Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Extreme Home Makeover -- or just extreme

So, I'm now almost firmly resettled in what will be my home for the conceivable future in Arizona. Or if I ever move, it will still be tethered to me. These past few days have been really crazy and amazing. I feel like I've been on a wild ride since I closed on this condo-townhouse on July 31. But this past Friday-Sunday, thanks to some awesome friends (a luxury I never thought I'd find in Arizona), I not only moved in just about all my stuff including furniture--bed, desk, futon--but we painted the entire living room--the hardest room to complete! I use "we" loosely. It seems like everyone but me did some heavy-lifting.

So, here's the living room all barren and you can see part of the step ladder. Everything was white, of course.

Here's my lovely friend Meghanne applying misty violet paint around that same living room.

One of the few times I did the painting, it was for my "accent wall" (I love saying that). The color is raspberry mousse but it looks more like eggplant.

My friends Alyson and Kathleen (Meghanne's mom) try their best to clear the potential booby traps by organizing my kitchen ware.

The above pictures are all from Saturday. By Sunday afternoon we had accomplished this in the living room (you may not be able to see the misty violet in this lighting):

Accent wall (yah!):

I think it looks much better with black framed furniture. It's still barren because I haven't been able to shop, put out other furniture, etc. I plan to get an accent rug and some floor pillows. I want an area ready for entertaining, chatting and I don't want the TV to anchor the room. Anyway, now, it's onto the master bedroom, bathrooms and finding a new dining table set. Also I'm super excited that I have left a wall downstairs blank for a friend of mine in Tucson (thanks chica!) who has offered to paint me my own mural behind where the dining table would go. Not sure what it will be but the theme will be around something I love--eating and how good food tastes better with good friends and family.

I get moved every time I think about what my friends here have done for me--the time and energy they spent. My California friends and family should be reassured that I'm not as alone/lonely as I used to feel when I first moved out here. Anyway, I will be studying back issues of Real Simple, DIY (Do It Yourself) magazine and Nate Berkus' last book as I continue on my home decor journey. Finally, I think I've reached the "getting excited" part that homeowners keep talking about.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Vacation Diaries

Arrived back in Phoenix last night. Am now trying to recap my nine lovely days away from the heat before all the little details slip away like sand in my fingers. I'll try not to go on too long but there really were some highlights. Warning--there are some of an explicit nature, LOL.

So, I arrived in Toronto on a Friday night. Spent two hours in all at the airport, first trying to find my mom and Aunt Linda, then waiting for their luggage. It's lovely to travel with older relatives, HA. You get to see the adults interact as siblings more with the occasional eye-roll or cajoling.

Anywho, I got to reconnect with our distant relatives at my cousin Marcelo's wedding (our relationship is something like my grandma's dad and his grandpa's dad were brothers). My mom and I bonded with them when we vacationed in Sao Paulo, where they live, in 2007. Then Marcelo moved to Toronto shortly after and met his now-wife Iris, who is really cool. Some fun parts of my Toronto leg:

_ None of Marcelo's relatives came for his wedding because they either lived in Brazil or China. Marcelo's dad was soooo happy that the three of us came; he called us his honored guests (aw). At the night time wedding banquet, we were actually seated at the bride and groom's table (!) and introduced to the entire room. BTW, most efficient and intimate Chinese wedding banquet I've ever been to. They scaled it down to 50 guests spread over six tables. We started eating only half an hour late which is really good for one of these banquets!

_Their wedding cake:

_Hearing a bunch of Chinese Canadians say "aboot" instead of "about" and "eh?"
_Eating really good Chinese food almost daily including congee (rice porridge) with fried dough (mmm...). In Phoenix, I can count the decent Chinese restaurants on one hand. Toronto has a sizeable Chinatown as well as lots of Chinese restaurants in the surrounding suburbs, which is where we stayed. Having choice was really nice.
_Going to dim sum with Aunt Linda's in-laws. I met my Uncle (by marriage) Godfrey's relatives. It was cute to see Godfrey's brother Felix has the exact same laugh, LOL. Near the end of the meal, I saw some guy with glasses come over with a foam takeout container. I asked my mom "Why is Uncle Felix letting random people take our food?" "That's his son, Frances!!" Oops...we laughed about that for a while. I didn't realize the table next to us was all his kids and their significant others. I made my way over and introduced myself. It was kind of strange...I was basically meeting all of my cousin Alvin's cousins on his dad's side and he wasn't there. On the other hand...he wasn't there to stop me from talking about him, harhar. Kidding, I just told them the story about how Alvin and Jen met through me and started hanging out. And I heard numerous choruses from relatives who had met Jen how much they liked her and the two seemed like the perfect couple .
_Niagara on the Lake. If you go to Niagara Falls, set aside more time to go 20km away to Niagara on the Lake. Heavenly landscape on Earth. I seriously want to go back some day.
_Taking the ferry from downtown Toronto to Centre Island. There was seven of us _ me, Marcelo, Iris, Marcelo's sister Alexandra, mom, and Marcelo's parents. We split up into two quadraped bicycles. I got to steer. Apparently the Asian driver stereotype can be true for bikes too. I lost control and all Mom heard was "Ouch!Ouch!Ouch!OUCH!" before I crashed our bike into a bush. Sigh...

