Monday, February 28, 2011

Won't you be my Neighbor?

Last week was our last session of Public Administration and Its Environments, the first class in the MPA program I started. It’s gone by quickly, and overall, I’m surprisingly pleased (or pleasantly surprised?) with the program and with our first professor. His lectures don’t just apply to the kind of work I do, but are germane in the broader sense and usually give me something stimulating to consider as I drive home late on Wednesday nights.

Things certainly aren’t looking good for local government- aside from the strain of the economy and the resulting decrease in tax revenue, in general, people just don’t want to give their money to the City. I mean, it’s understandable- times are tough and trust in government is low. But you can’t and shouldn’t expect the same level of services. If you thought those pot holes on your street took a long time to fill before, you can get used to swerving around them for a long, long time. Anyway, the point our professor made is that as services get further reduced, citizens are going to have to work together and partner with the local government to maintain their communities. He talked about old school Jeffersonian democracy- small, energized groups of citizens “barn raising” with their neighbors and getting off their haunches to make a difference. Somehow, this didn’t come across as preachy. Shocking, I know. I think this is in part due to the boarder scope of his lecture and in part due to his realism. For example, he joked that things can “get really bitchy” at community meetings at his friend’s organic farm compound in Northern California. He acknowledged how difficult it is to come home after a long day at work and put energy into your community, or hell, even your next door neighbor. Plus, everyone’s afraid to fail. Everyone’s doubtful that any sort of grass roots action can be effectual, or at least, effectual for them. I know I am. I don’t even make it down to the local farmers market a block away on the weekends anymore.

Our prof also talked about the concept of sharing with your neighbors so that you can “own less and have more.” He claims the only reason he can afford to live in Santa Barbara is because of a serendipitous series of sharing-type events. There’s even a Nolo book on sharing- the same company that gives doles out legal advice about taxes, death and divorce- called: The Sharing Solution

It contains resources, sample contracts and MOUs for sharing a car, childcare, a vacation home, a primary residence, whatever. It’s a great idea- I mean, why don’t we do this more? Does every house on the block need its own lawn mower? (Ok, poor example, but you get the idea) Or what about a nanny? Couldn’t neighbors share child and elder care? I don’t even know anyone’s name in my small apartment complex. It’s like the opposite of whatever Melrose Place was about. I tried having a little party once and invited neighbors; the girl next door who I can sometimes hear stumbling around through the bedroom wall came over for a split second to check out my apartment and then her phone rang and she left. Another chick came over who seemed promising, but we never saw each other again. Ever. It’s so bizarre, really. I once heard that apartment dwellers have to act isolationist because we’re literally living on top of each other and need to psychologically stake out our own space. Still- how many times have I wished I could ask a neighbor of mine for a lime or a lemon? (I don’t bake, so a cup of sugar or milk doesn’t really apply) But I never have and probably never will. I wouldn’t dare knock on their door; and the thought of someone knocking on mine is almost creepy.

This may have to do with a sense of transience- I know I won’t be living in that apartment building on Vermont Avenue for the rest of my life. Still, if I cared to invest a modicum of energy into knowing my neighbors, I would certainly benefit. Take the guys in the building next door who have a sort of unofficial (and certainly unpermited) auto shop in the back of their apartment. I pull my car out every morning next to their junky cars, and pull up right next to the scene every night. I can’t stand it. There’s one recognizable bearded guy who I usually try to hastily avoid, and then a rotating mix of helpers. They’re not there all the time, but their shitty cars are. Water from all the rains has accumulated around the spare tires laying on the concrete. I expect to come home one night to see Heathcliff and his gang lounging on one of the Jeeps with a fish skeleton in his mouth. It’s an eyesore.

That said, when I was about to drive to Vegas the other weekend, my engine light came on. It never comes on. Ugghhhh…. There’s not a chore I hate much more than dealing with getting my car maintained and fixed. I swear, if I had automotive skill and capital to spare, I’d spearhead a chain of auto-repair places aimed at the discerning female customer. You’d make an appointment online, like an exercise class or an eye exam. There would be dedicated receptionists that were well-versed in customer service. You’d get a rental car or a ride to work within 5 miles if the job was going to take more than an hour. There would be lots of cushy seats for those who wanted to wait, with magazines and maybe even an adjacent nail salon. Relaxing music would stream in. It would be pleasant and stylish.

