Lifestyles of the Destitute and Obscure

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Sexy Valentine’s Movies and Food for a Night In

Or how the Destitute get romantic without being boring or broke.
Warning gentle readers:
  The following post is Valentine’s Day- themed, but focuses on the more physical aspect of adult relationships—aka sex.  Be forewarned that this three-letter word appears liberally throughout the post, delving as far into the deep end as to use the word porn, though tempering it a bit here and there with the more palatable word love.  If thou thinkest you shall be offended, then check back with Lifestyles of the Destitute and Obscure in a few weeks when we shall return to the land of thrift stores and culinary craftiness.  But if you dare, read on and please allow yourself to be amused.  Kiddos, check this one with Mom and Dad; Mom and Dad (as in my parents) read on and please remember that I am an adult and well as your child. 

The calendar and American consumerism say it’s time to do something canoodling and romantic, but before you buy another dozen toxically sprayed inorganic red roses that will wilt momentarily (though Ms. D is whole-heartedly in favor of drying roses—preferably organic ones—and using them in a scattered Gypsy-era Stevie Nicks way to decorate the tops of bookshelves, bureaus and other dust-collecting spaces) make it an evening in (cheaper and no need for reservations or a babysitter) with a movie rental or two and a few well-chosen nibbles—think beyond microwave popcorn for this one.
Ms. D would also suggest for those entirely domesticated couples that everyone put in the extra effort to shave and put on a nice pair of underwear for the occasion.  But if you must be comfortable, go ahead and wear your sweats.  It is, after all, your house and your comfy hand-me-down couch.

Something to Nibble on, Besides Your Partner’s Ear

  • Mixed nuts, being careful of those that cause emergency-room-visit-caliber-allergies (not romantic)
  • Smoked salmon on your favorite cracker, paired with its cheap (and maybe a little bit sleazy) partner, cream cheese—a match made in heaven.  Though, do have a nice lemon or vanilla (a natural aromatic aphrodisiac) scented cloth to dispel any lingering fishy odor.
  • Exotic fruits, preferably bite-size, so as to deposit them in your darling’s mouth with your slightly sticky and completely lick-able fingers.
  • Splurge on a few pieces of really good chocolate—only 1 or 2 for each of you.  That’s enough.  No need to buy lots of cheap, waxy chocolate; it will only make you feel ill.  Spend just a few dollars and get a few pieces of the good stuff.
  • A glass of wine each.  This is not for drunken, lower-her-inhibitions purposes.  This is to savor, share with your partner and go with the chocolate.  Choose red or white or bubbly to suit your tastes, or go with a slightly smaller glass of you favorite quality liquor.  Remember, this is a special occasion, not a drunken orgy.  Thank you for hearing this public service announcement—now we move on.

Valentine’s Flicks to Spark and Smolder

This is not a list of romantic comedies, which in my opinion do nothing but inspire women to demand silly public displays of devotion and testosterone-fizzling pillow-talk.  Neither is it a list gleaned from the pages of Maxim, Playboy or Penthouse—this is not a list of ‘Best Sex Scenes in a Movie.’  I watched a few of those and was disturbed that many of the movies were meant to be disturbing/psycho-thrillers.  And so, I propose a middle ground: sexy movies that have romantic elements and require most of the actresses (and actors—this is an equal-opportunity flesh-fest) to be mostly naked.  There are sex scenes; there are no scenes of Meg Ryan weeping.  Men and women alike should enjoy most of these movies, and hopefully find them inspiring.  Because, really, does a box of chocolates in a frilly box make you want to jump into bed with someone?  No, but time spent together, enjoying a bit of culture can be the start (or the re-start, or the continual ignition) to something wonderful.

