Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Plastic: The Toxic of the Future

Newsweek came again today. (I know, shocking since it is a WEEKLY magazine called NewsWEEK.) Last week, it warned me about Spokeo. This week, it’s plastics. As I reported before, I am trying extremely hard to avoid chemicals in my personal products and eat organic at home. I even switched to a Nalgene bottle at work instead of throwing away two plastic water bottles a day. I thought I was on the right track.

Apparently, hard plastic like my Nalgene bottle is akin to rolling around in freshly fertilized grass for the afternoon (and no, not the poop fertilizer). Bisphenol A (BPA) is seeping out of the plastic into my water and mimicking my hormones thereby screwing with my future potential children (and maybe even child-bearing???). This was not happy news for me (some scientists dispute it). Older bottles are worse because more toxic crap can leech out of scratches and heat from the dishwasher breaks the plastic down even more. In an effort to not create more waste, I am still using a Nalgene bottle from when I lived in Boulder (it was part of the uniform there). I left Boulder in 2001. The bottle is OLD. It is its own mini-superfund site.

How am I suppose to drink water? A glass bottle is the most obvious solution, but it’s breakable, and I’m clumsy. (I can’t even count the number of times I’ve dropped the Nalgene, but the permanent gouges around the base attest to it.) I found a website that says Sigg bottles are the best, but they are made from aluminum and my mom told me aluminum causes Alzheimer’s. The Sigg bottles are lined with enamel so the aluminum doesn’t leech into my brain, but what if it gets scratched?

There is talk of making a baby in our house lately so I am more aware of things mimicking my hormones or depleting a future son’s sperm count (thank you, phthalates). I know I can’t live in a bubble of non-toxic goodness because the bubble would be plastic (and lord only knows what I’d be breathing), but I’m working on it. It would be nice if the EPA helped a little, too.

** I’ll update my beauty quest soon (it is MUCH harder than I thought it would be – and expensive!).

Monday, January 28, 2008

Gifting the New Ones

I’ll admit. I am horrible when it comes to gifts. I think about things. I go on-line to look at things. I come up with ornate, exciting gifts, but then I never manage to buy them. I have good intentions. I get birth announcements and I put them on my fridge thinking, “Next time I’m at the Gap, I’ll find a little something for Ella (or Logan or Luca or Conner or Cole or Chloe or … well, you get the point).” But the truth is, I almost never make it to the Gap, and if I do, I’m way too busy checking out t-shirts and sundresses for ME to remember the birth announcements on my fridge. And in the unlikely case I do, I have to do the math to figure out how old they will be when it is time to wear a sundress or snowsuit. (Side note: I prefer local stores or internet sites like Etsy, but then it's hard to return if they don't like the gift. Frugal people think like this. I don't want my gift given away.)

Weddings are far easier. People are almost always registered at Crate and Barrel or Macy’s, and if not, The Wedding will tell me where to go if their website doesn’t. I simply scan the list of what the lovely couple wants, and a few clicks and a hundred dollars later I can check the task off my list.

Getting married changed my gift giving habits considerably. I was shocked at how many people who weren’t invited to our wedding sent us gifts. I know most people try to get married only once, and the hopes of a new marriage and all that stuff makes people happy, but we got gifts from co-workers who we don’t even hang out with socially. After I dashed off their thank you notes, gushing with how thoughtful they were, I felt ashamed of how many babies births passed me by with little more than an email saying, “Congrats! S/he is beautiful! I hope you can pee without pain soon!”

Really. Gracious. Elegant. Classy? I think not. Maybe Klassy, but that’s not something I strive for. So, I’m making a huge effort to be Classy and Considerate. I don’t want to fall into the sinkhole of superfluous gift giving, but marking major milestones like pushing a baby out (or having it cut out – how about just carrying a baby?) and getting married should be marked with gifts.

So, Ella and Chloe got new brothers in the past six months (I’m trying, people!) and I have two boxes under my desk each containing a little outfit. They’ve been there a week. I have part of the problem under control (gifts are purchased!), but now I’m wondering if the outfits will fit by the time I get around to mailing them out.

This baby gift giving is hard. No wonder I usually stick with blankets.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Kinda Creepy

Yesterday, I was reading Newsweek and stumbled upon an article about a website called Spokeo. Basically, you can enter your friends’ email addresses, websites or a social networking site, and Spokeo will keep track of what your friends are up to with a running commentary on your home page. The home page is similar to the one on Facebook (Bob added new photos. Jane changed her Amazon wish list. Sally posted a new blog on MySpace.) Of course I had to go to Spokeo to see what my friends were up to.