Instead, I ended up having to wait outside of a Pep Boys in Pasadena until they opened at 8 a.m., jockey for first in line with other hurried looking customers in suits, wait around for them to deal with the engine light, and then come in late to work. On the way to Vegas, the light reappeared, and I had to waste time in Vegas going to a local guy to check it out again.

If I had bothered to make friends, or even acquaintances, with the ersatz auto shop next door, I could have asked them to do the quick diagnostic and saved myself a ton of psychological hassle, as well as time. Life could be easier if we put ourselves out there even a little bit and got to know our neighbors. We could barter services! My mom does this with the woman who cleans her house. I don’t think she’s paid her in months- she just trades junk with her (which is resold as “antiques”). It makes sense, and it may make sense to do in a more mindful and concerted way. Now if only I could find someone next door who could do a mean blow out…

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Discipline, et al.

“Self discipline is overrated and undependable.” – Tim Ferriss, Author of 4 Hour Work Week and 4 Hour Body

I think my MPA program is getting in the way of my blog. Right or wrong, this gives me agita. So I’m taking a break from writing my paper that’s due tomorrow night to get down some thoughts I’ve been having about discipline, and how discipline relates to my life and my objectives for the year.

For the past hour, I have been typing at my kitchen nook on my laptop, with my paperwork piled around, the space heater running at full blast, and an unopened bottle of Cabernet sitting a foot away from the computer (as I’m sure you can guess, the bottle is no longer unopened; which leads me to a semantic aside- if I can “open” a bottle of wine, why can’t I “close” it? Well, yeah, sometimes there’s no wine left to be closed; but when I’m alone and done for the night and I have to “close” the bottle of wine, I have to come up with some other term, like cork or seal. I guess I can think of a ton of examples where the word open requires some specialized version of close, even though we think of open and closed as being exact opposites, right? They’re on the front and back of the same hanging sign in every old-school retail store. You can open and close a bank account, but you can’t open and close a present. I don’t even think you’d say you closed the jar of peanut butter after you opened it. What would you say? Put the lid back on? Why does our language require five words for that which is the opposite of a one-word phrase?).

So anyway, the reason the closed bottle of wine and creepy illustration of Paul Newman on said bottle of wine were eyeing me while I typed is because it was motivating me to write. I told myself that I had to finish one of the assignments before I opened the bottle and had a glass. And it worked. Would I have typed up the assignment without the wine staring at me? Yes, of course. But keeping the wine hostage in the bottle like I was some shrewd Somali piratess gave me a little feeling of empowerment and provided me with some kind of immediate reward for doing something I really didn’t want to be doing.
Paul, you were a gorgeous man, but it's just lost in translation.

I feel like I do things like this all the time. Yesterday, I told myself I had to plant my ass in front of the computer with my documents for a few hours in the afternoon and then I could make a yummy dinner and watch the Bachelor for two hours. True story. And that worked too. When the long-term reward is in the distant future (i.e. a degree two years from now, or not having a heart attack at 40), it takes some serious manipulation for me to stay disciplined enough to get anything productive done. [insert thoughtful exploration of the motivation behind procrastination, or possibly draw on Louise’s academic studies about discipline and self-control- later]

That’s one of the reasons why I find the exercise class paradigm works better than a gym for me. Many of these studios make you reserve a space in the class online, and you’re charged money if you cancel within an hour of the class. Brilliant! The only thing I have to do is remember to pack clean clothes in my little work out bag (which has become routine), and then I have no excuse to not go to a class after work. I can’t come home first, or else the whole plan implodes, so I have to drive straight from work to go get my tuck on (Yes, tuck. I’ll discus the Bar Method & Pop Physique in a separate, grueling post).

Discipline is a complex issue, though I wonder if it’s any different than playing mind games with yourself to achieve results. Which brings me to Tim Ferriss. This is the self-aggrandizing yet admittedly compelling author of The Four Hour Work Week, who now has a book out about all of the experiments he’s done on his body (including “cold exposure” to lose weight). Disclaimer aside, it’s refreshing to read Tim Ferriss’s diet plan in the Four Hour Body, because it doesn’t have any pretense. He doesn’t pretend that anyone has the discipline to keep “domino” foods in the house without overeating (in which he listed “hummus” as one such food- chagrin). He claims that self-discipline is overrated anyway (yeah it is!) and it’s not reliable (no, it certainly isn’t).

