Halloween-ish Birthdays

November 2, 2010

My birthday fell on a Monday this year.


Since Halloween is the day before, I rarely celebrate with costumes because, well…I focus on my birthday dammit.  And I’m not 11.

I realize now how ridiculous the aforementioned policy is because Twitter introduced me to a slew of new friends in the last year.  With these friends, I found myself celebrating Halloween with a splash of early birthday.

Our impromptu celebration started at Loft 610 and, for me, ended at Vertigo.  There are whispers of an after-party because there is always an after-party.

Paul S. is the most talented photographer in Chicago and his delicious pics provide a tiny glimpse into the secret world of impromptu tweetups.  If you’re fortunate enough to be included, you may find yourself immortalized one day.  If not, you will wish to be.

How many Chicago Twitterati can you name?  There may or may not be a prize in it for you.

I love my life.


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How To Get Over Yourself

November 1, 2010

"Grumpy Hulk Need Mindy Time!"

Someone has generously offered her home for the next Phonatics event.

Chanthana and I have been itching to make this delicious concoction from scratch to share with our beloved dining club members and I couldn’t be more excited.


Really good pho takes hours to make with very little work involved.

I have created artwork to present my concerns.

Step 1: Start the broth

Step 2: Simmer

Step 3: Chow time


Any questions?





Phonatics Reunion

September 27, 2010

Has there ever been a better nickname than SriraChanthana?  No, I don’t believe there has.

Nor has there ever been a better group of dining buddies than the Phonatics.

As the weather here in Chicago turns cooler, we who are obsessed with the soothing soup of my homeland recognize the need to feed.  Chanthana organized us for last Thursday’s intimate outing at Pho 777 and Paul Saini captured our enthusiasm with his mad skills.  Take a look at these happy faces and tell me when you’d like to join us.  You don’t have to smile for the camera, but you do have to smile.  And come hungry.

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If you have a blog or a website, you’re probably utilizing tools to monitor and analyze the traffic to better understand and grow your audience.  My friend Leyla wrote a great post about Using Analytics to Get the Most From Your Blog Posts this time last year and revived it today for an anniversary run.

As Leyla aptly outlines, these tools can help you to understand where your traffic originates, which ads are effectively driving traffic, and what content keeps them coming back.  The keywords section resonates with me this morning.

Keywords tell you which words or phrases were searched that led an eager, motivated surfer to your little corner of the web.  These are illuminating because they can tell you objectively how your content is perceived.

Or they can tell you that you’re fat.

I woke up to this rather shocking slap in the wordpress this morning.  This juicy nugget of analytics tells me little about my blog’s reach but it did deliver.

Initially, I obsessed (as I am wont to do) over the reality that someone recently encountered me at a happy social function, possibly engaging me with a smile, a hug, and promises to catch up one-on-one over lunch only to be thinking behind glassy eyes, “Dang, Felicia has gained some weight.”

What boggles my mind is that this person was motivated to actually SEARCH for information behind this weight gain.  What did this person expect to find?  A reason perhaps, or a discussion thread devoted to the topic. God forbid.

And then something wonderful happened.  I started laughing.  You would think being faced with the words that women fear more than death would give me a moment’s pause to blush or cry or vomit or something melodramatic.  Truth is, I was contemplative and then I was laughing.  And this reaction delights me.

I was too chicken to participate in Rachel‘s brilliant No-Makeup Week campaign for all the usual excuses.  It stands to reason that being called fat would appeal to the same ingrained self-image issues and cripple my confidence for at least a few minutes.  But it didn’t and here’s why.

I come from immigrants.

I grew up on public assistance.

I know people who are hungry right this moment.

I will never, ever complain about having too much food to eat.

I love and I am loved in return.  And I always try to be kind.  These things make me who I am.

So thank you, anonymous searcher, for the morning laugh and lesson.  This concludes my attention to the matter.  I have gained some weight and I think I look fantastic.  I will obsess no more.

And besides…you’re ugly.

Missing Time

September 23, 2010

I have been missing people lately.

Moving out of the city has cramped my style and it’s ticking me off.  Not that I went out much before, but Andersonville-to-downtown is more conducive to spontaneous tweetup attendance than ‘burb-to-town.  There’s just too much planning involved and it makes me tired and lazy and flabby.

Last night, I got a much needed catch-up session with old friends and met fabulous new ones.

Hey, there's Mitch!

Hey, there's Tony!

The wonderful Mr. Tweetup Sami hosted a Chicago Film Festival tweetup last night at the Wit.  Because I read the invitation wrong-like, I showed up at closing time and was laughed at by many.  But I didn’t mind because some of my favorite people were doing the laughing.  I must say, there are few things in life that top walking into a room filled with the likes of Mitch, Chico, Tom, Mary Kay, Matt, Leyla, Tony, Jon-David, and Sami.

