Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy, um, American Tofurky Day?

As some of you may already know, I’ve toyed around with the idea of becoming a vegan chef.  In this post I describe my journey from a cheese-addict who could barely work the microwave to a vegan culinary genius.  Since then, my confidence in the kitchen has taken a hit.  I will admit I’ve ruined a few meals.  Apparently there is such a thing as too much tamari.   I also had an unfortunate "glue soup" incident involving arrowroot powder.  Given these recent blunders, it’s probably a good thing that I’m only cooking Thanksgiving dinner for me and my husband.

Tip of the Day: If you ever want to discourage extended family members from coming to your Thanksgiving holiday, just tell them you’re preparing a vegan meal with Tofurky and all the lactose-free trimmings.

Today’s preparations are already off to a rough start.  Somehow I managed to burn my pumpkin-pecan pie on one side.  I guess that’ll be my husband’s half of the pie.  It’s only fair – technically, he’s already had his Thanksgiving.  As a Canadian, he celebrates Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October.  It’s not my fault that he failed to remind me about Canadian Thanksgiving this year.  I did eventually bring home a store-bought pie in belated recognition.

Between the American-Canadian date discrepancy and the vegan diet, Thanksgiving ranks pretty low on my list of favorite holidays.  There’s not much to be thankful for when you don’t eat meat or cheese.  Low cholesterol?  The fact that there’s a turkey out there somewhere who will live another day?  I know my parents are thankful that they won't have to eat my vegan pie that's burned on one side.  But seriously, I am thankful that Thanksgiving signifies the start of my favorite holiday season, which means I’ll be with family soon enough.  In the meantime, I can perfect my vegan Christmas cookies!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Inspiring Friend #4: Liz

In a previous post, I shared my fear that motherhood will interfere with my dream career (once I figure out what my dream career is).  My understanding is that when you have a baby, life becomes chaos and nothing gets accomplished for eighteen years, give or take a year.  So when one of my friends manages to be a mother without giving up her other life goals, I find it both inspiring and comforting.

My friend Liz is a perfect example of doing it all.  She’s always had a talent for multitasking.  In fact, the reason we became friends during our freshman year of college is that we were both able to go out every night and still maintain a perfect grade point average.  (What can I say?  It’s a gift.)  That wasn’t the only thing we had in common.  Neither of us had any idea what we wanted to study.  Out of desperation, we asked the Dean for advice, and she suggested that we major in Economics.  So we did.  I added a double major in Math, and Liz added a double major in Computer Science.

After graduation, Liz got a job working as a computer programmer.  In addition to being the world’s hottest programmer, she was also great at her job.  It wasn’t long before she was managing an entire team of geeky programmers.  But, like me, she ended up having a career crisis.  After a bit of soul-searching, she concluded that she was in the wrong field and that her new dream was to become a doctor.  So, she completed the necessary undergraduate courses, took the MCATs, and sent out her med school applications.

A few weeks before Liz was supposed to start medical school, she gave birth to her first child.  Her family and friends urged her to defer school for one year, and she reluctantly agreed.  She finally started medical school this past September, just days before her 30th birthday.  Liz has always loved a challenge, so now she’s pregnant again.  Her second baby is due one week after her first-year exams.  When she told me the big news, she seemed relatively unconcerned.  “Oh well,” she said, “I can handle two babies and medical school.  Piece of cake.”

The other day, Liz was reading the lecture notes for the first time while walking into the exam, and a 22-year-old classmate pointed out her poor time management skills.  Liz gave her the evil eye and said, “Thanks, but actually, I can read this chapter and five others right now and still pass the exam.”  And of course, she did.

Whenever I feel depressed, I picture Liz as the old, surly, pregnant woman in class, and it immediately cheers me up.  She makes me so proud.  I can’t even imagine how stressful her life must be.  But I once watched her swallow a live goldfish on a dare purely for pride, so I’m pretty sure she can do anything she sets her mind to.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

For Sale

This past weekend, my husband and I decided to drive around Austin and check out open houses.  It was my very first house-hunting experience.  I’ve always been afraid to commit to a place of residence.  Over the past nine years, I’ve rented nine different apartments.  But Suze Orman thinks we might find “a steal of a deal” given the current real estate slump.  We might just stumble upon our dream house, with ridiculously tall counters and a wet bar and a ping-pong room and a view of Michael Dell’s mansion!

Since many of these homes have been on the market for 180+ days, I kind of assumed that the sellers would be desperate to make a good first impression.  I was expecting to walk into an immaculate, freshly-painted home where I would be besieged with hors d’oeuvres and flattery.  Instead, it felt as though we had caught them by surprise – like the real estate agent had ushered the family out while we were walking up the driveway.  There was hair in the tub, globs of toothpaste in the sink, and dog crap all over the yard.  It was a lot like meeting someone you flirted with online.  It took me about five seconds to realize that I had been lured to the house with fabulous-looking pictures that had been taken ten years ago, before the family moved in and trashed the place.

