pierAt the end of January, my little cousin’s Flat Stanley unexpectedly arrived at my door. Having just spent two weeks with my friend and her nephew’s Flat Stanley in Kenya, I was elated to have a turn with him and show him my life in Los Angeles.

Flat Stanley and I had such a great time when he came to visit. He was with me for a couple months, so we visited a lot of sites in Southern California.ferris wheel

 

I live in Santa Monica, so I had to take him to the famous Santa Monica Pier, which is known for its lighted Ferris wheel. Santa Monica is also known for its wonderful beaches, shopping and dining on Third Street Promenade and frequent movie star sightings.

city hall

 

 

 

 

He happened to be visiting me during a week I was summoned for jury duty. It’s against the law to take pictures inside the courtroom, so here is Flat Stanley outside Santa Monica City Hall. After two days of juror selection, I was dismissed. I was not selected to be a juror for the case.

broncos

 

Flat Stanley also happened to be visiting when our Denver Broncos played in the Super Bowl. We cheered them on during the game. Unfortunately our cheering didn’t do any good because the Broncos lost pretty bad against the Seattle Seahawks.

The last bit of fun we had was up in Big Bear, California, which is a two-hour drive from Santa Monica. Big Bear is a small mountain town with a couple ski resorts, similar to some of the mountain towns in Colorado. There we did some snowboarding in warm spring weather at Bear Mountain Resort. It’s not as nice as Colorado ski resorts and the snow wasn’t as good, but it was still fun. Here Stanley is on a ski lift with me; he wasn’t afraid of heights at all.

chair lift 2

 

Flat Stanley’s last day in Southern California was spent with me at work in West LA, which is about three miles from my apartment. I am the Editorial Manager to a team of six editors and designers at a market research firm. Stanley got to see our big, 11th-floor office that we moved into just this past November. While I worked, he hung out with me at my corner desk that has great views to the left and in front.

 

Thanks for visiting Flat Stanley! And thanks to Tim and Ms. Dunn’s class at Traylor Academy in Denver for letting him spend some time with me in Southern California. I hope you all learn a lot!

desk

 

photoI’m going to start this mac ‘n’ cheese review with a disclaimer that Slocums Grill & Bar’s Smoked Gouda Mac and Cheese is definitely not for anyone with even the slightest lactose intolerance. And for different reasons than Bar | Kitchen’s dish, this is not for the faint of heart. It is probably the cheesiest mac I’ve ever had, with both creamy and gooey cheeses. Do I dare go as far as to say it was too cheesy even for me? . . . Nah.

Needless to say, it was one of the better macaroni and cheese dishes I’ve had on my quest. The fact that it is touted as “the ultimate mac ‘n’ cheese” in the menu says it was meant for me and my quest. Even before reading the description, I was sold on “smoked gouda” in the name. Smoked gouda is not for everyone, but I definitely like it. Surprisingly its distinct flavor didn’t stand out in the dish as much as I was expecting, though, I could pick out both the gouda and parmesan flavors. It had a rich, tasty flavor in every bite.

I think the combination of the two cheeses really helped achieve superior creaminess and gooeyness. It’s difficult to achieve both to a high level; the emphasis is either on creaminess, like Panera’s mac ‘n’ cheese, or on gooeyness like The Misfit’s baked mac ‘n’ cheese. Chef Slocums is clearly not your average mac-and-cheese maker.

Also adding to the flavor were the diced green onions and the smokehouse bacon (the latter can be added for $2 extra). From a texture standpoint, I think the bacon could have been cooked a little longer and chopped up smaller. I came across numerous pieces that were pretty rubbery (maybe I just got all the super fatty pieces). The spinach didn’t add much to the dish minus a little texture and color. Maybe it’s included to help people get their portion of vegetables for the day or help them feel better about ordering something that is probably pretty bad unhealthy…? But honestly, when you order macaroni and cheese, you just have to accept that you’re not in it for the nutritional value – just own your decision and enjoy it. The spinach was pretty sparse throughout already, so if the chef decided to start leaving it out, I don’t think anyone would miss it.

The very large portion comes out piping hot. Although I think it’s meant to be a main pasta entrée, I think it’s best shared. My friend and I shared it along with the salmon entrée, and we were still able to get our fill of macaroni and share it with people at the table. I would not recommend tackling it yourself because not only would you probably be eating 3,000 calories, but the cheesiness might also be a bit much by the last bite – even for a cheese head like me.

The place: Slocums Grill & Bar, Mammoth Lakes
The dish: Smoked Gouda Mac and Cheese, $15
The ingredients: Large elbow noodles, cream sauce blend of smoked gouda and parmesan, spinach, green onions, garlic toasted breadcrumbs, smokehouse bacon
The verdict: A most delightful bowl of extremely cheesy goodness that’s likely bad for nondairy-ers and my derriere.

