Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cookies that are 'cut' out for action (groan I know)

I have Gregory Maguire, the author of "Wicked," to thank for my finding these outrageous cookie cutters. I went to watch him do a reading at Changing Hands Bookstore. The day before, I mentioned my plans to the family living down the street from me. The dad gave me this worn out $20 gift card for the store he had never used. At first, they wouldn't accept it because even the barcode had eroded. But once I convinced them it would be a waste of $20, they gave me a new card. After spending most of the money on something for one of the kids (I couldn't bring myself to spend it all on me), I had a bit extra left. That was when I spotted this set of 3 "Ninjabread Men." I decided it's not offensive in terms of Asian stereotyping because I am Asian. So it goes without saying that coming from me, it can't be seen as racist right?

This whole cookies-racism thing had me overanalyzing for a while. I actually wondered if some people would find it offensive if I used two sprinkles for a ninja's two eyes (the whole Asians have narrow eyes). I decided that might be over-reaching.

Anyway, I found this recipe for chocolate gingerbread men: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/chocolate-gingerbread-men/detail.aspx

The dough was a little too crumbly once it had been chilled. I had to douse some water on it so I could really roll it out.
I will probably make it one more time before Christmas. I have all this molasses now. And Ninjabread men season comes but once a year.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Goodbye evil Phoenix summer

Dear Phoenix summer,

I won't miss you. I'm beyond thrilled that the weather here in Phoenix has turned a corner! I never thought temperatures like 100 and 99-degrees would make me so gleeful. There was only one good thing you taught me Phoenix summer; my car really can be an oven.

I read on another blog how to do it: http://bakingbites.com/2007/09/car-baked-chocolate-chip-cookies-step-by-step/

If you can wait two hours or so, it truly works. I simply did housework and then went to check on the cookies after an hour to make sure they were actually expanding. What was nice is the cookies didn't caramelize so you got a nice hue. This was the equivalent of what a "rainy day" activity would be in other states. But that's because those states don't have (say it with me) "evil Phoenix summer."

Well, Phoenix summer, please hurry up and pack the rest of your things as you depart and don't return until June 2012. I want to stop hibernating. I want to run. I want to ride my bike. And as much fun as it was baking cookies this way, I'd rather you leave. No hard feelings.

Your hostage for the last four months,

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Nothing like bike-riding to feel the love

Easter this year far surpassed last year. However the bar wasn't raised particularly high. Last year, I spent Easter Sunday working. My assignment: approach people at a Easter service on Phoenix's west side to ask them how they thought the Pope was handling the priest sex abuse scandals. Yeah...a happy Easter that was!

I was invited to spend Easter supper with my friend Tracy and her family. It was a real treat being around a family that really celebrates it. From the grilled lamb to the little chicks on chocolate birds' nests, it was a feast. Stuffed to the brim, I got home around 5 p.m. and decided to ride my bicycle. I had been sedentary long enough. I rode down the street past the home of the Stevensons, a family I've had the privilege to become friends with over the past year (See April 12, 2010 entry). The oldest child, Ella, 9, happened to be outside blowing bubbles. I ended up hanging out with all three kids _ playing freeze tag, blowing bubbles. Then the entire family invited me to join them for a walk around the neighborhood. They are white as can be. So, I probably looked like the Asian nanny. "One of these things doesn't belong here..."

I don't know anyone else who joins other people's families for strolls. That got me thinking how a few weeks ago, I rode around my neighborhood. Every place I stopped at, someone either gave me something or assisted me in some way. Before I even started, my next door neighbor _ who installed my dishwasher for me _ gave me souvenirs from his recent trip to Guatemala. Then I rode to this fishing supply store to say hi to the owner, whose cousin I know. He insisted on giving me a bottle of water. Then I rode by the automotive shop next door to the fire station that once helped me (see Aug. 30, 2008 entry) and said hello to the guy who runs it, Hanz. I approached him months ago in a quest for a man-about-the-street interview and he still remembered me. We made small talk and he offered to check my bike's tire pressure and pumped my tires. I then went to my friend's Japanese take-out restaurant and she gave me sushi for snack because I was clearly starving. I was really surprised at how "Mayberry" and small-town-ish the whole experience was.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. No matter what I may think about Phoenix landscape and weather, there are a lot of kind people out here. But sometimes I wonder if I get away with a lot because of my looks. And I don't mean I think I'm some sort of irresistible creature. HA! I'd be the first one to gag at that notion. What I mean is, let's face it...I don't look like a creepy person. Factor in my petite stature, my Asian looks and you have a not-intimidating person. If I were a guy, people might not be so open to me. No elderly grandma would invite me into her house. No guys might be inclined to take care of me like I was their grand-daughter or kid sister. And is it bad that I sometimes try to trade on that? If I really need someone's help, I'm not above looking the part of damsel in distress. Turns out I am very good at looking weak and vulnerable.