It’s just spicy sausage gravy to then add Nicole, Mike, Chris, Brenda, Kerri and Nick to the mix.  To finally meet Jen and Tamara after enjoying their online personas forever just tipped the scales toward perfection.

If only I’d been on time.

I’m not sure how it happened.

One minute I was making breakfast and the next, I was in a pile on the floor, staring at tiles that I couldn’t see.  My mind was searching through seven thousand snapshots of my life (I forget my mental camera often) trying to place this buried, long forgotten … something.

What is it?  It’s on the tip of my…I can almost reach it…gone…there it is again.  Looks like, no it smells like…no, it definitely tastes like something.


Desiree, one of the friends that Twitter gave me, sent me a care package.  Desiree is in Singapore.  I’ve never received anything from Singapore.  I was giddy.  I still am, a little.  I tore it open like Christmas morning and removed a jar.  An unassuming jar containing this block of dark, sticky-looking, stringy goop.

And a love note, of course.

“The highlight of this pleasure chest of gourmet goodies is my mom’s olive condiment, personally stewed and spiced.  It goes with everything!” read the lovely, handwritten note.  She has excellent penmanship, no?

Pre-pile on the floor, I placed my homemade hashbrowns onto an eager plate and dropped a teaspoon of Desiree-goop on the side.  I innocently licked the spoon to make sure not a bit was wasted, and felt a shock in the bottom of my feet.  I swear.  I scooped up a little more (yes, I double dipped.  It’s my jar.) and let it rest on my tongue for a spell.

And that’s when I sat down.  I didn’t collapse or anything, although I was tempted to write otherwise.  I’m dramatic like that.  I sat down where I had stood, my back against the oven door, trying to place it.

“What is it?  It’s on the tip of my…I can almost reach it…gone…there it is again.  Looks like, no it smells like…no, it definitely tastes like something.”

The flavor is smoky, only a little briny, and so savory.  Much milder than it would appear.  I think of pickled radish, a favorite snack of my childhood.  The stringy appearance (think wet, shredded grape leaves) is absolutely deceptive.  The silky texture melts in my mouth as the flavors unfold like echoes in my mind.  But echoes of what?

It goes beyond the loss of my beloved mother, reminiscent flavors of my Vietnamese heritage,  or sentimental ramblings about the concept of home.  It’s more than that.  And less.

It is childhood.

That brief, distant time before you know anything.  Before you learn that people lie.  Before you’ve had a broken heart, or a wounded ego.  It’s bare feet and dirty fingernails.  When your world is someone’s lap, and you still get carried to bed.

I want some more.

So thank you, Desiree, for sending me childhood in an unassuming jar.

A Fine Day

July 6, 2010

I can’t say that I accomplished a great deal today. 

I didn’t discover any cures, or save any lives, or thwart crime.  I didn’t walk an old lady across a busy street or even scoot a harmless insect out to freedom.  It occurs to me that I really did nothing of significance.

But I go to sleep tonight satisfied because of some people I know.  Good people make us better people and tonight, good people were in one place, at one table, on all sides of me.  People like Chanthana, Genie, Paul S, Tom, Liz, Allie, Pone, other Paul who should join Twitter, Luke, Kristen, Sean, Mana, and Jen make everything and everyone better. 

A damned fine day.  

 (A better pic is coming, thanks to @PaulSaini’s magic camera)


March 21, 2010

We’ve all read about Gabe’s impending visit to meet the Phonatics – The GabeUp, if you will.  As it were.  (That one’s for you, @tex1sam)

Arrival time was 6:30 AM on this past Friday, March 19.  Our new friend Gabe had, in short, planned to work from his Chicago office in order to see our fair city for the first time and then join us for a bowl of delicious, fragrant, flavorful pho.

Based on an earlier agreement, I picked him up at the airport in exchange for a nominal fee:

I must say, Gabe is much more photogenic at this hour than I am:

Full disclosure: I made him delete the pic he took of me with pigtails, in pajamas.  My prerogative, as the airport picker-upper.

Also, after many jokes at Gabe’s expense on the whole murder issue, I was humbled when his mother called to make sure that WE hadn’t murdered HIM.  A thought that hadn’t entered my mind, since I’m not a murderer.  (Hi Gabe’s mom!)

It was my pleasure to expose Gabe to several of my favorite sights on the way from Midway to Downtown, by way of Lake Shore Drive, Lincoln Park Zoo, Newberry Library, Washington Park, Gold Coast, and Lower Wacker, Batman-style.  Perhaps a bit out of the way? Nah.