I put in one of my many email addresses and let it search my friends. The list grew and next to each name was a small icon (Flickr, Google smiley face, MySpace, Amazon or a plus sign which dropped down all of the icons for my computer addicted friends – mine had a plus sign). I started clicking away. For most people, it said “No content.” The smart friends had restricted their MySpace page so I couldn’t see those (and one friend didn't match the content pulled up for her). But there was still stuff to see (most of it old). I saw photos of a friend I’ve lost touch with on her trip to Ireland and another to Maui. I saw videos of another friend’s kid.

The weirdest thing was seeing people’s Amazon Wish Lists. One of my cousins wants a book called “Conversations with God.” Another, who is in med school, appropriately wants books about being a doctor. Another friend with kids had bath toys, a stroller and a how to raise boys book on her list. I found my wish list that I created in 2002 (the lists state when the person added the item to their wish list, and most of them were added in 2006 or earlier) so my parents would buy me the fashion design books I wanted (they never did – thank god so I don’t have to feel guilty for not using them). I had completely forgotten about the list (apparently I’m not alone), but it tells something about me just like my bookshelves at home do. And at home, there are some books I don’t put on the shelves – just like I didn’t plan on anyone being able to see my wish list (innocuous as it is). I changed the privacy setting to PRIVATE so now only I know how boring I am.

I truly felt like a voyeur, however, when I saw an acquaintance that had “My Pregnancy Journal” on her wish list. Forget the Flickr photos. You know those are public when you put them up. Of course people might look at your pictures, but a pregnancy journal on a wish list? For a brief moment, I thought, “How exciting! She and her boyfriend are having a baby!” Then, I noticed she put it on the list in 2003. Did she miscarry? Was it for a friend? What happened and why did she want that book? (She doesn’t have any kids that I know of.) And what business is it of mine to wonder any of those things?

Anyone who uses a computer regularly knows that people can see what we are doing. (Ironically, Spokeo did not find this blog.) When I write, I am careful not to let loose if I am upset with a friend, or even mention a friend’s name (see pregnancy book above) because although I’ve decided to air my laundry, none of them have agreed to let me air theirs. And something like a wish list? I never would have thought that would turn up in a search. After plugging myself into Spokeo, nothing very interesting came up other than my Amazon wish list, my maternity website-based MySpace page (an acquaintance will wonder if that is my belly in the photo. It’s not), and my empty Flickr account. MySpace blogs show up, but Typepad and Blogspot ones don’t. I found rants from my friend Dan, who stopped blogging because his neighbors read one of his rants about them. (Maybe they use Spokeo?) (He said it’s still a little uncomfortable in the ‘hood.)

So internet, be careful what you post and expose of yourself in the cyber world. Copyright your photos on Flickr. Be careful what you write or wish for. And just to be safe(or curious), check to see what Spokeo pulls up on you.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Heath Ledger’s death shocked me. He was a young, handsome and successful father. But we all fight demons. Our own demons might seem small in comparison to others, but they are ours none the less. From what all the news reports and Hollywood rumors say, one of his demons was drugs.

He always struck me as a very normal person and someone I would probably enjoy hanging out with. I love that he and Michelle Williams chose to live outside of the limelight in Brooklyn rather than here, where paparazzi are a regular sight in certain neighborhoods. (I’ve even seen them scope me out to make sure I wasn’t someone worthy of a photo. I guess it’s a compliment, but I’ll stick with being a nobody.)

I am sorry he left this world as young as he did – especially with a daughter who bears a striking resemblance to him (yes, I am guilty of looking at the paparazzi photos).

If this tragedy does nothing else, please be reminded that if your demons start getting the upper hand, please find the time and energy to seek help.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Most Depressing Monday

Apparently, yesterday was the most depressing day of the year. Pete heard it on the news this morning. I wasn’t surprised. Yesterday, I was gripped by melancholy. Before yesterday started, I had grand plans. Pete had to work (I guess his company doesn’t deem Dr. King’s accomplishments worthy of a day off), so I had the entire day to myself. I planned on hemming some jeans (four pairs from the Citizens sample sale), maybe sewing up a baby blanket for a friend, getting my hair cut, cooking a little, doing a few loads of laundry, going for a walk or yoga. Basically, I was going to what any woman in the 1950s did while her husband worked (minus yoga) and I was looking forward to it. (Hmmm… what does this say about me? And I consider myself a feminist!) But then, the day started.