One of the real estate agents jokingly mentioned the scene from American Beauty where Annette Bening keeps repeating, “I will sell this house today!”  I wanted to point out that during that scene, she was actually CLEANING the home in preparation for her open house.  I mean, how do you expect me to envision relaxing in my new whirlpool Jacuzzi when it’s covered in someone else’s hair?  I guess the real estate agent was too “busy” to tackle any cleaning – she did have to set out a couple of water bottles and a stack of brochures.  But I hear that they have this amazing new service where strangers will come to your home and clean it for you.  Honestly, what will they come up with next?  If the family can’t afford such a service, couldn’t they at least pay their kids a quarter to sweep up the dead bugs?

Anyway, this got me thinking that maybe I should start my own home staging business.  For a reasonable fee, I will coordinate and supervise the cleaning, point out the major eyesores, and offer valuable home-selling advice.  For example, I would’ve told the owner of the first house we looked at that he needed to get rid of the scary, windowless prayer room.  For the love of God, remove the altar, paint over the mural, and call it a walk-in closet.  I also would’ve recommended removing the giant wasps’ nest hanging in the entryway.  Do you really want to risk a potential homebuyer going into anaphylactic shock on your doorstep?

I think I have the perfect skill set for this type of work.  I’m detail-oriented, I’m a neat freak, and I love to complain.  I could single-handedly turn the real estate market around!  Oh, and in case you’re curious, I’ve stopped house-hunting for now.  See, another prospective homebuyer scared off by a bad first impression.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"You may all go to Hell and I will go to Texas" – Davy Crockett

This month marks the approximate one-year anniversary of my decision to leave New York City and move to Austin, Texas.  People always assume that my husband and I relocated for work or to be closer to family, but in fact we didn’t have a good reason.  I blame boredom.  And garbage.  On a beautiful, crisp autumn morning, my husband and I were enjoying a lovely stroll to our favorite New York brunch place and had to dodge several sky-high mountains of trash, an infinite amount of dog crap, and one particularly disgusting puddle of vomit.  By the time we reached the restaurant, we had decided to get the hell out of that city.

So we made a list of cool cities with fewer people, cheaper beer, and more favorable tax rates.  I had recently quit my job in finance and my husband worked from home, so we were free to go anywhere.  Austin was the first city on our list, so we flew down for a three-day visit.  Due to sheer laziness, we never made it to the other cities.  (Seattle was number two, but whatever – I hear it rains a lot in Seattle.)

I like to tell people that we moved to Texas completely on a whim because we’re such spontaneous, adventure-seeking individuals.  But in reality, the decision involved a very lengthy, detailed assessment of the pros and cons of living in New York versus Austin.  Here are just a few of my favorites:

  • Super friendly – people say hello in the elevator!
  • Good public schools in case we ever have kids
  • Convenient outdoor trails in case we ever go running
  • Laidback hippie town is probably more our style

  • Requires owning a car and knowing how to drive it
  • Neither of us look good in cowboy hats
  • Will have to find new dentist
  • No direct international flights except to Cancun
  • Insanely hot summers (i.e. outside = sweating, even at night while sitting still)
  • Possibility of being attacked by killer bees, scorpions, or poisonous spiders

  • Online grocery shopping
  • Has the best of everything
  • Diverse population
  • People are always impressed when you say you’re from New York

  • Subway stations are the most disgusting places on Earth
  • Insane taxes (none of which goes to cleaning up the subway)
  • Greater chance of being attacked by terrorists or rats
  • A pint of beer costs a small fortune
  • No Dairy Queen or Target
  • We never actually go to museums or to the opera or to the theater or to charity galas, nor do we shop in any fancy boutiques
  • I refuse to navigate a stroller in a city of 8 million people
  • The only grass nearby is fenced off inside the public housing projects

I think we always knew we would go but were afraid to leave New York after eight years.  That city has a way of sucking you in and making you unable to function in the outside world.  “What do you mean, I have to drive there?”  “What do you mean, you don’t deliver?”  “Why is everything closed at 9pm?"  It would certainly be an adjustment, but in the end, we thought it would be worth it.

When we shared the big news with some of our acquaintances who were die-hard New Yorkers, they thought we had lost our minds.  Their response was something along the lines of, “So you’re just going to Texas?  Like, voluntarily?  No, you lost me.”  In defense of our decision, I reminded them of the fable from Who Moved My Cheese? where the little rats learn to embrace change, savor the adventure, and enjoy the taste of new cheese.  This did not convince them of my sanity.

But a year later, I’m still happy with the decision we made.  A change of scenery is great for getting unstuck in your career.  I've also discovered that Austin is an ideal city for creative types.  And I have yet to be attacked by killer bees.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Math Teacher Extraordinaire

My parents were both public school teachers.  My mother was named Teacher of the Year in our county, and my father was perhaps the most well-liked teacher in history – he was renowned for playing Who Wants to Be a Bubblegumaire? with his fifth grade students.  Naturally it occurred to me that I might follow in my parents’ footsteps and devote my life to molding young minds.