So, I was pretty sad when I had to say goodbye to everyone after spending so much time with them. Luckily, it's really hard to dwell on stuff when you are in NYC. Once upon a time, I lived there and this was the first time I'd been there since 2002. I wish I had known someone like my friend Bao then. He was an awesome host. He made me take his bed in his tiny Manhattan studio in the Village and he slept on the floor. A culinary school grad as of two months ago, he knew all the best places to eat. We sometimes hit three different restaurants in one evening. I've never eaten like that.

Out of my five days in New York, these are some of the memories that will stick out:

_Accidentally stumbling upon Baked by Melissa. Melissa is this woman who sells mini cupcakes out of a window on a street in Soho. They are all elaborate flavors like S'mores, PB & Jelly, Reeses and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. It's like the universe knew what I'd like, LOL.

_Eating on average a cupcake a day.
_Getting a hug from the owner of BabyCakes NYC, a bakery that sells gluten free cupcakes. I had interviewed her for my frosting shots story last year.
_Eating steamed pork buns, soft boiled egg, mussels and Foccacia bread made with diced pieces of lop churn (Chinese sausage) at Momofuku Ssam Bar. Following this meal with dessert at Chikalicious which included an amuse (dessert starter) of orange sorbet with caramel gelee, then corn ice cream in cherry soup with corn meal pound cake and petit fours. Then following that--keep in mind this is still the same night--with splitting lamb short ribs, Beaujolais sausage on lentils and Yankee burger at DBGB.
_Seeing Drew Barrymore and Justin Long all cozy in a secluded booth at DBGB.
_Going to dinner with Bao and three of his friends. Here's a key difference hanging out with gay guys v. straight guys. I brought a slice of banana cake with hazelnuts and gianduja fudge for dessert to share. The piece was halfway gone and I said "Who's going to help me finish it?" Nobody raised one fork.
"Oh sure, leave it to the straight girl!"
So, Bao let out a big sigh and picked up his fork and took a little bite and that was it. His friend started laughing really hard, "What was that? Like the gay charity bite?"
_After post-dinner drinks at a sake and Boba place, we split up and Bao and I went to meet one of his other friends, a producer at NBC Nightly News and two of his NBC colleagues at a gay bar called, ironically, The Phoenix. After 25 minutes, Bao's friend decided it was time to move on to another gay bar. As a straight woman, I decided to go with the flow and look at it as an exchange student observing another culture. We go to this gay bar called The Hose . Bao, BTW, was nice enough to pay my cover charge. He thought it was unfair I was getting dragged into a gay bar. We walk in and the first things I see are a guy wearing only a G-string with his butt cheeks hanging out dancing around a pole and he's got plenty of bills stuffed in already and a hardcore gay porn movie being projected on the wall behind him. I turned to Bao and said "OK, officially my gayest night. Ever."
One of the NBC guys, a producer for "Dateline," was all worried about me being exposed to this. I guess I still look like some little innocent girl, LOL. He offered me his bar stool so that my back would be to all of that stuff. I just said "Warn me if something flops out behind me." It gets better...some guy in nothing but very tight briefs who is supposedly an actor in the movie being screened is helping to hand out promotional DVDs complete with a complimentary key chain that contains a very long tape measure. This guy was weird. He was being touchy-feely with a lot of people--including me. He acted like I was the weird one when I tried to swat him away from getting thisclose to me. I'm like "Dude, I'm not even your type, LOL." Anyway, he finally left me alone. Weirdo.
Before we left, Bao's friend pleaded with me to take the DVD home to give to his pal who is a reporter at The Arizona Republic. For a split second, I considered it as a gag gift for a gay couple I know in Phoenix. But then I immediately excised the idea. I could just picture my baggage getting picked for a random check at the airport. And how fricking mortifying would it be for a TSA screener to find "Straight, Hot and Broke: Vol. 1" in my luggage?
_Walking with Bao to his salon appointment. When we get there, I look around the street..."Is that a fire station across the street?"
"Oh, I guess it is."
"I'll be going for a walk while you get your hair cut."
It was an impressive firehouse--four stories at least. Nobody was there. So, I walked around the West Village. Then when I came back to meet Bao, I saw a fire captain and a couple of guys standing outside talking. I couldn't not try to say hi...

_Eating at Doughnut Plant. Yes, the theme here is eating or rather...Terry needs to go back to normal eating. But I don't know of any doughnut place where you can get creme brulee, tres leches or lavender doughnuts. Mmm...Homer Simpson would be in heaven.
_Falling back in love with New York--except for the cost of living, LOL. Actually am glad to be back in Phoenix. Vacationing is awesome but it's not a realistic lifestyle for most of us. Just a break from what is real.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Terry: firefighters; honey:flies

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say the above SAT analogy has sure felt true these past few days. The Hostess-like cupcake above is a sample of some cupcakes I brought to my favorite firefighting crew on Sunday. I felt like it had been a while since I baked anything and I have all these farm fresh eggs my co-worker gave me. Mind as well use them for something good. So I just showed up at the fire station around 5:45 p.m. with just the intention of dropping them off after like a five-minute chat. There were only two guys when I came by. And one of them, James, actually invited me to stay for dinner. A hard invitation to turn down. I kept asking "Are you sure?" And then like 25 minutes later, I heard the fire engine pull in with the rest of the crew who had been out on a call. I asked James "Are you sure the guys aren't going to come in and be like 'you again?'" And he said quite sincerely, "Not at all!" And sure enough, when they all came in they were like "Hey Terry, what's up? Are you gonna stay for dinner?" So, it was a fun evening. It was a pretty healthy meal they had--spaghetti squash, chicken cooked in a marsala wine sauce, broccoli and garlic bread. They even put the TV on mute during an episode of "Entourage" because I was there. Though they didn't have to do it. One of the guys said something about cooking being "women's work" and I was like "What?!" The guys chuckled and were like "uh-oh" and a couple of them were like "Sorry Terry, We have to apologize for him." Then after dinner, James was nice enough to sit with me for a while. Before anyone thinks anything, he is very married. In fact, he started asking me about my social life out of concern when I complained about the dating scene. Never thought I'd get dating advice from a firefighter, LOL. Anyway, they had to have a group meeting so it was time for me to make myself scarce. But I was very pleasantly surprised when James hugged me goodbye. It's cool that they really think of me as a friend.