Pete got up, and I lay there immobile. It was my day off. I was allowed. I stayed there for another hour and a half. Awake. I finally pulled myself from the bed around 9am, just in time to take a shower before getting my hair cut.

The hair cut went well. My friend cuts my hair and I always enjoy seeing her. I tried my best to be upbeat, but it was like a dampness filled my head. I smiled, but it was forced. I felt awful.

I came home, and decided the only way to lift the blues was to meditate and ask for some help. So I did. I meditated for almost an hour. (Okay, my mind wandered A LOT.) I felt a little better, but the damp, heavy feeling still pervaded my body. So I did what all depressed people do, and I took a nap. Nothing like avoiding the problem. (Isn’t that one of the signs of depression?)

Luckily, my friend Heidi came by unexpectedly and we went for a walk and a tea on the boardwalk. Thank god she came by. Depression is selfish and when in the presence of others, it is hard to be solely focused on myself. After I listened to her about her life (hey, we all have things going on – I don’t have a monopoly on major decisions), I was able to finally start my laundry and make chili. It was 5:00. Needless to say, the jeans are still not hemmed, yoga never happened and sewing a baby blanket? Please. I might actually enjoy that. (I actually enjoyed making chili, but I’d be happy if I could wave a wand and have my laundry folded in my drawers.)

For now, I’m just glad to know I wasn’t the only one feeling depressed yesterday. Who knew there was a most depressing day of the year? More importantly, why isn’t it on the calendar so we can be ready for it?

Monday, January 21, 2008

In Gratitude

Thank you for having a dream. The world is a better place because of you.
Happy Birthday, Dr. King.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Business of Being Born

I have been pro-home birth, pro-baby for a long time. Maybe all the hippies rubbed off on me when I lived in Boulder. Who knows... all I know is that in Los Angeles NOT having an epidural is like saying you don't want to ever eat again. Wait... that's normal for some women in LA. Hmmm... this is all starting to make sense. Anyway, I haven't seen the movie yet, but I am excited that Ricki Lake and director Abby Epstein are spreading the word that birth is not a medical condition.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Good German

For all the reasons I make a poor German, there are plenty of reasons I love Germany. I don’t want the world thinking I am anti-German. I’m just pro-food-that-makes-me-feel-good. Selfish, I know.

There are quite a few things the Gemans get right. Let’s start with chocolate. I’m not sure if it’s because Pete is full-grown and can eat whatever he pleases, but I am under the impression chocolate for breakfast is A-OK in Germany. And you know what? That’s A-OK with me, too. As stated before, Nutella is a mixture sent straight from the gods. Spread on fresh baked, warm pretzels? De-lish! Top it with homemade strawberry jam? Heaven.

In the grocery store, there were TWO sections for chocolate. How can you not love a country that holds chocolate in such high esteem?

I also love the greenways. Pete grew up in small town in southern Germany. His parents were farmers. Unlike the United States where a farm means you live in a lone house in the middle of your fields, agriculture has been around for hundreds of years in Germany. Therefore, the towns cluster around the castle and the fields cluster around the towns. The towns all seem to be about a mile or two apart, which is perfect for walking or bicycling so there are paths (a.k.a. greenways) that connect all the towns.

We walked twenty minutes through dormant fields to get to his best friend’s house. Along the way, we passed neighbors and friends who were also out for walks. I love that people walk to get somewhere – even if it is just to better health or to get out of the house. No one seemed to mind it was only 30 degrees. Not even me.

Last year, our trip was all about family. This year, in addition to the family, we found time to sneak away to Rothenburg. Pete had never been, even though it is only two hours from his house, but I had been in high school with my parents. (My house was over 4000 miles away, but hey, who’s checking? Plus, we didn’t have cows to look after in suburban Virginia.)