On the flip side, I hate to say it, but I'm wary as well of certain people when I'm out riding my bike. I don't really ring my bell and cheerfully wave as much as before. I look straight ahead if I'm about to pass a guy who looks a little scruffy or dodgy _ in my perception. Maybe that's not fair. But anyone who has read my last entry knows I seem to come across the strangest people. In fact, the other day, I saw a guy walking ahead of me. Black, young and walking around with no shirt on. Nothing but a cap, athletic knee-length shorts, sneakers and headphones. In this case, I did get ready to ring my bell so as not to startle him. As I approached, the guy suddenly stopped right there in the middle of the sidewalk. Before I knew it, he was breaking out into a whole choreographed routine _ all with his back still to me. Judging by his arm and hand movements, he thought it was "Hammer time." I frenetically rang my bell before I cycled into him. He finally turned around when I was literally a few inches behind him. Actually it was pretty funny and no pants were shed.

In the world we live in, we can't help but take shortcuts. When we look at people, we have to make snap judgments sometimes. Should I say hi to that person? Should I invite him to the party too? Should I stop and help him/her even though I'm by myself? Wish I didn't have to have my guard up at times. But hopefully, when I do let my guard down _ nine times out of 10 it will pay off.

Monday, March 07, 2011

The good, the bad and the creepy of bike-riding Phoenix

I have not written anything in more than a month because from my perspective, nothing interesting has happened to me. But other people tell me that's not true. I don't know if this topic will be interesting but here goes.

In October, I bought a bicycle. I think of it as one of my best companions now. Only in the last couple of months, I've really taken advantage of it and it's allowed me to see the city of Phoenix from a different perspective. Phoenix, unfortunately, is not the most bike-friendly place. In my middle-class neighborhood, only a few streets have actual bike lanes. There's a sense of relief when you come across one. At the same time, best not to get too attached. It could disappear at any moment! Aside from running simple errands i.e. dropping the mail, stopping at the bank, I sometimes like heading toward the nearby canal. It's one place I usually don't have to worry about cars.

I've been quite surprised by what riding on a bicycle can lead to. First the creepy:
Last month, I rode around the residential streets on a Sunday afternoon. I rounded a corner and came to a quiet intersection. Diagonally across the street from me, I saw a Caucasian man, probably in his mid to late thirties, with his pants down around his ankles. Thankfully, he had some sort of shorts or boxers on! But he was talking to a driver behind the wheel of a pickup truck that was stopped at a red light. Now, even if this guy, who looked like he could've been a vagrant, knew the driver, the falling of the pants doesn't make sense. The truck driver then sped off and the guy pulled his pants back up and rebuckled. He then started yelling at me. I couldn't make out what he was saying. But as I rode past, I could read his lips. He was yelling quite effusively, "I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" I pedaled as fast as I could, asking why God or the Universe didn't give humans erase buttons for the mind.

Almost exactly three weeks later, I was riding my bike on the President's Day holiday. It was about 10:30 a.m. I passed several people on the sidewalk. And like Opie in Mayberry, I politely rang my bell and nodded or smiled at people. After stopping at the running store, I continued northward and saw a man I had passed earlier on the street. He was Caucasian, white-haired, did not look homeless. He was also talking to someone parked in a truck. I rode further and when I was stopped at an intersection -- whoosh!--the same man was suddenly to my right. Despite having an iPod going, I could still hear him.
"Would you like to be my friend??"
"Excuse me?"
"I saw you riding by on your bike earlier. You were so quick! Would you like to get a cup of coffee with me?"
I resisted the urge to say something like "Listen Gramps, I'm clearly decades younger than you. Stay in your league." Instead I politely declined.
And I sped off muttering about how I can't seem to go anywhere without being disturbed by a creepy guy. I'm now considering just being rude all the time.

