Saturday, December 27, 2008


Here we are, smack in the middle of the holiday season--Christmas behind us, New Year's ahead. Now that we've enjoyed our feasts and family togetherness (the lucky among us, anyway), we traditionally turn our attention to ourselves. Yes, it's time to rev up for the New Year's Resolutions.

I've never been one for these things, though. I am such a perfectionist that I constantly have self-improvement goals buzzing around in my head. Lose weight, of course, and exercise. Keep up with housework. Get on those house maintenance projects. Volunteer more. Cook more, eat out less. I figure, if I want to improve myself, why wait 'til New Year's?

But as it is, we will start seeing articles and stories, studies and editorials about the traditions and origins of resolutions, suggestions for you and for celebrities, serious and satirical. It is fascinating to watch these ideas spread through our common culture. Kind of like the Roomba-riding cat--first you see it on one internet site, then another. Then maybe a reference on the radio, or a headline on a magazine. Then it hits the tv news, and everybody's talking about it.

So now I am thinking of a brief letter to the editor that appeared in the Christmas copy of the Charlotte Observer. It was one that made me say "Yes! Thank you for putting that into print!" I wish it would also spread through the media:

"This time of year the Observer trots out its several urgings and admonitions to get into 'the spirit of the season' and 'do something kind for others.' Just as predictably, after the holidays most readers will return to their settled habits of self-absobed hedonism.

Meanwhile, the houses of worship in our community are active 52 weeks a year in...the lives of the needy... To truly make a difference in the lives of others,get involved in your local church or synagogue." Bob Jack, pastor of Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church.

(I would add "or any charity working for the common good.")

It has long bothered me to observe this overwhelming public desire to provide gifts to put under the tree, or elaborate holiday feasts, for people who may not have a tree to start with, or a table to put that 20-lb turkey onto. Then we, as a culture, go on our merry way, trying to avoid eating too much, while never stopping to wonder what happens to those families after all the leftover turkey is gone. Hey, we did our good deed for the year, now let them provide for themselves.

Somehow, that poor single mother of three who is deserving of our sympathy and assistance for the last month of the year, transforms into a single welfare mother living off the dole. The family whose father lost his job may have gotten Barbie dolls and new clothes for Christmas, but when it comes to putting food on the table in February, he should stop sucking up unemployment and get to work.

We can be such a hypocritical society. I think the political arguments over the past year or two have also brought out the worst in us. We "hate" welfare recipients, CEOs, immigrants, the wealthy, unions, and of course, liberals and conservatives. Somehow, at Christmas, we get past all the arguments about who's celebrating what, or not, and create an outpouring of compassion.

My question to you is: are we doing this the other 11 months of the year? Maybe you are, personally. So are you encouraging others? Instead of New Year's resolutions, perhaps we should make monthly goals for the new year. In January, spend two weekends visiting nursing homes. In February, volunteer in a soup kitchen. In March, raise and/or donate money to an international cause. And each month, advertise what you're doing, to raise awareness among your family, friends, coworkers, etc.

Or you could focus on one charity, but still make monthly goals--so many hours a month, or bring in one person a month to spend a few hours volunteering with you.

Sounds pretty ambitious, and today, another gray, drizzly day, I don't have a whole lot of ambition in me. But maybe I'll play around with this idea and see if I don't come up with something that inspires me. I don't have any extra money in my budget, but I do have time. We should all give what we can. For me, this does happen to spring from my Christian upbringing, but everybody should have some sense of reaching out to make our community more whole, just by dint of living in and with human society.

After all, didn't we all learn something about sharing in kindergarten?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Holiday Hangover

No alcohol involved, but today was a dreary, energy-less day. Not a whole lot going on in the noggin. But I did take a photo of last night's dinner, and wanted to show off. I find Miss Chef's plates so beautiful, even if it is old hat for her. They of course don't come over quite as well as in real life, and I'm of course not a professional photographer, but...YUM!

Dammit, Blogger, why d'ya gotta go flippin' my flippin' pictures around???

