Monday, October 31, 2011

The Rise and Fall of the Perfect Pumpkin

Happy Halloween!

I don't know if it was because I was somewhat deprived of Halloween festivities as a child, but I am into this holiday in a big way now that I'm almost 25. I'm embracing pretty much every Halloween tradition I can get my hands on, including dressing up and watching scary festive movies (because someone informed me that "The Craft", "Practical Magic"  and "Hocus Pocus"  don't actually count as scary films). By far, my favorite Halloween activity is pumpkin carving, though. I like it so much, that I actually went to two different pumpkin carving parties, two nights in a row.

 I spent pumpkin carving night #1 fretting over my pumpkin, turning it over in my hands, trying to get inspired, and mostly just watching other people carve theirs.

I was also watching Game 6 of the World Series, so I wasn't super invested in my pumpkin. It turned out out okay, but let's face it, it wasn't the most show-stopping of the bunch: It had my name on it. What my pumpkin lacked in creativity, it made up for in clear identification...

I don't like to admit failure, but the above was definitely my 'starter pumpkin'. Sort of like when Kim Kardashian married Kris Humphries (too soon?). The following night, I had a much clearer picture of the direction I wanted my pumpkin carving to go. I sketched out a design, and went to town carving the world's  most adorable pumpkin.

Okay, more accurately, I spaced out while watching a movie, and then this cute pumpkin idea just came to me. I didn't have any sort of plan. Which is exactly why my pumpkin turned out awesome. Because I let it happen naturally (and because I'm a gifted pumpkin carver).

  My pumpkin was a thing of beauty. Really. I developed a serious case of Pumpkin Pride. I probably don't have to explain what that is, but basically, I thought my pumpkin was the best. I didn't say it. But I was definitely thinking it.

 To be fair, I really did like the other pumpkins at the party, because they were diverse: Gaga Pumpkin, Kitty Pumpkin, and Little Ghost Pumpkin were also very good... but I was blinded by the aforementioned Pumpkin Superiority Complex (commonly known as PSC).

So I admired my pumpkin, and went to sleep that night, satisfied that I had done a fantastical job and had dreams of winning awards for my pumpkin carving skills... Unfortunately, strange things happen on the nights leading up to Halloween, and when I awoke, I was greeted by the following horror:

My precious pumpkin had been vandalized. And this is hard to talk about, but not by naughty children as you might assume, but rather, it had been brutalized by rabid squirrels

I didn't see the squirrels do it, but there were tiny bite marks and nibbles everywhere, and there was a pile of crumbs nearby.

The evidence is pretty damning. I spent an absurd amount of time being upset about my pumpkin the next day.  I considered borrowing my brothers' airsoft gun, and camping outside next to the pumpkin to wait for the culprits to return, but eventually I decided that wasn't the most effective use of my time this weekend. In the end, I learned a valuable lesson:

"Pumpkin Pride cometh before the fall. Thou shalt not think thy pumpkin is fairer than thy neighbor's, lest the woodland rodents (or squirrels in Santa Monica) devour your pumpkin."

That said, my pumpkin was pretty darn cool before it got ruined. Seriously though. Why else would the squirrels ONLY eat mine?

R.I.P. Pretty Pumpkin.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stories from the Clank.

So if you've been following my blog, you probably know that I've started going to a local juvenile detention center once a week to to tutor inmates. And by inmates, I really mean misguided 16-year olds, most of whom are in gangs, or robbed other misguided teenagers, or did equally stupid and illegal things.

That said, I'm so attached. I've gone for five weeks now, and really enjoyed the experience every single time. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to tutor the same student more than once each time. The following scenario usually plays out:

I arrive at the detention center (which I affectionately refer to as the Clank).

Me: Hi. I'm Janae, I'm here to tutor *Skillz/Jimmy/Armando ( for their own protection, I'm not using their real names. okay, except Skillz).
Warden: Sorry, Skillz/Jimmy/Armando isn't available today.
Me: Um, why not?
Warden: We caught him selling drugs/fighting/giving his homie a tattoo with a bic pen.
Me: *sigh* Can I have another kid, please?

This has happened almost every time I've gone EXCEPT for the time one of my kids got released early for good behavior! Woohoo!

Anyway, my point is, this week I got one of the kids I'd had in the earlier weeks, and boy, was I excited to see him again. We chatted and caught up about, and he told me that he got into a fight 5 minutes after the last time I saw him, spent some time in solitary confinement, and then wound up getting kicked off the football team, and having extra time added to his sentence. Clearly, he was busy in the 3 weeks we were apart.

The silver lining to this fiasco, was that it seemed to be a wake up call to getting his act together. We spent the next 2 hours doing practice SAT tests, talking about college and job placement, and reading the Hunger Games. We also set the following goals for him:

1. Study for the SAT's and get his highschool diploma.
2. Look at some options for colleges or vocational schools.
3. Get the tattoo on his neck removed (the Clank has a program that will take him to get laser treatment once a week. My kid decided on his own that having a tattoo on his neck that said "MISUNDERSTOOD" was probably detrimental to getting a job.)