Now for some of the good:
The first person I talked to after being hit on by Gramps was a guy who works at an automotive shop near my place. I had tried to interview Hans once while on my inaugural bike ride because I had to find people who collected Social Security. When I happened upon him after the Gramps incident, Hans amazingly still remembered my name. After we said hi, I said "my bike rides keep getting interrupted by creepy old men."
"No, not you!"

Yesterday, my friend Bacon (it's just a nickname) and I bicycled like an old couple (he has two bells as opposed to my one) down the official Sonoran Bicycle Route toward downtown. It was perfect sunny but not hot weather for riding. We had brunch at Local Breeze, a place known for a brunch menu and giving 10 percent discounts for riders (yay!). After our meal, Bacon showed me some of his favorite buildings in downtown. One of them is called the Charles Pugh house.

It was built in the 1890s. Pugh was the editor and proprietor of the Southwestern Stockman. In recent years, it was a Mediterranean restaurant. Bacon and I rode by as a man was cleaning up the landscape. He was telling us all this interesting background/dirt. The owner and her sister had had a falling out which led to the closing of the building. And for whatever reasons, she is hanging onto the building despite letting it sit there boarded up and various homeless people breaking in -- including one who was behind the house while we were there. The owner has had offers including one for $1.4 million but wanted to wait for something better. Good luck waiting! She doesn't want to sell to the city which I'm kind of glad she's not. They might tear it down as is the way for many defunct buildings in Phoenix. The owner already owns hundreds of acres of land in other parts of Arizona. According to the guy we spoke with (who has a day job and just comes by once a month for $100), despite being quite well-off, she is not one to show it. She still drives a pick-up truck. And she is 5'2" and a force to be reckoned with. Anyway, I just love talking to people because you never know what cool nuggets of information they may yield. A bicycle is definitely allowing me to do more of that.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

'The Finder' starring me

On my first day reporting from Tucson after the shooting, I found a digital recorder on a bench outside University Medical Center. It looked pretty expensive. So, I walked around from reporter to reporter, asking people "is this yours?" Nobody claimed it. And there was only so long I was going to do that. I ended up using it a few times while I was in Tucson when I was in a jam and really wanted to make sure I quoted someone accurately i.e. the Giffords intern who helped her when she first got shot.

The following week, I showed it back in the office to a fellow editorial assistant, Michelle. She was very intrigued and asked if she could play it sometime to try and figure out who it belonged to. Feeling guilty that I hadn't gotten around to it myself and knowing I'd have bad karma if I kept it, I said "sure." A couple days later, Michelle even brought a USB cord to hook up the recorder to the computer to listen during her evening shift. The next morning when I checked my work e-mail and there was a message from her. She had done some amazing investigative work. After hearing a British voice on the recorder conducting interviews from two completely opposite locations--Afghanistan and Tucson--she started researching international-caliber news organizations online. She deduced that the recorder had to belong to this guy:

For some reason, Reuters lists NO phone numbers on its news site. So, I wrote an e-mail guessing what his work e-mail address would be. And I got a reply back with his contact information in the e-mail signature. So I quickly called him and explained how I found his recorder. I apologized profusely for not trying earlier to see if I could figure out who the owner was. Fortunately, he was perfectly nice and appreciative, not miffed at all. Anyway, we ended up meeting for coffee last week.
Is that considered getting together with the enemy? Kidding. If anything, I'm giving my company a good name. A company where people are competitive but also have integrity.

Tim and I chatted for about an hour at Giant Coffee, a new hipster coffee place. It was great as it turns out we both have an affinity for a lot of the same places. He has a studio apartment in Phoenix but is mainly based out of Bisbee, which is way down in southern Arizona. He rented a house in Bisbee for three years from another reporter who by coincidence was the one to show me around my first time visiting there. I asked him where in England was he from and he said he grew up in the town of Bath. I was like "WHAT?!" The Jane Austen nut in me came out. I think he was surprised that I've actually been to Bath. I went on about how beautiful the town was and how I had tea at the Pump Room. He said he went to school in an old Georgian building where an old man would come every day to feed coal to the stove that kept the room warm. Talk about Dickensian. Then Tim really had me when he said he owns an apartment in Madrid. If there's one thing people should know about me, it's that I have a special place in my heart for Spain. I spent more than a month there taking a Spanish course for fun and I've been wanting to get back there since. Although Tim said to tell him if I'm ever in Bisbee, I said I'm more likely to tell him if I'm ever in Madrid. We had a great chat and he said I could e-mail him any time about all things journalism or even Jane Austen, hehe.

