19 December 2009

Fancy a Cuppa?

Not really a tea drinker?

No, really, I promise. You'll want some of this special concoction.

Two lumps with that tea? I thought so.

Brought to you by Cake Wrecks, an hilarious site (and now book) about just how wrong cake decorating can go.

The site was brought to my attention by my writer friend JJ, who has been to the end of the internet, and lived to tell about it. Share the love and visit her site, jjustkidding.com. Tell her I sent you!

18 December 2009

Desert Dessert

Last night I dreamed that I consulted a doctor for my ear infections. In waking life, my daughter is currently afflicted with an ear infection; mine are just fine, thank you very much. In any event, this dream doctor informed me that my ear infections were caused by excessive sugar consumption. Hmmm. Even in my sleep I could concede that there might be something to the insinuation that I could cut back on my sugar intake. I did, I'll confess, consume the better part of a bag of marshmallows over the last six days. Whipped corn syrup not being a super healthy snack.

But come on, it's Christmastime! So here's what I'll be making for dessert Christmas Eve: Sticky Toffee Pudding.

That particular recipe comes courtesy of Beginish restaurant in Dingle, a gorgeous (if unfortunately named) little fishing town in southwest Ireland. Here's what sunset in Dingle looked like in 2007:

The first time I had this dessert was, in fact, in Ireland. I wasn't sure what to expect, having no previous knowledge of sticky toffee pudding. Rather than the semi-liquid spoontreat I expected, this was actually more of a rich dense cake (pudding being Britspeak for any dessert.) Super sweet and gooey, it was just as sticky as promised, and served warm, swimming in hot caramel sauce. Yum to the power of yum!

Halfway through the dish, however, the eu- in my -phoria turned to dys- as I pulled something odd and fibrous out of my mouth. I inspected the offending article as discreetly as possible. What on earth is it? I wondered. Animal, vegetable or mineral? It looked suspiciously like, well, cloth. Had a stray piece of paper towel drifted into my pudding? I spooned through the dish in search of more clues; more stringy mysteriousness confronted me. What if a dirty rag fell in? I called the waiter over and asked her to explain the mystery. She was as perplexed as I and my stomach began to tighten with ever-increasingly gross ideas of what non-food I'd just consumed. Back to the kitchen went my delicious dessert. Admittedly, I was sad to see it go, offensive alien object or no. Have I mentioned it was delicious?

When the waiter returned, she explained that sticky toffee pudding is made with dates.

, I said.

, she said and pivoted away wearing one of those looks I have since learned to recognize as roughly translating to "Stupid bloody American". But, really, who would have imagined a sun-wizened, little desert-dwelling date turning up in damp, dreary Dublin?

Which brings me to another one of my long-pondered anachronisms: why do we dress our Christmases solely in Charles Dickens-wear? Who decided that the holiday must exist perpetually frozen in late-19th century England? Did the Limeys somehow get a copyright on holiday traditions? Was there a giant contest, like to chose the Olympic host city, and England won? I bet Israel was pissed, seeing as without it's most famous resident, one Jesus H. Christ, there wouldn't have been a Christmas at all.

Consequently, drifts of snow, velvet-clad, be-bonnetted carolers, holly and ivy have emerged as the indisputable backdrop items we've come to expect each December. But none of those things bear any relation to where lots of us live. Even more importantly, it would seem, the Victorian Christmas has absolutely zilch to do with the birth of the lil' baby Jesus.

Shouldn't all those "Keep the Christ in Christmas" people -- you know the ones, who get offended when someone wishes them a benign but Christ-less Happy Holidays, who feel the shorthand "Xmas" shortchanges Our Lord of his due respect -- shouldn't they be decorating their front lawns with palm trees and camels? Sifting sand, instead of snow, across their mantles? Instead of stockings on the chimney, why aren't they hanging sandals from tent poles? When they don their gay apparel, why isn't it a caftan?

Maybe the answer to this conundrum lies in yet another conundrum (turning this post into a veritable turducken of quandries) that has long bedeviled me: why do cinema Jesuses inevitably have British accents? Even when the movie is entirely made by and starring non-British actors, The Son of God gets himself a plummy Eton accent. What the who? On top of everywhere else, have the Brits totally colonized Christianity, too?

To that end I propose sticky toffee pudding for everyone this holiday. Let the dessert serve as a bridge -- gently wresting the yule free of the iron grip of the British Isles. Thanks to the humble date, we can restore the holiday to a more appropriate motif.

17 December 2009

Photo Finish Friday: A Very Vegas Christmas

Tropicana Hotel, Las Vegas, 1999

14 December 2009

12 December 2009

Who Me, a Wet Blanket?

Much to my utter delight, it has been bucketing rain all night. That's about as seasonal as it gets wintertimes in SoCal, and I'm enjoying it to the hilt. The only bad news is that in my inability to ever complete a single task, I left a container of Christmas decorations outside to be ruined by the rain. No biggee -- despite my earlier virtuous declarations of avoiding clutter and consumerism and keeping my decorations to a bare, green, natural minimum -- I had too many. Yes, I admit it. Four giant plastic containers full. At least what got soaked and mildewed (because, naturally, it took me a week to bring them in for a post-mortem) wasn't homemade or sentimentally valuable. A little paring down never hurt anyone.

Let's focus our attention now on winter, beginning with my new banner photo. The gorgeous winter idyll pictured above was taken by Mr. Sybarite's goddaughter in Washington, while snowboarding (now that's skills,right?) Thanks for the permission to bedeck my blog with your art, Muirenn!

So far this Christmas season seems to be a tale of good intentions on my part, without follow through. Talk about a wet blanket: we've got no Christmas tree (though the smell alone makes me inordinately happy) no lights yet (though they make Mr Sybarite inordinately happy) no whipping up batches of matzoh toffee (we celebrate Hanukkah, too)

Latkes chez Sybarites December 2009

or dark chocolate cherry pistachio bark, no nights of Bing crooning carols while we sip egg nog spiked with Bourbon (ah, Bourbon, how I've missed you!) Too tired. Too many dishes to wash and floors to sweep and sleep to catch up on. Too many bills to pay and not enough time to even catch a fake snowfall at the schmancy outdoor mall.