Belle Epoque
—This little flick, now almost a decade old, is directed by Fernando Trueba and stars Penelope Cruz when she was practically a girl.  It is a stunning romantic caper set in Spain.  Yes, you will have to read the subtitles.  A young soldier finds himself stranded in a small town, and befriends a local man while waiting for his train.  Upon hearing that the local has four daughters, the soldier ‘accidentally’ misses his train, therefore depending upon the older man’s kindness and hospitality.  Naturally, all four daughters are gorgeous in their own way, with Cruz playing the youngest.  The escapades that follow are both sexy and humorous, with enough of a central plotline and amusing peripheral characters to keep it from slipping into silly soft-core.  Plus, it’s all in Spanish, which keeps it just above cheesy, or at least an exotic imported cheese rather than American ‘cheese’ (which really isn’t cheese at all, but a highly processed dairy product).

The Lover— If you want a steamy locale and can handle a bit of French-styled forays toward the sexual exploits of the young that don’t quite dip into pedophilia, then watch this delicious and sexy story of the affair of a young French girl and a Chinese man that takes place in colonial Vietnam.  The movie is based on the book of the same name by Marguerite Duras.  Go ahead and read the book, too, which is still steamy, but melancholic and wrapped in that mysterious and sometimes incongruous French je ne sais quoi.  But for a two-hour foreplay-seduction-by-celluloid, watch the movie.  The setting is a little bit exotic, but always just a little bit raw and dirty (in both the literal and figurative sense) and the costuming is simple but alluring.  I love a man in a linen suit and I myself would love to look as beguiling in a simple tea-dyed shift, braids and a fedora.  Jane March would look only like a school girl if it weren’t for the red-stained lips of her sulky smile.

Crazy, Stupid, Love
— Yes, it’s American, yes it’s cheesy and processed.  But it is funny for both men and women.  There is just enough of Julianne Moore’s legs and plenty of Ryan Gosling’s chest (swoon) to make it sexy and there’s a whole lotta love going around in strange directions.  It’s not R-rated (PG-13, but probably not one for the kiddos) and a smart romantic comedy, without getting into Woody Allen-wackiness territory if that’s not your thing.  Think of it as a chocolate milk-type movie—sweet, smooth going down and sits comfortably in your stomach (unless of course, you’re lactose intolerant, but we don’t need to delve into the depths of that analogy).

Porn Star: The legend of Ron Jeremy— If you don’t mind a bit of porn, with high levels of humor and a whole lotta heart, this is a great film.  Yes, there’s pornography; they’re not just sex scenes.  But I stand by this film as worth watching and not just full of closet-sex-addict-porn outtakes.  Ron Jeremy, an adult film icon, is gifted with a few natural talents that make him perfect for his job—not the least of which is a sense of humor and playfulness in an industry that would do well not to take itself too seriously.  This porn-star wears his heart on his sleeve, which doesn’t exactly make him romantic (or even particularly attractive, though usually that is the job of his female counterpart) but it makes him wonderfully human and he is, in many ways, eager to please.  Ron Jeremy even dabbles in Hollywood— ‘real acting’— movies in an effort to become just a little bit more legit.  But he does his current job so well and with so much a genuine heart, which is next-to-non-existent in the porn industry, that he has become a legend in his field— if not necessarily a movie star.

Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona— Okay, so sometimes Woody Allen can be sexy.  I don’t mean him personally, unless you’re into that much-older-man thing, and I don’t intend to go there.  This one pairs nicely with Belle Epoque, getting to see Penelope Cruz mature— and go crazy—in an entirely beguiling and sexy way.  Scarlett Johannson  is cute, sexy and pouty in that wonderful way that only a naïve, idealistic American college student can be while travelling in Europe.  Javier Bardem gives us a lovely flavor of rugged, older Spanish man, speaking in poetry and smoky stares.  And you can’t go wrong with Mediterranean sunshine on red-tile roofs, especially if yours is currently covered in snow.

There’s my list.  Snuggle, partake, be inspired and feel the love.  Then share the love and send me your favorite list of Valentine’s movies—to be viewed any and all times of the year.  Though be warned, I may suddenly become deaf/blind to any Meg Ryan/Julia Roberts romantic comedies, and shame on you if you glean yours from Maxim.