Goal number 3 brought up an interesting point, because this weekend, I went to a party and wound up with a temporary tattoo. No big deal, except I forgot to wash it off before I went to work on Monday, and before I went to the Clank to tutor. Obviously, my kid saw it and wanted to know all about my super-cool tattoo. Except it wasn't super-cool, because it looks like this:

Yep, I'm the world's biggest poser.  and yes, I still have yet to wash it off.

Suffice it to say, my lame temporary tattoo, only further made the case for thinking carefully about what you put on your body in terms of people taking you seriously. We had a good laugh about that. Even so, it's a good feeling knowing that I can help a 17-year old who's been in jail for 8 months to make some positive goals. More updates from the Clank soon.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Fall is Having an Identity Crisis.

October is being a tricky minx. It knows that I want it to be cold and autumn-ish, and that is why it is now 90 degrees outside.

October is trying to spite me. But you know what? It's totally okay, because I'm taking the high road, and embracing this "Oops, we forgot to tell you it's still summer for a few more days" situation. I don't hate it.

Yesterday, I left my air-conditioned office, and was smacked in the face by dry October heat. So I did what anyone would do, when it's 95 degrees in mid-October. I went home, put on a bathing suit, and laid on the beach for an hour. And because it was still hot out when I was done (literally done, like cooked), I went inside and invented the best, "It's 90-degrees in October cocktail".

Recipe after the pictures. You're Welcome. Happy Friday.

Lemons from my parents' backyard in Santa Barbara.

Fresh mint from my tiny window garden.

I didn't have a strainer or a cocktail shaker.
I made do with a tea tumbler. Resourcefulness.

This drink is best enjoyed outdoors in the fading summer/autumn light and warmth.

 *Thanks to my dear friend Blake for coming up with this very appropriate drink name.
Serves 6

1/2 c. white sugar
2 1/2 c. water
4 - 6 lemons
(or... go to the store, get some Simply Lemonade and skip the first three steps. I'm not judging you). 
12 oz. vodka
6 oz. peach schnapps
20-30 large mint leaves

Directions: Slice the lemons in half and juice them, then strain juice from the pulp and seeds. Mix in a pitcher with water and sugar. (If you bought lemonade, then skip the above steps, you lazy bum...)

Separate the mint leaves into six portions , and then muddles the leaves (or if you don't have a mortar and pestle, chop it up and roll it between your fingers) and then put the leaves in the bottom of a cocktail shaker (or if you're me, a tea strainer).

Add ice to the shaker, and then add lemonade, 2 ounces of vodka and 1 ounce peach schnapps. Shake vigorously (really vigorously), and then strain into a glass. Garnish with more fresh mint and a twist of lemon.

Note: if you don't want to make them one at a time, you could also mix it all up and pitcher and just serve over ice, but word of warnings, the lemonade makes the mint turn kind of brown, and not pretty after a little while.

Also note: If mint isn't you're thing, this recipe is equally good with rosemary or lavender. Now hurry! Go make this and drink it outside while it's still sunny and hot out!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Rules Are Made to be Broken: Speed Dating.

If you read my last post, you might have seen that I have vowed never to blog about my love/dating life.

Well, guess what? Today I am, because I make the rules and I can change them if I want to. Why, you may ask? Uh, because I went speed dating this week, and chances are, you're probably curious about what that is/whether it was fun and if you should try it, and I've got your back. You're welcome. I did it for you. Also, this story involves complete strangers, and therefore, is unlikely to come back to haunt me. (Note: I've taken measures to protect the some of the innocent, stupid, and/or ridiculous people I met last night. As in, I conveniently forgot their names.)

Rewind two weeks: I'm hanging out with some girlfriends and one of them mentions how she saw a groupon-like deal for speed dating.  In my head, I said, "What an utterly ridiculous idea, I should blog about that!". Aloud I said, "Wouldn't it be fun if we all did that?" Obviously, everyone agreed because we all bought them the very next day. I vowed to go in with an open mind, and if I didn't come out of it with a date, I'd at least have a good story.

Fast Forward to last night: My girlfriends and I show up to Xino in Santa Monica, dressed up, and ready to make snap judgments about the eligibility of strange men. We were each assigned a number and given a card with three columns printed on it. In column 1, you wrote the number of the guy you're dating, in column 2 his name, and in column 3, what you ranked him on scale from "Maybe, let's have one more drink" to "Never in a million years" (no joke, it said that on the scale).

After mingling at the bar for a bit, we all sat down at a long table, where there was an empty chair next to each woman. The men sat down next to us and we'd chat for four minutes each, and then the guys would get up and move one seat down. Bear in mind, if you have any people skills whatsoever, four minutes goes by really fast, so theoretically, there's not enough time for it to get awkward if you don't hit it off. There were 15 men there, and the next hour of my life went something like this.:

#1 - Guy in a hoodie and jeans sits down next to me. We chat amiably, and I think, "Wow, he's really nice and normal. This is off to a good start." He then explains that he just happened to be having dinner in the bar and the bartender told him that the speed dating event was short on men, and that he should go sign up hastily. Awesome. This explained the hoodie and why he was so normal.