ImageI’m having a hard time coming to terms with all the friends I’ve been losing (or am scared of losing) over recent years – and I’m not talking about the handful of female friends who are no longer in my life following dramatic fallouts. My clear inability to judge strong character and habit of allowing those types of people into my life is a blog post for another time. What I’m talking about are the friends I lose to significant others, particularly my close guy friends when they get girlfriends. I barely have enough fingers on my hands to count the number of guy friends this has happened with.

I’m pretty nontraditional compared to most dating girls in that I generally think like I guy. (Full disclosure: I’m not in a relationship at the moment, so there may be a degree of natural bias.) I don’t need to check in with my boyfriend every hour, I don’t need to see him everyday and I need my alone and girl times just as much as he needs time for himself and his guys. Unfortunately for my girlfriends, I have a hard time relating or understanding when they come to me with qualms about their significant others not checking in enough or wanting a guys’ weekend.

That nature of mine is a blessing and a curse. Because I recognize that I’m not a traditional girlfriend, I know that the odds of my friends’ ladies being a traditional girlfriend with much more influence on his life are high. But it also leaves me frustrated that these good friends of mine disappear into their relationships. (Of course this a very simplistic way of putting it, and there is much more to it.) What is it about these guys that keeps them maintaining our friendship?

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The guy is as much to blame as the possessive girlfriend
As much as I would like to point my finger at the girlfriend’s insecurities and resulting possessiveness for why my guy friend has gone MIA, that’s not fair. I think it’s equally due to the guy’s character (who wears the pants in the relationship?). And maybe it’s really just guys in general. Guys aren’t as good about keeping in touch, catching up or making plans. So when a distraction in the form of a girlfriend comes along, those things that they weren’t very good at to begin with fall by the wayside.

Coupledom means more “we’re going to stay in tonight”
I’d be inclined to say it’s partly because as a couple’s relationship progresses they become less social and are more comfortable staying in because they have each other. But Match.com’s “Singles in America” study says otherwise. In fact, couples go out just about as much as singles do – 46 percent versus 52 percent, respectively, go out one to three nights a week. Here’s the fine print (or what I think it is, anyway): Those outings are probably with each other or with other couples; it’s not hanging out with their single friends who were such a huge part of their lives before they got reeled in. I was at a house party over the weekend, and I kid you not, I was one of three single people among eight couples! But I don’t want to go too far off a tangent; being surrounded by so many couples and engagements and weddings and new parents these days is also a post for another time.

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You say guys and girls can’t be friends?!
I’d be fooling myself if I said the disappearing acts had nothing to do with the fact that maybe there was an attraction, sexual tension or potential for moving out of the platonic realm at some point in the friendship. Maybe there’s some history that makes it hard to continue a friendship once the guy finds his true partner. Or if it’s not a complicated history, then maybe the guy was investing so much time into the friendship before because he thought there may be a chance for more, whether it was in the form of future dates or a romping session. Some people say guys don’t want to be simply friends, and that they’re only dedicating time to a woman because they want to be with her or bang her. One of the guy friends I lost to a girlfriend likened this to “putting money in the bank” knowing there would eventually be an opportunity to “cash out.” And others say that guys and girls can’t be friends. But I disagree with both of those claims – and so does Psychology Today.

The belief that men and women can’t be friends comes from another era in which women were at home and men were in the workplace, and the only way they could get together was for romance,” explained Linda Sapadin, a psychologist in Valley Stream, New York. “Now they work together and share sports interests and socialize together.” This cultural shift has encouraged psychologists, sociologists and communications experts to put forth a new message: Though it may be tricky, men and women can successfully become close friends.

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See! We can be friends despite the fact you had a secret crush on me or we made out in a drunken stupor or you wanted to date me and I didn’t feel the same way. The fact that we became so close to begin with says something, so even though we didn’t end up together doesn’t mean we can’t remain part of each others lives while you’re in a relationship.

A guy might actually be committed?!
I get that a couple wants to spend time together (duh!) and so my friend’s free time will become increasingly limited. Someone on an online forum did a good job of putting that into perspective: “If your goal is to find someone and hope to have it eventually turn into a long-term relationship, it’s normal to invest a lot of time into that person. That shows you’re serious about looking for a commitment.” I have a hard time believing that my guy friends’ disappearances are solely due to their commitment to their women, though. I don’t need Rutgers University’s “National Marriage Project” stats to tell me that most guys don’t like commitment. But I get that they truly want to spend more time with these amazing women who have come into their lives. I just don’t understand why friendships with people, even people who have been around much longer than the new significant other, have to take a backseat to such a substantial degree.

ImageThe guy (girl?) on the forum summed it up well: “It’s a tough adjustment all around. Hopefully those in relationships remember the value of good friends and make time when they can. And hopefully their friends are true friends who respect that they’re looking for a relationship and don’t guilt them for taking time away.”