Love and hugs,
Ms. D

Hearts photo by: Salvatore Vuono

Times are lean.

I don’t know where the money is going to come from to cover the cost of the $50 humidifier.  I don’t know why it is that Comcast decided to wait until now to charge us for the month of July and thus double our internet bill.  I don’t know how I’m going to pay rent and buy enough food for my family without continuing to drain our ever-dwindling ‘emergency’ savings.  Though perhaps the brink of starvation would be an emergency.  Fortunately we’re not there yet.
I find myself hoping that my co-worker in dance will continue to have knee problems that keep her out of the restaurant and myself in business.  I don’t wish her ill, per se— it’s just that I need the money.
We’re eating lots of beans and rice.  And soup— frozen from more prosperous times.  I’m using the internet double-time to make it double-worth-it.  My knitting projects consist of scraps leftover from previous blankets and scarves.  I intend to use my child’s free Halloween candy for meals… okay, not really, but I wish they had been handing out fresh fruit and vegetables or maybe a loaf of bread and ½ dozen eggs at the mall.
I feel fortunate to be able to pull random things from a bag of donated Gymboree seconds, and it looks like my child will have enough shirts and socks to get through the winter.  I’m not sure where we’ll get the money for a winter coat.  Fortunately, it’s still warm outside and California winters are usually pretty mild.  My husband and I desperately need socks (and socks from here would be nice, but that may be in a richer, though probably no less obscure time… if you have the money, ahem, these socks rock… but I digress)   but again, the continued warmth means we’re still in sandals most of the time.
So what am I doing besides rockin’ it like Bon Jovi and ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’?
Soup works, despite the warm weather.  We walk most places and I use the library’s snail-pace internet for school when I can’t spring for the $1.80 that a cup of Peet’s coffee and an hour of wi-fi will get me.
I discovered H&M for kids, which is not only inexpensive and less cheap than Target, but also not made in China.  Which means I can still have my standards when I’m poor.  We managed a preschooler’s birthday party on about $100, including food and cupcakes for kids and adults alike.  I nixed the goody-bag idea because most of that crap is from China and breaks about an hour after it gets home.  Then it sits around the house for three months before it gets put into the trash and on to the landfill.  So I sent them home with a balloon (minimal waste, though admittedly momentary fun) and a self-decorated pumpkin (edible if you choose, but definitely compostable).
We will entertain on rainy days with videos from the library and homemade play-dough—see recipe below.  The last of the home improvement and decorating ideas have been put on hold, but before we put up storage shelves in the kitchen, we have to make sure water doesn’t drip down the inside of the wall during the rain… again.  So I guess it’s a blessing that we didn’t get those shelves up before last month’s momentary deluge.
I’ve entering the big, bad, wild world of ebay (anybody want a nearly new fluffy green bathrobe?), and managed to sell a few Anthropologie items from my days of being a stylish employee, and maybe a few more.  That money will hopefully put a dent, or at the very least a scratch, in my rising credit card bill.  That said, my credit card debt is nothing like the national average, and I console myself with this thought and at the same time practice iron-clad self-control to keep it from getting there.
Next, there will be serious research into scholarships for poor and stylish library students, as well as the great cesspool of paperwork that entails getting on the waiting list for subsidized housing.

Barring all that, perhaps we’ll camp out in the city square and take up residence at one of the Occupy Wall Street protests.
Anybody got a tent we can borrow?