We stopped on the way back from visiting his aunt, so by the time we rolled into town, it was dark and extremely cold. Pete thought I was dragging him to some lame village where we would have a hard time finding a decent meal, but instead we found a magical little town. Apparently, it is one of the only towns that wasn’t bombed to bits during the world wars. It still has the wall surrounding the city, the amazing old buildings, the twisty streets and the gates that kept it safe. It was nicknamed the Christmas Village. The influx of tourists confirms that people love it. It was the only time during our trip that I heard more English than German. And it annoyed me. Go figure. I can finally understand people and I want them to go away. I’m crazy.

The wall around the city. Despite how bright it looks, it was pitch black. Hello flash!
The town center and the tree. One of the gates to the city.

Hopefully, we can continue exploring the surrounding areas one village at a time over the years. I was informed that France, Switzerland and Austria are all within two hours of his home town. All I have to say is there is a lot of world out there to see, and I plan on seeing as much of it as I can – including lots of Germany.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


Before we arrived in Hanoi, we were told how much we would love it. If Saigon is a bustling teenager, eager to try new things, Hanoi is the wise, older grandmother holding onto tradition. Hanoi is famous for its old quarter, and rightfully so plus, it is the capital and houses Ho Chi Minh’s remains. The city holds more charm than all of Saigon (and I really like Saigon).

Originally, we planned on spending two days in Saigon, hopping a plane to Hanoi and then coming back down the coast via five days in Hoi An and Hue, which are in central Vietnam. Both cities are written about extensively, and best of all, Hoi An has lovely beaches. I thought we could have the best of both worlds: beach and history. Perfect! Well, no one told the weather. I spent the week before we left tracking a typhoon that was headed for, you guessed it, Hoi An. I quickly added warm clothes to my packing list with the assumption we would head to Sapa rather than the beach (it’s good to be a planner).

Sure enough, the typhoon smacked into the central coast and flooded both cities. We heard crazy tales of leaving hotels in neck deep water, of pushing wives and luggage in small, round fishing boats to get to dry land. The best story we heard was the 500 crocodiles that escaped in Hue and were swimming around. At the time, they had captured fifty of them. It was then we knew we weren’t in the US anymore. Someone surely would have sued.

One day in Saigon, we watched as people were turned away from our guesthouse again and again. The floods had pushed all the central coast people north and south. Originally, we planned on just flying to Hanoi and finding a hotel. Watching them, we decided it would be best to book ahead of time.

Our guesthouse had an internet connection, so we went to Trip Advisor and found a hotel with a decent rating and rates. We booked it online and got our confirmation. Easy. We weren’t going to wander the streets of Hanoi. We planned ahead.

We arrived in Hanoi around 6pm and took a taxi into the city for $10, or so we thought. When the driver stopped the car, he told us $20 - $10 each. The injustice swelled in the back of my throat like barf pushing to get out. My bag was in his trunk. We were stuck. We had to give him something. Pete, rightfully so, starting yelling at him. I was silently freaking out. We didn’t have $20 anymore, but I had $15, which he finally took and set my bag free.

Bitching and moaning about getting scammed, we lumbered down the alley where our guesthouse was only to find it closed. Not like closed for dinner, but closed and under construction. CLOSED. As in never opened. EVER. I cursed Trip Advisor.

At that moment, we were wishing we’d gone to the tropical island of Phu Quoc instead of Hanoi. Luckily, the Hanoi Hostel was down the street, and full of helpful people. The owner/manager, a great Aussie – Mick or Mike, was awesome. I was slumped in the corner, defeated while Pete and he figured out what happened. Basically, the scamming isn’t limited to taxis. People submit bogus reviews to Trip Advisor, get listed, have people come to their hotels even if they aren’t that great or, in our case, open. Oy. Since it was our honeymoon, we lifted the budget accommodation requirement and told him we’d stay anywhere – even the Sofitel. But no. Everything was sold out. Everything.

Some sweet women from Australia offered us the second bed in their room, saying they could share and we could share (the generosity of humans never ceases to amaze me), but Mick/Mike, who’d disappeared, reappeared to tell us he’d found us a room around the corner for $55. **If you are a budget traveler and find yourself in Hanoi, please stay at the Hanoi Hostel – great folks. I didn’t see the rooms, but everyone seemed happy.

From there, Hanoi looked up. Our room was lovely – I mean, not the Sofitel or anything, but really quite nice. We had a balcony that overlooked the Cathedral.