What kind of holiday season am I running here?

Please pardon me while I turn this post into a pep talk. Could I perhaps stop feeling sorry for myself for not having enough long, uninterrupted stretches of leisure time in which to persue the holiday activities that bring me joy? Viva, joy! It is time to rally and rustle up some Christmas spirit. That means you, Christmas cards waiting to be written, eggnog pound cake waiting to be baked, fires waiting to be lit, mulled wine and apple cider waiting to be simmered.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and this year, at least, her name is La Sybarite. So the economy is grim. So what? So I won't get my one big Christmas wish of a pajama-clad family big-screen movie marathon. (The new flat screen tv will just have to wait a little longer. )Let's give 2009 a Viking funeral and light this Tannenbaum til she burns to the ground.

Bunni making strange with Santa, 2009

08 December 2009

Photo finish Friday: Mermaid Edition

I don't believe I've had the chance yet to tell you that I'm way into mermaids. One of my many obsessions, and a subset of my Affinity for All Things Nautical.

I love this second image so much I'm actually contemplating it as a tattoo. Minus the bags under the mermaid's eyes. I guess steering tiny galleons is tiring work.

04 December 2009

Photo Finish Friday: For Your Eyes Only

In honor of the birthdays of two dear Sagittarius friends, today's photo comes from my 30th birthday. The evening was a James Bond soiree, and some of my friends and I offered musical interludes. From left to right: Manuela (from Moonraker) sang You Only Live Twice ; Violetta Van der Minke did Goldfinger; Mr. Osaka, our piano accompanist; Carlotta Gee (Spanish-Irish pirate queen) gave us Diamonds are Forever ; and Kamma Sutra sang Nobody Does it Better.

Happy Birthday, Carlotta and Kamma - hope it's An All Time High!

03 December 2009

Life, Only Prettier

David La Chapelle's House at the End of The World courtesy antimonide.com

I started this blog with a nebulous goal. My Master's program in writing had ended, leaving me in need of a project to make me feel like a writer. As a new mom, staying at home, I wanted a way to keep my brain sharp. A blog seemed as good a place as any for thoughts not related to, or covered by, spit up.

I wanted my blog to be topical, interesting and well-conceived, but I didn't really have a focus for it. All too aware of my tendencies toward entropy, I forged blindly ahead anyway. I'll figure it out as I go, I thought. Eventually, a theme will present itself.

Good thing I went ahead anyway, because six months on I still am not entirely sure what this blog is supposed to be about. Style, not limited to fashion. Design, not limited to decorating. Beauty and food and - this is where it gets muddy - ideas.

If pressed, I'd have to say the blog is a reflection of what goes on in my mind. Not a diary - though I've kept one since I was 15 - because I'm too private for that. I'm distinctly uncomfortable publicly airing the anxieties, insecurities, heartaches and whining that have filled those pages since my sophomore year English teacher assigned a daily journal for homework (Thank you, Mr. Mallen!) Instead, I wanted to make a concerted effort to write about the things that elevate me, make me happy, make me feel good about myself and my place in the world and offer proof that I am living the life, being the person I've long wanted.

In short, I needed to project an idealized image of myself; not necessarily so other people would buy it, but so that I would.

I needed that because, at the risk of being Captain Obvious, becoming a mom is a radical metamorphosis. It begins with the colonization of one's body at gestation, and I'd be surprised if it ever ends. From the moment I knew I was pregnant, my view of myself, of this package I've existed in the last 34 years - changed drastically. Ever since, I have been moving away from object decorated for visual consumption and oriented towards self-gratification to vessel and workhorse in service of Someone Else. As the same time, I went from college instructor to housewife/mom, from wage-earner to coupon collector, from discussions of race and ethnicity to multiple rounds of Itsy Bitsy Spider. That's enough of an 180 degree revolution to inflict whiplash. Is it any wonder I wanted to write my own version of who I was?

It has been brought to my attention, however, that in omitting my hardships, I'm alienating a certain number of readers. People like blogs that invite the reader into their intimate world, especially when warts and all are included. Or so I've been told. I can believe that. I know all too well how painful it is to peer longingly into a vision of someone's life that seems so much prettier than my own, and what an enormous relief it is to discover they, too, suffer from the same afflictions mere mortals do.

Which brings me to this article in today's NY Times. Valerie Boyer is my latest hero for proposing legislation in France that would force photoshopped, retouched images to be labeled as such. Her two teen-aged daughter's struggle to live up to the impossible beauty ideals splayed across billboards and inside magazines goaded her to action. I am 100% behind ending the oppressive practice of telling women they should look like something that it is physically impossible to be.

And yet, isn't this blog retouched? Is it not a softer, back-lit, idealized image of my own life? Yes, reader. Yes it is.

Consider this post my disclaimer.

30 November 2009

Post-Racial World My A$$

To those who proclaim we've "moved beyond color"; who point to President Obama as proof that we're all on a level playing field now; who file lawsuits to prove that it is, in fact, white people who are discriminated against today; who think that the Emancipation Proclamation put a definitive end to our country's ugly chapters of racial inequity-

I offer this.

I sometimes hear about "surly black folks". Even typing that makes my skin crawl. As if melatonin predicted behavior, or mood! I haven't yet had the opportunity to point out to the party that utters this loaded phrase that it was a mere generation ago that Black people in Mississippi were fired, evicted, assaulted, shot at - for what audacious, unpardonable, unspeakable act? Registering to vote. That was only one generation ago.

It's rough out there, folks. Let's make an effort to be good to each other, shall we?

