is less efficient and more stressful than seeing one task to its completion. Just take a few minutes to de-clutter flat surfaces before bed and before you leave you house. It’s a good habit to get in, and your kids will do it if they see you doing it.
  • Re-purge every couple of months – No matter how hard you try, new stuff will happen. Just make sure you keep tabs on it. Maybe the first weekend of every month you de-clutter something in your home. Maybe you throw an item out if you bring a new one in. I don’t know, it’ll be personal for you. But just don’t let your shit get out of control again.

Just remember the word “now”. If you can remember to do what you need to do now, then later won’t be an issue. Hang your clothes up now, not later. Wash the dishes now, not later. Pay that bill… well, you get the picture.

Less stuff = more time = more happiness.

I’m So Over… Spring Edition

SN856851It’s that time again. Time to clean out the closets and let my readers know the stupid stuff that is getting on my nerves at the moment. And of course, to bring balance to the universe, the next post will be a Spring edition of “Things I’m Crazy About”.

  1. Allergies – Although Austin apparently fell 38 spots on the worst places in America for allergies list, it still sucks. People who don’t suffer from allergies normally will be a sneezing ball of snot after a week here. People here talk about the Spring being “amazing” because of the weather, (beg to differ) but forget to mention the constant stream of polan in the air. I have never suffered from allergies like I have here. Yet one more reason to leave Austin in my wake. 
  2. Wine is the new Cupcakecougartown_240Can someone please tell me when women in their late 30’s had a meeting to decide that wine was the new accessory of choice? It’s really embarrassing. All over my FB, (and on TV) I see women embarrassing themselves by talking about how many BOXES of wine they are going to have. And then doing it. Courtney Cox even has a show about drinking wine in your 40’s called “Cougar Town”. Yeah. I know. I for one don’t want that association. Please don’t think that all women are that silly. I don’t want to look like a 40 year old lush who uses my shitty job, my boring husband, or my wonderful children as my raison d’être. It’s not a classy look for an adult. These are the women who get together at restaurants in order to pick at salads get drunk. Oh, and talk shit about their husbands/boyfriends. I know, I used to serve them. Gross. Cut. It. Out.
  3. Pictures of your shitty meal – Maybe we could all agree that not every meal we make, buy or happen to see deserves to have it’s picture taken, hm? This goes for pictures of the inside of your freezer or what your cat ate.
  4. Austin, TX320954-austin-texasYep, not a fan. It’s funny. I have lived in a lot of different cities, states and a few countries. When I say a place doesn’t cut the mustard, I have a wealth of personal experience that it is based off of. Most of the people I have met here who “LOVE IT” have never lived anywhere else. I’m not shitting you. I hear “It’s the greatest city in the world” from people who haven’t been outside the state. It’s really frustrating to try and have a constructive conversation with folks here about the city’s vast problems because nobody wants to hear it. My fella (who is from Texas) feels the same way. This city feels dated and unwelcoming. The division between the yuppies and the rest of the population is startling. Anyway, y’all can have it. I’ll be outta yer hair next year. Til then I will keep on letting the folks of Austin know that they are behind the times on just about everything. Disagree? That’s what having your own blog is for…
  5. Guns: I think we should find a remote island. Or maybe just reclaim one of the Dakotas. But we should have a place where all of the nice freedom loving gun assholes can go live and be free with their guns. Did you hear about the little boy who shot his sister while he was PLAYING with his rifle? The rifle was a gift he received for Christmas from his family. So now… how are guns a good idea again, or is this kid another terrorist.
  6. Calling your kid “Monkey”: spider-monkey_719_600x450I’ve got news for you – Just about every parent calls their kid “Monkey”. I see it at work, I see it on FB, I saw it in Europe and I see it in the states. I see it on TV and in movies. I guess it’s not that big a deal, but I assure you, if I ever have a kid I will not call them “Monkey”. Or “Bean” that’s another popular one. People go out of their way to come up with original names for their children and then just call them “Monkey”. What a waste. For those of you without kids (Yet?) – may I suggest some of the following, less used, adorable nicknames for babies: Stinky, Tank, Gus, Chief, Speedy, or Smigel.

