Sunday, May 31, 2009

Trading snow shovels for sunscreen



If I hear one more person complain about the hot weather we’ve had lately, I just might punch him or her in the face.
People in the Inland Northwest have severe amnesia when it comes to weather. For approximately nine (sometimes ten) months out of the year, the weather here flat out sucks. During the winter, we have outright scary snowstorms that not only shut down airports and cause local stores to run out of snow shovels, they make driving to and from anywhere downright scary. Spring and fall are jokes here. Occasionally we’ll get a warm day or two, but it’s usually followed by extreme rain or wind. It’s as if, like that kid on the Simpsons, Mother Nature says to us, “HA HA!”
The locals do not handle this well. We always act like we’re downright shocked that the temperature is below 30 degrees and snow is falling at a rapid rate.
“Can you believe this weather?” we shout to each other as we shovel our driveways for the third time that day wearing five layers of clothes and ski masks.
Everyone here complains about the cold, and I’m probably the whiniest bitch of them all. I absolutely hate being cold. There are a lot of things about living here that are great. The weather isn’t one of them. I get so tired of digging my car out from layers of snow and ice several times a day (yes, we have a garage, but it’s full of crap. Isn’t yours?) and even with the heat cranked up (and our outrageous winter utilities bills), I can never get warm. Everyone in town bitches right along with me.
Spring was an asshole, as usual, with tons of rain and wind and hardly any sun. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, the clouds parted and revealed the glorious sun and blue skies. It has been absolutely amazing. Temperatures have been between 75 and 85 degrees. Finally, I got to put away the down comforter. The heat has been turned off until further notice. All my summer dresses are in full rotation. Sunday brunches with the girls have been moved outdoors. My husband and I refer to this as “above the covers sex” weather. It’s beautiful, warm and gorgeous outside and I’m loving every minute of it.
Alas, people in the area don’t seem to agree with me. Even though the warm season is just beginning and there was snow on the ground a mere month ago, they seem to have forgotten this. It started last weekend, when my husband and I took a road trip up to Sandpoint. I was sitting outside at The Loading Dock enjoying a vegetarian hot dog and basking in the sun when I heard a kid say,
“It’s too damn hot today, dude. This sucks.”
Since then, I have heard several people bitching about the weather. I’m beginning to think people just like to complain, because seriously, this is paradise.
If anyone has the right to bitch about the heat, it’s me. We don’t have central air in our house, so it’s not unheard of for our living room to be 90 degrees during the day. Also, my car’s AC has never worked despite repeated attempts by many trained professionals to fix it. I sweat profusely throughout the summer and neither my house nor car give me a break. Between the constant heat and the fact that my Irish skin burns after approximately 45 seconds of sun exposure, I’ve probably got a thing or two to whine about.
But no relationship is perfect, and much like the one I have with my spouse, I choose to focus on the good things. And there are SO many good things. Farmers’ markets and fruit stands, amazing events like Art on the Green, the Coeur d’alene summer theater, the 4th of July, my wedding anniversary, Seattle Mariners games, lazy days at the lake and the local bar scene, to name a few. There’s something about summer that brings me to life. I’m always reminded of the goals I made at the beginning of the year and that I only have half a year left to get on them. As an added bonus, the heat dulls my appetite, which is normally that of a logger. By the end of summer, I’ve normally just about shed my winter weight.
I started today by waking up with only a sheet covering me. I met my friends for breakfast and we sat outside, enjoying the sunshine. After some gardening, we got out the grill for the first time and BBQ’d dinner. It’s hard to be miserable about the weather when you’re enjoying fresh grilled asparagus with garlic and olive oil.
On days like this, it’s hard to be miserable, hot or not. So really, people here need to shut the hell up about the weather or consider heading to Australia. They’re having their winter, and trust me, the residents are bitching about it, matey.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

An Ode to Garlic

When I first moved to North Idaho, my girlfriends introduced me to The White House Grill. It’s a Mediterranean restaurant with loud music, attentive service, belly dancers on Thursdays, and more garlic than you could possibly imagine. Their slogan is “You love garlic, we love you.” I read once that The White House goes through 150 pounds of garlic per week, and honestly, that number seems low.

