So I’m cooking cacti now

This cactus leaf turned up in my vegetable bag. I cut off the prickles and fried it up. Tossed it with some salsa. I call it Totally Desert Salsa.

Yippee ki yay!

1205-193640

I realized I was going native…

…while eating an avocado with a spoon and discussing my new “detox” with a couple of climate change professionals.

Those subtle, penetrating tendrils of socialization permeate my habits and thoughts even as I observe them. We’re starting to fit in here. Sal says things like, “I don’t have the bandwidth to deal with this right now.” I’m eating quinoa and writing about energy startups. It’s amazing how we remake ourselves, shifting bits around to fit the new environment.

I reckon we’re Californians now. I still say “Cheers” and “Howdy” though. You know, to keep it real.

Gripe all you want, but deep down, you love tekkies…

The data says you do, anyway. Of note: how we feel about the tech industry is nearly the inverse of how we feel about government.

Check it out on priceonomics.com:

The Enduring Popularity of the Technology Industry.

On how listening to NPR can kind of ruin your day if you let it

To supplement my freelance writing experiment, I’m working part-time at a cafe. Part-time sounds breezy and fun, doesn’t it? Sometimes it is.  Some days, though, I spend seven hours on my feet and want to collapse on the floor in a dramatic faint. But I never do. I just get on my bike and ride back to our apartment, flop in a chair, and drink a cup of oolong. Where was I going with this?

Right, NPR.

So, it’s been a marathon day, and it ain’t over. I hop in the car to pick up the veg bag, and hit Silicon Valley’s infamous rush hour traffic. I mash buttons on the radio, landing on NPR. This guy is talking about organic products, and how maybe they are not organic, and there’s conflict of interest between the farmers and companies that certify organic products.

Are you kidding me, NPR? The organic label is all I have to assure me I’m buying actual food! And now you’re telling me I can’t trust it? That it might be full of pesticides and nano-computers or whatever? That the moral superiority I’ve been feeling in the checkout line has been for naught?

I mash buttons again, landing on “With or Without You” by U2. I wail along happily, cracking the window to release those inconvenient facts into the California breeze.

Some days I just want the radio to be nice to me and not challenge deeply held beliefs, ok?

Is that so much to ask?

Dead Houses

Walking home from work, I take a different route down Emerson Street and pass a curious house with nonsense written on it. Wacky Californians, I think. Posting poetry on their houses.

'Box of Rain' and something of Wolves...sorry, that's a terrible photo. My phone sucks a little.
‘Box of Rain’ and something of Wolves…sorry, that’s a terrible photo. My phone sucks a little.

While I’m snapping a photo, a woman stops and smiles.

“Trying to find all the Dead Houses?”

“Sorry?” I look at the house. It doesn’t look deceased. A little love worn, maybe…

“They’re named after Grateful Dead albums,” she explains. “You know, ‘Box of Rain,’ ‘China Cat’…”

I nod slowly, but I don’t understand. I never took to the Grateful Dead.

“This guy bought up all these houses and fills them up with students and they split the costs. They’re like communal living houses. He thought it would be cool to give students a cheap place to live. And I guess he’s a big Grateful Dead fan.”

She points out a few more down the street. I thank her and snap more photos.

'Uncle John's Band' complete with an urban veg garden in the front yard.
‘Uncle John’s Band’ complete with an urban veg garden in the front yard.

According to a recent article in The Stanford Daily online,  there are nine of these Dead communes in Palo Alto and a few in San Francisco. The juxtaposition intrigues me. Here in the heart of Silicon Valley, down a stretch of street lined with millions and millions of dollars of real estate, a bunch of Stanford kids are growing organic tomatoes and sharing household chores. I wonder if, in the wee hours of the night, they strum a guitar and sing the Grateful Dead song for which their tiny paradise is named.

I reckon there’s still some of that hippy love left in Palo Alto. Some dude out there is keeping it real. That’s good to know.