Well, anyway, what we have here (from left to...oh, right, I guess from TOP TO BOTTOM, stoopid, grumble, dumb...) is: roasted potatoes (made by yours truly, thankyouvurymush), topped with sautéed apples and duck confit, pan-roasted duck breast in blueberry/pomegranate sauce, and sautéed spinach. Miss Chef loves to make me eat my veggies. Oh yeah, there were some haricots verts in there, too.

It was even better right-side up.

Stoopid Blogger. Hmph.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

It's noon on Christmas day when I'm posting this. And I'm not in the mood to wax philosophical, or to self-edit, so I'm gonna post the equivalent of 5,000 words in picture form. Hope all my two or three faithful readers are having cozy, fun days off.

Here I am! It's Rosie and I (Miss Chef is camera shy, and was doing photography duty).

Coziness abounds...

O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree...

Here is the beginnings of our Christmas dinner--roasted duck bones ready to turn into stock for a duck confit. Whatever did I do to deserve all this? Well, I guess all those weekends alone, plus the extra laundry, has earned me something. Maybe, if I'm not too drowsy, I'll post a picture of the final product later.


Correction: Miss Chef has informed me "The stock has nothing to do with the confit." Ah well, I'll eat it all up anyway. And this simply reminds me of the importance of always having something new to learn from your loved ones! (For the curious, the stock is for the pomegranate/blueberry reduction to sauce the roasted duck breast; the confit uses just the fat and the legs. Silly me.)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happiness Is...

I found this image while looking for a "happy" pic for an earlier post, and doesn't it just bring back some memories! Actually, I don't remember any of the other images, but I do remember coming up with my own, less philosophical versions over the years. I think I shall share them, and see what I can add (apologies to Charles Schulz if I accidentally step on his toes) :

Happiness is a drawer full of clean underwear.

Happiness is an empty bladder. (ahhhhhh....)

Happiness is a warm shower on a cold day.

Happiness is not having to scrape your windshield on a cold morning.

Happiness is a quiet early morning that belongs only to you.

Happiness is when somebody else did the dishes/mopped the floor/mowed the lawn...before you got to it.

Happiness is finding out it's just a dead light bulb.

Happiness is coming home to the smell of dinner.

Happiness is a warm dessert.

Happiness is when that semi does not pull out in front of you.

Happiness is when someone brings donuts the morning you didn't have time for breakfast.

Happiness is a sale price on the item you have a coupon for.

Happiness is unexpected chocolate.

Happiness is seeing the speeder who tailgated you earlier, on the side of the road in front of a police car.

Happiness is thinking of the perfect comeback before it's too late.

Happiness is getting your hair to do the same thing the hairdresser did.

Happiness is finding plenty of leftover time on the parking meter.

Happiness is losing weight accidentally.

Happiness is realizing there's no school traffic the day you're running late.

Happiness is figuring out how to fix it--in front of an audience.

Happiness is when the dog stops dead and comes running back at your desperate whistle.

Happiness is having all the ingredients already for a new recipe.

Happiness is pulling that person's name up out of your memory just in time.

Happiness is finding comments on your blog!

And on that any others to share?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Road Rage

I was just over at Horrible License Plates--a blog dedicated to exposing ridiculous vanity plates--and was sucked into a Hummer hatefest. So far, not a single defender of the giant road beasts. Honestly, I've only known one person who owned a Hummer, and he was so weird everyone in our office was kind of scratching our heads over that one. It really was a case of making up for something--or everything--because then he went and bought his wife one! Mind you, these folks were nearing retirement age, and though they were doing fairly well, they were both just cubicle rats.* I don't get it.

But the Hummer is not alone--it's just the most extreme manifestation of the ego-via-vehicle phenomenon. I don't imagine our country is unique in this sickness, but I suspect we have taken it higher and wider than anywhere else. It used to be Old Money went for the German imports; New Money for the flashy sports cars, probably Italian, maybe American. But then we got this new version of middle class--all of the income, none of the discretion. Whatever was bigger, stronger, flashier or just more expensive; we NEEDED it.

Oh, it started out so subtly, so innocently. Somehow it became impossible to drive two kids to a soccer game in a sedan. No, we NEEDED a minivan. After all, we have to haul all that gear. Really? Shin guards, cleats and maybe a soccer ball? Well, no, there's more--now that we have all that room, how about we bring a cooler full of iced-down goodies for the kids?

