Monday, December 28, 2015

Odds and Ends

I have been enjoying my Christmas decorations this year and thought I might even keep them up at least until the new year.  But Saturday night the enjoyment wore off, and they needed to be taken down...NOW!  With my mom still in town, we worked together and got everything down and put away (even some purging of unused decorations) in about two and a half hours.  It's such a good feeling to have the rooms back to normal, less cluttered.
Speaking of decluttering, I've seen some information about the KonMari cleaning method over this past week.  It is supposed to be a no-holds-bar approach to tidying up with the main rule being if an item in your home does not truly bring you joy, then it should be removed.  I love that idea.  Some of the tips, like folding clothes so they stand up rather than flat in piles, is something I already do and that has been life changing.  I don't usually do a deep clean/purge until spring break, but this method is exciting me a little bit...I don't know if that should be depressing or not. :)
My mom came into town last Tuesday.  She flew into LAX and it took longer to get into the airport, pick her up, and get out of the airport than the entire trip to and from.  I HATE LAX.  I've been to a lot of airports, and many in cities just as busy as Los Angeles, and LAX is truly the worst one I've ever been to.  She left this morning, but out of Burbank instead.  The entire trip to and from, with a stop for coffee along the way, was only an hour.  It's too bad Burbank isn't always cost or time effective, because if it were I'd never go to LAX again.
I went to the salon and had a hair cut this afternoon.  While I know my stylist is the professional, I always leave amazed at how good she makes my hair feel and look.  And I always leave frustrated that I can't make it look like she does...not even close.
Author Robert Crais came out with a new Elvis Cole/Joe Pike novel last month.  This is the sixteenth book in the series, and I had listened to the previous fifteen books over the course of a year and half while walking the dog.  They are fun private detective stories, easy to get into, which is important when I listen to books.  I only have to pay some attention to know what is happening.  When the book came out, I put the audiobook on hold right away. Today, while returning from the airport, I got an email saying it was being held for me at the library.  The book is being added to iTunes as I write this.     I look forward to finishing the Daniel Silva book I'm in the middle of and getting started on this one!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Clifton's Cafeteria

Clifton's Cafeteria first opened on Broadway (in what is now historic Downtown LA) in 1932.  It boasts being the largest cafeteria style restaurant in the world.  At one time, the Clifton Cafeterias were an 8 restaurant chain spread across Los Angeles.  Each restaurant had some sort of cheesy theme, and the one on Broadway was made to look like a wilderness lodge.  In its heyday it served 15,000 diners daily, including the likes of Ray Bradbury, Jack Kerouac, Walt Disney, and David Lynch.  My mom has fond memories of her grandmother bringing her and her cousin to Clifton's on special occasions.  She remembers how exciting it was to pick out her meal, item by item in the cafeteria line.  Even with Downtown's population decline (due to suburbanization) after World War II and the area's slow decay, the cafeteria continued to serve diners until 2011 when it was closed for renovations.  It had been sold to a nightclub owner whose goal it was to preserve the food and atmosphere of the cafeteria.  After 4 years and a reported $10 million, Clifton's reopened in October of this year.
For the last couple of months, it's received mixed reviews in both service and food quality.  So many of its visitors have memories of its past which has been the standard its being held to.  With my mom in town for the holidays, we made a visit to her old stomping grounds to check it out this weekend.
Clifton's sits right on Broadway between 6th and 7th Streets in what is considered The Jewelry District and neighboring Skid Row.
Original ceramic tile
 Vintage cafeteria trays
The restaurant is 3 stories (although there are legends about secret rooms).  The entrance, bakery, cafeteria, and small seating area are on the first floor.  The remaining two floors contain more seating, bars, and stages.
 The woodland theme allows for giant trees and wild animals scattered about the restaurant.
Carrying a tray with food and drink and silverware was a little more than I could handle with a camera in my hand, so I returned home with zero food photos.  These are from Yelp, just to give an idea of what goes down in this cafeteria...
The four of us ordered fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, green beans, a salad, and pizza for the table, so I got to try a little of everything.  After all is said and done, it's cafeteria food.  It wasn't bad by any means, but it's nothing to rave about either.  A visit to Clifton's is more about the experience than it is about the food.  