The people I have told about this all say the same thing: "You have got to stop picking up things that aren't yours." LOL. Actually one friend said I should have my own reality show, "The Finder." Between this and helping the family down the street return a lost camera, I'm feeling like I should look into being a private investigator. One of the reasons I do like being a reporter is that it feeds the part of me that likes hunting things down. Now when am I going to accidentally find someone's chest of money...preferably in unmarked bills.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How getting police records was almost a comedy of errors

Today was one of those pile-all-the-doo-doo-on-you days. At work, I sat through 2-1/2 hours of training for a new interoffice computer program. That session made me fall very behind on all my daily duties. As I struggled to keep from having to stay overtime, I was asked at 4:35 p.m. to go pick up a 235-page police report at Tempe Police Station. Now, for you non-Arizona people, you need to usually take the freeway to get to downtown Tempe from downtown Phoenix. It usually takes about 15 minutes but at 4:35, there's no telling how monstrous traffic can be. And of course, the public records office closes at 5 p.m. And in my building, you have to take the elevator down, walk across the lobby to the garage, etc. Basically, losing minutes right there. It never ceases to amaze me at how these requests come at the worse time. But I had to give it a try.

So, I speed down there as fast as I can without getting a ticket. On the way there, my cell rings and it's my friend Leah. She wanted to know if I was free after work. I explained through some griping what I was up to and how there was no way I was going to get there before 5. She happened to be in Tempe too. As I got closer, I grew more anxious. I had never been to the police station in Tempe. When I got to a major cross street, Mill Avenue, I didn't know which way to turn. Here's a rough paraphrase of our conversation as Leah was still on the phone with me:

Leah: "I'm at that intersection too. I'll turn south, you turn the other way. If I see the police station, I'll let you know to turn around."

Next best arrangement to having a GPS. Sure enough, she saw the station first. So, I U-turned stat and pulled up in front of the police station. I bounded out of the car leaving the hazard lights going. I looked at my watch. 5:05. !@#*$

I went into the lobby and there was nobody there to check me in. A plain-clothes police officer opened the second door between the lobby and records desk.
"Can I help you?"
"I missed the picking up the public records by five minutes. Is there any way I can still pick up? I'm with the media."
"Public records? Nobody's here right now. Nobody will help you. Sorry." Am disappointed at how he's kind of curmudgeonly and straight-laced.

He went back inside. I wanted to kick something. I did not want to have to drive back here tomorrow right when they opened. Meanwhile Leah had texted me: "Watching your car so it doesn't get towed." Not willing to give up yet, I decided my best bet was to try and look my most vulnerable without turning on the waterworks. So, despite wearing a short skirt and heels, I dropped to my knees there in the lobby. I put the printout of our public records request on the floor. I pretended to stare in deep thought at it and at my cell and did my best to look utterly distraught. I mean I was distraught, just not "utterly." After a few minutes of staring at the ground, I got up, dusted off my knees and was ready to throw in the towel. I called the office and told a colleague to tell the news editor I wasn't able to get the records in time. As I hung up, I noticed the same police officer was waving vigorously. When I was sure it was me he was waving at, I walked back through the second set of glass doors.

Officer: "I don't normally work at this desk. But I guess if all the other media already picked this up, it must be pretty important. You better have it too."

I couldn't believe it...My pity party-of-one actually worked? He took my press credential and started gathering the 200-some pages. He said since it was after 5, he didn't have any change or credit card machine to use. I would have to pay cash. The total was $57.50. Despite having gone to the ATM yesterday and having $13 in ones in my wallet, I was still shy of exact change. I rang up Leah.

"Leah, do you happen to have any cash?"
"Yeah, I have some. I have some twenties."
"Do you have anything smaller? I need $4!"
"I have some ones. I'll bring it out to you. But I don't want to try to open the doors since it's after 5."

Two minutes later, I turn and I see Leah for the first time since we spoke on the phone. She's standing there sliding singles in a crevice in between the glass doors. Chuckling, I run over and grasp them all. I run back to the window and start shoving $17 in ones under the window to the officer.
"Um...guess I won't be going to the clubs tonight."
He actually smiled and I decide he's not so curmudgeonly after all. I tell him I want his name so I can send him a thank-you card or perhaps baked goods.