Gabe finished his day at work and joined fellow #phonatics founder Chanthana on Navy Pier at Charlie’s Ale House.  I then whisked him off to meet Sami for drinks at Elephant & Castle, where we met the soon-to-be world famous Laura from iFightDragons.  (Isn’t she hot!?!!).

And that was only Friday.

Until now, the Phonatics have frequented only two venues in Uptown.

Since so many Chicagoans were interested in gawking at this freak of nature who would fly in for a $7 bowl of soup, we needed more space. 

Pho Viet on Broadway provided not only the space but also a delicious variety of pho and spring rolls to satisfy every palate.

Every palate, that is, except the one who happens to be allergic to fish.  Yes, our guest of honor ate a shrimp spring roll without a second thought and was such a good sport that even breathing difficulties couldn’t wipe the smile from his kind face.  Luckily, the Mighty Padraic decided not to take chances and saved the day with a Benadryl run.  Everyone should know a Mighty Padraic.

We had a whopping 20 people join us and I want to thank everyone for coming out: Chanthana, Sami, Dan, Pad (not pictured but always with us), Erin, Adrienne, Jen S, Dorothy, Hooshna, Magda, Crister, Jen L, Mari and Derek, Leyla, Mike, Tom, Liz and of course Gabe.  What a good lookin’ crowd!

(Yep, I linked all of those from memory.)

I’m sad to report that I was too drained from the previous night’s shenanigans to continue painting the town after the GabeUp, but Sami has more details on the after party.

What I love about this story is that Gabe met us on Twitter and took a chance. Clearly, I’m not saying that everyone should jump at an invitation to cross state lines for a meeting with strangers.  That’s just dangerous tomfoolery.  But this story has a happy ending with friendships formed and strengthened; one big happy Phonatics family.

Costco Wars pt. 2

March 8, 2010

If you aren’t yet familiar with Costco Wars, take a moment to review the origin and rules of everyone’s soon-to-be favorite online interactive game.

Today I decided to brave the Sunday rush and stock up on much needed bulk proteins.  Secretly, I was just eager to see if the hashtag could become a reality; would anyone submit challenges in practice rather than just theory?  I was not disappointed.

My relatively close parking spot was a sign of good things to come.

As I snapped this shot, my sweetheart arched the wary eyebrow of a non-Tweeter and asked, “What are you doing?”

I avoided eye contact as I whispered, “Costco Wars.”  He did not seem amused.

Had I known it was Oscar Sunday, I probably would have chosen to wait for less of an “occasion day” but then I would have missed the Diva.  The Diva category was proposed by Mana to celebrate all those ultra-stylish ladies who are overdressed for Costco.  Specifically, her wording was “most over-the-top, ‘not for Costco shopping’ outfit.”

I firmly believe that this mink spilling over onto the tilapia wins, hands down.

Another standout met the requirement for co-inventor Kevin’s category of Lamest Sample:

I should have included the earnest sampler who eyed me with annoyance as I snapped a pic of her charge, but I didn’t think she would abide my obnoxiousness for a second longer.  Sorry lady – war is hell.

Crister stumped me early on with a challenge to find the least expected item.  A brilliant suggestion because anything and everything shows up in those aisles.  I eliminated food as a potential candidate early on simply because it didn’t seem exotic enough.  What did I think, that I would come across a pen full of children to buy? Perhaps an artificial limb?  I fully admit here and now that my find was neither inspired nor unexpected.  I bow my head in shame at the big ol’ biscotti jar.  Apparently, I confused “Least Expected” with the “Most Bourgeois, Pretentious, and Affected” category.  Burn.

I will now attempt to redeem myself with a replacement submission:

Bulk pomegranate seeds!

The “Lazy” category represents items left clearly out of place and while my favorite was Teri’s submission of cold fish ditched in a warm place, I found this obese jar of olives stashed with the case o’ mushrooms.  Mmmmmmushroom and olive tapenade.

That’s about all I could manage today before the sweetheart became thoroughly irritated with my guerrilla tactics and decided it was time to leave.  So I wasn’t disappointed with my first official battle day, but he certainly was.  What can I say?  Love me, love my #CostcoWars.

I encourage you to follow the hashtag to enjoy all the pics, categories, and conversation I didn’t get to here.  While we haven’t reached critical mass just yet, the war is brewing and I can envision a day when the challenges flow and submissions are a’plenty.  My goal is to be on site one day and to become aware of a fellow warrior (hey! another hashtag: #CostcoWarrior) as we race down an aisle to snap the best pic, or better yet a video, of a misbehaving tot, which was Renee’s suggested category.

Until next time, the battle continues.

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