Monday, December 21, 2015

Cuteness Overload

Monterey is a small seaside city along the Central Coast of California.  It is a beautiful place, as most of the Central Coast is, and is quite the environmental sanctuary for both local plants and animals, including the sea otter.  The sea otter's population worldwide was near extinction (due to the fur trade) up until quite recently.  Conservation efforts have helped keep the otters afloat, so to speak, but they are still considered threatened in California.  Which is why this weekend's new arrival is so exciting.
From Monterey Bay Aquarium
The Monterey Bay Aquarium, a main attraction in Monterey, had a wild otter visit its tide pools just a few days ago.  The aquarium's staff were a bit concerned about her because of her length of stay and her behavior.  However, they had nothing to worry about.  The otter gave birth yesterday morning to a tiny otter pup.  They've been posting videos and photos of mama and baby since.  I just can't get enough of these two!!! 
They have since left the aquarium's borders and have floated out to sea.  They are such interesting creatures.  If you have a few minutes (or hours) the videos are quite informative.  Thank goodness it's winter break, I don't feel nearly as guilty wasting time like this when I'm on break.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A White Trash Christmas

Last night, I attended an annual white trash/elephant Christmas party.  In case you are not familiar, a white trash/elephant party (aka Yankee Swap) is a gift exchange of a less serious nature.  Party goers bring one (or more) gag-type gifts, gifts that are more funny than actually coveted, and during the party the gifts are exchanged using one of the many different gift exchanged games.  As long as no one takes it too seriously, it's usually a hoot.
My gift contribution this year is a regift from last year's party.
These two have spent the year in my garage just waiting to make their return to the white trash party. I think I hit the jackpot with this one !
After everyone arrived and were sufficiently full from drinks, appetizers, and dinner the gift giving began.  The host counted up the gifts and put that many numbers in a hat.  Each guest drew a number (or more if multiple gifts were brought).  That was the order we chose our gift(s).  The rules of the game...when it is your turn, you can either select an unwrapped gift or "steal" one of the already opened gifts.  If a gift is stolen, the person who lost it can steal or open something else.  After a gift has been in the hands of three guests, it is frozen and can no longer be stolen.  Let's be honest though, not too much is stolen from a white trash party.
Here are just a few of the choices...
A hairless cat shirt
 "Glamour" Beach Towels
 Horse Wine Bottle Holder
 A National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation Uncle Eddie sweater.  Which, by the way, was stolen two times until it was frozen.
 Glittery lizard statue
 Tiger blanket
 Vegetable-themed kitchen decor
 Kitten blanket
Stripper alarm clock
After losing the Uncle Eddie sweater AND the tiger blanket, the sexy angels were unwrapped!  The look on his face says it all.  I did not think that my gift this year could top the sexy angels, but it may have...
 The handful of skeletal looking apostles might have nudged its way to the top.  This gift has been in the exchange for a couple of years now.  The original gift giver found it down in Tijuana and haggled with the seller who went from $50 down to $20.  Such a deal!!
 After a brief stint on my dining room table, the hands have retired to the garage until next year's party.
Or maybe I'll keep them there for a year or two and bring something new next year.  The hands might be a welcome sight after not being seen for awhile.  

Monday, December 14, 2015

Regulations, or Lack Thereof

As I mentioned awhile back, the months of October and November were not very kind to me health wise.  Between a bronchial infection, a head cold, and my regular, seasonal allergies I was kind of a congested, snotty mess.  I started taking Loratadine (generic Claritin D) once a day, doubling to twice a day as per doctor's orders on particularly bad days.  Claritin D is an over-the-counter sinus/allergy medicine that requires ID and purchases are logged into the "system" and tracked.  The ingredients in the medication are also used to make meth.  Our Federal Government decided in 2005 to regulate this medication to help curtail illicit meth manufacturing/use.  Being a rule follower, I don't usually have issues with the government regulations.  Since I'm not a meth manufacturer or user, what do I care anyways.
Costco has the BEST price on generic Claritin D, but Costco is a big pain in the neck to visit.  Ours is so busy all the time, so I try to keep a running list of things I need from there and only go when the list gets long enough to warrant a trip.  However, with the Claritin D only distributed in packs of 15 and only one pack at a time, I was visiting Costco every-other-Saturday (when I had time to go) in October and November.
During the first week in December, I stopped into Costco during the week, as I was running low on the D and knew I'd run out before the next weekend's trip.  Even though I was feeling much better, I was still congested so wanted to continue taking the meds to keep the sinus issues at bay.  However, when I gave the cashier my ID, she informed me that I was over the limit in the amount of Loratadine I was allotted and therefore she couldn't sell it to me.  Of course, I was irritated and a bit worried about being overrun by my sinuses.  I tried VERY hard not to take it out on the cashier as she didn't make the rules, but I did leave frustrated, mumbling about how if the box was full of bullets it wouldn't even be a blip on anyone's radar.  Then I left quickly, worried she'd think I was threatening to shoot her.
This happened just days before the San Bernardino shootings.  With my mind already on the regulation of the medicine and the restrictions that I was facing, the information that came out about the tragic attack blew my mind.  Between the rounds that were shot in the initial attack, the ones shot at the police, and the ones found by investigators in the car and home, this couple had purchased over 6,200 bullets, all legally.  ALL LEGALLY!  I wonder if this attack would have been thwarted had this couple had to show ID and have their purchases logged into "the system" like my 4 boxes of Claritin D had been.  Who knows, but thankfully regulation stopped me from the medicine I needed to keep my nose from running, because that could have been dangerous!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Girl in the Spider's Web