What’s also refreshing about the way he presents the Slow Carb Diet is that he doesn’t pretend for a second that losing weight and becoming an accomplished cook go hand in hand. Why do diet book authors, or even women’s magazine columnists who write about diets in pseudo-scientific ways, assume that everyone wants three original meals a day with two unique snacks. It’s absurd and WAY too daunting for someone like me, who hasn’t even bothered to lobby her landlord for a working oven in the year and ½ I’ve been in my apartment. Seriously, pick up or google the menu plan for the South Beach Diet, and you’ll be totally overwhelmed. In contrast, Tim Ferriss actually recommends eating the same thing over and over, and not having any delusions about becoming a cook if all you’re used to doing is pressing “start” and opening lids. The idea is to have each meal be some combination of protein, beans/legumes and vegetables. I need to eat more beans anyway- they’re good for you, and as we saw in a previous post, very cheap. I also need to eat more vegetables, which is sort of funny coming from a vegetarian, but who doesn’t? So this morning, I made an attempt to eat a vegetable at breakfast. I microwaved egg whites and fresh spinach in the kitchen at work, then ground some pepper and salt over it. Pas mal! I think this is a diet I can trick myself into having the discipline to do; I don’t have to be original, and I don’t have to do anything outside of my normal routine for feeding myself. I just have to buy the right things to throw together.

So in preparation for wanting to look fierce on my birthday, I’m going to attempt the Slow Carb Diet. I’m gearing up for it right now by adding things like protein at breakfast and beans in more meals; I’ll try it full-force after this weekend binge in San Francisco. It’s sort of like when my brother would steadily cut bread and pasta and anything tasty out of his diet as he got closer and closer to Cancun spring break in college. (Me: “So what do you eat if you’re still hungry late at night?” Devon: “Tiff, microwave a bowl of broccoli and think about your abs.” Sigh…)

Oh, and in case you were wondering, a couple glasses of red wine are totally allowed, if not encouraged, on the Slow Carb Diet.

I’ve got about a month to go until the big day. I wonder if I should measure myself and aim for lost inches. If only I had the discipline to go do that…

Sunday, February 13, 2011

I'm a LebowSKI, you're a LebowSKI

I conquered another resolution (“ski at least one time this year”) by heading up to Mammoth with some friends and no-danger strangers for a ski weekend. We packed up the car, spent way too much time on the road, marveled at the quirkiness of the small Mojave Desert towns and odd roadside attractions, listened to 78 of the 1103 songs on Dave’s “California Driving Mix” and made it up to Mammoth by the early evening on Friday.

Our friend Geoff scored an awesome condo super close to the mountain, and we gladly stayed in Friday night, cooked dinner (well, Alyssa cooked dinner and we kept her company), and played some mellow board games. Dave and Geoff revealed their heretofore unadvertised Boggle skills; they were so successful at this game that I am convinced Barbri must have made it a mandatory subject for LSAT test prep.
It's not a mountain rental if there aren't vintage skis hanging.

So the condo was about 25 yards away from Canyon Lodge (one of the lodge’s/ski lift areas on the mountain), and we were able to walk to the rental location and ski lesson Saturday morning. Although I originally intended on taking a lesson by myself, mostly for the same reasons that dogs choose to die alone, Alyssa joined me for a beginning lesson and it was great. We were able to get in some valuable one-on-one time during our little breaks, or as we were side stepping up a bunny slope. 
Alyssa and I conquer the mountain

not too cool for ski skool

Gear heads

Alyssa moved on to a higher skill level group after lunch, and I had to start limiting my talk of the après-ski margarita. By all accounts, it was a successful ski day for me, though I don’t really feel like I’m skiing for real yet. Mostly we just followed the leader slowly (and widely) down the easy-breezy green hills without our poles. I am getting more comfortable, and I’m hoping that the third time I do this, I can start calling it “fun.” Our young instructor kept exclaiming how wonderful it was to teach adults, which highlighted the fact that most of the time, people at my skill level are still unable to fully pronounce the "th" sound.

Good news is, I didn’t fall at all, except for when a snow boarder ran into me and we crumbled together to the snow. Although it didn't hurt, he really should have apologized because I was clearly going slow enough for him to see and avoid me as he barreled down the mountain from above. Am I ignorant about "mountain etiquette?" Are you not supposed to admit fault, like in a car accident? Aside from that minor incident, I still haven’t fallen at all while skiing. Not once last year, not once this year. I’m starting to wonder if that’s a bad thing (because I’m not taking risks, and because I’m straining my thighs in an isometric pizza position almost the entire time). Should I make it a point to fall on my third ski trip? Cringe...