Let Us Now Praise Unknown Women

My Aunt Martha sets the domestic arts bar pretty high in our family. This is a woman who has been known to dry and grind her own corn for cornbread, people. She ain't messing around. Every fall she "puts up" (I love that expression) her own applesauce and apple butter. Don't get me wrong, my mom and sister and I are no slouches or anything. We join her in that endeavor whenever we're able, but the trip is a tad far for me to make these days, alas.

Fortunately, for my birthday she gave me a veritable cornucopia of thoughtful things for my kitchen, from hers: a beautiful butternut squash grown in my Uncle's prodigious garden, a Portuguese ceramic casserole dish and some irresistible home made canned goods:

Clockwise from back left: My mom's raspberry jam, Martha's apricot preserves, pickled beets, and apple butter.

Here is a recipe (adapted from Nigella Lawson) to thank her - because I know she's probably up to her ears in butternut squash about now - for a frugal, easy, delicious and what the hey, vegetarian dish.

Butternut Orzotto -- like a risotto, but made with barley instead of rice.

Serves 8-10

1 butternut squash
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp mace
1 onion, chopped
16 oz barley
1/2 cup vermouth or white wine
5 cups hot vegetable stock (and more for reheating)
½ cup creme fraiche
¼ cup pine nuts
1 tsp finely chopped sage

Preheat oven to 425. Halve the butternut, remove seeds and cut into cubes. Don't bother peeling.

Toss butternut cubes in a casserole pan with olive oil and half a teaspoon of the mace. Roast for 40-50 minutes, until tender.

Saute the onion over low heat for 10 minutes.

Add the barley to the onions, stir for about two minutes. Turn heat up to high, add vermouth or wine and let it cook down.

Add hot vegetable stock, put a lid on it and cook gently for about 30 minutes.

Remove squash from oven when tender and put half in a blender with half the creme fraiche. Blend. Add this to the cooked barley and season to taste.

Add remaining creme fraiche with remaining squash cubes and mace. Stir.

Toss the pine nuts in a hot, dry frying pan until golden.

Stir half the pine nuts into the orzotto and garnish top with remaining half and sage.

27 November 2009

Photo Finish Friday: Green Beans R Us

Follow my apron strings to see who is ready for her first taste of green bean casserole...

Here's hoping everyone had many many blessings to count yesterday.


Being More, Buying Less this Holiday Season

Today is Black Friday, the day Americans go bezerk and buy all kinds of marked down junk in the name of saving money on Christmas purchases . I'll admit, part of me would love to have gone to Kohl's at 4 am for their Black Friday sale, mostly because I love making the mundane into an Event. And with a friend, a stop for donuts and a thermos of coffee (like the one my dad used when I was a kid) it could have been fun. But you, my reader, know sleep is a precious commodity these days.

It's just as well, really. Because in my heart of hearts I know better. Our days of shopping as national past time are (for the time being anyway) drawing to a close. In fact, I celebrate the downsizing of the what had become a Roman orgy of conspicuous consumption, the zenith - or nadir, really - of which was the appalling death by stampede at a Wal-Mart last Black Friday.

Snowy Ponderosa pines courtesy sfu.ca

My motto? Create more, consume less. My policy regarding holiday decorations, for instance, has long been "Only the Ephemeral". To avoid A) spending tons and B)stuffing my house full of unnecessary plastic, decorations must either be used up - candles, decorated sugar cookies - or tossed out. That means pine branches, mistletoe and holly sprigs at Christmas. If I get really ambitious, I might make my own menorah out of some natural material. What could be more appropriate at Halloween and Thanksgiving than pumpkins and gourds? Or lilies, tulips and dyed eggs at Easter? I've always been happier focusing on the seasonal element of the holidays. We don't get much of that here in perma-sunny Southern California, so I have to do what I can to make the most of what little seasonal variation we get. Most of the ephemeral elements are the most ancient anyway; what our progenitors would have used long ago to mark special occasions. Call me old fashioned, but I'm kinda into that.

Don't get me wrong - I'd love to be able to buy two for one cashmere sweaters or a set of vintage light-up snowmen for the front lawn. I'm in a constant battle to fight my own acquisitive nature. (It really is an affliction, this love of pretty, pretty things.) But when money is tight, not buying is the only choice. Even in good economic times, making instead of buying makes sense. The best birthday I gave Mr. S was the year he woke up to find eucalytpus branches (his favorite smell) garlanded around our four-poster bed. One Valentines Day I created a tent on our side porch out of thrift-store-found sheets dyed pink. I hung candle-lit lanterns we and reclined on a bed of cushions, where I fed him roast lamb while his favorite albums played. Whatever gifts we exchanged those years didn't make it into my permanent memory bank. But the tent and eucalyptus are impossible to forget.

There exists another motivation for this: Be more and buy less. If you saw the recent Oprah episode, you know that the Danes are considered the happiest people on the planet. ("They've got the answers to the things we don't even have questions for yet!" my friend who recently returned form Denmark exclaimed.) People in Denmark, it seems, chose professions not by the corresponding status or income, but by what work will bring them satisfaction. They may be taxed a lot more, but with their health care and education provided for by the state, they needn't worry. They may make less, but they don't need as much as we seem to. As a result, they tend to have less junk in their homes (and lives) to manage. And more time to do whatever brings them joy - like spend time with family, or create art.

All the more reason why this year, now that we're a single income family, Mr. Sybarite may not be getting the latest piece of electronic wizardry, as in years past (sorry, honey.) Instead, I've got a little something homemade up my sleeve I think might please him just as much. Stay tuned - I'll tell later but don't want to spoil the surprise for him yet!

Perhaps the pendulum has finally, happily, swung: from our rampant collective case of affluenza to an appreciation of the simple, the homemade, the smart and resourceful. I kinda wish I could take a Home Ec class to learn the basics every household once utilized - like how to freeze, can, and other old-fashioned methods to create more and consume less. Or how about a handy person course, where I could learn my way around a saw, a drill and other basic tools? Why shouldn't our status be measured by how self-sufficient we can be, instead of by what sits in our driveway?