After finishing Stieg Larsson's Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium) series, I was pretty much ruined on books for about two years.  Nothing I picked up was quite as exciting, edge-of-your-seat reading, as those three books were.  There are various opinions on this, but I personally thought the first in the series was outstanding, and then they got better from there.  By the time I got to the end of  The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, I sat upright, rocking back and forth, legs shaking with anticipation on how it was all going to end.  If I were to have one complaint about those three books it would be that all three started painfully slow.  The first 100 pages of each book spent time on a backstory that was a bit confusing until it linked with the story later in the books, but it was a nonissue as the book moved very quickly after that.
Larsson died of a heart attack in 2004, leaving the series' first three manuscripts finished on his computer.  Those were published beginning in 2008 by his girlfriend.  Supposedly, three-fourths of the fourth novel as well parts of a fifth and sixth novel were also left on his computer.  His girlfriend had wanted to complete and publish the fourth book, but since the couple was not married Larsson's estranged father and brother held the rights the series instead.  The family hired author David Lagercrantz to pen a fourth novel to the series.  He did not have any access to Larsson's unfinished manuscript.  His book was released here in September of this year.
The reviews on Amazon before the book had even been published (several precautions were made to keep the book from leaking ahead of time) were mostly scathing.  Many people were against the family taking control of the series as that was not what Larsson intended and seemed to be giving it bad reviews out of principle.  Regardless, a fourth book in the series peaked my interest because of how engaging the other three books had been, and that was my reason for picking it for book club.  We had read ...Dragon Tattoo a few years ago for one of our meetings, and everyone in the group had also read the rest of the series.
The Girl in the Spider's Web was an entertaining book.  The beloved main characters Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Bloomkvist were both present.  The story takes place about a year after book three.  Bloomkvist's career and magazine is on a downswing due to the current state of news media.  Salander has been working with an investigative hacking group and is in the midst of gaining access into the depths of NSA's secure servers.  Bloomkvist is contacted by a Silicon Valley computer scientist about a potential story of corruption and espionage.  Of course, this leads him to reach out to Salander who, as it turns out, has been finding evidence of the same in the NSA's servers.   In addition to a couple of murders with a young autistic witness, a member of Salandar's family comes back into her life with nefarious intentions.  The story has A LOT going on.
Once it was published, book reviews by those who had actually read it were quite good, with many saying Lagercratz's writing was a bit tighter than Larsson's. In my opinion, the book was far easier to get into than the other three were, having much less time spent on backstory.  It did jump around quite a bit, but that seemed to be necessary as there were a lot of pieces to the puzzle.  I found the character development to be lacking in comparison to Larsson's development of his characters.  It felt like the author didn't "know" the characters as well.  With that being said, maybe by the fourth book Larsson would have spent less time on the characters than before.  The investigation was current with its link to technology and securities.  Artificial intelligence was a center point of the story, but what that dealt with was only touched upon so it seemed to get lost in the book.  My expectations were high, so while I liked the book, it didn't ruin me for other books either.  There was no sitting upright in bed.  The ending was good but was also far less engaging than the others.  I will say that the author wrapped up this book well while still keeping things open for additional stories in the series.  If I were not comparing it to Larsson's books, this book stands up well on its own.  I do look forward to more books to come.
If you are familiar with the Millennium series there are few things I want to note.  First, Lisbeth Salander clearly falls somewhere on the Autistic Spectrum.  I enjoyed her relationship with young August Balder, the only witness to his father's murder.  He is one of the rare (according to the book) few who exhibits savant capabilities in both math and art.  Salander risks her life to keep him safe and is also the only one who succeeds in getting him to communicate.  That link in the story was significant.
Salander has also been the victim of violence by several men in her life, men who were supposed to protect her.  She, in turn, has exacted violent revenge on those attackers throughout the series and has stood up for others using similar tactics.  During one scene in the book, she confronts someone who has had a hand in the corruption (and who has treated women he has hooked up with via the internet very badly) and shares explicit details of what she will do to him.  When he asks if she is insane, she responds, "Probably, yes.  Empathy deficit disorder.  Excessive violence. Something along those lines."  I found that quote quite telling of her personality.  She's been the product of a system that couldn't protect her from violence most of her life and has been told by that system she's empathy deficient when she acts out that revenge.  However, while she is VERY violent, I wouldn't say she lacks empathy.  She just has more empathy for the abused than she does for their abusers.  I think that's why she is a compelling character.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Snowflakes? Check!

