Saturday, January 31, 2009

Butterfly Award

Alix, you have been missed here! Are you incredibly busy? You missed my homemade soup post! Ah, well, perhaps you are on comment strike because I have been incredibly remiss in acknowledging your award.

Several days..a week?...ago, Alix over at Casa Hice graciously bestowed upon me the Butterfly Award that you may have noticed over in the right margin. After fretting needlessly about the difficulties of adding that image, I promptly dropped the ball on the rest of my duties. As it turns out, there are Rules that go along with this! They are as follows:

1. Put the logo on your blog. (check!)

2. Add a link to the person who awarded you. (done!)

3. Award up to ten other blogs. (um...)

4. Add links to those blogs on yours. (ok)

5. Leave a message for your awardees on their blogs. (sure, no prob)

Well, actually, there is a problem. The only blogs I read regularly are either semi-professional--meaning I don't think we friendly amateurs need to be competing with them!--or I found them through Alix, and they already have butterflies.

Now, I have to tell you, I am very, very picky about which blogs I check on an almost-daily basis. I'm already spending too much time in front of the computer as it is, so you'd better have something piercing, witty, or piercingly witty to keep me coming back. I have sampled a number of blogs recently, but have found few that keep me coming back.

The ones I want to award are as follows:

1. Eternal Lizdom Liz grabbed my attention by being even more vehemently for gay-marriage rights than I am, but she kept it by being funny--bordering on insane, yet commonsensical. She is also that quiet and precious gem: a thoughtful Christian. Plus, her kids are adorable.

2. Boonedocks Wilcox One of many of Alix's goat farm friends. I was drawn to this site because we share a state, and Miss Chef and I are all about supporting local farmers. As a matter of fact, Miss Chef is beginning a collaboration with a local goat farmer, and will be visiting the farm next Monday! Anyway, I love the day-to-day insights into life with farm animals. It brings me back to my own childhood among dogs, cats, chickens and rabbits.

3. The Courteous Chihuahua certainly lives up to her name (well, the first part, at least). I have to confess, I skip through the football posts, but this blog has such a real, warm and humorous voice, it's like stopping in to say hi to a friend. And isn't that what a good blog is about?

And then there are the ones in the right margins, which I do visit regularly. I particularly want to give a shout-out to Cakewrecks and Ugly Overload, both of which suffer from brilliantly hysterical writing. Please check them out, if you haven't; you'll be glad you did! (unless you have serious spider issues, in which case, just stick with the cakes.)

Okay, well, fine, I'll just go tell those three that they're being re-butterflied, whether they like it or not!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Sense of Scents

I live in a stinky world.

Among the other quirks and talents I have been "blessed" with is an exceptionally strong sense of smell. I was first aware of this in regards to cigarette smoke. Both of my parents smoked throughout my childhood, and I hated it. When I was old enough to be a smartas...I mean, assert my independence, I made a point of leaving the room whenever my mother lit up. It was about that time that I realized that I was freakishly aware of any tobacco smoke in my vicinity.

My father had particular trouble quitting smoking, going for years after my mom finally kicked the habit. He was a sneaker, going "over to the barn" in the evenings. One night I had to find him for a phone call, and ended up following his smoke trail all the way around the outside of the barn, before finding him by the silo, pretending to look at the stars. My memory of the brief exchange that followed is as clear as that cold night sky:
"Dad, you should know I can smell cigarette smoke for, like, half a mile."
"Oh, really?"
(Gee, I wonder where I got my smartass tendancies?)

Today, I can smell cigarette smoke trailing from cars ahead of me in traffic. When I take Rosie out front for her morning toilette, I know when my neighbors are up and about, because one of their first acts is a smoke on their back deck. But it's not just cigarettes. At night, in the dark I can tell whether Rosie's finally peed, because I can smell it. Yep. That's why I wrote "blessed" in quotes in the first paragraph. Some things I'd rather not smell.

I'm using this superpower as a gauge of my recovery from a recent bout with sinusitis (or whatever it was). The second day I stayed home, I got a whiff of the garbage. "Well, I guess I'm starting to clear up," I thought. The first day back to work, I brought leftovers for lunch, and as I told Miss Chef, "It tasted better today than last night." She replied, "Maybe you were tasting better." This morning, I could tell Rosie had done her morning pee--from across the yard. When I reached into the pantry, I knew it was time to take out the trash. And, coming back into the house from that chore, I smelled a stale combination of garbage and morning breath. Ugh! Can't wait 'til we can air the place out.

Sometimes, though, stinky smells are in the nose of the beholder--so to speak. Last night, I finally took Miss Rose out for our evening constitutional, after three days off. We did a quick round of the pond in our common area. I don't know if I've described it, but it's quite charming in its small way, surrounded by a small wooded area, which itself backs onto a cow pasture.

Last night, those cows were particularly fragrant. And I realized...ok, time for frightening honesty...I actually kind of like the smell of cow manure. And I imagine I'm not alone in this. That smell reminded me of summers in the Ohio countryside where I grew up; of hot afternoons at the county fair; of late-spring drives through Amish country to my horseback riding lessons. I remember realizing at some point that I could actually tell the difference between cow manure and horse manure. What use is there for that talent, I wonder?

