Monday, August 24, 2009

Year One: Marriage

Yesterday Brian and I marked one year of marriage. I have many things to learn yet, but I've gathered a few gems along the way.
  • Men are better at housekeeping than women give them credit for.
  • The storied "honeymoon phase" is fiction. The whole first six months, if not the whole year, is an extended adjustment period. I went through plenty of negative but necessary emotions: fear, grief over the loss my former self as I knew her, anger, confusion. It was all part of transforming from a single individual to a married team member.
  • The change that I didn't expect to have such an impact: sleeping in the same bed with another person every night. It seems so insignificant. But after 32 years of sleeping alone, it was quite a shock to my mind and body.
  • It's frighteningly easy to forgo all social life in lieu of just slumming it at home with your spouse in front of the TV.
  • Getting married does not, in fact, cause a supernatural mind meld that seamlessly merges your two sets of ideas, hopes, tastes and values. Intellectually, I knew this. But in my subconscious, where all the world's subtle suggestions about what women should expect from life are buried, I felt we would automatically snap to the same page beginning Aug. 23, 2008. Not so.
  • It's cliche because it's true: If both spouses don't actively participate in frequent, open, honest communication, the marriage is either doomed for misery or for failure.
And that's why I'm glad Brian is willing more than any man on earth to work against the grain of his sex: he tries his blessed best to communicate, and he does the dishes. While we still battle the realness of marriage from time to time, these two qualities let me know everything's going to be all right.

Love you, babe.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Dallas restaurants, please don't listen to the new restaurant critic

The Dallas Morning News' restaurant critic, Leslie Brenner, has been here all of six months. And she's got our dining scene all figured out.

She came from L.A., and I agree with parts of her assessment about how Dallas can become a better restaurant city, like using more local produce and offering more fruit desserts alongside all the chocolate. She says a few nice things about our scene and starts off by ticking off the main Dallas hoods — "Uptown, downtown, Oak Lawn, the Arts District, the Park Cities, Bishop Arts District" — to show that she knows us, complimenting our "vibrancy" because we eat out for lunch.

I am not a critic and I am not a foodie. But I laughed while I read this column, because it screams, "Why isn't Dallas doing things the way I'm used to?" It's all the funnier because it's written by a fresh-from-the-airport transplant from L.A. Her big gripe, that our chefs and restaurateurs are giving Dallasites what they want.

Counter: Dallas restaurateurs, do not listen to her; please continue giving me what I want: good food, not high art. I will simply stop visiting you if this changes.

I want to believe she only means that we should look to other cities to emulate how they've carved out a reputation for themselves. But the column reads like she's suggesting we actually de-Dallas ourselves. I don't know why in the world we'd want to do that.

Leslie sounds like a bad American tourist in a foreign city, wondering why everyone's doing things differently and upsetting her comfort cart. I've never heard a critic come out and say quite as straight as she does that a city should, essentially, study other large cities' restaurants and copy them. That wouldn't make us better; that would make us lame.

She seems to be experiencing a bit of lost-in-translation culture confusion. She says servers at sushi restaurants here are confused when she wants to order directly from the chef. Perhaps they're confused because that's not a thing here. The chef wouldn't have conveyed to your server which fish is good? Maybe that's customary in sushi restaurants elsewhere, but from a local's perspective, it's seems like a big waste of everyone's time. We can be pretty pretentious here, but I can't imagine my boring question of "What fish is good today?" as being so important that I would need to drag the chef away from his or her work of conjuring up the exciting, New York-flavored dishes you admonish them to provide us, when I could simply ask my waiter.

She also gets offended when she's left food on her plate and the server doesn't ask her what's up with that. Maybe I can lend a regional lesson here as well. Sure, some servers will subtly inquire, but generally they don't ask why you've left food on your plate because it's none of their business. Maybe you became full before finishing, maybe you're trying to lose weight, maybe you get gas if you consume too much wheat flour, maybe the portions are simply too large to prudently complete. Consider it regional manners that they're not asking. We tend to be a little more independent here, so if a meal is that bad, don't be a wallflower about it. Leslie does remind us that diners have a responsibility to say something if the food isn't working for them, but she says this right after boo-hooing that servers don't do the asking. She advises servers, "Pay attention to what diners are silently telling you." Honey, we don't silently tell anyone anything. Restaurateurs know this.

She also says our chefs should travel (could she be more condescending. Why does she assume they don't travel? Because we're in Texas and Texans don't travel?) and that creme brulee is so 1994 (if we enjoy a dessert and it works, we're not going to care if it's from 1884 or 3004).