So now, instead of a simple game requiring two goals and a single ball, we've got vanloads of chairs, coolers, umbrellas, extra uniforms and shoes...and we NEED all of it. Can't possibly get along without it. Hey, parents, we all have to pitch in an extra $25 Snack Fee!

Then along comes the SUV, and suddenly the minivan isn't good enough. Oh, it's alright for getting the kids to school (bus? Why let my poor little Susie ride the bus that goes by our house every morning? She might have to breathe fresh air for entire minutes; and she just might start talking to those other kids whose parents don't have SUVs). However, now that we have all that new equipment for those soccer games, it's really so much more convenient to have the bigger vehicle. Plus, y'know, Dad wouldn't be caught dead in a minivan. He NEEDS an SUV.

True story: my brother, once married, declared he would never have a minivan in his name. When their second child made it more or less a necessity, he made his wife put it in her name. Today he drives a "crossover," which he doesn't seem to realize is the minivan of tomorrow. I snicker gently behind his back, smug in my childless superiority. It still has crushed Cheerios in the console, regardless of the horsepower.

Anyway, our culture's sick cycle of needing more space for more Stuff we don't need simply amazes me. I occasionally wonder if I'm the crazy one, living in a house under 1500 square feet, without even a minivan in the driveway, no pool, no boat, no flatscreen tv, no Wii, no hot tub, not even Tivo, for crying out loud! How can anyone LIVE this way??

Um, well, just fine, as it turns out. I have other things--books, a garden, a dog, a blog, quiet time for contemplation, and a positive net worth. I stepped off the rat racetrack a several years back, and while I do still envy some of those material goods, I know that it's an addiction. Like any recovering addict, I need to stay "clean," and remind myself that as long as I have my home, my health, my love and my mind, there's really nothing else I need.

Want? That's a whole different story. In fact that's the key: want does not equal need. A lesson I dearly wish our whole society would learn. Why the heck are we sucking up resources, not only from nature, but from other humans who could use a roof over their heads more than we could use another toy? Because we earned it? How? By being born in an overprivileged nation that protects its own? By sitting on our duffs in front of a computer or on the phone, or perhaps even driving around to meetings?

I keep hoping this current "economic downturn" will shake us out of our collective state of denial. However, all I've sensed thus far is lip service to the concept of "simplifying" one's lifestyle. I remember hearing that about 10 or 15 years ago, just before the SUV boom. So excuse me for being doubtful. I guess I'm just going to have to wait for everyone who's overextended to end up either selling off their oversized toys, or living in them. Maybe then they'll "get back to nature." Or at least get real.

And, in conclusion: Bah, humbug! But don't worry; I've got a real happy-happy post lined up for tomorrow!
*I can say that...I am a cubicle rat.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


I was just reading over some of my old posts, something I like to do to see if they sound any different to me than when I wrote them. I was also trying to imagine what kind of image a stranger might get of me and my life from the little bits I choose to describe. (This partly thanks to Alix, who has so graciously linked to my blog from hers--*blush*).
Somehow, what emerged from my self-perusal is a realization of how much I have to be thankful for. Not the obvious things, but the things that I've started to take for granted, and might make someone from the outside say, "Gee, it must be nice...".

For example, I mentioned in an earlier post the possibility of refinancing my mortgage. It sure is nice to have a mortgage! I'm in my first house, finishing up our second year, and it's truly been dreamy. Oh, well, yeah, keeping the lawn mowed is a 9-month-out-of-the-year headache, and every single door seems to need repair, shared walls, no fighting for a parking space, no trips to the communal mailbox, no wondering if we should call the police about the argument next door... I recently helped a friend move out of an apartment, and it was a wonderful, glorious feeling to know that I've left that all behind--fingers crossed--forever.

It sure is nice to be able to pay the mortgage, on time, every month.

It sure is nice to have such a nice, quiet, friendly, safe and well-maintained neighborhood. Ours is a classic "modest neighborhood" of pretty small houses on 1/4 acre lots. But there is not a single overgrown yard or junk car, and I haven't heard of any break-ins. Yes, we have an HOA, but they don't really do very much--believe me, if they were patrolling grass length or weed control, we would know!