Now as though Sunday dinner wasn't already out of the ordinary...on Tuesday morning, an hour into my work day, I overhear the managing editor of the West Regional Desk say something like "so, I'm thinking Terry can go out and interview some firefighters" to my supervisor. I'm surprised my ears weren't beeping like an alarm had sounded. I went over to my supervisor and was like "What's this I hear?" He said AP's Atlanta bureau wanted to do a national story on firefighters' thoughts on Sonia Sotomayor because of that case in New Haven, Conn. Personally, I couldn't imagine firefighters following the confirmation hearings closely. But still, I was told to "go out and find some firefighters," so a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

In case you're wondering, I did not go to my local firehouse. Even if I wanted to, I couldn't interview the crew I know. Conflict of interest. Besides, I had to go to a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood. So, I printed out a list from the fire dept. Web site of addresses for every fire station in Phoenix proper (gosh, I felt like a stalker for some reason). This one was less than a 10-min drive from work in a kind of sketchy part of downtown. Even though one of the garage doors was open, I strutted up to the front door and knocked. The door opened and the entire crew was there. I introduced myself as a reporter and why I needed to find firefighters to interview. The captain goes "Well, we're about to leave on a call. Do you want to come?" I thought he was joking. But as they invited me inside, I could see he wasn't. He said it would be a short call dealing with a sick kid. So without batting an eyelash, I asked "You said it would be a short call, right?" (I had to be somewhere in an hour). So, without questioning, I climbed into the back of the firetruck and off we all went--no sirens though. So, I'm sitting in the back of a fire engine discussing Supreme Court confirmation hearings and the brouhaha around Sotomayor. I also told them this was not my first time riding a firetruck, LOL. Talk about surreal.

We arrived at this cluster of homes that was more or less a trailer park. Hispanic/Latino girl, 12-years-old, sick with a fever. I got to practice my espanol a little as I explained to the family I was a reporter with the "bomberos" (firefighters). They basically checked her out and told the family they should take her to the hospital. Still not sure why they called 911 over this. We went back to the firehouse and they jokingly asked if I wanted to work out and do squats with them. I declined. Then they asked me if I wanted to slide down the pole. And I was like "Not in this outfit" (I was wearing sandals and a skirt for goodness sake. Think of the chafing). Then one of them tried to convince me that the theme from the old "Batman" TV show plays when you slide down it. I challenged him to prove it. But then by the way the captain was laughing, I knew for sure he was kidding. Anyway, I left after chatting with them a few more minutes. They all couldn't have been nicer to me.

By the afternoon, there was a story out of AP Atlanta on the wire and the last six paragraphs were all my contribution which was pretty cool. Now, if you Google my name and "Phoenix firefighters," you really will find an article, not a restraining order.

BTW, I sort of had a Phoenix Fire Dept. interaction today. I interviewed the Phoenix Fire Department Chief over the phone. I felt bad as he was actually on vacation but he said he didn't mind at all. We went off subject and I told him about my impromptu ride the day before. I also told him "off the record" that Fire Station 17 (that's the one by my home) was my favorite and how they helped me last year. He was pretty cool about it. He asked if through it all, everyone was nice to me. I said of course and I have yet to meet a rude firefighter. He was happy. The chief said besides answering calls, it's important that firefighters interact well in the community in the day-to-day of it all.

I've been asked several times "What is it with you and firefighters?!" I don't know. I never really thought about them much. I'm not one of those girls that fantasizes about them, LOL. I don't know if the universe is laughing at me or sending me a message. Or it's just all some cosmic coincidence. Geez, I know people who know me already think of me when they see cupcakes. I think it's starting to be like that with firefighters. Don't know if that's good or bad. Well, we'll see if any more "coincidences" occur.

Monday, June 01, 2009

The venomous chip on my shoulder is shrinking...

The above picture of a Pavlova I made has nothing to do with this entry. It's just...don't pictures of food make everything better? I made this dessert at my friends' place in L.A. while having dinner there.

On my flight back to Phoenix from Los Angeles, I was looking out the window of the airplane when right as we were airborne, I heard this loud outcry. The woman next to me, who looked like Margot Kidder, was letting out a sob like every 30 seconds. I thought she just got some bad news or was on her way back from a funeral. Of course, I couldn't just sit there and stay silent. Other people might keep to themselves, but that's not me. I asked her if she was okay and she said something like "I've lived in L.A. for over 30 years. I don't want to go back to Phoenix!!"