Now that I've got a daughter, I'm trying to make the conscious choice to make the holidays meaningful. I endeavor to teach her that Christmas is not about Stuff, either buying it, or getting it (Season's Greedings!) Instead I look forward to creating our own family traditions revolving around food (my own personal national past time) and the people we love. I'd like to teach her that people matter more than things, a lesson I'm still learning myself.

25 November 2009

Bean There, Done That

When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was spelled G-r-a-n-d-m-a-'s H-o-u-s-e. We weren't big on culinary innovations there - the menu may as well have been carved into the cement driveway leading up to her laundry room door, where kith and kin entered (the front door being strictly for Company). As a result, the smells and tastes of that exact meal left their indelible mark on me, and are what I crave each November.

My mother moved back to her Midwestern hometown the same year my Grandmother died, forever upsetting my family's center of gravity. It's taken me a few years to get used to celebrating holidays without my family. But the ex-pats I run with have softened the blow. One of the occupational hazards of emigrating is finding oneself orphaned on holidays. Friends fill the vacuum of missing family, and sometimes are actually more fun. I've learned to cope.

Which brings me to the dish I've volunteered to bring to tomorrow's pot luck for 30 orphans:
Green bean casserole.

I'm guessing that my mother's version of green bean casserole was installed into our Thanksgiving canon somewhere in the neighborhood of 1962, judging by the racy inclusion of ... wait for it ... canned water chestnut. Whose charms were always lost on me. Even without that touch of the "exotic", GBC was a non-starter on my plate. Swallowed up by a mountain of mashed potatoes and drenched in gravy, it was benign enough. But now that I'm focusing all my attention on this one dish, it simply doesn't withstand scrutiny.

The dish doesn't exactly arrive with sterling pedigree. It was originally created to lure Campbell soup cans off the shelf back in the 1950's. The looming threat of nuclear annhiliation must have made processed foods seem like a good idea. The casserole's creator's name was Dorcas, for crying out loud. Would you trust your palate to someone named Dorcas? Surely, a better version exists out there in cyberlandia.

Epicurious.com, my go to for all things culinary, had but one lonely Nigella Lawson recipe for green bean casserole, a casserole in name only thanks to the dish she recommends serving it in.

The Joy of Cooking,"revised for the first time since 1974 for today's lifestyle", has no love for the GBC, and not even a single listing under cassserole! Better Homes and Gardens circa 1996 offered the typical cream of mushroom variety, but I think I might be morally opposed to ever using cream of mushroom soup.

Back on the internet I did a general search and decided slumming it on FoodNetwork.com might not be the death of me. But Paula Deen, Alton Brown and even the non-celebrichef recipes were all variations on the cream of mushroom version

When I volunteered to make this dish, I'd envisioned elevating it out of the realm of (I'm just gonna say it) white trash cuisine. I've never made bechamel sauce, but I was willing. Now I feel to remove the cream of gelatinous beige plop might rob the dish of it's very essence, if not it's raison d'etre.

Does anyone out there have a better way to make this dish?

20 November 2009

Photo Finish Friday: Turkey Count Down T-minus 6 Days

2006, Thanksgiving, Chez les Sybarites.

19 November 2009

Serious Style for Shut-Ins

During the thirty-five minutes Ms. Baby napped this morning, I decided to try and gussy up. Not that I have plans to go anywhere or see anyone, apart from her, the cat and my husband (but then, some would consider gussying up for him de rigeur).

I started with my outfit. Black leggings, a long tunic, and.... what will we have today? Gladiator sandals? Nah. Too Summer '09. Clogs? Oh no no no. Gold ballet flats, ladies and gentlemen. To cheer me up.

As I hadn't felt like risking the time to take a shower (oh, two and half hour naps, we hardly knew ye!), I teased my dirty hair (neeener-neeener, dirty hair!) then pulled it up into a non-chalant, intentionally unintentional ponytail. There.

And yet. Hmmm. I sez to myself in the mirror. How to feel better about not showering? Think.


Zut alors! I'll just pretend I'm French! When I lived in France, it wigged me out for all of a demi-second to notice that people wore the same outfit two, even three days in a row. Then I got right on board that train. So. French it is. A twist of the pony, insert one bobby pin, et voila! A french twist. Hey, Oscar Blandi says women should only wash their hair once a week. Maybe he's just trying to sell dry shampoo, but it does make styling a lot easier.

Somewhere my French inspiration got swirled up with my recent viewing of My Fair Lady Tuesday, so I decided to take a mild left turn - I was already half way there with the ballet flats and leggings - into Audrey Hepburn Land.
On went the strong eyebrow. Yes to the heavy dark doe-eye liner.
Does anyone else think this much about what they are going to wear, at home - more or less alone - all day? Because the thinking didn't stop there.

I decided: it is a good time, sartorial-ly speaking, to be a new mom, thanks to the legging. If you're going to buy one new piece this season - and who can afford much more than that, really, with Christmas looming, and jobs scarce and universal health care still a dream? - it may as well be the legging. (Ever notice that fashion-speak always amputates every plural into the singular? To wit: a "smoky eye", the "red lip", a "chocolate suede boot"; as if I only found one boot at the thrift store, but it was a Christian Louboutin, brand new, in my size, and so gorgeous I decided to buy and wear it anyway, by itself - the other foot bare. I never understood that.)

So without further ado, here are my top 5 reasons to stop hating on Lindsay Lohan and Embrace the Legging!

1. Think Price Point
The $12 charge on your Target receipt is easily hidden amongst less discretionary purchases.

2. Think Comfort
What else is warm enough to keep away the chill on those nippy early morning walks, but cool enough after you've pushed the stroller up four hills and downed your first Extra-Hot Venti Latte?

3. Think Camouflage
In black, under something long, it hides any recent matronly shape you may not have rid or reconciled yourself to yet.

4. Think Practical
I can bend over, sit on the floor cross legged, hitch myself over a baby gate and squat tub-side with nary a thought.