It sure is nice to have the time, the equipment, space and know-how to bake Christmas cookies. How many people are so busy working two jobs they don't have an hour to themselves? Or are so tired at the end of a 14-hour day they can do nothing more strenuous than crack open a beer? How many young people are raised without ever learning how to cook a single thing for themselves? It's truly a sad, sad society we live in when it's so easy to get by without even knowing how to do the most basic thing of all: feed yourself. This is not a judgment on these people; it's recognition of how hard it is to be poor, uneducated and/or excluded from mainstream society.

It sure is nice to have a partner. I spent 5 years living entirely alone in various apartments, and let me tell sucked. Miss Chef doesn't realize it, but every day I come home and prowl around the house, trying to find clues to what she did before she left for work. Cup and book on the coffee table--she read all morning. Papers on the desk--she paid bills. Dog is sleepy--she did something in the backyard; let's go check it out! It's just nice to have that little bit of animation in the house; the movements of another life. Even though we only get a couple evenings a week together, living with at least one other person is the way we were meant to be.

It sure is nice to have a dog. And such a great dog! Rosie is so obedient (most of the time), eager and attentive. She's the perfect size to fit our wee little ranch house, but still big enough to give bear hugs to. She's not nervous or aggressive in any way. When I had her tested for Therapy Dogs International, she had to do a down and stay while I walked away and back to her. As I approached her, she rolled over on her back, and I think that's when she passed! The tester was really happy to see her so relaxed and submissive.

It sure is nice to have internet access. We went for a brief while without the internet while living in Mobile, and it was surprising how hamstrung I felt. It still irritates me to this day when I hear news broadcasters say "For more information, log onto our website." Are they not serving the poor? No, I guess not. Even the companies trying to get your business as your internet provider would only advertise a website, not a phone number! Um....duh?? Today, I see lots of CSAs about the need for digital converter boxes for folks who still use rabbit ears. Again, "...visit www...." C'mon, what are the chances that someone without access to cable or satellite is gonna have an internet connection? (Ok, we do, but we're crazy suburban hippies.)

I sure could go sure is nice to be able to read, to have a job, to have all my own teeth, to have an education and be aware of the world around me, to have two living and still-married parents, to have a sister-in-law I love...but right now I'm thinking, it sure would be nice to get into bed and read my book for a while.

Yup. Sure is nice around here today.

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...

Oh ho, ho; the Christmas spirit is strong in this one! I found out last week that I'll be getting out early from work Christmas eve, which means Miss Chef and I will get one full and two half days together--48 hours' worth over 3 days. That also means that I will be getting 4 1/2 days off in a row by using only 1 vacation day. Time off with a loved one: what better gift can there be?

As a result, I'm already starting to relax--the gifts and cards have been mailed out, presents wrapped, and there isn't even any snow to shovel. So what's a happy Christmas girl to do? Why, bake cookies, of course!

Hey, Miss Chef isn't the only one who knows her way around the kitchen! Making and decorating cookies was always one of my favorite holiday activities as a child--even as a teenager, I still deigned to join my mother in the kitchen for this one event without complaining too much. More recently, I've made my sister-in-law very happy by taking over cookie-making duties with her eldest. (Miss Chef and I are working on making him a kitchen god!)

Since there are only two of us in the household, I decided to make this batch for our neighbors--something I wanted to do last year, but never got around to. Unfortunately, Miss Chef didn't have the werewithal, nor the time, to join me this year, but I was in a good enough mood to enjoy the project alone.

For me, the most fun is decorating. I'm not one to get out the royal icing; I'm still more than satisfied to go for the undisputable homemade look:

Hey, just give me some colored sugar and sprinkles, and I'll see what I can do! My favorite is the stripey Christmas tree garland, but I'm having fun "dressing" the angels.

Lest you think I was sad and lonely without Miss Chef, don't forget I had the undivided attention of little Rosie. Here she is patiently waiting with me while the first batch bakes:

She absolutely hates to get her picture taken. I suspect as a puppy she must have had too many flashes go off in her face. So most of her pictures have that guarded look about them. Anyway, this is her favorite kitchen observation corner, but usually only after we've told her to "get BACK!" She takes her KP duties very seriously.