Barbara, 59 years old (sounded like she had been smoking for 40 of them), had to move in with her brother in December in Phoenix. She had been unemployed since 2007--she worked as a corporate travel planner for various companies including CBS and American Airlines. She said she ran through her entire 401(K) too (yikes!). She started a new job three weeks ago. Said she tries to come back and visit L.A. when she can. Every time she heads back to Phoenix, she gets into a crying fit. Last time when she drove, she said she cried the entire ride back. She actually grew up in Phoenix but has now grown to dislike it. Actually loathe might be a better word. She went on about how the weather is terrible, there's no culture, everyone is a Republican, etc. She had this laundry list and then it hit me...Barbara sounded like me-especially the me of 2006.

Listening to her rant, I realized, 'Wow, I had a LOT of venom for Phoenix.' I suppose it's not entirely Phoenix's fault. One could argue that it really is a city still trying to find its identity as a hip, urban center. And it's hard and perhaps unfair to compare it to San Fran or Los Angeles--both places I grew up on. I just found it so incredibly difficult to meet people and I, of course, made the city a scapegoat. Barbara made me see that somehow I changed in the past year. Maybe it's just meeting more people or trying more new things. Don't get me wrong, California will always be tops to me. And it's not that I love Phoenix now but a lot of the resentment is gone. I don't feel quite as depressed every time I face the end of a trip and must head back to the desert. Three years ago, when I first moved out here, I could have totally been Barbara. Wouldn't have taken much to make me cry. Yes, I still have days where lonesomeness creeps in and I wish my friends who have known me since middle school or college were around to hang out. And I still like to poke fun at Phoenix and Arizona, but it's not with any malice or fang-bearing, LOL.

Anyway, I empathized with Barbara and listened to her talk. Man, I felt like a therapist. She was fine in a little while. I think talking things out distracted her from crying. Or it could have been the cranberry juice and vodka drink she ordered. I'd like to think I played a small part in helping her.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The yummy smell of sweet success

I slept for more than six hours last night for the first time in like a week. So, I guess all this bake sale business was really getting to me. For those of you that don't know, I held it on Friday night in downtown Phoenix during the monthly art walk. (See previous entry for more details). Well, I'm excited to report that everything went awesomely! I'm really touched by how many times I've heard people say how proud they are of me. It's all kind of amazing.

First of all, I was positively blown away by how many baked goods I got. It wasn't just friends who came through, but friends/family of friends. There were oodles of chocolate chip cookies, brownies (plain, mint, cheesecake flavored), scones, banana bread, whoopie pies (East coast and southern cake-like cookie with cream), rice krispy treats (with sprinkles and/or M&Ms), coconut chocolate bars, Texas-size cupcakes. I made chocolate cupcakes with chocolate ganache (see pic) and vegan vanilla with vegan lemon frosting. If you came at the end of the night, you'd think we didn't do that well because we had a lot left. But it's only because there was so much.

OK, now for the explanation of the pink firetruck pictured above. The Sunday before my bake sale, I went shopping at Trader Joe's. When I came out of the store with all my groceries, I noticed a large vehicle driving down the street nearby. It was evening so it was kind of dark. So, I thought I was seeing things, especially because I've just been thinking about this sale and breast cancer. But I was somewhat flabbergasted at seeing a firetruck that was PINK and lugging a GIANT pink ribbon on a flatbed. Silly me thought I could find it after I put my groceries away. But of course by that time, it was long gone. Lucky for me, I remembered a URL painted on the ribbon. So when I got home, the reporter in me went online to do some research. I found http://pinkribbontour.com/. Turns out a firefighter and his fiancee started this nonprofit for cancer awareness last year. They take this pink firetruck around the country in the fall. I took a chance and e-mailed the Web site and said "Hey, I saw your pink firetruck! It looks really cool. It made me think of my bake sale during First Friday this week." Half an hour later, the fiancee, Lisa, e-mails me back and says "Well, we are actually free this Friday if you want us there!" I practically wrote back "HELL YEAH!" The bonus: all they wanted to do was be allowed to sell their shirts and they'd give my sale 15 percent of the proceeds. I don't think they'll be showing up any other sales because mine is the only one in Phoenix proper. And the AZ point person for Bake for Hope told me the regional organizer was psyched and somewhat envious when she was told about my having a pink firetruck. Is it wrong that part of me is tee-heeing that my sale stood out? Everyone else just has to eat my confectioners sugar dust!! BWWWWAAAAA! Now a lot of people out here think I have some kind of cosmic connection with firefighters. It is kind of weird, I mean had I not gone out shopping or left TJs earlier/later, I would've missed out!

Lisa and her fiance, Dave (the firefighter driving the thing), were touched when I said "Having this pink firetruck here is the coolest thing to happen to me all week and this is coming from a girl who met Hugh Jackman on Monday!" LOL.
Tempe goes Hollywood for 'Wolverine'

Seriously, there are so many people who, without them, I could not have pulled this off. Especially my friends Daniel and Leah. You guys in Nor Cal, you might have met them at my birthday party. They stayed late at my place the night before making an amazing sign and cut and packaged some of the baked goods. They showed up early on Friday to set up, take photos and do sales. They brought serving trays, balloons and table cloths. The coolest part about it is that they just genuinely wanted to help; it wasn't like I was twisting their arms. Signs of true and truly great friends. I will be writing a lot of thank-you cards to a lot of people in the coming days.

I still can't believe we raised almost $450 with donations and people asking for less change. The whole experience has reminded me most people are genuinely kind and decent. I wish all my California friends and family could have been here to see me in action or help. Maybe some day I can hold one in the Bay Area. For the first time in a long time, I feel like I actually made a footprint on the community here in Phoenix--even if it was just for one evening. It's a nice feeling.