5. Versatility
Repeat after me: goes with almost everything. It can freshen up those long empire-waisted maternity tops - unless like me you were so sick of looking at them you all but burned them post-partum.

I know what you're thinking, if you're anything like me: but I wore leggings the first time around! Yes, but that was in 1992, with a triple-XL Gap chambray shirt that looked like you stole it from the laundry room at San Quentin, and those weird sawed-off cowboy bootie-things. This is different. This is today. This is easy.

If only getting Bunni to nap were so easy.

16 November 2009

Faux-to Finish Friday

El Dorado Hills, CA Oct. 31, 2009

A day late and a dollar short, perhaps. Nevertheless, here's your photo to finish off the Friday the 13th we all just survived.

Return of the Riot: Part Two

In my last installment your hostess was knee deep in prayer for sleep. Those bags under my eyes? Too big to carry on. FAA Guidelines required me to check those bad boys. Mama was tye-uhrd. So tired that I actually considered a 14-hour train ride back home alone with an infant. It would have given me a few days extra after Mr. Sybarite had to drive home, which meant Bunni's baby-friendly auntie, grandma, grandpa, uncle and cousins could lighten my baby-caring load a bit. But fourteen hours folks, without anyone to spell me.

Yeah, fatigue-induced delirium.

Anyway, the morning of Mr. S's impending departure, Bunny Bu woke up - as per usual - at the hairy butt crack of dawn with one very full diaper. Changing her did little to ready her for more sleep. That's when her daddy took pity on me and decided to try to get her to fall back to sleep the only way she knew how: by bouncing her on a yoga ball. Within seconds I gratefully fell back into a deep slumber; only to wake to a terrifying thud, and howling.

The ball had burst. Literally. As in, out from under Mr. S and baby Bu. Dumping them onto the cold, hard floor. The ball had burst figuratively, too. It was now time for two things: to go home, and to get our little girl to learn how to sleep.

But how? If I told you the answer would be found at a truck stop off Interstate 5, would you believe me?

Until the next installment: 10-4 good buddies. Over and out.

Return of the Riot Part Three: In which our heroine finds religion.

Sutter Creek, California. 2009

Okay, not really. But when you're as tired as I was, solutions feel an awful lot like miracles.

Continuing on from Part Two...

With our collective bubble burst, we packed our things and headed back for home. But not before the Mister was kind enough to babysit whilst I made a visit to the best lil' thrift store in El Dorado County, where, Eureka! I struck gold in the form of a black Gap down jacket, midnight blue patent leather Ecco flats, and 12 Williams Sonoma napkins - each of one of the 12 days of Christmas. As the thrifting high faded to fumes in my system, we departed. Let me just say, I wasn't exactly looking forward to the long journey, the long sleepless night, or the very long days ahead of us without a full extended family as support.

At a gas station off the 5 we stopped for coffee and spied a couple with a babe about Bunni's age. Leery of the imminent tantrum putting her back in her car seat was sure to provoke, we walked over to introduce the babies.

The other couple and ourselves engaged in one of those new parent conversations that inevitably led to the topic of sleep. The attractive, well-groomed mother stated matter of factly, "our baby sleeps 12 hours a night. And takes two 2 hours naps every day".

How very nice for you.

I was too filled with roiling envy and hatred to hear anything else she said, but Mr. S paid better attention to the rest - something to do with a book about sleep training. Ha! Sleep training! How barbaric! How uncivilized! What an atrocious thing to subject one's offspring to. Children are not dogs, one does not train them.

Back in the car, Ms. BunBun bagan to cry, setting off air raid sirens of panic shrieking in my head. Sensing my anxiety, the Mister delcared that if she was still crying in an hour's time we would pull over. She'd never cry that long! I thought to myself.

Somewhere up on his lightening-flash-lit cloud throne, God sniggered.

Sixty minutes later, my nerves frayed to wisps, my jaw clenched tighter than a pit bull's and my hands asleep from sitting on them to keep from peeling the face off my skull, she was still crying. She's never cried this long in her entire life! Surely we're inflicting ireperable harm on the poor defenseless child. We're horrible parents and she'll never trust us again. Because of us she'll probably become a prescription drug addict and a tax evader and one of those people that bumps their grocery cart into yours without even looking up let alone say "Sorry", and it's all our fault.

"That's it. Enough. Pull over," I demanded.

I scrambled out of my seat and into the back to unleash her from her tortuous bonds. The moment Bunni was freed from her car seat straps, the most beatific smile spread across her face. As if nothing in the entire world was wrong, was ever wrong, or could ever be wrong. She was fine.

And I had learned that crying is not the end of the world.

As we started back up again and her crying commenced (mercifully dying down after she fell asleep a few minutes later) I downloaded the sleep training book in question and whisper-read it to Mr. S the whole way home.

Two nights later, to my utter shock and glee, without warning or discussion, my husband (my hero!) began the training. He was now officially in charge of waking up at night to get her back to sleep. Euphoria washed over me as I lay in bed knowing I would not be getting out of bed every hour that night.

And you know what foks? It worked. By golly, it actually worked.

So you could call the couple at the gas station messengers from God, or Allah, the Universe, or whatever you want to call the Powers That Be. Trust me folks, I never intended this to be a pulpit or a blog about faith. But two weeks of consistent 7 hour nights of sleep has me almost converted. In honor of Thanksgiving tomorrow, thank you, nameless couple on the 5. And thank you Whomever is in Charge for hearing my prayers.

Return of the Riot: Part One

Wow. Yeah. So this is a little awkward.

It's been a while.

How have you, uh, been?

I've been thinking of you, reader. I really have. But things took sort of a turn.

See, when I started this blog, my darling baby daughter was on a beautiful sleeping streak. Which meant I was sleeping fairly decently, too. I woke up feeling pretty good. Most nights I was even assured a glass of wine, a leisurely dinner with my beloved, and most importantly to you - time to write. But then things got hairy.