Twelve minutes later, here's the final product (not sure why it's rotated this way, but you get the idea...they're cooked.):

Ah, but the story's not quite over yet! I had some scraps left to re-roll and bake, and while they were chilling in the fridge, I thought I'd go ahead and run some errands before it got dark. I packed up all the decorations in a box on the table, leaving things neat, but ready for action upon my return.

However, it seems that little Rose decided it was time for her to be a Christmas elf, and help me out with the baking. When I returned from KMart, the box of decorations was sideways on the table, and some of the sprinkles had mysteriously migrated to the opposite corner of the living room--along with the last remnants of the bag of flour.

Look at those paws! Look at that guilty expression! If you look closely, you can just see the bits of flour glued to her whiskers. At any rate, I guess her plans didn't work out--she didn't get any cookies made.

I'm glad that I've loosened up enough in my adulthood to be able to laugh when these things happen. But I've still got a red spot in my carpet to clean up; and haven't finished that last batch. The neighbors have gotten theirs, though, and that's what counts.

I didn't put Rosie's name on the gift labels, in spite of her efforts. Some things are better left alone.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Wish List

Hmmm...things are slow at work today, so I thought I might play around a little. As with the elections, Christmas seems to seep into every thought, so let's go with it. How about a Christmas wish list?

Let's start with me, since, well, this is my party. What would I truly wish for? First, enough money to pay off my debt. Not even the mortgage; nope, I'd be satisfied with a little refinance action there. And thanks to the Fed, I just might get that wish.

What of material goods, you say? Hmmm... Well, two round-trip tickets to Paris, with reservations in a 3- or 4-star hotel in one of the first 5 or 6 arrondissements, and, what the heck, two metro passes. And connecting flights to Rome or Florence.

As long as we're at it, gimme some extra vacation days, to visit family and friends. Uh huh, yeah, there's New Jersey and Mobile, Chicago and Cleveland, maybe even San Francisco. Y'know, airline travel is a big pain in the derrière, so how about some private jet action? There should be a couple of extra corporate jets hanging around in Detroit. (You know they just mothballed those suckers until the storm dies down and they get their money.)

Around the house, just a couple weeks' worth of free handyman labor and supplies. Fix some doors, clean the siding, create some raised garden beds, and weed, weed, weed. Okay, maybe more than a couple of weeks. How about a year's subscription to handyman services? Yeah, now we're thinking.

For fun, I sure could use a bike. And while you're at it, some actual bike trails that connect to something without having to depend on the skills & alertness of phone-talking, coffee-drinking, kid-wrestling drivers of large vehicles, as well as avoiding inhalation of their exhaust fumes.

Oh, and speaking of exhaust fumes, let's get a couple of Priuses. And a garage to park them in. Sure, we might need to knock down the neighbor's house to fit it, but they were thinking of moving soon, anyway. Heck, they can live free in the guest quarters in exchange for that handyman service, if they want.

Ok, enough about me, what about some other people?

For Miss Chef, forgiveness of student loans, an addition to the house to expand the kitchen & create a library, and a Wii.

For my parents, a second home in northern NJ or upstate NY, plus use of that private jet. And a private physician and nurse on call. And maybe a cat.

For my brother and his family, job security and some extra time and attention for Ethan. Just for a little bit, though; let's not go crazy.

For my (other) neighbors, dog training sessions and/or a bark-control collar.

For my northern friends, a winter's worth of snow-shoveling service and an extra guest room in my house for when it all gets too gray up there. For my southern friends, a snow day.

Phew, that was fun! But I guess my first wish should be that there really is a Santa Claus, who can grant all these wishes.

Santa Claus, thy name is Lottery!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree

It is now the time of year during which most of my daily strolls with Rosie happen after dark. I am most definitely not a morning person, but even if I were, it would still be dark. Winter'll do that to you.

So, during the past couple of weeks, I've enjoyed seeing the different holiday decorations go up around the neighborhood. Thankfully there are fewer and fewer of those giant inflatable snowmen and huge snow-filled globes being kept erect by the efforts of industrial fans roaring into the "silent" night. I did see one such behemoth for which the engine had been tucked into the owner's garage. I applaud such thoughtfulness. The muffled noise didn't even make the dog's ears perk up.