#6 - I got no words in edgewise because this dude was engaging in his own stand-up comedy routine, and was busy telling me about how he thought my name was perfect for a gang banger. I laughed at appropriate intervals, and pondered when a good time would be to get an appetizer and another drink.

#3, 5, 8, 11 -  A blur of men  a few years older than me who were ALL in finance jobs, living in Marina Del Rey, and moved to California for work. They like the beach and hate the traffic. It's sad because they were all very nice, but I totally couldn't tell them apart after an hour. Apparently speed-dating has a type. This wasn't their fault, but you can't really dig very deep in 4 minutes.

#7 - Within 30 seconds of talking to this guy, I discovered he's a mutual friend of my best friend. Super small world. I spent the next 3 minutes talking about her. Whoops. Probably not productive, but she's awesome. He agreed.

#9 - Guy who asked me what my type was, and when I describe how I am open minded and don't have one specific type, he then informed me that my type is probably muscular, wealthy, and white because I went to Pepperdine. Hm. Okay. Thanks for asking me. I spent the rest of the four minutes thinking about spilling my drink on him.

#10 - Guy who commented on my outfit in a way that I couldn't decide if it was insulting or not. He then spent the rest of the 4 minutes asking me about the process I use in getting dressed in the morning. "Did you pick it because of the color? What color is that? Are you matching on purpose? (yes, fool.)  Are all of your clothes expensive?" I half expected him to want to look at the tags.

 #12 - Foreign man who made zero eye contact with me the whole time. It was awkward. Like talking to a cardboard cut-out. Or a pigeon.

 I'm not sure I would do this again, and obviously, I didn't describe all of the men, but some other highlights of the evening included:

- A random drunk who ran through the bar and yelled at all of us.

- Meeting two girls from Wisconsin, who I want to hang out with stat, because they were so funny and cool (I think I'm better at meeting girls than guys. Problematic? Oh well!).

- People spilling drinks.

- People falling down.

So, to be perfectly honest, I don't think I met my soul mate at speed-dating (I can feel the disappointment in all of your eyes), but I did come out of it with new friends and a renewed appreciation for people with superb conversational skills. Count your blessings, people.

That said, it was a really classy, well run event. It was fun, there were appetizers, and the hostesses were lovely (and all foreign model/actress types). In case you are interested in trying out this lark, here's the link:

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Let's Stay Home: Part II

I bet you thought I was kidding about the fort.

Well I wasn't. And although I didn't get to skip work to make it, and although it had already stopped raining by the time I got home, that didn't stop me from getting super excited about hanging bed sheets from my walls and ceilings with push-pins and paper clips, and it certainly didn't stop Annalise, Lauren and me from scampering inside the fort and then giggling like 1st graders when I turned the lights off.

Obviously, our fort activities included eating snacks (I made chili), talking about boys, and discussing work, telling ghost stories. Seriously, if you need a break from being an adult, I highly recommend you build a blanket fort.

Got bills to pay? and 30 emails to send before 9AM? and a stupid boyfriend? Not in a fort, you don't!!!

Blanket forts pretty much erase all problems, at least temporarily. And the best part is, when you inevitably stay up too late having fun, it's totally acceptable to fall asleep in there.

Which is what I did last night. My inner child had sweet dreams. And when I woke up, and had to put on slacks and heels and make up and go to work, I didn't mind so much, because I slept in for 5 minutes longer, because I didn't have to make my bed.

I'm an adult like a Pop Tart is a complete breakfast, and I'm just fine with that.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Let's Stay Home and Build a Fort.

Sometimes I get a thought in my head, and it completely takes over what I'm doing.

I had an outdoor photo shoot at work yesterday, and in the morning before the client showed up, I was intently checking the weather forecast. I noted that it's supposed to rain heavily on Wednesday, and then my brain did the following backflip:

1. Rain, yay! I like rain.

2. I wish I could stay home when it rained.  How many sick/vacation days do I have?

3. I could bake something, and read books, listen to music and drink coffee.

4. Gosh. I can't top that.

5. ...Unless I did all of that in a BLANKET FORT!

And that is why every 4th thought that has entered my head in the past 36 hours has been about the joys, and proper construction and enjoyment of blanket forts. I'm obsessed, and sometime in the near future (like maybe tomorrow), I will be making a blanket fort. Never mind that I haven't attempted one since I was 11. I can't think of anything happier than pulling all of the sheets off my bed and cushions off my couch coupled with the absolute triumph of building the perfect fort.

Honestly, I think there should be a national holiday devoted to building blanket forts. 

In the meantime, I'll settle for looking at these fun/cute/sultry blanket forts that other people have made.

Classic dining room fort. I love the scarves. Via

This one is pretty rudimentary, but it gets points for the paper clouds. Via

Chaos fort. Via

My favorite one, by far. I need this. Via Design*Sponge
So, if you can find a better blanket fort than this last one, send it my way, because I always need inspiration. Also, if you are a blanket fort ingenue, or you just have an extra sheet or flashlight to contribute, come talk to me... blanket forts are always more fun with friends.

P.S. Special thanks to Jessica Rotter for her "October" playlist linked above.

P.P.S. Seriously, comment away if you want to come help with my fort.