My gripe about the Dallas dining (and nightlife) scene is that it wants to be L.A. and New York so badly. It takes itself a little too seriously and behaves like a wealthy yet self-conscious teenager at NorthPark, constantly wondering who's looking at her and trying too hard. Dallas needs to do Dallas and stop trying so desperately to be somewhere else. It's not charming and erodes regional identity. Let's explore (the so 1980s) Southwestern cuisine further. Let's make ourselves known for the Dallas flavor we blend with other styles, too, like vegan, Asian, Brazilian, Italian.

When my mother made spaghetti and other pasta growing up, the sauce contained ground hamburger meat and jalapenos with a side of garlic Texas toast and salad with Ranch dressing. Borrow from a region's ratatouille, and the people will love you. Borrowing too heavily from another region only further prevents Dallas from forming a unique identity outside of that dang-blasted TV show we're known for. Being innovative means exploring regional spins on established cuisines. I imagine that travelers visiting with us would like to experience how Dallas does Korean, not how another city does Korean.

Along with regional spins, I'm down with classic, authentic flavors of French, Italian, etc., and I'm not going to fault a restaurant that doesn't get freaky with the tapas and paella. When I eat Spanish, that's what I want.

But mostly you're going to find me at very North Texas eateries, like El Ranchito, Manny's Tex-Mex, Joe T.'s and Spiral Diner. They give me what I want, which is a mix of comfort and new experiences.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A life geography lesson for us wanderlusters

On a spiritual tip ...

Lately I've been dealing with an issue that I've struggled with off and on since I was very young. It's not an issue unique to me. Depression slyly tricks someone into thinking that THIS particular bout of melancholy affects only me, magnifying the suckiness. But many of you have wrestled with this.

I'm talking about spiritual wanderlust. That feeling that you've missed the bus of your life's calling. You'd be more than glad to get on, but you have no idea when the bus is coming back around, what other part of town to run to so you can catch it there, or if there's an alternate bus you can take that will route you to your heaven-prescribed destination.

So this post on one of my favorite blogs, Stuff Christians Like, was a balm to read today.

I grew up in a faith tradition that taught God has a divine purpose for each and every person on earth, partly based on Jeremiah 1:5 and 29:11:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart, I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

God was speaking specifically to Jeremiah and to Israel here, yes. But we were taught that God's plans extend to the individual, and that he has a special mission for anyone who believes. Words and phrases from the keyword cloud of my religious upbringing include "pursue God's will for your life," "purpose," "your calling," "divine appointment." What has God called you to do with your life?

The filters on my young ears picked up these messages as a direct message from God: "Christy, you're kind of a big deal. One day you're going to do something so spectacular, so significant, there's not even going to be room for your awesomeness on this planet. I'll have to move you to another planet just to fit all of your crazy-massive works of ending hunger, stopping deforestation, discovering unknown tribes through your jungle adventures and providing them medical care and clean water. I'll name the planet 'St. Christicus,' because you'll have the LEAD ROLE in my grand, eternal scheme. Big plans, Christy — BIG PLANS."

I wanted my divine itinerary, stat! Move out of the way — me and God are going to do things! But as the years passed, I never discovered God's specific will for my life or or heard from him in the miraculous, direct way I imagined about what, exactly, I should be doing with this existence he gave me.

Fast-forward to now. I've since decided that God uses you where you are and that our contributions can, in fact, be small and impactful at the same time. God isn't a giant project manager in the sky handing out assignments and deadlines, writing you up for missing meetings that he never put on your Outlook calendar. We don't have to actually do anything, in the sense that we control God's calling on our lives. Just serve him, be open and he will direct the show.

Still. My mom and dad used to be foreign missionaries and pastors, and my mom just recently retired from 25+ years of being an elementary teacher at Christian schools. My sister works in the field of social work, heading the mental health division of a local children's home. My brother and sister-in-law have pastored the same church for 25 years and have touched countless of lives in their community.

My upbringing, my relationship with God today, my family, and maybe even my temperament, to an extent, have all conspired to "set eternity in my heart." This is a wonderful thing — if I knew what to do with it. Don't get me wrong; I've done good things in my life, but nothing compared with the "big deal" dream of my adolescence. Recurring residual tugs in my heart periodically whisper, "There's something else you should be doing, you trite web producer, you."