Homemade Play-Dough
(good, cheap fun to make and play with, and if it goes in their mouths, at least you know what they’re eating)

1cup flour
½ cup salt
2 teaspoons cream of tartar (it’s in the spice section, in case you didn’t know)
1 Tablespoon oil (use the cheapest kind you’ve got—this ain’t gourmet cooking)
1cup water
food coloring of your choice

Mix all your ingredients together in a metal bowl (see directions below as to why it needs to be metal) and add the food coloring a little bit at a time to get the desired color, noting that when it cools, the color will be darker.
Now fashion yourself a double boiler with a saucepan filled about 3-4 inches with water, your metal mixing bowl tucked on top so it gets nice and warm, and a trusty spoon.
Heat on medium and stir the mixture frequently until the mixture really begins to stick to the bowl and balls up as you stir.  It’ll get a little bit tricky, but stir for another minute, and then scrape the play-dough out onto a piece of wax paper and let cool.
It’ll be a little sticky for the first round of creating, but when you’re done, wrap it tightly in plastic cling wrap and tuck it in the fridge.  Next time around, it’ll be cool and smooth and perfect for imaginative little minds… as well as your kids.
Hangin’ in there, over and out,
Ms. D

How the destitute go to school

Disclaimer: For those of you regular readers, please note that this post is part of a school assignment– yes, yours truly is going back to school to get her Masters of Library and Informational Science (MLIS) online.  That’s right, I can go to school, get a snazzy degree to be the next hot, local librarian and never have to leave the house.  Is that a good thing?  I’m not quite sure, but at least I don’t have to pay for the gas to get there.  So, read along as I discuss a couple groovy little lectures on TEAMWORK!!
There is no ‘i’ in team.  I remember reading a poster with this mantra some where in a work environment, and having a good giggle over its cheeziness, and then tossing the phrase about with my co-workers anytime we wanted to remind someone to hustle, buck up, shape up or generally laugh.  It may have been said mostly in jest, but there was a kernel of friendly nudging in there that, at the very least, boosted morale.
In Dr. Haycock’s lecture (I know, I giggled the first time I heard the name, too, but the guy is apparently a guru in the library world) he makes it very clear that doing team assignments is essential training for the workplace, and it’s more than just grinding through the assignment the professor gives you, trying to ignore the idiots who do nothing, grit your teeth and do all the work and hope for the best.  Unless you’re blogging in a vacuum (wait, is that me?) then you’re going to have to learn to work on a team.  Even parenting is learning how to work on a team.  And the way Dr. Haycock (in his charming Canuck accent) described the ground rules and consequences of setting up a team, it can be a lot like raising a child.
The other lecture by a Ms. Enid Irwin (and how can you not love a librarian named ‘Enid’?) said that many of her former students got internships and jobs because of their great teamwork skills learned through the program.  Here’s hoping I’m that gal.  Though I do wonder if maybe I’m the one she describes as having a bad attitude (as in how much I hated working in an all-female-gossipy-as-hell retail situation) or maybe I’m the clown Dr. Haycock describes– the one who’s always joking and trying to make people laugh because I feel it’s the only thing I have to contribute.  But what I really want to be– in school, in life– is the editor, the one with worthy skills to offer.  I also want to be that maternal encourager who checks in every now and then to see how the team is doing– are you hanging in there?  Have you got too much on your plate?  Is there something else you would like to offer?
And then Ms. Enid brings up the ‘p’ word– PLANNING.  Oh, boy.  I try, I plan, I control-freak, I meltdown.  But really, life takes planning, because it is like another famous workplace adage, ‘If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.’  (Or my mother’s favorite response to passive-agressive meltdowns– ‘Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.’  So take that.)  I bought a notebook today in hopes that I might be better organized, as organization is the cuddly buddy of planning.
So now, I shall sally forth, read what seems like 500 hours of reading for my other class, turn in this bloggy assignment and go on with my chipper attitude, my Destitute and Obscure skills of planning and organization (cause isn’t that what good style and frugality are all about?) and my Darwinian will to survive this next adventure called ‘graduate level education.’
Wish me luck, an extra 8 hours in the day, a well-behaved child and a generous helping of sanity!
I’M OFF TO SCHOOL!!!  (well, at least I’m gonna sit down here on the couch and open my laptop)
Ms. D