P.S. One of my fave blogs highlighted my cupcakes:
Cupcakes Take the Cake on Bake for Hope Just wanted to point out things like this always boost my ego! ;)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The sweet part of bake sales

Less than a week away until my Bake for Hope sale. Aaaggh! OK, now that I've got the nerves out of the way. For those of you who don't know, last month, I signed up to be a baker for the Phoenix area chapter of Bake for Hope, a nationwide effort to host multiple bake sales May 3-9. Well, it's been kind of a bumpy road from the start for me.

I originally pictured just baking some cupcakes and dropping them off somewhere. I decided out of courtesy to attend a planning meeting in another part of town. There were only four of us. Not a great sign. I could tell the group organizer wanted me to take on a bigger role than just bake--reach out to businesses, make fliers--all stuff a journalist does not like to do. But as the week went on, I was little peeved that they had only scheduled sales outside of Phoenix proper, one in some far off chi-chi pocket of north Scottsdale and one in a bedroom community of Anthem. That was the result I guess of most people living in other parts of metropolitan Phoenix. So, I made my own inquiries and calls and found a store in downtown Phoenix called ShopDevious.com. It's actually a perfect fit. The store sells funky, vintage clothes and wigs. The owner gives discounts on wigs to cancer patients. They are right along the route of First Friday, which is the monthly art walk. Since I found the place and nobody else had stepped up, I was now the organizer too. Oh and then I figured out later by happenstance that I got the date wrong. I thought May 8 was the first Friday of the month. But wait, if you subtract 7 from 8, that still puts us in May. Good thing I figured it out last week. Of course, that means having a week less to do everything.

I've gotten practice in PR and outreach over the last couple weeks. I used Yelp, word of mouth--anything I could think of--to find people to bake, businesses that would donate supplies, post fliers. I have done a lot of this during my lunch hour because that's the only time possible. But one thing I've really enjoyed is seeing how generous people have been. Besides ShopDevious' owner, who gave me a big hug when we finally met, the cake decorating supply store almost without hesitation gave me about 200 cellophane treat bags to wrap stuff, a big tray, and breast cancer ribbon themed cupcake liners. My local Hallmark gave me about 30 Cards for the Cure to hand out. Sometimes I bring extra cupcakes to the staff at Massage Envy, where I always get a massage from the same woman, Demi, when I need it. I went in for a massage on Wednesday and asked a manager if they would post a flier. Later on, Demi told me all the receptionists were listening because they were getting ready to say something if the manager said no. I brought some fliers, which list all the sales, the next day and one girl said she was going to go through all of them and highlight mine. I said "I really appreciate this" and another girl said, "No, we appreciate you." She also said she was gonna try to come but only wanted to buy something I baked. Talk about flattering.

Last, but definitely not least, I've been touched by how much some of my friends want to help me. One friend, a fellow volunteer from the shelter, is going to make stuff for me even though she arrives back from a business trip May 1 at 2:30 p.m. And I've got two very special friends -- you know who you are -- who will help me the night before with organizing, packaging and labeling anything that needs it. It really feels like this sale just might come together. Still, hopefully I won't be too much of a nervous wreck until then. Can't wait for May 2 to get here, hehe.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Maybe I was once a gay man in his 50s...

OK, this cupcake thing is starting to border on obsession. Oh, who am I kidding? I crossed that border a looong time ago. Am thinking of seeking professional help.

Alrighty, onto other matters. So, one of the love/hate aspects of being a reporter is when you get one of those "person on the street" assignments. From time to time, I am asked to go out to whatever location with foot traffic and interview people about a subject. The last six months, it's been the economy of course. A couple days ago, I had to go out and literally play 20 questions with willing participants for a story gauging "America's mood" and whether they felt the economy was turning.
The American mood: Is the angst bottoming out?

A lot of times, I have to drag my feet to do these things because it's almost as bad as being a door-to-door salesman. You may get declined by five people before you finally get someone to cooperate. And then that person gives you crappy, terse answers. Lucky for me, this time that didn't happen. Instead of my usual Starbucks, I went to this Phoenix coffeehouse called Hob Nobs. The first guy I approached was amiable and articulate, a retired teacher with a part-time job at an art supply store. After that, I didn't think I'd come upon someone just as willing. Then this man and woman, co-workers, moved around me to get to a table. The gentleman said "well, maybe she wants to sit there." And I said "No, I'm just a reporter looking for people to talk to. The guy, Scott, said "Can you get us some stimulus money?" I said "No, but I can give you an opportunity to bitch about it."

Turns out Scott and his colleague, Kathleen, just heard some funding they thought was secure for a homeless shelter they help as strategic consultants wasn't going to happen. So, they were feeling a bit down. You know, sometimes when I meet people, I just never know where the conversation will go. It could be weird or nothing more than exchanging pleasantries. Somehow, even after the interview was over, Scott and I seemed to hit it off. Before you go oohing and wondering if I should go after him, let me describe him: gay 57-year-old Democrat. He studied British literature in college just like I did. We talked about that. I said I studied William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge; I even took a two-week seminar in Wordsworth's old haunt. He immediately said "Oh, the Lake District?! Isn't it beautiful? Couldn't you see old Willy and his sister walking to Samuel's?" He studied at University of Texas and at Cambridge. Scott told a funny story about how he studied Virginia Woolf and his father, who had never finished high school, thought for years he was studying the wolf. As a "Superman" geek, I think I was won over by his business card. His firm is called Strategic Change Management. And the logo is a little phone booth with only Superman's legs and part of his cape above it, as though Supes just took flight.