The finished product...
Since Sunday, about 150 more snowflakes were made and added to complete the rest of the ceiling.  I'm pleased with the results, although already starting to wonder how to take it all down in an orderly manner.   The pictures do not do it justice however.  The ceiling looks quite "hole-y" directing the camera upwards, but it actually looks pretty full standing under them.  After playing with the light in the room, it has been determined that the bright lights make the snowflakes very bright white, but also spotlights the fishing line strung across the room.  The lower light keeps the line hidden.
I'm actually feeling quite accomplished after imagining and then finding a remote control gadget that turns all my Christmas lights on at the same time.  The remote has three sensors that can be plugged into any electrical outlet and then the lights are plugged into that.  With the touch of a button I can turn them all on, rather than run around and plug in/unplug everything in the room.
With all the time spent on room preparations, I've still got about 100 pages left in my book for tomorrow's bookclub...gotta go read!!!

Sunday, December 6, 2015


Over the past three Decembers, I was somewhat of a Scrooge when it came to decorating my house.  Last year, I was in Hawaii spending Christmas with my mom, the year before that I was in Europe, and the year before that I just wasn't in the mood.  While I do like holiday decorations, I'm not a big fan of clutter.  After a week or two of the house being decorated I'm usually ready to clean it all up again, so the thought of having to take it down after traveling always sounds unappealing.
This year however, I've been feeling the holiday spirit.  I don't know if it's been the cooler weather (We've had a few days that have been colder than anything we've had for over two years!!), my mom visiting in a couple of weeks, or what.  Regardless, I spent some of last week's quick break to Christmas-fy my house.  Since clutter is a bit of an issue for me, I didn't put out ALL the decorations I have stored in the garage, just some.  There's a Christmas tree in the family room, stockings along the mantle, some meaningful chachkes and candles on tables and shelves, and both the kitchen and dining room tables have been set with holiday wares.   While it looks nice, it's not over the top, in my opinion.  
While I was decorating, the movie Elf was on. And that's where I got a bug up my butt to turn my tastefully decorated home into a scene from the movie.
 Buddy, the elf, turns this department store into a winter wonderland with lights, paper snowflakes, and garland.  So for the last week and a half I've been obsessed with making snowflakes.  Last night, I even dreamed about making them.
After wrapping the room in lights on Friday and randomly stringing fishing line across the room on Saturday, I began hanging the snowflakes this afternoon.  There were 109 cut flakes ready to make a dent.  By the way, it felt like I had cut 1,009 snowflakes!
I also made a few 3-D snowflakes and pom poms to fill in some spaces.  
About half the room got decorated today before I ran out of the flat snowflakes.  I like how it's coming along, but keep wondering what I was possibly thinking when I decided to take this project on.  However, if I can hammer out another hundred and a few more 3-D pieces, it'll be good to go.  Some paper chain garland will be added to fill in some of the holes as well.
I've got a house full of people coming for dinner on Thursday evening for book club, so fingers crossed I can get it finished in time (and the book too!).  And fingers crossed I don't wake up in the morning to it all dumped onto the ground either.