The next morning, we tooled around the city, which is incredibly walk-able. We wandered through the Old Quarter and the French Quarter (I couldn’t figure out the difference or are they the same?). We had breakfast at this cafĂ© that was hard to find, but once we did, we climbed to the top and looked out over the lake. We found another restaurant we loved, and sat upstairs looking down on the street as we sampled spring rolls. We quickly learned that most restaurants have upstairs, and that’s where the best tables are.

The following day we headed to Halong Bay, which shouldn’t be missed even if you hate tours, and then onto Sapa. After Sapa, we had one day in Hanoi before flying to Saigon and home to Los Angeles. But more on that later.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The American Wife

We just got back from 10 winter wonderland days in Germany. It was gorgeous. The trees covered in light layers of white, lights twinkling. The Germans invented Christmas. Even with my thin, wimpy California blood, I appreciated it. I even took walks outside. Really. I did. But I digress. Theses are things that make me a good German: enjoying fresh air walks despite the temperature. (A balmy 20 something - when we left LA it was 75 and SUNNY.)

But really, I am a horrible German.

1. I don’t speak German. My three years of high school French followed by three semesters of college French and an extension course in Spanish do NOTHING to help me speak German except to think of the word in French or Spanish instead of German, which is, of course, no help at all.

One thing I love is that Pete’s family likes to sit around the table after a meal chatting. My family does it, too, and I think it’s so great. Bonding. Laughing. I mean, people don’t do this much anymore. Everyone is running off to meet other people or watch TV or clean or just get away from the people they are with. But after an hour of Pete or my sister-in-law translating, we all get tired so they stop translating and I’m left staring off into space. It’s kind of like when I was a kid and had to sit with my parents while they talked to some other adults about taxes or gas prices. I’d sit there and tap my fingers, zone out and wish to be dismissed from the table. Well, listening to people laugh when you have no idea what they are talking about feels about the same as being eight and not understanding taxes or the double-entendre joke. Basically, it sucks.

2. I am not and will never be a member of the clean plate club. This fact alone makes it impossible for me to be a German. I don’t know if it is residuals from the war or what, but the Germans do not leave food on a plate. I mean NEVER. Luckily, I have a husband and brother-in-law with hollow legs who clean-up after me and my wimpy appetite. But occasionally, even they are too full to cram the last piece of meat on my plate into their gullets. The servers won’t even clear plates with food still on them. I swear. I sat with my fork and knife placed in the finished position for not one, not two but FOUR passes of the server before she picked up my plate. I mean, really. I can’t eat three pieces of pork with creamy, tasty sauce, spaetzle, and salad all at once.

3. Meat. Every meal has meat. EVERY meal (at least during the holidays). I like meat. I eat meat. But not every meal and definitely not pork with every meal. Breakfast? Check? Dinner? Check. (It seems that there are only two meals and the cookie snack time, which is mercifully, meat-free.) I won’t even start talking about the two-meals thing. I graze all day. ALL DAY! I’m not a two-meal a day person. I’m more like 1 plus 6 snacks.

Breakfast German-style. It's tasty, but wow did I miss my smoothie.

4. Wheat and dairy aren’t my friends. Seriously. When I was a kid, I was allergic (as deemed by a real life doctor) to milk and wheat. Yes, birthday parties sucked since I couldn’t eat anything. Rice cake instead of chocolate cake? Welcome to my childhood. I’ve mainly grown out of my allergy, but my body still prefers if I stick to a rice based diet. Guess what the Germans eat with every meal? You got it: bread, cheese and/or cream. I only saw rice once, and it sucked, which might be why they don’t eat more of it. But they can bake some killer pretzels, rolls, cakes and cookies. And I should know since I ate them all. Often. Did I mention I put on at least five pounds? (I knew I was in trouble when I’d get back to the house and go straight for the sweats. Always a bad sign.)

5. I’m a light-weight. I can’t drink. If I have two glasses of wine, I’m either silly or have a headache. And I never know which it will be until I’m there so often I skip the alcohol altogether. Well, in Germany, ordering a pilsner with lunch is normal (at least during the holidays). Schnapps toasts? Sure! Remember how I said Pete’s family sits around and talks all night? I neglected to mention over beers (and wine).

In a moment of pity during our trip, I said to Pete, “It’s not your fault you picked an American wife who can’t speak German or eat wheat or diary or drink much. It’s all my fault.” Maybe that wasn’t exactly what I said, but you get the point. Yes, Pete married an American, but at least I'm not a vegetarian.

They even have meat cigars!!!