Given my advanced mathematics degree and the desperate need for high-quality math teachers, I suspect I would be welcomed at any middle or high school with a fanfare of trumpets and rose petals.  And I would likely have an immediate and profound impact on the students.  I wouldn’t waste any time babying them or trying to make math seem fun.  Instead, I would appeal to their competitive nature by pointing out their below-average ranking compared to other developed countries.  I would kick things off with a motivational speech: “Aren’t you tired of being stupider?  Are you just going to roll over and give up your competitive advantage in science, technology, and engineering?  Yeah, yeah, 'math is hard.'  You’re not even trying!”  Then I would share my own experience as one of the few Americans in my graduate math program.  I would tell them about the French graduates of L'École Polytechnique who were quick to inform me that my education was inferior.  I’d fill the students with rage and bitterness and thus inspire them to learn!

It sounds like an infallible plan, but I do have a few concerns about teaching.  I am not exactly a patient person.  I’ve never been described as having a calming influence.  And I would have little tolerance for lawsuit-happy parents or disrespectful kids.  I would probably end up like that New Jersey teacher who is currently serving 90 days in jail for grabbing a kid by the ear while leading him out of his classroom.

Just the other day, my husband and I were trapped on an airplane with an unsupervised kid who kept kicking our seats.  We politely asked him to refrain, and he responded by calling my 145-pound husband a “fatso.”  To my amusement, my husband turned around and said, “Look, d***head, cut it out!  I’m a lot bigger than you.”  After that, the kid actually behaved for the better part of an hour.  I suppose the “right thing to do” would have been to say nothing.  But it was fairly obvious that this kid wasn’t just going through a phase.  He will inevitably grow up to be a terrible person unless someone (anyone) intervenes.  I’m not the type of person to step aside and let kids like that take over.  I guarantee that little monster is out there right now, dragging down our nation’s math scores.

As much as I'd like to be inspirational, I'm not sure I can spend eight hours a day with other people's undisciplined children.  But I have the utmost respect for those who do.  

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tree-Hugger / Polar Bear Advocate

In case this whole screenwriting thing doesn’t work out, I’m currently weighing my alternatives.  At the moment, my back-up career of choice is to become an environmental activist.

Now I don’t like the outdoors per se, but I’ve found that nature contributes greatly to my appreciation of the indoors.  When I am occasionally forced to venture outside, there is nothing better than coming home to my high-rise apartment where I can peer down at the world from my clean, air-conditioned living room.  I mean, if it weren’t for nature, I would totally take my apartment for granted.

Note: These are not actually my hands.  That would’ve required wandering into the woods and getting nature all over me.  I purchased this picture online.

My hatred of hiking and camping might cause some to question my commitment to the cause, but I swear I'm legit.  Whenever I see that Nissan LEAF commercial where the lone polar bear is stranded on a tiny chunk of ice, I feel melancholy for days.  I even had a nightmare involving that same polar bear and some of his North Pole penguin friends who were forced to flee the melting ice caps.  It was very upsetting.

When it comes to saving the environment, I already do what I can.  I’m a committed vegan 98% of the time.  I buy mostly organic and green products – even my mascara is made from rice bran.  I give dirty looks to people in the grocery store who opt for plastic.  My living room furniture is carved from sustainable mango wood.  I share a car with my husband and drive it like an old person, only to the grocery store and back.  If I ever own a house, I plan on having solar panels installed.  And if I can ever afford a private plane, I’ve already decided to follow the example of Leonardo DiCaprio and fly commercial instead.

I even have green experience on my resume.  I spent several years pricing wind energy projects.  In fact, my husband and I came up with a super cool model for wind-derived power when we were first dating.  Our relationship grew out of a shared love for green energy and mathematical equations!  How romantic is that?

Unfortunately, there’s a big problem with calling yourself an environmentalist.  It's almost impossible to not feel like a hypocrite.  Living in Texas, I’m an egregious user of air conditioning.  I still keep a can of Lysol to combat the smell of my husband’s hockey equipment.  And I’m too lazy to compost my vegetables.  To avoid feeling like a hypocrite, I would have to sell off all my possessions and live completely off-the-grid.  Having watched the True Life episode about living off-the-grid, I’m still haunted by the guy who broke down and stole a Coca-Cola from some campers, eventually giving a tearful confession.  I’m just not sure I’m ready to take it to that level.  Although... it might help me to get my memoir published.  I’ve wanted to read Doug Fine’s humorous memoir about living off-the-grid ever since I found out that he kicked off the whole experiment by purchasing some goats on craigslist.

I guess I’ll give this studio executive two more weeks to contact me before I go the other way and start purchasing livestock.