After all this, I get my reports. Since he couldn't print me a receipt, he wrote a very detailed post-it. I'll still have to go back for a receipt but at least I can go when it's convenient. He tells me all he wants in return is for me to send an e-mail to his boss (whose address he's written down) and tell him how he helped me. Still surprised at what I transpired, I shake his hand and run back out to Leah to thank her. We decide to meet up for dinner tonight because we can't stop chuckling about the whole thing.

I don't think Leah ever played a role in any of my work-related tasks. So, that was new for me. Now, I don't know if it was "wrong" for me to get so...um...theatrical. I've never tried to use feminine wiles to get what I wanted. However, I am not above a little emoting or looking vulnerable. I'm so happy that as one editor put it, "for the second time in two weeks, the news gods smiled on me."

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Time to reflect

One of my New Year's resolutions was to get back into the blogging thing. I had planned last week to write about what I hoped 2011 would bring. I had spent New Year's and a few days after in Los Angeles. I had a wonderful time simply catching up with old college friends, going back to cool L.A. neighborhoods and eating vegan donuts at BabyCakes NYC in downtown. Boy, that all was a little over a week ago. Now it feels like another lifetime.

I returned to work on Wednesday, Jan. 5. It would be my first week working on a Saturday schedule. Everybody kept telling me Saturdays would be suuuuper sloooow and I would have a chance to play catch-up. And it was slow. Then around lunchtime, our office started getting a couple phone calls about some kind of shooting in Tucson. Well, by luck of my being the only reporter-type around, I was suddenly dispatched to drive down to Tucson. I have NEVER been the one who got sent to a breaking news story outside of Phoenix. I felt anything but prepared, journalism-wise and travel-wise. But I left...speeding eastward on the 10 as fast as I could without a speeding ticket. No toiletries. No change of clothes. No food. No clue where to go first. Just myself, my wallet, and an office laptop that I still wasn't sure would work.

Anyone reading this knows about the terrible shooting that happened Saturday, Jan. 8. Even standing in the parking lot the next day in front of the Safeway where the gunman opened fire, I couldn't quite believe it had really happened. On Saturday, I mostly spent the day and night stationed in front of University Medical Center, in case anything changed with Congresswoman Gabby Giffords' condition. I had to park myself on a hard cement ground until 2 a.m. with literally only a short-sleeve shirt, jeans and a new polyester-wool coat (which I'm now thinking about retiring) _ the same clothes I wore until Tuesday afternoon.

I've never covered anything like a mass shooting, and certainly not one that has been the top headline for so many days. It's been sad to chat with people in Tucson who have, understandably, taken this incident so hard. But it's also been humble and uplifting to meet people like Daniel Hernandez, the intern who helped Giffords in those first crucial moments after she was shot. He is just as poised and articulate in person as he is on TV. He definitely has the makings of a charismatic politician/public servant. His phone is probably ringing off the hook now. When I was done interviewing him, I couldn't help but gush and tell him that I thought he was an amazing young man.

A reporter in our Denver bureau mentioned to me today that she covered Columbine on the day it happened and for a few days after that. She said you really do need time to stop and reflect in your own way. The three-and-a-half days of Tucson were like living in some kind of weird vacuum. Running on little sleep, each day stretched into feeling like two at times. If I wasn't driving from the shooting scene to the gunman's home and back to the hospital, I was trying to get people to interview on the phone or in person. I have to say, I just don't know if there's a way to ever get better at approaching people who have barely had time to grieve the loss of a loved one. And you feel like a major asshole no matter what.

Being in "reporter mode," I didn't have a chance to read any stories or see any photos related to the shooting until Sunday morning in my hotel room. That is when it really hit me the lives that were lost and the families affected. I started to tear up at times. Especially at the loss of the 9-year-old girl. She was the same age as the daughter of a family down the street I've become quite close to. For a moment, I wish I could have teleported my 9-year-old so I could give her a hug.

Times like this, you wish you could give something, do something to bring these people their loved ones back. Unfortunately, no punishment, no amount of debate is going to do that.

I'm writing about this because I don't want to sound like a reporter. I want to sound like someone who tries to balance being a reporter with being someone who has respect and compassion. If someone wants to lump me in with the "lamestream media," I can't stop them. But I know that I'm someone who aspires to be a reporter who is always trying to empathize with the people she encounters. And I carry that empathy with me at all times. Everywhere.