He is a foodie too. He asked me what are the last books I read. I said "Audacity of Hope" and "Julie & Julia." When I explained how "J&J" was about a woman blogging her experiences cooking like Julia Child, his eyes lit up. Then we had a really hilarious exchange. It started when I said:
"Did you know it's being made into a movie? Meryl Streep will play Julia Child in flashbacks and Amy Adams is playing the author."
"Bea Arthur?"
"No, THE author!"
"Oh...good. I thought why are they bringing back Maude?"
"But I did see Bea Arthur once on Broadway in her one-woman show," I said. "The audience was mainly fans of 'Golden Girls' and gay men."
"Sounds about right. My friend said Bea Arthur was the tallest drag queen he ever saw. I'm sorry Bea! Wherever you are," said Scott, looking up at the ceiling and around him.
"She's not dead you know."
"I know, but I just wanted to put that out into the universe."
I got his business card with promise to keep in touch. It all makes me wonder...does some part of me house a gay 50-something man?
Overall, one of the more interesting experiences I've had "out on the street." Guess that's what keeps me going along with these assignments.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Overcoming the literal and figurative hump

Man, it seems in this day and age, there are way too many online outlets to share good news or thoughts. I'm really happy that I hiked Camelback Mountain--the harder trail--all the way to the top. I wasn't sure what to expect and I wasn't sure if I could keep up a good pace. But it wasn't as bad as I thought, and the view was awesome. I'm so glad that I want to write about it. But if I write about it in one place, I feel like I have to do it other places. Let's count: 1) here on my blog, 2)Facebook status, 3) Twitter update, 4) Yelp review. Nobody expects me to take the time out for any or all, but I feel like I should. Sigh...

So, this all started with my co-worker, Andy who is one of our sportswriters. The guy is in great shape. Go figure, a sportswriter who is athletic. Really, I haven't met many of those since college. He has been after me for like six months to go hiking up Camelback Mountain. He thought I could easily do it. I resisted and seemed to always have excuses. I couldn't go on a weekday morning. I already had plans that day. I resisted because all I ever heard about Camelback Mountain is it's for hardcore hikers. I didn't think running miles on flat terrain would prepare me for that. Also, a couple months ago, a girl died (I learned later that she had fallen after going off the trail. If you stay on the trail, the worst you could do is injure yourself). He brought it up again with me on Wednesday about heading out there Sunday morning. I said I'd have to think about it. I realized I had no excuse. And then I realized, I don't hike often because I don't like to go alone in case I hurt myself. Here was someone familiar with the area willing to keep me company and look out for me. So Friday, I told Andy I was game.

I have to admit I'm glad I did. I woke up at 6:30 a.m. and met him near the park at 7:30 a.m. It wasn't what I pictured. I guess I pictured skinny trails and my sliding into an abyss or landing on someone. Plus, I don't like heights. But the trail is pretty wide. A lot of the climb is on a lot of sandstone rock. You just have to be careful about where you place your feet. Of course, the klutz in me didn't escape completely unscathed. I have the scraped knees and leg bruise to prove it. But it was all worth it. I was pleasantly surprised that I kept up with Andy and didn't have to rest for too long. The hardest parts were when you really had to lift your whole body weight upward and coming down, my knees and upper legs were asking 'Why?' The hike was 1.2 miles each way with an elevation gain of 1,264 feet. Getting to that summit was really a great feeling of accomplishment. I haven't had that feeling in a while. I'm happy I can say I did it, especially as hiking season will end in a couple of months.

Friday, March 13, 2009

It's like a week of ESPN mixed with Court TV

I've been MIA on blogging for almost two months. Honestly, it's mostly because a majority of the time, I feel like I have nothing exciting to write about. A lot of times, I feel like there's no chance anything thrilling or extraordinary will ever happen to me. Must be nice to be Beyonce or Oprah. Every day you can wake up knowing that there's a good chance something cool will happen or you will meet someone cool. Anyway, that's just my own fixation I have to deal with.

Now, nothing terribly exciting has happened to me--just odd. This past work week has been book-ended by some weird happenings. Thought I'd document for fun. First, on Monday, as soon as I got to the office--I didn't even have time to turn on my computer or put my lunch in the kitchen--I was instructed to turn back around. On Friday, Mr. former NBA pro/TNT sports analyst Charles Barkley began a three-day jail sentence down at the county jail known as Tent City. We just found out that he was going to be released. So, I sped down to the jail where there were several other media outlets already camped out. Well, alas, it turns out we all missed Barkley. He had left before anyone got there through a private entrance. However, I didn't get to go back to the office yet. I then drove to downtown Phoenix to the Sheriff's Office to ask Sheriff Arpaio what Barkley was like as an inmate. The sheriff here has a reputation for being a publicity hound who loves to put on dog and pony shows. He is definitely a character. He is the one who calls himself "America's Toughest Sheriff" and makes inmates wear pink undergarments and work on chain gangs. In our interview he said Barkley actually signed autographs for inmates and was sure to add that it's Arpaio's signature they usually want. Not sure whether I believe that. Anyway, I never pictured myself sitting in his office asking whether Charles Barkley liked jail food.