How the destitute start paying rent again and other moving news

It’s hellish, but when it means having a place to call your own, it’s worth it.  We went from co-habitation with my parents and sharing a zip code with the likes of Motley Crue’s Vince Neil, rapper E-40, NFL general guru and hardware store spokesman John Madden, and author Terry McMillan, to our own teeny apartment within walking distance of a brand-new Nieman Marcus (or did I mean Needless Mark-up?) and Tiffany’s.  I can’t even afford to window shop in my new neighborhood, but the up side is the totally beautiful and completely free library and park nearby.  Even my pre-schooler can walk there, although not without Mama.
The first night, it was a bit like camping out in chaos—the dresser piled high with clothes, but empty, the kitchen outfitted with boxes, some dishes, a few borrowed pans, but no cutting board, and no silverware tray– it’s kind of amazing how necessary those suckers are.  My 8 spoons, 4 knives and 3 forks are nestled in a plastic bag.
We would be the well-furnished owners of a broad, Japanese-style coffee table, a vintage-looking turntable, most of my dance costumes and my seven-volume collection of signed Salman Rushdie’s, except they’re on a boat coming from New Zealand.  So when I talk about my ship coming in, I mean it literally.
Discoveries I made the first morning:
*we left the coffee at my parents’ house
*we have to heat water in a saucepan because we don’t own either a kettle or an electric jug, either here or on the boat
*there was not a rubber band or a pen in sight, both of which I suddenly discovered that I needed—desperately.
Example of good timing:
*while we have no internet, simultaneously, my phone had run out of minutes.  We’ll find out if pre-paid is a better way to go with no land-line.
Because of the status of the majority of our possessions, we have had to rely heavily on our friends for kitchen items.
On loan, currently:
*3 teflon frying pans from Natasha
*dishes and dish rack, bike and vacuum from Anne-Marie
*toaster from Kimberly  (which may be the exact model that we have floating across the Pacific at press time)
*casserole dish and saucepan from Grey
Most of these items are on loan, but some of them are gifts, things passed on to us in our time of need.  I never would have thought to long for a vacuum until I didn’t have one and the rice I spilled in the kitchen was sticking to my feet.  It’s a gift from heaven, really.  And a woman entrusting a Le Crueset  dish to another has an enormous amount of faith.  I believe I did her proud last night when used it to cook up and serve Tamale Pie (see recipe below) to my family.

Do I still feel destitute?  You betcha– our rent is astronomical for the country’s average.  But I have a place of my own and I am blessed.
And that, my friends, is richness.

Tamale Pie
This recipe is originally from the Joy of Cooking is a ground beef extravaganza but upon inspection, it appears to be nothing but chili with cornbread on top, in the true spirit of one-dish casserole meals.  Here’s my vegetarian version of it:
1 Tbsp. cooking oil (canola or olive, whatever you got that’s mild in flavor)
1/2 cup diced onion
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 cup frozen corn
1 can kidney beans (drained and rinsed)
1 can black beans (drained and rinsed)
1 14oz. canned chopped tomatoes (not the kind with the basil and garlic)
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
Sautee the onion until translucent on medium heat, then add the garlic, stir and cook for another minute.  Add the corn and stir around until its not quite so frozen, then add both cans of beans and the tomatoes with their juice.   Simmer for 5-10 minutes on low, until hot and a little bubbly.  Stir in the cumin and the chili powder.  Pour into a casserole dish and then mix up the following for the cornbread:
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 Tbsp. flour
1 Tbsp. sugar
pinch salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
Mix dry ingredients above and then mix and add, until just combined:
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
add 1 Tsp. oil and pour evenly over the top of the chili mixture.
Bake at 400 degrees (whatever that may actually be on my new oven, I do not know– it seems to run a bit hot) for 15 minutes or until the cornbread is lightly browned.  Savor and enjoy, especially when the weather cools down.
Ms. D