From the first time I left with my mouth tingling and the stench oozing from my pores, I was hooked. I love garlic like Willie Nelson loves weed and this restaurant clearly shared my love. Every time a friend comes to town or my friends get together for lunch, we always hit The White House for a garlic overload.

I always knew garlic was healthy, but recently I have learned some pretty awesome things about it. Aside from being yummy and flavorful, here are some other benefits of the delicious little bulbs of goodness and tips for getting the most of these benefits:

1) It has antibacterial properties. Garlic can help kill bacteria like listeria, salmonella and E. coli. And, unlike antibiotics, bacteria won’t develop a resistance to garlic.

2) It’s chock full of antioxidants, which means it has a number of health benefits. It even slows the aging process of your liver. Thank God for that, because the afore-mentioned White House Grill has a killer wine list.

3) It can help prevent acne breakouts. Garlic has natural blood cleansing properties and can be used in addition to other treatments.

4) It improves the function of your immune system, which can help prevent colds or shorten their duration. I’ve mentioned that I always eat a clove of garlic before I fly or when I feel a cold coming on. It has worked miracles on even my crappy immune system. If your stomach is sensitive, crush it and take it after a meal.

5) Garlic may help prevent cancer. Studies on both people and animals have shown that garlic can reduce the formation of cancerous cells and even help shrink tumors. It’s particularly effective in blocking esophageal, breast, stomach, prostate and bladder cancers.

6) As a natural blood thinner, garlic prevents blood clots and hypertension. There’s a chemical in garlic called ajoene to thank for this.

7) Garlic helps prevent impotence. Aside from aiding in blood circulation, compounds in garlic stimulate the production of nitric oxide synthase, which as it turns out is required to get a boner. No wonder it was considered an ancient aphrodisiac!

8) It’s a natural mosquito repellant. No one really knows why, but when people have garlic in their system, they get fewer bites. Perhaps mosquitoes are distantly related to vampires or they just don’t like the smell. Either way, this fact excites me because mosquitoes love to bite me and I’m totally going to The White House Grill before my next backpacking trip with my husband.


9) When cooking with garlic, chop or crush it at room temperature and then allow it to sit for about 15 minutes. This triggers an enzyme that boosts its healthy compounds.

10) If possible, buy organic garlic. It contains higher sulphur levels and has greater health benefits. Also, it tastes much better and you won’t have to worry about pesticides.

If you’re one of those freaks of nature who doesn’t like garlic or you’re honestly worried about the smell (I’m aware of the odor I emit, I just don’t care), you can get health benefits from garlic supplements. Obviously I have no need for them, but I’m aware that some people don’t share my love of this white little miracle. Probably the same people who think mushrooms taste good.


sources: www.naturalhealthremedies.org
www.garlic-central.com
Years of subscription to SELF magazine

Saturday, May 16, 2009

My Yennifer, my Sister from God

They say that if at the end of your life you can count your true friends on one hand, you’re lucky.

I don’t know who “they” are, where that quote originated, or how badly I just butchered it. But it’s true, isn’t it? We have acquaintances, and we have friends. And then, if we’re lucky, we have a few of those lifelong, tried and true, there for you no matter what, there for the good times and bad kind of friends.

Yennifer is mine. I’m calling her Yennifer for three reasons: 1) I know she won’t sue me if I call her something close to her real name, 2) I called her this once in an article, years ago, and she loved it, and 3) She bartends at a Mexican restaurant so she’s used to being called “Yenny”, anyway.