In my time here, I've come to believe in a Friday curse. All breaking news tends to happen on Fridays here. I can think of four examples so it must be true. It was at least true today. I mean, Friday the 13th. It was in the cards. At 12:45 p.m. today, we got word that the jury had finally reached a verdict in the Serial Shooter case. Over a 14-month period in '05 and '06, some person or persons was randomly shooting at people around metro Phoenix late at night. Eight people died and 19 were wounded. The victims were transients or people just riding their bikes. Really senseless. Two men were charged and one of them, Dale Hausner, was depicted as the mastermind. The verdict was for his case. This guy was facing an 87-count indictment. So, it was kind of a surprise the jury was ready to go after 11 days of deliberation. So, I had to drop everything and race to the courthouse. I was not the main reporter but something like this, you really need a team out there. My co-worker was on his laptop putting together a news brief as the verdict was being read. He needed to pay attention to details like how Hausner reacted while I had a list of all the charges and tallied what got a guilty or not guilty verdict. Everybody, including Hausner, was sitting in the courtroom for at least 10 minutes until the jury came out. I was about three rows behind him. I could see family members of victims as well as Hausner's own family. Even though I had no personal connection to either side (I hope I never know what it's like to be in any position on the side of victims or defendant), I couldn't help feel a little suspenseful. This man sitting 15 feet away from me was about to find out if he'd be found guilty of killing people. And if he were, he'd have prosecutors asking he be sentenced to death. And then my mind would drift and I'd start thinking about what I would eat for dinner. Then I thought 'well, that seems weird to be thinking about a little thing like that when here's this guy who's going to die in prison if not by lethal injection.' But then I decided not to feel guilty about nonchalantly thinking about my own little stuff. If he's truly guilty, and much of the evidence seems to point that way, he brought it upon himself. There were many people who were jubilant when he was found guilty of 6 of 8 killings. It was an interesting experience being part of that media chaos after when interviewing victims and victims' relatives. But I'm even happier that I was helpful and played a key role. My co-worker was very kind in his gratitude. He said nobody could have covered that verdict reading and get it to the news desk alone. My tallying was crucial so that he could quickly sum up in a succint way for a news item what Hausner was found guilty on. And my quotes from a victim and a victim's sister were used in the national story. It's a good feeling to be helpful.

Can't wait to see what next week brings...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration and firefighter madness

So, it was quite a three-day weekend. I think I'm still decompressing from it all. The weekend was not what I thought it would be. And I want to write it all down before I forget. My mom came into town Friday night for a two-week visit (yah, I get Mom's cooking for Chinese New Year!). Saturday, I was sort of bored, so I made vegan chocolate espresso cupcakes. With all the Cardinals football fever infecting Arizona, I decided to try frosting them to look like field turf with a grass-blade tip and white icing to draw yard lines (see above photo). Then I realized I had no football-esque candy, so I put some chocolate rocks I still had. I put everything in my fridge and wasn't sure what to do with them. I couldn't sleep, so Sunday, I got up before 7 a.m. and I jogged over to watch my co-worker Jacques' band, The Preserve, play along the PF Chang's full-marathon route. In a very weird coincidence, they were assigned a spot one block away from my place, right smack in front of the firehouse. Yes, the same firehouse that gave me refuge during a very bad storm in August. It would've been so cool if the crew that helped me out were there too. But I didn't recognize any of the firefighters and I'm sure they were surprised when someone asked "When's the A crew on?" Turns out the guys who would recognize me weren't scheduled to work 'til Monday (MLK Day).

It was so nice the next day not to have to work. After going to a morning showing of "Slumdog Millionaire" and a lunch of Cajun food, I decided I could not ignore the urge to make cupcakes for Inauguration Day--non-partisan looking of course! I really wanted to express how excited I was to witness such a historic day in our country's history. Since Obama was using Lincoln's Bible, I settled on trying Mary Todd Lincoln's white cake which she supposedly made for Abe while they were "courting." (Geez, no wonder nobody uses that word anymore; it just sounds really dorky in the context of hooking up). It's actually a bundt cake recipe so I had enough for 2 dozen. I had some Meyer lemons from the farmer's market so it was gonna be lemon frosting (vegan). I also had red, white and blue star-shaped sprinkles. (See above photo). I had no idea what I'd do with them all. So, at 5 p.m. yesterday, I packed up all 12 of the football cupcakes and half of the Inauguration Day cupcakes into a cupcake carrier and told my mom and visiting Aunt Karen, who we were supposed to have dinner with, I'd be right back. I drove down to the firehouse and knocked on the door, hoping someone was home.

Well, it turns out the entire crew was there. Two of them recognized me from last time I gave them cupcakes so I didn't look like a random nut. I said "Do you remember me? I hope you don't mind, it's just, I come with baked goods." I told them I had done a lot of baking and they were the first ones to come to mind when I thought who would want some? So, they let me come in and I shot the breeze with them. I explained the origins of the Inauguration Day cupcakes but I think they didn't hear me. All they thought was SWEETS. After 20 minutes, I decided it was time to make myself scarce so as not to overstay my welcome. Before I could, one of them said "Hey, Terry, do you want to stay for dinner?" Talk about taking me by surprise! I was like "Are you sure? It's not against any policy?" And they were like "Nah!" So I said, "Let me just call my mom..." So, I drove back home to give my mom the car and she dropped me off. So when you think about it, the crew rescued me a second time--not from a storm but from something almost as painful, a boring dinner with my elders gabbing away in Chinese.