Paleo is Just Bad Science

Renegade-Diet-Review-Paleo-ProtocolsIf one more person at work asks me if I am “On Paleo” I might scream. No, its not a drug, it is the newest Fad Diet. And everyone know that Fad Diets come with groupies. This diet is not different than the others in that it tells you that restricting certain foods will make you lose weight. No shit, Sherlock.

The Paleo diet maintains that healthiest way to eat is to avoid the ground grain products that were unavailable to our cave man ancestors. People all over the world are changing the way they eat because some dude name Dr. Loren Cordain. PhD, of course. I think he’s a total nut who is selling folks a bill of goods.

Author Laura Miller agrees with me. At least about the diet. She states that thinking the human species hasn’t evolved in billions of years is just plain silly. Humans (and animals) have been evolving and changing for a really long time. She also points out that many species evolve quite quickly (humans being one of them) so basing a diet on “science” of evolution doesn’t hold water. Think about it. Humans have been grinding grains for close to 40,000 years – that’s a really long time to not get used to something. There are a great deal of foods that are included on the Paleo Diet that were NOT around in the hunter gatherer time. Foods such as the Brussel Sprout are only a few hundred years old. They were first written about in 1587, around the time Mary Queen of Scots was executed. That’s a far cry from hunter gather time.

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Of course, people claim that the diet “works”. Yeah, maybe it does, but that doesn’t mean it is good for you. Bulimia “works” too, but I’m steering clear of that as well. The reason the “diet” works is because you are severely limiting your calorie intake. Anytime you put restraints on what you consume, you will lose weight. You don’t have to be a scientist to know that. Wanna lose weight and keep it off? Exercise  30 minutes 5x a week, and watch your calorie & sugar intake. Easy.

The Paleo concept is an idea with very little basis in fact. It’s a gimmick to get you to buy the book. If you follow his plan you’re cutting out low-fat cottage cheese and low-fat Greek yogurt (calcium), lentils and black beans (some of the healthiest stuff around), whole-grain carbs and heart-healthy oils. Sure, our bodies weren’t originally designed to eat these foods, but we (and every other species that is still in existence) have evolved since then.

e76f12b58f27ebddca23ef9e2c51e9f9If you feel the need to lose weight, you don’t need to follow a diet that restricts carbs, or limits grains and legumes (both of which are healthy for humans to consume).  Here is my easy 5 Point Plan for weight-loss.

  • Decide that you are ready to make permanent changes in your life. Yep, life. Loosing weight should be about changing the habits that led you to lose weight in the first place. It’s not about “giving up” foods of any kind. If you think you are not ready to stop eating ice-cream out of the container, then you are not ready. You need to be in a head space of moving forward and of positive change.
  • Once you have decided that you are serious you may begin to make small changes. When I dropped a significant amount of weight I made 1 positive change per week until I got in the habit of just knowing how to make good choices. For example, the first week I cut out all soda. I switched to fizzy water with fruit. Next week I walked for at least 30 minutes daily. You get the picture. You don’t have to make yourself crazy, or into a cave person to see results.
  • Portion control. Do it. Food served and prepared in the states is so big, it could be used as two (sometimes three!) different meals. Eww. If you ordered fries, don’t eat them all. If you want dessert, share it with a buddy. If the plate is as big as your head, then don’t eat everything on it. At home, get smaller plates so you feel like you are eating more.
  • Exercise, exercise, exercise! In order to loose weight you must burn more calories than you consume. It’s that simple. If you are not exercising you probably won’t lose much weight. You also need to lift weights, or do some sort of resistance training. Remember, there is no such thing as “spot reduction” so stop running the treadmill for an hour, doing crunches and walking out the door. You need to work your whole body.
  • Eat enough calories. I see women all of the time who think that by starving themselves they will loose weight. Yeah, you might. But you’ll also be loosing lean muscle mass, which is want you want to keep. Diets that severely restricts caloric intake result in loss of lean body weight as opposed to fat weight. This can result in a person who isn’t overweight, but has a high body fat composition. Not my idea of healthy. Just be mindful of what you eat, when you eat it and how you feel about it. Keep a food journal if it helps. I used an online food tracker at myfittnesspal.com to help me see my bad eating habits and take the necessary steps to 86 ’em.