When I'm sorting through this over-eternalizing invasion of the mind, I focus on training my perspective back to street-level instead of constantly viewing the world from a spiritual perch somewhere in outerspace, like I'm trying to do now. That's why what Prodigal John said today over on Stuff Christians Like grabbed my attention:

The idea of "place" has been something I've been wrestling with a lot lately. I've got this overwhelming feeling that God wants me somewhere else. Whether that's a product of immaturity or selfishness, there's a part of me that loves to focus on there instead of here. ... It's always sexier to think your mission in life is going to involve some sort of adventure with a rope ladder over a ranging river full of piranha as you carry a vaccine and the hope of the gospel to a lost tribe of people that will eventually give you a wicked cool village nickname (mine would be Rik-Rok) and perhaps your own machete. It's a lot less fun to think that maybe you're already in a mission field and the annoying guy who you pass TPS reports to, the guy who sits near you in a sea of cubicles, the sniffler, yeah that guy, he needs to know about the love of God.

I get caught up in that attitude and when I do, I eventually start peppering God with geography questions. ... Where do you want me? This doesn't feel like where I'm supposed to be God, can you please give me a sign? Can you tell me where you want me to go? Is this job, is this relationship, is this church, is this city where you want me to be?

.. Do you know the first answer God always gives when we say, "God where do you want me to go?"

"In my presence. ... I've got other destinations planned for you, far off places and close to home addresses that you can't even imagine, but every destination, every adventure begins with the same starting location, in my presence."
- end -

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Good Dallas jernts to take the laptop + work

Since starting to work from "home" in July, I've discovered some good spots suitable for working, with free wifi that fulfills the "gotta get out of this kitchen chair or my butt is going to fall off" objective. Notice that Starbucks is nowhere on this list ($10 to fire up my laptop each time? I'm trying to make money here).

Beckley Brewhouse
1111 N. Beckley Ave (Beckley at Zang Blvd), N. Oak Cliff. Next door to Sprial Diner.

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One of the Cliff's best gems, and it's not even in the Bishop Arts District. Very neighborhood. The small converted crack house is now an adorable restaurant, coffee bar and regular (alkie) bar, all in a space the size of your living room. Best cheese fries, good burgers. A motley mix of normal folks. Heavy on post-shift nurses and doctors from nearby Methodist hospital. Great patio. Short story — I came in this evening for a coffee and to get some work done. No dice. Sitting in the cushy chairs across from me were two older black men who just got off work, Arthur and Bernie. Surrounded by piles of Miller Lite bottles. They immediately started talking to me like we all go way back. I'm always initially shy in situations like this, plus I was, um, trying to work. This did not deter them. I heard all about their world travels together throughout the decades, about growing up in separate but equal days of East Texas, about chasing women in the '60s, about the prostate cancer Arthur's been beating for the past 30 years. People coming in said hi and asked where they'd been lately. That kind of place.

The Pearl Cup Espresso Bar
North Henderson and McMillan
Off Central Expressway, exit Knox/Henderson and go east. Keep going til you reach McMillan; you'll see it on the left.

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This is a hot spot for coffee right now in an area that used to be considered the grittier cousin of chichi Knox Street but is slowly becoming just as Knoxy as the west side of Central. Thankfully, "hot spot" in this case doesn't mean "filled with that famous, loathesome, Uptown douchebag vibe." The owners, workers and clientele are a mixture of urban, soccer-dad, unpretentious and friendly. Can't beat that combo in these here parts. They're really friendly to the laptop crowd; there's like 15 electrical outlets per customer. Supposedly they've got a latte that'll freak you out, but I haven't had it yet (I'm a black coffee or Americano girl). Right now a small construction crew is doing something to the patio (expanding, hopefully), so it appears like there's no parking. Just go around back, where there's plenty.

It's a Grind Coffee House
2901 Indiana Blvd, Deep Ellum. It's located on the ground level of the Ambrose apartment buidling. Just park inside.

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It's a chain, but this one's in Deep Ellum. Now hold up, chain snobs; this ain't no Buck Star Inc. It's a Grind is part of the Demeter Project. That essentially means it treats its employees well — livable pay, benefits. As the Observer puts it in this story from July, it employs "asylum seekers, immigrants, victims of domestic violence, ex-convicts, reformed prostitutes, former drug users, pretty much anyone in dire need of a second chance." Totally worthy, even if the coffee isn't great, which it's not. Atmosphere is better: large paintings of jazz greats decorate the wall, like Ella Fitzgerald and others I can't remember the name of in spite of wanting to be cool for knowing them. Fireplace. Coffee refills are 50 cents, but that's ok. Smart placement: It's located directly on the about-to-blow-up DART Green Line.

There are other places, like Murray Street Coffee in Deep Ellum. But I haven't been there recently enough to comment on it. Any other suggestions?