Sunday, June 28, 2009

Goodbye to the King of Pop

You know how sometimes you remember exactly where you were when you learn something big? I was standing in Subway the other day, waiting for the nice lady to make my sandwich, when I hear the news over the radio. Michael Jackson, the King of Pop has died. While I'm digesting the news and thinking he wasn't that old, I have a flashback to my childhood. I remember clearly being a little kid standing in the kitchen of my babysitter Mary. I am waiting for her to make my sandwich, when I hear the news over the radio. Elvis Presley, the King of Rock n' Roll had died. For some reason, this just strikes me as strange to have heard of both of these deaths of these two musical Kings on the radio while waiting for a nice lady to make sandwich. Yes, I realize that is totally random, but I found it odd, and after all, it's my blog, so I'm writing about it.
Thinking back on the life of Michael Jackson, I prefer to remember him before all the plastic surgeries, before the personal, emotional and mental problems became public, back when he was a cute boy with his original nose and a big ole' afro who could sing and dance. His music was the background for so many memories. I remember playing hand clap games to “Rockin Robin” and staying up until midnight to watch the debut of the “Thriller” video back when MTV was new. I remember my 7th grade cheerleading squad choreographing our halftime routine to “Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'” and singing "Bad" thinking we were so darn cool. (In hindsight, we weren't.) I remember getting teary eyed watching “We are the World” and thinking of all the starving kids in Africa (probably while eating a bag of chips.) At some point, it seemed pretty clear that Michael Jackson was a troubled soul. It's a prime example of the fact that being a child star, and having lots of fame and money do not buy happiness or peace. It makes me feel really sad for him. He was an entertainer like no other, and history won't forget him, that's for sure. The other day, someone on NPR said that Michael Jackson's music is the soundtrack for much of our lives. It's true that hearing his songs will always bring back memories- they are playing in the background of my mind as I recall chunks of my growing up. Millions of people around the world have the same experience; different memories, but with the same songs. I sure hope Michael can rest peace now.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Microfinancing


I just realized that for less the cost of lunch out with my family, I can invest in a business in another country. $25 is not a lot in the U.S., even to those in the American level of poverty, it's less than a monthly cell phone bill (which most in the U.S. seem to manage)
In a country like Paraguay or Peru where the average annual income is less than $5000 (yes, that's a WHOLE YEARS income for the average family) small loans can make a big difference in the ability to start, grow, or continue a business. Kiva is a non-profit that coordinates small loans to developing businesses around the world. I love this idea of microfinance, because it's a way that all of us, even those without a lot of disposable income- can make a difference with very small amounts of money. They have a great record- over 98% of loans have been paid back- and thousands of folks have been helped on their way to a better life.
This morning I found two small clothing companies in South America that had my name written all over them, and with the money I didn't spend on kids' rides at the fair, I am investing in these women.
http://www.kiva.org/app.php?page=businesses&action=about&id=114902&_te=ty
http://www.kiva.org/app.php?page=businesses&action=about&id=114927&_te=ty
Why not check it out, and consider what you could do if you skipped a few coffees?
http://www.kiva.org/

Sunday, June 14, 2009

There's a New Shop In Town

I am loving having a Trader Joe's Supermarket in town for a whole host of reasons. Living in far Northern California (contrary to the mis-informed opinions of out of state folks, and those from the lower half of the state, there is a whole lotta state north of the Bay area) we don't have so many choices in shopping. We have more than enough big box stores, but not so many options in small, fun shops with interesting choices. Trader Joe's came to town in May, and even my kids find shopping there pleasurable. First, they always have a sample of some tasty morsel to try. It's not samples on every aisle like Costco, but it's not a corn dog sample either. It's more like a tilapia taco or something like that, and although there are usually several people waiting to try, it's nothing like the traffic jam of over sized and overstuffed carts with like shoppers found elsewhere.
I am really enjoying the yummy ethnic and convenience foods that aren't full of mysterious ingredients. In a perfect world, we would make everything from scratch. We love to cook, but in real life, sometimes we're too busy for a full scale homemade meal, and we're hungry. We want good food fast, but not fast food. We also like to experiment with new and different flavors, spicy, tangy, sweet- we are adventurous with our tastes. That's why I love the sauces we find at TJ's. It's a quick, easy, and tasty way to spruce up some lentils, beans, chicken etc. Thai Curry, mango chutney, and East Indian are some of the newest flavors we've enjoyed. At about $2 a bottle, with simple, short and recognizable ingredient lists, it's well worth it.
Our other TJ's favorites are the breads, cereals, and chips. I have never cared what the Atkin's fans said. I love my carbs, but I do make them whole grain and organic whenever possible. It's nice to find affordable and healthier choices. Organic cracked wheat sourdough for less than $3 a loaf- I'm all over it.
I also appreciate the Two Buck Chuck. Of course Charles Shaw wines aren't the best in the world, but they are certainly a lot better than I ever imagined a $2 wine would be. And who ever heard of a $2 wine that didn't have a screw on cap? It actually has a cork, and I don't even feel like a wino buying it.
The only thing I dis-like about Trader Joe's is the over packaging of the produce. I'm not a fan of excess plastic, and some of their items simply have more wrapping than needed, but I am optimistic that they will listen to consumer request and get rid of some of that in the future. Overall, my family is very glad to have a new place to shop full of good things to eat and new flavors to try.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Random Travel Thoughts


A weekend trip to the city inspired in me a number of thoughts on travel.