I hope you enjoyed this little rant. And I hope that maybe you’ll do a little research of your own, if you are so inclined. The idea is balance, not restriction – with food and the rest of life.

And, in case you are wondering – I do know what I am talking about. I am studying to be a personal trainer which means I have read tons and tons of material about the human body and what it needs to perform, what it needs to drop weight, and what it takes to keep it in good condition. 

Austin, Texas: Not Weird, Just Mediocre

SN856703I have been in Austin for 10 months and I am unimpressed. Maybe my expectations were off, but I just don’t get what all the fuss is about. There is nothing weird about Austin, Texas. It looks and feels just like any other US city I have been to – save the BIG ones like New York or LA or SF. There isn’t anything you find in Austin that you can’t find anywhere else in the US. People here are the same. Food here is the same. Bars here are the same . It’s all pretty much the same.

There are however a few differences. Take public transportation, for instance. It sucks here. In order to get the times, or routes, or stops, or schedule you need to have a phone or computer. There are no signs at the actual bus stop that tells you what the next stop will be, and what time the next bus will come. There is only a phone number and website. I called the phone number when my bus was over 20 minutes late. I was on hold for fifteen minutes before someone got on the line to tell me they didn’t know where the bus was, but it was “out there”.  Gee thanks. Also, there are no transfers. That’s right – no transfers. If you ride occasionally and don’t need a pass you can pay $1 to ride the bus. And another when you have to transfer. Or you can pay $2 for a “day pass” – even if you only need to ride for 20 minutes. It is stupid. Adding to the confusion, they also have two busses with the same number that go opposite directions. Awesome. (The number 30 bus picks up outside my work. It picks up on the same side of the street for either direction. There is no sign telling you this.)

Another difference I have noticed is the fashion. I was told that the folks in Austin are fashion forward have great style. I was lied to. And from what I gather, pointing out fashion faux pas here makes you pretentious. That’s right, if you don’t embrace shorts and those hideous UT shirts, you are an asshole. Then I guess I’m an asshole because Austin is a city that has truly embraced the “casual” style. Or lack there of. Austin clothing culture can best be described as jeans & boots meets T-shirts & sweats. It’s a city that embraces its own mediocrity and celebrates it. Austin doesn’t try. If you walk around Austin (even downtown) you will see a majority of folks wearing a rust orange top with the long horns silhouette and a pair of jeans. (The school colors of UT. You cannot miss it here.) You might also see that same t-shirt with matching sweat pants. Or not matching. You might see a flock of college girls out for a night on the town in that same t-shirt, boots and jeans. Are you starting to see a theme here? In Austin Texas nobody cares about fashion. I seem “dressed up” if I put on make-up and a necklace. It’s sad, and even a little bit depressing. Caring about what you look like doesn’t make you pretentious. It is pretty normal. Or so I thought.

The cost of living here is also a lie. Sure, it’s cheaper than Portland, LA, SF, or NY. But those places have natural beauty and a barrage of cultural things to do. Austin has neither. Austin is not a beautiful city. It’s flat and brown. A river runs through it but so do a bunch of highways and freeways. Don’t ask me which is which because both highways and freeways here have stop lights. The drivers here are discourteous and stupid. And the traffic is as bad, if not worse than LA. Anyway, the scenery in Austin consists mostly of condo property and businesses. Some businesses are in office buildings, some are in remodeled houses. There are a couple of nice parks in Austin, (Zilker, Greenbelt, Barton Springs) but the rest are sad and barren. Austin is not a walkable city like SF, but as I already noted it isn’t a great city for driving or using public transit either. But I digress. The cost of living here isn’t worth what you get. Plain and simple. You’ll get more bang for your buck some place else. And don’t forget – they don’t want “YOU” here anyway.