'Touch of Grey'
‘Touch of Grey’

 

Self reflection

Yesterday I had one of those rare moments of self-awareness, when you can see yourself as others see you, and it makes you laugh. Or cry. Whatever.

A little backstory:

While we look for an affordable apartment in Silicon Valley, my husband and I are staying at my mother’s house in Palo Alto. Apartment searching has been tougher than I thought, but we are resilient and stubborn people.

One night, after a couple drinks at our favorite pub (the Rose and Crown), my husband pulls into the driveway and returns with a surprise – a kick scooter!

“I found it for 7 bucks at the thrift store!”

I laugh with delight and ride it around the quiet suburban street, at 10:00 at night. Despite the couple glasses of wine, I do a fair job of keeping it upright. It sits against the garage for several days, until I am running late for a writers’ meeting, and my husband has the car. I decide to give it a go.

It’s hard work, scooter-ing! It’s exercise, actually. Entering the Stanford Mall, I pass shoppers filtering in and out of restaurants, including a child and his father.

“Daddy, look at her! She’s riding a scooter!”

“Yes, son, it’s like yours.”

“But mine is cooler.”

“Ha ha, yes. Yours is cooler.”

I start to feel a bit self-conscious passing Neiman Marcus, when yet another child comments on the scooter. Instead of bringing it into the cafe, I prop the scooter discreetly against the door.

After the meeting, I am whizzing past Palo Alto High School and it hits me: this isn’t London, where you see trendy, green professionals zipping along the Thames path and popping out of the tubes on their scooters.

This is Palo Alto, California, and I’m wearing a backpack, riding a scooter back to my mother’s house.  In my thirties. What must these people think of me? Google professionals, no doubt, passing me by in their Prii and Teslas.

In the near-darkness, at 5’2″, I reckon I’m short enough to pass for a high schooler.

I take small comfort in this.

Don't listen to them, Rocinante. You are my noble steed. Together, we shall slay the windmills of preconceptions of appropriate adult commuting methods!
I call her Rocinante.

 

 

On how Silicon Valley can be intimidating to mere mortals

Several months into this West Coast adventure, I’ve had ample opportunity to observe Silicon Valleyites in their natural habitat. Through East Coast eyes they appear casual and openly friendly. Loose cotton clothes, jeans, sandals and flip flops. Chatty but not like, small talk chatty.

My first week in Palo Alto, I was in a thrift store and had a 20-minute life-affirming, deep conversation with a lady in her 70s. I felt we should have hugged or something at the end, but we didn’t. Sal and I had a 20-minute conversation with the owner of a framing company over how technology has ruined dinner party conversations. Afterwards I felt like we should meet up for coffee, but we didn’t. It just seems to be their way, to philosophize and move on.

It ain’t all laid-back intellectual banter, though. Humming just below the surface of Silicon Valley everyday life is a 2 million watt current of tekkie energy. It’s everywhere. It’s not uncommon to overhear conversations about developing apps or software start-up woes in the line at Trader Joe’s. iPads are so everywhere, I thought one came with a California drivers license. (They don’t, sadly.)

As a haunter of coffee shops, I observe the tekkies and wonder about them. Take this guy for instance: jeans ripped clear to the knee, cheeky Calvin and Hobbes knock off tee shirt. Wicked hair – long and curly on one the left side, cropped short on the right. He leans forward, keying in something incredible into his Macbook Air, then leans back and taps amazing things into his iPhone.

What strange digital thoughts buzz through this coffee shop, every second, every day? What wild technotronic dreams rise up from the coffee grounds? Knowing that the surfer-looking dude next to you on the couch could be, right this instant, inventing the new holograph phone, is straight up intimidating.

I have got to get an iPad, just to get some baseline respect.

It beckons.
It beckons.

 

 

Budget Vegetarian

Since moving back to America, I’ve started a new life as a Budget Vegetarian. Don’t worry, my dear readers. I’m not going to get all preachy on you. You know that’s not how I roll. I just want to share my dietary experiment with you. I know! Let’s do this Q & A style. Won’t that be fun?

What is a Budget Vegetarian?