Sleeping Beauty left the building. In other words, the Bunni's periods of sleep got shorter and shorter, until she was sleeping only two hours at a stretch. Factor in that after picking her up, nursing her, and waiting for her to fall asleep beside me, one hour later I was up again to put her back in her crib. Then an hour later - "Hey Mom! I'm awake! Here I am! Feed me, already!"

Multiply that little scenario by 4 or five times each night and you can imagine how I felt come morning.

Now, I never intended for this to be a blog about being a mom. There are other writers out there doing a bang-up job of that already (see JJ, mama::millieu, Willow and Sweet Jane, to name just a few). But somewhere in the last month or two, the mom part of my life unceremoniously swallowed everything else whole.

I was wrecked. Even after two whole weeks up north with my family - where Mr. Sybarite and I were spoiled for help with the Bunni girl - I felt like I was drowning. I just didn't have the energy to do anything but hang on.

In all honesty readers, I didn't want to write about that (this is supposed to be about joy, after all). Even if I could have. Which I couldn't.

To illustrate just how desperate I was, I'll reveal something pretty private (which, for someone who blogs, I'm surprisingly reluctant to do).

I started praying.

Me, the lapsed Bible Bunny, who had something of a falling out with the Powers That Be about a decade or two ago. But I didn't know what else to do.

Here's a re-enactment of a typical prayer last week, around 3:30 am, in the pitch dark of my sister's guest room, with a writhing bundle of non-sleeping Bunni in my arms:

Hi, God.
Its me.

Wow. Yeah. So this is a little awkward.

It's been a while.

How have you, uh, been? I know - its been a long time. And I know you've got a lot on your plate. I hate to bug you, especially when there are women and girls being brutalized in the Congo, with global warming wiping out subsistence farmers in the third world, with Americans losing their jobs, falling into foreclosure and bankruptcy because they can't afford basic health care. But if you could just see to it that this babygirl will actually stay asleep when I lay her down this time, and not pop up and open her eyes like the last 4 times I tried to put her down - I'd be really, really grateful. Because I'm pretty tired down here.

Um, thank you.

You know what's crazy? Most times these prayer-things I wove together out of limp strands of depseration and exhaustion, scraggily anxiety and hope, and a fair amount of sheepishness - they actually worked.

But I hear La Bu stirring in the nursery, which means Mama Syb is back on duty, which means, dear reader, I must sign off for the time being. Just to ensure my return (and to entice yours, too) I'm serializing. A little something to look forward to, if you will.

Next installment: the bubble bursts.

And hey, thanks for sticking around.

30 October 2009

Frightful Friday

In honor of Halloween, here's a pic of your fearful hostess, attempting to face her mortal fear of tarantulas at the Natural History Museum's Spider Pavilion.

I had hoped to actually handle one of these bad boys - in my hands - but my arachnaphobia won out.

Hope your Halloween tomorrow brings more treats than tricks.

23 October 2009

Introducing: Photo Finish Friday

Starting today, I'll be digging through the Sybarite photo archives each week to bring you a fun photo on Friday. Because doesn't everyone need a little bit of visual joy to celebrate the end of the week?

Here's the first installment.

Orange Bug and tree
Portland, November 2007

(I admit, I am cheating by giving you two photos today. But I'll justify it by saying my photography skills were not so hot then, so you sort of need two images to accomplish what I would now be able to say with just one.)

I've been searching for any faint hint of impending fall lately. I did notice a few Liquid Amber trees in my neighborhood starting to turn to a golden syrupy color. But apart from that, the sun beats down on us just like it did in July, August, and September. So desperate am I for a change of climate that the entire Sybarite clan will travel northwards for a few weeks. Stay tuned for updates.

21 October 2009

AND..... we're back.

After two weeks of dead air, I have returned.

Last week was not fun. I got a cold (Funny!) Niamh cuaght it from me (Not Funny!) Meanwhile, Mr. Sybarite had a full week of work, which meant this full-time caretaker missed astonishing amounts of sleep due to her little one waking every two hours from a blocked nose. (Really not funny!)

Typical, garden-variety baby-raising stuff, really. Nothing special. Millions of moms and dads do it everyday, are doing it as we speak, in fact (courage, all of you!! I feel your pain.)But until you've experienced it, you can't quite understand the tiredness. I spent the two years I worked at a major publishing venture in a state of extreme sleep deprivation, where I woke up every morning with the very first thought "I SWEAR to you, poor beleagured body, I will nap today during lunch AND go to bed FIRST THING when I get home". That kind of tired. But that had nothing on this.

In short, I started each day feeling like a 16-wheeler swerved off Interstate 5, onto our bed, where it proceeded to do a three point turn on my sickly, prone body.

On a good day of momming, its hard enough to entertain the baby, keep the house from being condemned, feed one's self (once, maybe twice) and then throw a blog up onto the interweb. But when you don't feel good? You go from swimming upstream to a very stremuous dead man's float.

All of which is the longest way ever to say: Yikes! So sorry for my absence. Thanks for tuning in again. Now go and wash your hands. There's nasty viruses? virii? going around.

03 October 2009

(Wo)Man versus Nature

According to a recent study, exposure to nature actually makes us better people. (Which could serve as reason number 342 to move to Seattle, a cosmopolitan city offering all the urban comforts I've come to consider crucial, but ringed with majestic mountains and glittering water on nearly all sides: I'll be a better person for living there!)

The study posits that thinking about things wrought by humans makes us hungrier for self-betterment, while thinking about things wrought by Nature makes us community- and relationship-minded, more focused on how to better society.

Makes sense. Is it any wonder that when we're forced to contemplate human-made structures, we tend to value fame and wealth? Probably as a means to either dominate or escape such structures. Pass a skyscraper and thoughts meander to how much you'd have to earn to have a corner office. Stare at a dump of an inadvertently Brutalist apartment block (tell me, at what point did the world's developers feel ok adopting a Modus Operendi of "As Cheap and as Ugly as Possible?) long enough and you either want to tear it down or have the funds to move to the fancy side of town/penthouse apartment/ocean view rooms.