The best part for me was finishing the day with a smile on my face, meeting up with the non-remedial kids at the outdoor bar that was blasting Journey and having Dave hand me a margarita before I could even sit down. Bliss. Imagining that drink had kept me going throughout the lesson, though the pinched ankles and strained knees and chapped lips.

Aside from all that, Mammoth was really a beautiful place. Driving back, I honestly can say I have never seen that much snow in real life. It was awesome, and I would definitely do it again (though I might spring for a plane ticket next time- no offense to Mojave, the city).

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Chemical Peel: a week later

A week ago, I got a mild chemical peel and was told my face would peel to the point of making me “unsightly.” I’m not sure the derm used enough of the acid (she said she’d start with a light application and see how it went), because my side-effects weren’t all that bad. I had some light peeling, but nothing unmanageable, let alone unsightly. I’m going again in a week and a half, so maybe the next round of chemicals will make more of an impression.

Here I am post peel, Monday night:

Forehead, sans zits!

Acid peels- more exhilarating than deep thoughts with Brad.

Although you can’t really tell in my do-it-yourself photos, my skin does look better now. The acne on my chin has diminished, and I can tell there aren’t any active breakouts anymore, just residue. My skin also feels smoother overall. I’m stoked for another round of this (I think they recommend a series of 5), and I may be able to squeeze in one more in March, before my big day.

On another note, I came home to a sparkling apartment last night because I kept my resolution to do a deep clean on the first Sunday of the month. Boo-ya.

Monday, February 7, 2011

All in the Family

January was eventful, as I knocked out two big resolutions aside from finding the dermatologist (*side note- nothing new with the face- I'll post a final picture tomorrow, but aside from some minimal peeling, there weren't many side effects. My skin tone does look more even, though). One of my resolutions was to reconnect with my cousins this year, so I organized a get-together with all of the cousins at my brother's place, and it was, in a word, awesome.

Our time together was short but sweet. We laughed, reminisced, caught up on life, ate great food and chased the kids around. The last time we were all together was probably Mike's wedding over two years ago, and now, his wife Gina is pregnant with their first child, a son!

Aidan & Gavin, stoked to rake!

The new generation.

Michol, me, Gina, Devon, Heather & Jamie

Mike & Nico

Los Primos- Devon & Mike
Las primas! Michol, Sarah, Jamie & me
I wish I could claim some sort of blood relationship.

I hope I see them all again before too long, so we can laugh at more stories about peeing in closets, getting chased by neighbors, putting on holiday plays for our parents and finding old playboys in the riverbed. I love you, fam!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Chemical Peel: 48 hours later

Not much news to report- my chin area started flaking, which caused my classmates tonight to sort of glance down at my chin during our group discussions and then put a ton of effort into maintaining eye contact. This is what women with big boobs must feel like all the time.

Inchoate peel

You can see the tightness of the skin under my chin.

My face still feels tight and I'm a bit self-conscious because I can't put moisturizer on... but I'm keeping my eye on the prize and I'm not too worried about how I look at work.

One exciting thing on the horizon for this weekend, other than finding out what my face is going to look like, is that a bunch of my friends from high school are going to come kick it with Dave and me and have a straight ahead jam session in his man cave. One of the gang is a certifiable musician and optimistically sent us an email with 50 attachments of songs he created sheet music to. I asked him to give me the dumbed-down version of the bass line to Ball and Chain and Story of My Life, which he graciously did, and I don't think he even had to dumb it down that much. So I'll totally be able to rock that!

I'm scrolling through my humble music library and picking out some songs that would be fun for us to play... any ideas? Since they're all dudes, I'm trying to figure out who'd be game to sing Amy Winehouse... oh god, or Gaga!! There will be a keyboard and lots of booze present... so anything's possible. Thinking back to the whimsical jam sessions in the hallways of college, Wild Horses and Sweet Jane are also good go-to group songs. I'm so looking forward to this.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Exoskeletons of Beverly Hills

Well, a 1/12 of the year is already over, and I’m a month closer to turning 30. Not that my face has any idea I’m that old, given the frequency of my break-outs. Nice try face, but we can’t pretend we’re 16 again, despite your best efforts. My skin, especially with make-up on, isn’t terrible; it’s just not great/radiant/French-looking. Plus, it’s annoying and messy to cover up the bumps and scars. And for those of you who are lucky enough not to know, zits can hurt. A lot. So I want to win the battle against breakouts before I’m 30 so I can focus on more important issues, like the protests in Egypt or figuring out the best route to Hollywood during rush hour.