Definition:

A dietary plan that limits meat consumption for the purposes of lowering personal expenses. Budget vegetarians do not purchase meat, but won’t refuse it if offered for free. For example, if your friend cooks you dinner with meat in it, you can eat it and that’s totally cool.

I googled this and it doesn’t pop up in the first search screen, so I’m going to declare it a new fad.

Why become a Budget Vegetarian?

It’s a lifestyle choice that you might consider after, say, researching the price of rental housing in Silicon Valley and then looking at your paycheck.

What famous people are doing this?

Me and my brother, who coined the term.  In this blog I am publicly inviting all of my Hollywood friends to also become Budget Vegetarians. Watch this space!

How much money will I save? How healthy will I get?

I cut my food budget by about 30%. I feel pretty healthy, I guess. You should ask your doctor about that stuff. That’s a sort of vague question anyway. Next time maybe think about refining it a little.

Will I lose 53 pounds? 

Dude, look. This is just a blog about my life. How can I tell how much, if any, weight you will lose? I don’t even know you. For all I know, you’re 54 pounds and losing all that weight would kill you! You should talk to like, a dietitian or something.

Will I be cool if I become a Budget Vegetarian?

No. But you may save some money and eat more vegetables.

I’m sold. How do I start? 

I signed up for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) scheme. I love CSAs. I’m lazy and I don’t like shopping, and these lovely people pick all the vegetables and fruit and deliver it in a bag for me. Because they do all that work, I feel guilty for not eating the vegetables, so guilt is an added incentive.

Alternatively, you can just buy a bag of potatoes and a can of beans at the store and you’re good to go.

 

Are you considering the upward trending lifestyle that is Budget Vegetarianism? Welcome. You’re part of a growing fad that has already nominally changed the lives  of at least 2 people. 

Budget Vegetarians Unite!

 

 

 

 

 

Brave New World…of Obamacare

Having been under the U.K.’s National Health Service program for four years, I am more than a little rusty at health insurance shopping. Honestly, I’ve never been good at this. HMOs, PPOs, wtf. I have no idea what I’m doing. The word “deductible” is enough to send me into a blind panic. In the days of yore before health care reform, this is how I shopped for insurance:

Step 1: Call three health insurance companies that have names I recognize. Three is a nice number, don’t you think?

Step 2: Ask some questions that make me look smart, like, “What is the deductible?” Write down the answers.

Step 3: Stare at the answers.

Step 4: Go with the company I had last time, choosing the cheapest option I could get away with.

I’ve heard a lot about the roll-out of “Obamacare” (which is a lot more fun to say than “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA)“). About 99% of it has been negative, apologetic, or defensive, depending on the pundit’s political flavor. Now it’s my turn to sign up for health insurance, and I’m skeptical at best, full of dread at worst.

I type in “Obamacare” and go with the .gov site. It directs me to the site for my state of residence, which is Covered California. The cover page is bubbly and fun, with friendly buttons that invite me to “Apply Now!”

Hey, this isn’t so bad. My dread lessens ever so slightly. I fill in the income information, family size, yadda yadda yadda. The application form takes about an hour. I upload pdf files of our payslips and proof of residency. After submitting everything, it takes a few days for the Obamacare gnomes to digitally approve my documents.

There’s a glitch on the site – although I qualify for a reduction in the monthly payments, the reduction is not showing up. I’m obliged to call the Covered California helpline. I’m on hold for a million years, but whatever, the media’s prepared me for this. I wander around Facebook while I wait.

“Thank you for calling Covered California,” a tired female voice cuts into the terrible hold music.

I glance at the clock – it’s after 6pm. “Sounds like you’ve had a long day.”

“Yeah, it’s been a long week,” she chuckles.

I explain the technical issue and she puts me on hold to speak to a manager.

“I’m afraid we can’t get it worked out here,” she says after a few minutes. “Give the IT people a few days and they will call or email you when they’ve worked out the bug. And don’t worry – I’m making a note that this is an issue on our end and you won’t be penalized for signing up late.”