Junior high is a miserable bitch, isn’t it? Almost overnight, we go from being kids to having hips, pimples, hormones and, if we’re lucky, boobs. I had all of the above, plus a weight problem, braces, and a perm gone horribly, horribly wrong. Since every 12-14 year old goes through this awkward phase, you’d think they’d all be supportive, right? You’d think junior high would be a positive environment where everyone shares their Neutrogena and deodorant with an attitude of, “We’ll all get through this together.”

But it’s not. It’s a pubescent prison. It’s a few years of back-stabbing, name-calling, bullying, and all the other bullshit that comes with being forced to act like a cool grown up when you’re still just an insecure kid. To top it all off, as a reward for surviving these years of turmoil, you’re presented with…. high school. If junior high is the Queen Bitch, high school is the C word. If you don’t have a few friends to help you survive your teenage years, quite frankly, you’re fucked. By the grace of God, I had Yennifer.

I met her on the first day of seventh grade, which, in my city, was the first year of junior high. I had four of my six classes with her, plus lunch. God totally wanted us to be friends, right? Also, she had a No Fear shirt on and carried a Jansport backpack, so she HAD to be cool. Every single one of us had one of those fricking Jansports. What minions we were.

By the end of seventh grade, Yennifer and I were the best of friends, and it’s a friendship that has lasted fifteen years. And let me tell you, they have been fifteen kick ass years. Even when we were the definition of dorky, we had so much fun together (along with our other BFFs), we actually managed to feel cool in our size 13 jeans. They were years of betrayal and heartbreak- let me just say it again, high school sucked. But they were also years of Alanis Morisette concerts, slumber parties, McDonald’s trips, carnivals, phone calls, a group diary we called The Book, ice cream at midnight, watching Friends, celebrity crushes, and one attempt to get drunk on New Year’s Eve off bottle after bottle of sparkling cider.

The few happy memories of high school I have (I know, I probably need therapy) are thanks, in part, to Yennifer. Our friendship wasn’t perfect, but there was nothing we didn’t forgive each other for and nothing we didn’t help each other get through.

Looking at Yennifer today, there’s no sign of the round-faced little girl I grew to love. She’s thin, gorgeous, and confident, and the best part is, she doesn’t realize just how gorgeous she really is (at least, not until she’s been drinking). But when she speaks, the presence she’s always had shines through- the spunky, witty, sometimes snarky but never mean attitude I know and love. There’s nothing she and I can’t tell each other. We both know way too much about each other to ever judge. We know that, deep down, we are good people, so who cares if we make mistakes along the way? I tell her everything, including those cringe-worthy secrets that would make sane people run away in fear. She does the same to me. If she and I become famous, our attorneys would place automatic gag orders on each other if it was necessary- ‘cause we aren’t blabbing for any amount of money.

Yennifer has been such a constant part of the majority of my life, it never occurred to me just how amazing it really is and just how lucky I really am. Then, on Thursday night, we had one of our many Girls’ Nights. Joined by her sister, a mutual friend from high school and one of our local friends, we rented a limo (sparing us the daunting task of designating a driver) and headed to a Taylor Swift concert.

Taylor captures young love issues with more maturity than a woman twice her age. As she stood onstage, belting out tales of unrequited love and pictures to burn, I looked over at Yennifer, Mike’s Hard Cranberry Lemonade in hand, and realized- we have lived these songs. We have lived them, and we have been there for each other through all of them. We have more inside jokes than pairs of shoes. And that’s pretty amazing.

These days, we eat more salad and hummus than McDonald’s and drink more wine than sparkling cider. Instead of slumber parties, we go to Vegas, where we take shots of Patron at 3 PM (me) and single-handedly transmit a head cold to four cities and two continents (her). But deep down, there’s still a little bit of that spunk that drew us together in the first place. This was evident on Thursday, when we stuck our heads out of the top of the limo and belted out “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Yennifer was the maid of honor at my wedding and, should Mr. W and I ever breed, is the leading candidate for godmother of our spawn. I have no doubt that we’ll be those old ladies you see wearing way too much perfume and jewelry drinking flavored martinis at 11 am.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Women I Admire

I don't know if I necessarily believe in heroes- at least, not for myself. We are all human, and we all have the ability to be extraordinary at times as well as make giant asses out of ourselves at others. For me, the latter is normally done after an abundance of wine. But I digress.