#1. Driving through farm country would be much more enjoyable without crop dusters flying overhead and dropping carcinogens on the fields. My husband pointed out that I don't know that they are actually spraying poisons- they could be spraying beneficial nematodes. Yeah, right, that's likely. Next...

#2. My brand new- freshly aligned tires will no longer be aligned after driving Interstate 80. I've driven on smoother highways in Third World countries. Even though the 80 is basically a long stretch of potholes and drop-offs, everyone is still in a big hurry and driving 90 miles an hour.

#3. If any member of my family does not have food on a regular basis, they will become a wanker, myself included. We must travel with food at all times, or it will be ugly. My car is crumb covered mess, but in a worst case scenario, we could probably survive for a few days on the food particles under the seats.

#4. It's good to note that in Japantown, most of the food will have some sort of fish taste, whether it actually contains fish or not. (The kids and I were fine with this, poor husband didn't look so impressed.)

#5. An amazing number of children seem to think it is acceptable to walk in front of people who are in the middle of an interactive museum experience, and start messing with it as if you're not even there.

#6. An even larger number of children (and adults) do not have the attention span to read the instructions on interactive museum exhibits, let alone stick around to see what the exhibit is about or does. Instead they just run from display to display pushing buttons in a spastic frenzy that would make an excellent Ritalin commercial.

#7. Art is very subjective. People who take too seriously a canvas that is just painted solid blue can be rather amusing. Really, depth and meaning? It's solid blue- nothing but solid blue. There was a white one too. It, of course, inspired a much different mood.

#8. I think having unreliable internet access is more annoying than having no internet access at all. With spotty service, I just keep trying to get on. I'm failing most times, but since I got on that once, I just know it can be done. If there was just no internet access here, I wouldn't even be wasting time trying in the first place. In fact, I might have just left my laptop at home instead of lugging it on this trip. I'm glad I finally gave up and went on a walk.

#9. My children are great at finding ways to amuse themselves in the car. They're set up with all the travel games, sketch books, car games and hand crafts, but after a while they like to play things like “Let's see if we can hold our breath over every bridge.” Especially interesting over long ones such as the Golden Gate. I hope they didn't lose too many brain cells.

#10. I love traveling with my kids. Truly, I do.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Spur of the Moment San Francisco



We were supposed to be camping on Lake Shasta today, but when the forecast called for a 25% chance of thunderstorms, we decided that taking an aluminum boat across the water to sleep under the stars during potential lightning sounded less than fun. So, my brilliant husband suggested we take a spur of the moment trip to San Francisco instead. I just have to love that adventurous spirit which remonds me of when we were young and free. We've been wanting to go for months, and a travel deals email newsletter I subscribe to just happened to recently post a special on the newly remodeled Hotel Tomo in Japantown. We booked a room yesterday, loaded the animals food and water bins last night and hit the road at 6:30 this morning. I gotta say, the internet is just so darn handy for travel. In less than an hour on a Sunday night I was able to book a bargain room and find more than enough free and cheap stuff to do all over the city.




After sleeping through the alarm and snooze, we still arrived in time to start a walking tour of Fisherman's Wharf. We had to bail on the tour early, as it was freezing and although the guide was nice enough, at every frigid stop he just took too long with his talking, and we were shivering. I know public speaking isn't always easy, but limiting “uuuum” and “uuuhhh” from a speech really can keep things moving. We needed to buy beanies for the kid's heads and eat chocolate at Ghirardelli, so we snuck out on our own. We explored boats, shops and maritime history, played with antique amusements, and ate $50 worth of clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls which we do every time we go to San Francisco (so much for cheap.) How wonderful to be in a city where you can just walk into an art gallery and see works by Dali, Picasso, Chagall, and Warholl.

After we had our fill of the area around the piers, we headed to the Presidio which has some beautiful old buildings, lovely waterfront and wooded trails and of course, lots of history. Fort Point is at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge and has all sorts of wonderful old brick halls, spiral staircases and passageways for kids to run through. If it hadn't been windy enough to blow Dorothy back to Kansas, we might have walked across the Golden Gate Bridge, but it was beyond blustery, so we skipped that.


We checked into the Hotel Tomo, which I must say is the funnest hotel in the Best Western chain I have ever stayed at. It features Japanese pop culture d├ęcor galore, cool chairs, colorful doors, and full wall anime murals in every room. After a bunch of snacks, multiple trips up and down the elevator- stopping at most floors, a few short moments of rest, and a much deserved glass of wine, we are off to go explore the neighborhood. Adventure is good.