I am a bit jealous of those people who have well-placed front windows to display their Christmas trees. We ourselves have quite a lovely, tall tree this year, but our only logical space is in the back of the house. I do hope the neighbors behind us can enjoy it, but since their shed is in the way, and they only use their backyard about 4 times a year, probably not.

Is it just me, or are there more, um, "active" light displays these days? I remember as a child, I always thought blinking lights were cool. They added animation, and I suppose a sort of hearkening back to a day I never knew, when real candles flickered on trees. Plus, growing up, it seemed we never had enough working ones to use on the tree. Not having something that "everyone else" does always adds allure for deprived young folks.

Tonight, though, I stopped to look at a big, full (probably artificial) tree prominently displayed in a large front window. It had multicolored and white lights, both of which had their own blinking programs. But this went beyond evoking quiet candlelight. These lights practically zoomed around the tree, changing up the pattern every few seconds, so as to prevent boredom, I guess. But, I thought, that's not what I want from a Christmas tree. I want peace, and quiet reflection. Not a Disneyesque laser light show.

I wonder if there are children in that household, and if so, whether they ever spend time lying on the floor, just looking at the tree. Lying still. Just looking. Maybe even...pondering. Wondering where Santa is right at that moment; what he's doing. Or, older, thinking about how good it feels to know there's a pile of presents with your name on them. How cozy it is to have the family all home, warm inside the house regardless of the weather outside. How great it is to have absolutely nothing else to do but lie on the floor, smelling pine and thinking of happy things. And to not have school tomorrow!

I just don't think I could do all that pondering, with a disco ball of a tree overhead. But perhaps, for a generation weaned on MTV and Playstation, it's hardly noticeable.

No, not the lights; I mean the tree! The tree is probably hardly noticeable. I mean, how can you win your Pokemon if you lift your eyes from the screen of your PSP? *pshhh* Like, whatev.

Well, whatever is right. I will continue to enjoy lying on the floor with the dog, poking through the presents when nobody's looking--never mind the fact that I wrapped most of them myself--and thinking about how nice it will be when Christmas morning arrives, with its excitement and food and togetherness. To each her own, but now that I've gotten past the childish thrill of presents, I'm learning to enjoy Christmas in a an entirely new way.

Of course, the presents don't hurt.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Speaking of Time Travel...

Where has it been going lately?? We have been incredibly busy, with visits from both sides of the family and Miss Chef's inhuman holiday schedule. She has been working from 8 am until 10 pm or later, every single day. I think she had last Saturday & Sunday mornings off. We miss each other, and now I have to do her chores, too.

Miss Chef certainly makes it hard for me to complain about being too busy, or tired. However, the end of the year inevitably takes its toll on everybody. I took a vow in August that I would opt out of the usual Christmas commercialism--no buying presents for folks who don't need them; no buying something just because everyone else is. And I've been pretty good about it. However, I still have two nephews and a niece, all under 10, who don't need to be Scrooged this Christmas. And of course, Miss Chef is certainly deserving of a few well-chosen tokens of the highest esteem in which I hold her. And, well, I did buy those gifts for my parents before I made that, really, it looks like my brother & sister in law, plus my co-workers, will be the only ones truly getting the shaft this year.

On the other hand, I have encouraged family members who really want to give us gifts to donate instead to Heifer International or Second Harvest. So maybe I will be making a difference after all.

Speaking of family, my parents left this past Monday after a 5-day visit. We went to a concert of The Boys of the Lough, an Irish quintet of typically sparkly fellows who play traditional Celtic music. They are very interested in preserving traditional tunes and gave us quite a musically geographic tour of the isles. Mom & Dad visited Ireland this past summer, and this was my birthday gift to Dad. Not only did they enjoy the concert, but also driving through the heart of downtown Charlotte after dark.

On a completely unrelated note...well, no; it is actually related in that, being busy, I haven't kept up with these friends as I should have. A couple I know from graduate school are in Ethiopa right now, meeting and bringing home their new daughter. This is their first child, and they have been very, very busy going through adoption proceedings and preparing themselves and their home for this lucky little girl. I can't imagine how excited they must be right now; they've been preparing for nearly a year.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Little Tigist!