I do, however, believe that extraordinary people should be commended. In a world where so many are satisfied with being average, with dealing with what they're dealt, and complaining without making a difference or making any effort to change, it's amazing to see the things that some people do. These people have drive. Failure isn't an option for them.

Although we've come a long way and have many opportunities in life that our ancestors never did, I still believe that, in general, women have to work harder. There are still a lot of douche bags out there who don't take women as seriously and, like it or not, our gender still makes less money in the corporate world. That means that a successful woman is the equivelent of two successful men... ok, maybe 1.5. Still, it's hard not to respect a woman who works her way up from nothing and ends up a success story.


It's no secret that I aspire to be such a success story. I want to write novels that people want to read. I want people to look forward to my magazine articles. I want to educate, inform, and inspire. I want to give back. I want to leave the world a better place.

When I think of my personal inspiration- women who have helped make my dreams possible or just women who rock in general- a lot of famous names come to mind. However, as far as living, breathing, current celebrities go, the following women absolutely top the very top of my list. I admire them for different reasons, but it all comes down to one thing: passion. They have a passion and they learned how to make it work for them. They are living their dream- because, after all, they deserve it. Don't we all? They are, without a doubt, the closest thing I have to heroes.

Here are some women I strongly admire and the reasons why:

1)
Oprah Winfrey

I know, I know. The fact that I admire this woman makes me a total statistic and about as unoriginal as it gets. But I can't exclude Oprah from my list. She is the definition of a success story. She was raised by a poor single mother and used to wear dresses made of potato sacks. Now, she's the first African American billionaire and wears dresses made by whoever the hell she wants. She got there by doing what she loves.

Oprah is the most philanthropic African American of all time. Not only does she do those famous giveaways on her show, but she's got more charities than I have pairs of shoes. She also has the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academeny for Girls, a boarding school in South Africa that provides educational and leadership opportunities for academically gifted girls with impoverished backgrounds. Also, have you SEEN her show? If her "Best Life Week" in January didn't inspire you to improve your life, there's something wrong with you. Oprah is an amazing woman and an inspiration to us all.

2)

Ellen Degeneres

Honestly, I don't know how anyone could NOT love Ellen. She's hysterical without being condescending or degrading, she's obviously one of the nicest people alive, and how cute is she when she dances on her show every morning?

I've always considered myself one of those "straight, but not narrow" types. Gay rights are something I'm fiercely passionate about and will argue to the death over. I hope to further educate people on this topic through my writing because, unfortunately, there's still a lot of ignorance out there.

The world was even more ignorant in the '90's, and Ellen changed that in 1997 by coming out- both on her sitcom and in real life. Many brave homosexuals had publicly come out before, but Ellen's was huge. The world saw her as a person first and a lesbian second. It caused a lot of people to think and to realize that, other than what goes on behind closed doors, people like Ellen are no different than others.

Not only is she brave, she's kind. The woman had John McCain on her show during the 2008 campaign, and even when he blatantly told her that he didn't support her lifestyle, she was sweet and respectful. I can only hope that I can hold it together that well one day- because I certainly can't now. Even John McCain was won over by her charms, wishing her and Portia "all the happiness in the world." It's too bad his actions don't back up his words.

Without a doubt, Ellen paved the way for gay people everywhere and inspired millions to stop living a lie. She helped people realize that it was OK for them to be who they really were. For that, she has my highest respect and admiration. I'm proud to share the sign of Aquarius with her. Also, it makes me happy that she has a gorgeous, obviously supportive wife. If that's not a happy ending, I don't know what is.

3)
Jenny McCarthy

I still remember the first time I saw her. She was the new beautiful blond host of MTV's Singled Out. She was tiny, busty, beautiful, and funny. I was 14, chubby, pasty, and had frizzy hair. I'm not going to lie. I totally wanted to BE her.