I can respect when a good guy friend of mine finds someone he clicks with so well that he wants to spend the rest of his life with her. I can respect that the relationship takes a lot of time and effort, and so I will be more conscious about giving them space to do that. In return, I just ask that my guy friends not forget about the other important females in their lives even though they now have a No. 1.

                                                                    Hi, remember me? I miss you friend.

Thanks Adi Zarsadias for a great piece that totally resonates with me.
I took your words and came up with some of my own.
………………………………………………………

She’s the one with the messy unkempt hair colored by the sun. Her skin is now far from fair like it once was. Not even sun kissed. It has tan lines, freckles, scars and battle wounds. But for every flaw on her skin, she has an interesting story to tell.

Don’t date a girl who travels. She is hard to please. The usual dinner-movie date at the mall will suck the life out of her. Her soul craves for new experiences and adventures. She will be unimpressed with your flashy, new material things. She would rather climb a rock or jump out of an airplane than to spend money on “things” that will be outdated in five months. She would rather reminisce about past adventures and dream about those to come, than hear you brag about your penthouse on Wall Street.

Don’t date a girl who travels because she will bug you to check the latest music festival lineup. She will ask you to see another Dave Matthews Band show, because 25 isn’t enough. She doesn’t care about partying at Rehab or getting into the latest clubs because she knows that one weekend of clubbing is equivalent to one week somewhere far more exciting.

Don’t date a girl who travels because she will be gone with the next airline seat sale. She lives paycheck to paycheck to fund her jet-setting ways. And she only works so she has the funds. She doesn’t want to keep working her ass off for someone else’s dream. She has her own and is working toward it. She is a freelancer. She makes money from designing, writing, photography or something that requires creativity and imagination. But she doesn’t work like a robot all day, she goes out and takes what life has to offer and challenges you to do the same.

Don’t date a girl who travels for she has chosen a life of uncertainty. She doesn’t have a long-term plan or a permanent address. She goes with the flow and follows her heart. She dances to the beat of her own drum. She rarely wears a watch. And when she does, she never checks the time. Her days are ruled by the sun and the moon. When the world calls, life stops and she will be oblivious to everything else for a moment.

Don’t date a girl who travels because she will never need you – or at least will say she doesn’t need help. She knows how to change a flat tire, pitch a tent and can carry all her own gear. She eats well and doesn’t need you to pay for her meals. She is too independent. Although she hopes you will travel with her, your absence won’t keep her from booking that flight. She will forget to check in with you when she arrives at her destination. She’s busy living in the present. She talks to strangers. She will meet many interesting, like-minded people from around the world who share her passion and dreams.

So never date a girl who travels unless you can keep up with her. And if you unintentionally fall in love with one, don’t you dare hold her back. Let her go.

 

Please note: Portions of this post were written by Adi Zarsadias.

My trip to Africa has been incredible, but those stories will have to wait for other posts. Instead, I want to share the Swahili I’ve been learning. I’ve been trying to speak it as much as possible to the people we encounter every day – from our taxi drivers and safari guide to coastal fisherman and Maasai warriors – but just be warned, najua Swahili kidogo kidogo (I know very little Swahili).

Jambo: hello
Habari: how are you?
Mzuri sana: I’m very good
Asanti/shukran: thank you
Asanti sana: thank you very much
Karibu: welcome/you’re welcome
Kwaheri: bye
Hakuna matata/hakuna shida: no worries/no problem
Kabisa: totally
Pole: sorry
Tafadali: please
Sawa: ok
Eco sawa: it’s ok
Tuco sawa: we’re ok
Nakupenda: I love you
Safari: adventure
Mzungu: white person
Rafiki: friend
Dada: brother
Dada mdogo: sister
Maji: water
Simba: lion
Nze: fly
Kifaru: rhino
Twiga: giraffe
Tembo: elephant
Punda: donkey
Punda malia: zebra
Zamaki: fish
Papa: shark
Mamba: crocodile/alligator
Teksi: taxi
Gari: car
Betri: battery
Taka taka: trash/garbage
Kidogo: little
Kubwa: big
Baridi: cold
Mingi: many
Pole, pole: slowly/slow
Nweze: can I have…
Kwa nini: why?
Twende: let’s go
Kupanda: climb
Hapa: here
Hapo: there

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This mac and cheese is not for the faint of heart. I dipped my spoon in for the first bite, but stopped short when I realized I hadn’t taken a picture yet (nerd alert!). I quickly licked the spoon off before I set it aside and immediately found my mouth burning from the roasted jalapeños, which were minced in the cheese sauce. From that point, I knew I was in for a hot one – and not because I happened to be sitting at the table by the fireplace. I made sure to have plenty of water on hand; red wine wasn’t going to do the trick.