The other thing you hear about Austin is of course, “the music scene here is amazing!” I beg to differ. Just because there are a shit ton of bands and musicians here doesn’t mean that it has a good music scene. In my opinion there are a handful of really good bands/musicians here in Austin. The rest are taking advantage of the fact that a lot of bars feature live music. If you are into that, then hey – maybe you’ll like it here. But I for one don’t like to pay a cover just to see a crappy band. People in Austin talk about the music here like it is special. It isn’t. It’s meh. Let me put it this way – Austin has a huge case of “Big Fish, Tiny Pond” syndrome. Just because you are “famous” in Austin doesn’t mean the rest of the world knows about you. You can dress the part, act the part, and even try to play the part but it won’t make up for a lack of talent. And SXSW? $300 bucks for a wristband? No thanks. (And no, I didn’t buy a wristband. I battled the 700 other people trying to see free shows in the park or bars.) SXSW really wasn’t that much different that any other music fest.

SN856685I think the thing I was most disappointed about was the food. People rave about the breakfast tacos here like they had invented them. Nope. Nothing special. I had cheaper (and tastier!) breakfast tacos in the East Bay. I had also been looking forward to  trying Tex-Mex – in Texas. I grew up in California so I know Mexican food. I lived in Mexico for a short time as well. I am a mexican food fanatic. Prague has a lot of great things, but mexican food isn’t one of them. The food here is no good. It’s blah. I found out that Tex-Mex means covered in cheese. If you order “Queso” at a restaurant in Texas you will get a bowl of hot Velveeta, sometimes mixed with chili. It is truly disgusting. There are a great deal of food trucks here but only a handful of them serve up worth while food. The trucks all have clever names and serve everything from tacos to Thai to donuts, but the food just doesn’t cut it. The prices are high but the food is mediocre at best. The food culture in Houston is one hundred times better than the one in Austin. Austin is full of fast food – be it truck or Whataburger. The mid level restaurants are plentiful but not worth the price, and the up scale dining (where I think Austin is actually alright) are so expensive that a girl like me can’t really afford to go there. The best parts of this city are reserved for the people with the most money.

Lastly, I was lied to about the weather. It might sound silly, but people told me the weather here was great. Really? Great? I was told “…the winter here is really nice…” The weather here is hot, hotter and OHMYGODITSSOHOTIMIGHTBURSTINTOFLAME. I knew it would be hot here, but 89 in winter is lame. It is pretty much summer year round with a side of intense (year round!) allergies. We didn’t really get a winter this year. I mean, we had two cold days where I had to put on a coat, but other than that, nada. And now it’s spring. But if I didn’t have a calendar telling me what month it was I wouldn’t know. What’s so great about this weather? At least in California you can get a nice range of climates. Here in Texas its just hot. Hot. Hot. Hot.

Austin is a city that is full of itself. It pats itself on the back for such things as SXSW and Willie Nelson (who was born in Abbot, Texas not Austin), and gives itself a high-five for The Alamo Drafthouse while driving a huge SVU to the river to “party”. It ignores problems like traffic and housing and blames anyone who had the nerve to be born someplace else. If you aren’t from here – get out. That’s Austin’s REAL motto. For a city that wants to be “weird” it really doesn’t embrace differences. It revels in its “glory days” without doing much to make the “now” better. Maybe Austin used to be super cool. Maybe. I don’t know. I’m here now, and it so isn’t.

Austin is pretty smug and self-righteous. It reminds me of the mom who thinks her child can do no wrong. This city has a lack of class, culture, respect, and style. It is long overdue a makeover. It’s a city that can’t decide what it is. Are you a Yuppie city or a bohemian city? You can’t have it both ways. You can’t drive that huge SUV and be “green” at the same time. Shopping at Whole Foods and riding your bike downtown on the weekends doesn’t make you “green”. The Austin vibe WANTS to be “Slacker Chic” but is actually “Lazy”. Most of the people I have talked to here have never lived outside of Texas. That could be part of the problem. There is a weird combination of lack of self-pride mixed with batshit crazy “Texas Pride”. Austin is under its own spell. It is a mass delusion. Let me put it this way: It’s a city that claims to be liberal and forward thinking yet won’t let you purchase alcohol on Sunday before noon. You know, because of god and stuff.

I won’t stay in Austin. It’s not for me. The bad far outweighs the good. For me, a good city is welcoming, walkable, full of free parks, culture, museums and good, easy to use public transit. Austin Texas just doesn’t cut the mustard.