These days, I still do, but not because of her beauty- although she's still got it, for sure. I admire the fact that, although there's certainly nothing wrong with bombshells, she has proven herself to be so much more. Her first book, "Belly Laughs," has been praised by pregnant women everywhere. She has starred in some seriously hilarious TV shows and movies. Although "Dirty Love" got bad publicity and won her some "Razzle" awards, anyone with a real sense of humor (and a vagina) finds it hilarious. My girlfriends and I can't watch that movie without practically peeing our pants. Her ability to laugh at herself- and at women's issues- astounds me.

Best of all, the woman has done amazing things for Autism awareness. Her son has the disease, and she has made it her top priority to educate women on Autism prevention and raising children with Autism. Check out her organization, www.generationrescue.org. The fact that she does so much in hopes that Autism can one day be wiped out all together puts her permenantly on my Awesome list.

4)

Taylor Swift

Nineteen. This girl is nineteen. I have to remind myself of that every time I turn on the radio and hear one of her incredible songs- songs that she wrote herself, probably before she was even legal to vote. I admire a chick who has her shit so together at nineteen. I certainly didn't!

Since her first single, "Tim McGraw," peaked at #6 on the Billboard Country Charts in 2006, the world hasn't been able to get enough Taylor. She was the biggest selling artist of 2008. In February, she became the youngest country singer to appear on SNL as a musical guest. Her concerts sell out like crazy. There's a rumor that the show she's doing in my town- which, thankfully, I will be attending- sold out in fifteen minutes.

The real reason I admire her, though, other than the obvious, is the fact that she's rumored to be incredibly nice and respectful. I read in SELF magazine that when she did her photo shoot for the cover, she remembered names and exchanged email addresses with the crew. You just don't find that kind of down to Earth personality in celebreties- especially young ones! All that fame typically goes to their head, but clearly, not with this girl. When I attend her show next week, I'm going to scream louder than any teeny bopper there. This chick is awesome, and she deserves to know it.

5)
Tina Fey

This woman is the absolute definition of beauty & brains. She has it all- talent, intelligence, self-depreciating humor only she can pull off, and did you see her pictures in Vanity Fair? She cleans up NICE.

Everything that has this woman's name on it, I love. I love Mean Girls, Baby Mama, 30 Rock, and her classic Weekend Updates on SNL. By the way, Tina Fey was the first woman to be a head writer on SNL in 1999. It's a little known fact because she doesn't brag about it- in fact, she downplays it by mentioning that there haven't been that many head writers. While her humble attitude is impressive, it's not necessary. We totally know how incredible she is. She's not fooling anyone. God, I love this woman. I hope she never stops writing.

6) Elizabeth Gilbert (Sorry, I couldn't find a picture. Check out www.elizabethgilbert.com to see her pretty, wise face).

What would you do if you found yourself in the midst of a nasty divorce with a bout of severe depression with your world crumbling around you? Would you become an alcoholic? Turn to drugs? Become one of those miserable people nobody wants to be around?

Elizabeth Gilbert took a year-long emotional and spiritual journey to three different countries, immersed herself in the culture, confronted her demons and healed herself. Then, she wrote a book about it- a book which inspired the hell out of millions, myself included. That book was Eat, Pray, Love, and became somewhat of a Bible for my best friend and me.

Her words are so powerful, her emotion so real, you feel like you're on her journey with her. When it's over, you can finally let out the breath you've been holding and take a good look at your own life to see what needs fixing and what needs nourishing. Then you're disappointed, because you want more. Fortunately, Eat, Pray, Love, is just one of many things this wonderful woman has written.

I admire any woman who can bounce back from tragedy with such a vengence. And as an aspiring writer, I admire her for encouraging people like me to "take on this work like a holy calling." I certainly will. And if I become half the writer that Elizabeth has proven herself to be, I will consider myself a success story.
 
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