Maybe this explains why my mom gets so stressed out every time she leaves her small Midwestern hometown to visit us in The Big City. Instead of contemplating how much rain her neighbors will need for the corn to grow tall this summer,

she's left thinking about concrete and steel and the millions of cars clogging the roads with their faceless drivers trudging off to boring jobs kept for the sole purpose of paying the bills that allow them to live in their massive McMansions. Which is pretty alienating when you stop to think about it.

No wonder she's never in a huge hurry to get here.

Maybe nature ignites what Freud called the "oceanic" feeling, that feeling of being a tiny speck in an immense universe. When we're small and at the mercy of the weather and the waves and the winds and all those other forces we can't control, we appreciate the help of other people. Instead of wishing they'd just collect their trash already and disappear.

Now I better understand what my father means when he describes a landscape as "decadent". I always associated this word solely with self-indulgence, but the word's other definition - Being in a state of decline or decay - tells another story. When the elements (heat, humidity, cold, etc.) are left unchecked, nature takes over. You can fight the good fight with the lawnmower and the sealant and the like, but the moment you turn your back on the battle, it wins. Paint chips and fades. Rust corrodes metal. Weeds choke open spaces. What we wrought begins to be rubbed out and our creations soften, blur, become Impressionistic.

Which is sometimes more beautiful, if you ask me.

25 September 2009

Things to do in Seattle When You're Dead Tired

I can't imagine a better city to be in when your child is an early riser. Seattle and its many purveyors of fine caffeinated beverages made waking up at dawn to keep Bunni from waking the entire household a pleasure. Here are some of the extra foamy lattes I imbibed while in town:

Piccolino, Ballard

House of Leinster

Mighty O Organic Donuts, Wallingford

Caffe Fiori, Sunset Hill

Knotty Bodies, 15th Ave NW

ERRRRUP! (Cue needle scratching record). I know what you're thinking.

"Why is this girl wearing condiment-colored underthings?"

Oh - that wasn't what you were thinking? Sorry. I guess I should explain that Washington state is the land of genius inventions like the drive up FotoMat-style coffee hut. As well as not-so genius inventions like drive-up FotoMat-style coffee huts staffed by scantily-clad ladies. I'll give her credit, though: she pulled a pretty decent latte, despite her inexplicable ketchup-and-mustard lingerie selection. Maybe she used to work at Hot Dog On a Stick?

And now back to our regularly scheduled program...

Pacific Fisherman Shipyard, Ballard

Alexa's Cafe, Swanson's Garden Center, Crown Hill

Good to the last drop.

17 September 2009

A Love That Cannot be Contained

I left my heart in Seattle.

No, not like that; the husband and baby and I all made it back safely home together from a week- long stay in the Pacific Northwest (photos to follow soon). But don't expect me to be happy about being home. I LOVED being in that town, for so many reasons. But this post need only concern itself with one: the place is surrounded by water.

Driving in from the SeaTacky (as the Mistress of Wit, Becqitita, calls it) airport, one is treated to the most astounding view. And I'm not even referring to the urban cityscape on one's right, mirrored by it's foil, the Puget Sound and mountains beyond, on the left. Okay, all that is pretty picture-sque and a rather spectacular way to enter a city, if you ask me. (Too bad there are plans afoot to tear the entire thing down.)

What sets my heart pitter-patting is the super industrial shipyard area.

We all know what I spaz I am for anything briny, nautical and blue. So picture me, last Wednesday, driving through the Port of Seattle. My pupils dilated at the first sight of the mega-stories-tall industrial cranes poised over the water. I kept said eyes peeled the entire drive, scanning for my favorite shipping containers logos:
So authoritative! And ambiguously Northern European.

Love the cherry blossom.

But my most favorite of all:
I'm utterly clueless as to how that font makes my heart flutter with joy. But it does. It really does.

This got me thinking. We recently bought Bunni her first set of blocks. Why shouldn't my child - a Pisces, mind you, born into water even - have a set of mini shipping containers to play with? Are you telling me you wouldn't want to subtly encourage your child to grow up to be a shipping magnate? (We should have given Bunni a Greek name.) If I were handier, I'd have band sawed-up myself a set of wooden rectangles, then painted them with all the different container logos that very day.

It will be a few years before Mr. Sybarite and I can afford to play with full-size shipping containers. The Mister has long wanted to build ourselves a home in the desert out of them.

Then again, according to a recent article in the Daily Mail, maybe we will be able to afford one sooner than later. Apparently, the global economic "situation" is so dire it's spawned a fleet of ghost ships - cargo carriers with nothing to carry, no one to pay them. Its a bit of a gloomy article, in case you don't bother reading the whole thing. (Truth be told, I skimmed.) Since I've had enough gloom for one day, I'm choosing to take from the article that the days of rampant conspicuous consumption are nigh. Phew. About time.

Guess I better get to work on making those mini container blocks. Good thing whittling is a cheap hobby.

07 September 2009

We're Roasting, in More Ways Than One

Mr. Sybarite came back from the farmer's market Friday laden with a cornucopia of fresh produce. We decided to make quick work of the lot by chopping (into chunks) drizzling (with olive oil) and sprinkling (with sea salt and fresh thyme). We slid everything into a hot oven, sat back and relaxed. Roasting turns just about any vegetable into deliciousness, even the usually slimy and somewhat questionable okra (seen just above the carrots in the above left.)

The smaller dish on the right was special, for Bunni. After roasting, they were pureed and frozen in an ice cube tray for future meals, once she graduates from avocado - also known as "God's butter".

Yum to the yum!

03 September 2009

Smells like Nail Varnish

Has anyone else noticed that the humble beetle lucked out in the haberdashery department?