The cheesy goodness came out piping hot – in temperature, in addition to spiciest – in an iron skillet. A “bacon herb crust” that consisted of bread crumbs, herbs (obvi) and crunchy bacon covered the top. More so than a little extra flavor, the topping added a great texture to the baked dish.

The cheese sauce was an aged white cheddar, so it had a delicious, rich flavor. Although cheddar often doesn’t get quite as gooey or creamy as I would like, this sauce’s consistency was pretty good. It had great coverage, coating all the elbow noodles. As I mentioned, the small jalapeño bits were blended in, so every bite was assured to be spicy. Even if I managed to get a bite that didn’t have pieces in it, the kick lived in the sauce. My guess is that the roasted jalapeños were blended and simmered with the cheese (I’m sure there’s a culinary term for that). Regardless of the proper term, they were exactly how roasted or cooked peppers should be: tender and permeating with flavor – far from the jalapeños in the last mac ‘n’ cheese I had, at Ore House in Vail.

Because I also ordered a burger (which came with tater tots), there was no way I was finishing the entire skillet. I ate half the pasta, half my burger and all the tots. Had I only gotten the macaroni and cheese, the portion would definitely have been sufficient for a meal. It’s also a good size if a group wanted to order it with a couple other small plates as appetizers or sides to their main dishes. It is listed under the “small plates” portion of the menu after all.

The place: Bar | Kitchen, Downtown LA
The dish: Mac & Cheese, $9
The ingredients: Large elbow noodles, white cheddar, cream sauce, minced jalapeños, bread crumbs, crumbled bacon, herbs
The verdict: Thumbs up for sure, but make sure you have plenty or water.

Being more than 8,000 miles away makes it hard to lend a hand or be of help to the more than 4 million people affected by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Because it takes money to fund and coordinate relief efforts, that’s where we Americans be of most help. Fortunately, there is a wide variety of organizations to choose from:

  • UNICEF staff in the Philippines is being repositioned to provide emergency aid and the organization is gearing up to deliver supplies to children and their families. Donations can be made online or by texting RELIEF to 864233 to donate $10.
  • CARE teams are on the ground in the Philippines and the organization plans to provide emergency relief to thousands of families. Donations can be made online or by calling 1-800-521-CARE within the United States or 1-404-681-2552.
  • World Vision is mobilizing nearly 500 staff around the country to respond to the disaster. Donations are accepted online and the organization also lets you sponsor a child in the Philippines.
  • The American Red Cross has volunteers spread throughout the region and accepts donations online. You can also mail a check to your local American Red Cross chapter designating Philippines Typhoons and Flood in the memo line.
  • The United Nations World Food Programme is urging Americans to make donations to support its emergency food relief after Typhoon Haiyan. You can donate online or by texting the word AID to 27722 to donate $10.
  • Save the Children is mounting disaster relief efforts to help children and families in the area. Donations can be made online or by texting DONATE to 20222.
  • AmeriCares is deploying medical aid and a relief team to Philippines, and says an emergency shipment with enough medical aid for 20,000 survivors is already on its way.
  • The Philippine Red Cross has deployed staff and volunteers across the region. You can easily make a donation through organization’s website.
  • Doctors Without Borders has had emergency teams in Cebu since Nov. 9.
  • To donate to the Salvation Army‘s Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts, visit its website or text TYPHOON to 80888 to donate $10 and reply YES to confirm your donation. The organization uses 100% of all disaster donations in support of disaster relief.
  • The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has sent an emergency response team to assist with safe water, hygiene and sanitation needs, with additional aid to follow. Donations can be made online or by calling +1 855 9RESCUE.
  • The International Medical Corps is on the ground coordinating with their partners in the Philippines to distribute and provide medical aid. Donations can be made onlineor by calling1-800-481-4462.
  • Mercy Corps responders are working with local partners to provide food, water and shelter. Donations can be made online.
  • Handicap International supports people with disabilities and vulnerable populations in situations of poverty, conflict and disaster. The group has been working in the Philippines since 1985 and is preparing emergency aid for the hard-hit city of Tacloban. Donations can be made online.
  • The United Methodist Committee on Relief is providing funds for the purchase of emergency food, water and and water purification tablets in Tacloban. Donations can be made online or by calling 1-888-252-6174
  • Catholic Relief Services says its assessment teams have reached the hard-hit island of Leyte by boat. The organization will prioritize emergency shelter, water and sanitation, household relief items potable water and toilets. Donations can be made online or by calling 1-877-435-7277.
  • Looking for someone in the Philippines area that is in your family or a friend? Google has launched a person finder for the storm, also known as Yolanda in the Philippines, where you can try to find someone’s whereabouts or enter your own information.
  • Want to donate to a group not listed? CharityNavigator.org rates organizations based on their financial health, accountability and transparency.

List compiled by USA Today.