I’ve been to my new dermatologist office twice now (Beverly Hills Dermatology Consultants), and with their help, I have launched a new strategic plan against my acne. I figure if it’s good enough for Beverly Hills, it’s good enough for me.

Stage 1: Ammunition Procurement

I invested in a slew of their name-brand products, and at a refreshingly affordable price. They recommended some basic over the counter stuff too for a morning and night cream, which is a godsend, because I tend to fall into simultaneous nausea and paralysis the second I step foot in a Sephora. Figuring out what products to buy to slather on your face is an incredible waste of time, and falls into a category of activities that make being a woman so damn frustrating at times. Why aren't we making as much money as men are? Oh, that’s right, we’re busy working our other full time job, called, “Having a vagina.”

So the derm also prescribed some potent topical stuff to wipe out my acne. One of the ‘scripts is a bottle of ciproflaxin in pill form; you take a pill, put it in the menacing vile, fill it with special cleanser, and slap it on your face after the pill dissolves. I really like the ingenuity of this approach. I love Cipro. It has saved me from all kinds of internal ailments in the past, and using it to wage battle against my face is reassuring in a very clinical, anti-holistic, take no prisoners kinda way.

Stage 2: Deployment & Calibration

I’ve been using the products for a few weeks now, and the only side effect is the redness and cracking around my lips due to the drying effect. Not only is having dry, cracked lips incredibly uncomfortable, but as you might imagine, incredibly unattractive. My mouth looked like Clint Eastwood’s in the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, after Tuco dragged him around the desert in the hot sun for days. Fortunately, the derm-helper gave me a sample of a product called Aquafor- it’s amazing. Nothing else has worked, and I’m starting to look normal person again after a day of using it.

Stage 3: Underground Precision Strike

You know those bastard blemishes that are more like little cysts, that ache and cause ugly red bumps, and will never come to a head? If not, go to hell. If so, enter the sharp shooter: injections. This was amazing. The derm stuck a needle in one of my little welts and shot some steroid into it, which was insane, because I could feel the cyst pop under my skin when she punctured it. I actually said out loud, “yes! get the little f*ckers!!!” The needle was good practice for the fillers I’ll start getting in my thirties. After this battle, botox will be a cake walk.

Stage 4: Chemical Warfare

Yesterday I had my first acid peel. It’s not one of those deep chemical peels with severe downtime, à la Samantha’s in SATC when she shows up at Carrie’s book premiere under a black veil and a face that looks like crusty lobster death. The peel I got is called “trichloroacetic acid treatment” and supposedly only causes peeling and flaking of the skin. This juice is supposed to work all kind of magic, especially if you get a series of them- it’s touted as helpful for blemishes, wrinkles, and uneven pigmentation. Plus, in the process of burning off your top layer of skin, it also burns off pre-cancerous lesions, which almost adds legitimacy to this superficial endeavor.

The process was easy- the derm cleansed my face, brushed the acid on it in four stages, and neutralized it with water after about 5 seconds each time (“Can you feel that?” “Um, yeah, it’s burning”). The whole thing was over in 10 minutes.

Afterward, I wasn’t red or unpresentable in any way. I went Capital Grille in the Bev Center to use up a coupon from LA Magazine and had a lovely meal, chatting with an Irishman about international economics and the superiority of grey goose vodka.

Post-Peel Relief
Here’s how I look tonight, 24 hours after the peel. No real change, but my whole face feels tight, like I  washed it with dish soap, dried it with a blow dryer and then followed up with hair spray for toner. It also feels smoother, and is shinier. That's the skin hardening and preparing to shed, like my childhood iguana!!

24 hours after peel
Skin preparing to fall off!

So yes, the catch to the trich acid treatment is that my skin is supposed to start peeling on day 3, and I’m not allowed to use any moisturizer beyond their SPF 30 sunscreen (which isn’t moisturizing, but instead, kinda watery). According to my brochure entitled INSTRUCTIONS FOLLOWING ACID THERAPY TO FACE, rule #9: “Expect the entire peeling process to take approximately one week to 10 days. You will look unsightly about mid week. Make-up may be used as a cover up.” (emphasis added)

Wow, unsightly, huh? I’m really hoping I don’t walk into Albertsons and scare little children. We’ll see. Right now I’m just waiting for it to fully develop and start cracking. I am going to shed an exoskeleton this week and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. It makes me wonder how many other exoskeletons have been shed in Beverly Hills. They must have a whole division of their City's sanitation department dedicated to handling the mess from cosmetic procedures.

I intend to document this process in all its allegedly unsightly detail. See you tomorrow!