For years I've been waiting for some beauty company to come out with a line of nail varnish (as my husband grew up calling it) inspired by the beautiful iridescence of the beetle. Sit down - it wouldn't be as freakish as you think. Don't go getting your panties all in a twist, you bug-a-phobes*. It would actually be very elegant, very 1920's Art Deco Egyptian-revival, very Erte. Are you listening, Chanel? It'll put Vamp to shame. I've even named it already: The Scarab Line, in Vert, Bleu, and Noir. See? French names = elegant.

*Though I just KNEW that in my relentless searching for images of beetles someone, somewhere would shove a tarantula in. Just what I needed. Now I'll never sleep tonight.


Here are the things I didn't buy today at Ye Olde Thrift Shoppe.

1. New Faryl Robin beetle-green metallic wedge sandals. A size too small. Damn.
2. Blue glass candy jar masquerading as Papa Smurf.
3. Bronze clear-heeled Springolators. Also a size 9. Also too small. Damn damn.

Let's get a little closer to the last item.

Five years ago I would have bought these even though they were not my size. Ten years ago I would have peed my pants the minute I saw them. I mean, clear plastic heels? Come ON. BANANAS, as Rachel z'Oh! (aren't you kind of excited her show's new season is about to start again?) would say.

Bronze is, after all, my favorite neutral color for footwear; it goes with everything. I love a suede footbed. And the Springolator is probably the most comfortable heel that Jimmy Choo/Manolo Blahnik doesn't make. Okay, technically, they aren't really Springolators (if it sounds like I'm speaking Greek right now, go here) but I prefer that name to "Mule". The only good Mule is a Muskovite, and yes, I have had one at the Gilt Club of Portland Oregon. It was as tasty as the last item I didn't buy today:

Are you sitting down?

A yellow terrycloth (my freedom fabric) romper. Dolphin hem. Made in Miami, Florida (the tag said so). And festooned (I really think that's the most accurate word in this case) with a gold and white braided belt.

I tried taking a picture of it for you. I even laid it out all nice-like on a black leather couch, next to a framed colored-pencil drawing of a lion and his lady. But I don't know. I was in such a foul mood. It was hot. I felt guilty for waking The Littlest Dictator from her nap so I could shop for things I don't need. There was no way my baby-birthing hips could have squeezed into said romper. In my previous life, as a non-mom, I would have rocked them with the Bronzeolators. But today, not a chance. I even felt sheepish having my camera out. So I didn't get the picture.

I *knew* I'd regret it.

Writing on the Wall

Seen in Santa Monica Sunday August 30th. Becca is an artist who graces the world with her feminine, cheeky and fanciful work in the most unexpected public places (think bridges or restaurant walls). Spotting a new piece is like scoring at an Easter egg hunt. Some would call her a graffiti artist. I call her fantastic. I especially love how she made her signature look like it was scrawled in crayon.

Speaking of crayons, I'm shocked to discover Crayola has retired two of my favorite colors: Thistle and Blue Grey. Does that make mine collector's items??

Is it strange that I still defer to Crayola's chosen names for colors? Literally, when I think of certain colors, I call them what Crayola did. Won't someone please tell us your favorite Crayola color, or any other Crayola story so I don't feel like such a weirdo? Thanks.

30 August 2009

The Horse that Beer Built

When I first began imbibing alcohol (not a moment before the very day of my 21st birthday, Mom, I swear) beer was anathema to me. I'd show up to crunchy skater/hippy keg parties with my drink of choice - a $2.99 bottle of Andre pink sparking wine tucked under the arm of my faux fur coat - and wrinkle my nose in disgust at those red cups full of the sudsy, sour brew I loathed. (Because the Andre's was so much better, right? [Insert eye roll here]).
I was friends with a group of elegant bachelors at the time who had a penchant for Pabst Blue Ribbon, often enjoyed of a Monday evening, over viewings of Melrose Place. In time I came to imbue the thought of that beverage with their charm. Not that I drank it or anything. Gross.

I can't even recall when I finally crossed over to the amber side, but at some point I discovered the liquid joy that is my German birthright. One night at his bar my friend Joe filled a pint glass full of ice with PBR for me, calling it a Texas Shandy, and thus was my love affair with the Blue Ribbon finally consummated. How typical that it took giving it a fancy name and putting it on ice for me to enjoy.

Did you know PBR was once brewed right here in Los Angeles? As a further testament to the beer's general awesomeness, once the factory was decommissioned, it was turned into an enormous art colony, now known as The Brewery (above). I recommend you visit their annual open studios It's a fantastic opportunity to snoop into people's living spaces, I mean, appreciate local art. Ahem.

But let's get back to beer. Saturday, Mr. Sybarite and the Bunni and I are attending a first birthday party. It is our first visit to this home. We don't know the host & hostess very well, and as you do, I'm trying to figure out who they are based on how they've filled their house. Upon entering the kitchen I spy the placard you see at right:

My thoughts: "Hmmm. A fellow PBR fan. With a questionable sense of humor." I stow this mote of information away without making much fuss. Lots of people drink the Blue Ribbon. Even more make jokes about *wink wink* the ol' Ball and Chain. It doesn't make us kindred spirits or anything.

But then. I step outside and am immediately struck by this Thing of Beauty:
Please pardon the crappy picture - it was all I could do to keep my head from exploding as I snapped. Yes, ladies and gentleman, it is a Trojan Horse. Made of PBR cans. Let's admire it together, shall we? Here's another photo, for a sense of scale.

Now I knew I was among brethren. Not even so much for enjoying the beverage, as for the creativity, the sheer obsessiveness it takes to invent a reason to drink that much beer, to lovingly save that many cans, and the skill to turn one man's trash into treasure. Talk about Art - look at the Bronze Age-esque, pointy stylized mane. Look closely at the first photo, and note the ladder hanging down.

Here's a photo of the creator - we'll come him Colonel Mustard - with Mrs. Mustard and Muffin:

Aren't they adorable? Cheers, guys! And thanks for inspiring not just this post, but a very special Greek event you readers will be hearing about soon. Stay tuned!