I told them I took a chance showing up because the crew told me yesterday they'd be around. It wasn't like I planned to show up like some crazy stalker but with baked goods. They thought it was funny and said I could stalk them if I wanted to.

So, yes, I never expected to spend a Monday evening with six firefighters around their dinner table. They served green chili with pork, tortillas, some kind of vermicelli noodle dish with Mexican spices--all very tasty. I didn't eat too much partly cuz I was still full from lunch and partly because I was nervous being around so many guy's guys. They were smart. Before we sat down, one of them said "You're not going to repeat anything you may hear tonight are you?" In other words, it wouldn't turn up in print, LOL. I said I'd go into "off the record" mode though it wasn't like anybody confessed to a crime. Well, I have to say it was really fun talking with all of them. We exchanged stories, observations about our jobs, my interest in running. They were very social. They asked me lots of questions about growing up in California, what I thought of Arizona, my work, and why the fascination with cupcakes, LOL. Luckily, I had plenty of anecdotes to share. I hope I didn't talk too much. At one point, two of the guys who like to cook were playfully exchanging compliments. So, the other guys made fun of them, asking if they wanted to cuddle or spoon. So I said "Oh, is someone going to have a 'Brokeback Mountain' moment?" Sheesh, you would've thought I said "I like eating feces" by the way they all recoiled. I said "I take it none of you have seen the movie?" I got a unanimous round of "God no!" Like I said, guy's guys. Some of the guys there weren't there the night of the storm and had not heard about it. So, it got retold with one of the firefighters saying I looked like a "chihuahua soaking wet." (Gee thanks). And ladies, I have to say, one of the firefighters who hadn't heard the story was really cute. And he was really inquisitive, asked me all kinds of questions. But after dinner, he disappeared to the back of the station and didn't come back out. Curses! I had to leave by that time because a)I didn't have any interest in watching the Suns game and it wasn't their job to entertain me and b)I hadn't finished frosting all my cupcakes. So, I just told the guys who were still in the living room to say bye to the others. Unfortunately, I don't think it would've looked good for me to try to go to their sleeping quarters, LOL.

Great group of guys there. The best part of course was this time, I got to watch them eat my cupcakes and they all gave me the thumbs-up. I hope I didn't scare them when I said "watching people enjoy something I made is like for other people, watching porn." Anyway, I'm still feeling touched by how nice and hospitable they were. Hopefully, it won't be the last time I get to hang out with them.

BTW, I recommend Meyer lemons. They aren't as sour as regular lemons and add a really nice flavor. I got raves from my co-workers too for the frosting. When I told the firefighters most of everything was vegan, they accused me of thinking they were fat. Whatever. Anyway, still feeling a bit surreal between my time with them and watching the first African American get sworn in as President today. What a world!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

OK, 2009, what have you got for me?

My first post of 2009. I don't have any reason for putting up these cupcake pictures. I just figured adding photos never hurts. I think the fact that few people read this means I might censor myself less, LOL.

Anyway, before I start listing my New Year's resolutions, I'll just briefly dwell on 2008. I went to a New Year's Eve party at the home of a really sweet couple I met. They are these gay men I met at a Yelp happy hour. Their party is where I brought those chocolate with espresso frosting cupcakes pictured above. Anyway, a girl there was taking random testimonials/reflections from guests. Part buzzed, part cynical, a lot of people basically said "F*** you 2008!" LOL. You know, I would have to say, though there were days I felt AZ was kind of like those Dementors in the "Harry Potter" books that suck some of your soul away, the year holds a lot of good memories for me. One thing about being in another place with not much of a social life is the ennui compels you to try new things. I started '08 by running my first ever 13.1-mile half marathon, something I never pictured I'd ever try. Speaking of marathons, I went to a record five weddings (five and a half if you count one of them including a Chinese banquet on another day). And it's no secret to anyone who sees me enough -- or hasn't seen me in a while -- that I shed some weight. Although the pressure is on to maintain and I still see my *meatier* self in the mirror sometimes, I'm happy to be healthier. I'm sure the exercise and everything is why I was never bed-ridden sick in '08. No sick days used. I celebrated turning 30 with a party that included almost all of my oldest friends, family and new close friends (amazing one can still find those). I wrote quite a few stories throughout the year but the one that sticks out, of course, is one that combined two interests in one--reporting on cupcakes, or rather, reporting on frosting. Oh, and I ran a second half marathon on my home turf, improving on my previous time by 30 minutes. I have to remind myself of all these on the days when it feels like nothing cool or exciting will happen to me ever again.

Now as for any resolutions. I feel like if I write these down, I might have a fighting chance of following them. There are leaders and followers. I am usually a follower--a follower of lists. It's like if it's not in writing, I won't really hang onto something. I don't know what it is. I like checking things off. And isn't life sometimes just a great big to-do list? OK, getting too philosophical. Anyway, my resolutions, some will be important, some will be silly.
_Try a new physical activity like maybe a dance class
_Make desserts that aren't just cupcakes, LOL.
_Be punctual starting with work
_Keep running
_go on a trip somewhere out of the U.S.
_Participate in SF Bay to Breakers (this one could be a tough one)
_a list within a list--I am going to try and watch every winner of the Best Picture Oscar--if not by the time the next Oscars airs, then within the next few months. I need to bone up on my reputation as a pop culture geek. There's about 80 films and I think I've seen about 42 of them.
_I need to read the many books I've bought but never opened!

This list is going to be an evolving project. I'm sure I'll think of more things to add. In the meantime, here's hope for a very good year for all.