She gives me an “incident number” and advises me to call if I don’t hear back in a week from IT.

“It’s a good thing you called,” she said. “If you had signed up without the assistance, it would have been a lot harder to apply it after the fact.”

I wait a week, and having not heard back from IT, I decide to give it another go. When I log into the site again, a friendly yellow button tells me I can enroll into a health plan. First, the site will ask about my health care needs.

Here it comes, I think. Time for the fifth degree. I reach for my health care records. The dread returns.

But the questions are all general – how many doctor visits in a year do I think we’ll have, how many medications, etc. This generates a new screen where the health insurance companies are lined up, side by side, with estimates of how much I will pay for my health care this year.

Hovering the arrow over the dreaded word “deductible” pops up a definition of what it is. In fact, every mysterious bit of the comparison table has an explanation. It takes me a few times and some googling to get it, but it starts to sink in.

Hey! This is fun! 

Ok, no it’s not. But it’s a heck of a lot easier to compare companies when all the important bits are lined up side by side and you can see what you’re getting into. Even better, there’s (pretty generous) financial assistance applied to the premiums, since we are currently underemployed.

I select an option, and it’s with the same company I’ve always used. But this time, I feel like I actually chose them, you know, rationally.

I click the “checkout” cart. Ok, here it comes…I reach for the medical records again.

But it’s just an e-signature page, then a notice that my new health insurance company will bill me in a few days.

I stare at the screen in disbelief. What, no questions about my family history of heart issues? No cataloging every sinus infection and hospital visit? 

No personal health questions at all.

It hits me – Obamacare is a crossroads. Things are not as they once were. In a generation, we won’t even know what a “pre-existing condition” means. O brave new world!

I’m all fired up with empowerment. I’ve conquered Obamacare! I’m ready for anything.

Next quest – an affordable apartment in Silicon Valley. Bring it on!!

Inconvenient Citrus

I signed up for a weekly veg and fruit box from this local CSA called Freshness Farms.  Let me be clear, the produce is beautiful and delicious – I have no complaints.

Isn't it lovely?
Isn’t it lovely?

The thing is, well…I’m overwhelmed by the citrus.  Where I grew up on the east coast in the mountains, I could only dream of so much citrus.  In California, I can go to the back yard and pick a lemon off a tree – any time I want, any day of the year.  This blows my mind.

The fruit box comes heaving with citrus fruit – bags and bags!  Not just safe fruit, like oranges, but tiny things I had to Google – kumquats.  You eat them whole, apparently.  The peel and everything!

Citrus is taking over the fridge.  I can’t eat it fast enough.

“Look,” I tell my family, “I’m instituting a Citrus Quota.  Two pieces, everyone, every day.”

I expand my culinary horizons, throwing citrus into every meal – orange salad, a lemon in every cuppa tea, blood orange sangria, kumquats in stir fry.  Sal whips up a dish with black rice and candied orange peels.  We’re trying.

Blood orange sangria
Blood orange sangria

At last count we have:

– 4 oranges

– 20 mini oranges (maybe clementines?)

– 2 grapefruits

– 57 kumquats

– 2 lemons

– 1 mystery Monster Citrus

The citrus is winning!

I pull the Monster Citrus out of the bag.  Sal says it’s a lemon.  I scoff – no lemon could aspire to be so large!  I declare it a grapefruit, and tackle it for breakfast one morning.

I cut the thing open and take a bite.

“Oh my God.”

“What?” Sal calls from the dining room.

“It’s a lemon!”

“Do I get any ‘I’m right’ points for that?”

It takes a gallon sized plastic bag to store it.  I stand a moment at the fridge, staring at it with awe mingled with trepidation.

Monster Lemon must be cut with a bread knife
Monster Lemon must be cut with a bread knife

Dear Lord, California.  What citrus mysteries to behold!

Monster Lemon showed some antisocial tendencies. He was quarantined in the fridge after this incident.
Monster Lemon exhibited some antisocial tendencies. He was quarantined in the fridge after this incident.