In truth, I find my hyperactive sniffer quite useful in everyday life. I will never mistakenly bite into a moldy piece of bread, because I can smell that sucker when I open the bag--even if there's only one tiny green circle hiding in there. If there's something spilled in the house, I can find it before it starts to fester. I know when it's time to clean the drains, run the disposal, throw out the onions or clean out the fridge, before they become overwhelmingly gooey in their return to a more natural state.

And, can I pretend that I enjoy good smells even more than most people? That fresh bread smells toastier, flowers smell lovelier, clean laundry smells fresher? And that I maybe taste a little more strongly? Sweeter strawberries, more savory soups? I think I will pretend that; and I will also use that as my reason for disliking so many vegetables. Green peppers taste sharper, spinach so, so bitter, and spicy foods--fuggedaboudit. Ha! It's all clear now; my parents were torturing my sensitive palate with all that garden-fresh greenery!

Ah, er...maybe not. Doesn't explain my fondness for broccoli. Oh well, I think I'll go see if the sheets need to be changed.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Liquid Gold

Ugh. I am finally returning to some semblance of life after two and a half days spent on the couch. The doctor said it was sinusitis due to allergies, but I know it was something more. At least, after I spent three hours at the doctor's office, sitting in a cold room with no fluids or rest, it became something more. I really wanted to write something about how our health care system makes no sense, but I'm still too fuzzy in the head for all that.

I started feeling sinus-y Sunday night, but it wasn't until Monday that it really came and whopped me over the head. I was at work, but decided around 11:00 that I should go home, for everybody else's sake. Unfortunately, I had carpooled to work, so didn't have transportation. Miss Chef to the rescue! Not only did she come fetch me (bringing the dog with her; how sweet is that?), but she also whipped up a huge pot of chicken-noodle soup.

There is nothing better than Miss Chef's homemade soups. She loads 'em down with veggies and noodles, but what really makes them special is homemade stock. We had just done a batch the weekend before, so she had plenty to work with. Talk about good timing!

Making stock has become an almost routine chore we do every month or two. I always thought stock was the provenance of seriously serious home cooks with years of experience. As it turns out, it's just plain easy. It is a long, though aromatic, process which will make your house smell even better than Thanksgiving.

I also used to think that even using stock required lots of know-how and mysterious skills. Really, all it requires is a desire for more flavor in the dishes you already make. That last batch we made gave us three and a half quarts of stock, and we're down to the last quart already. We used it in the soup, in sauces for chicken, and I used a bunch last night to make risotto. Any savory dish that uses water will be vastly improved with stock.

Now, you can go to the store and buy yourself a box or can of broth, and that's good. But stock is better. Broth is made from meat, while stock uses the bones. These give up their gelatin, which lends stock that lusciousness that makes you go "Mmmmm!" The soup that Miss Chef made for me sets up in the fridge, like a noodly aspic. That's the Yum Factor in there.

As I said earlier, making stock has become a bit of a routine for us. Miss Chef and I save the bones from every chicken we roast, bake, fry, etc. We've even been known to save the bones of the occasional grocery rotisserie chicken, and turkey legs from the Renaissance Festival. We just wrap them in plastic wrap and pop them in the freezer. Miss Chef also saves vegetable trimmings, herb stems, and anything green that's just past useful, but not yet spoiled. Into the freezer with all of you!

When the freezer gets too crowded, or we're running low on stock, we rummage through to pick them all out again. It helps when we label them; especially when looking for something else. "For stock" is not anything you want to defrost for dinner.

And here's the easy part: unwrap all your saved goodies, put 'em in the biggest, er, stockpot you've got, and fill it with water. You'll want to include a few stalks of celery, two or three carrots and some onions, if they're not part of your savings. Just chop them into two or three pieces and toss 'em in. Put it on the oven and bring it to a simmer. Not a boil; just a light simmer. This isn't a reduction; it's a concentration of flavors, and believe you me, you'll want every drop you can get.

Then just wait.

Last weekend, we started our stock around 11 am, and I didn't pull it off until after 9 in the evening. Normally the bones reach a crumbly stage that tells you they've given their all. When that happens, we strain all the goodies out of it, cool it down in an ice bath and pour it into one-cup and one-quart containers. Normally we'll freeze most of it, defrosting a cup or two for rice or sauces, or a quart for soup.

The first time Miss Chef made stock at home, I complained about the time, and the greasy mess (which is less messy now that we've established a routine). But I immediately started putting it to use. I was an instant convert. Why does rice at restaurants always taste so much better? Stock. How do they make those yummy sauces? Stock. I could go on, but I think I already did above. Plus, I'm starting to channel the Lion from the Wizard of Oz..."What makes the Hottentots so hot? Stock!"

Today's my first day back at work, after fortifying myself for two days on decongestants, rest and chicken noodle soup. I'm feeling hopeful about my survival, but last night Miss Chef felt like she was coming down with my symptoms from last Sunday. Just in time for the weekend push, too. Doesn't it always happen that way?

Lucky for her, we still have a quart of soup left! That's how I take care of her...I leave her some soup. Ain't I so sweet?

No, that's not Miss Chef's soup in the picture; I haven't gotten it together enough to do all that camera stuff. If I do, I'll be sure to update the picture. I'm sure it won't do it justice, though.

Monday, January 26, 2009

OMG, Please Be Kidding

Um..."honoring?" Seriously?

Do you think this is actually Obama's economic stimulus plan? I mean, these things go for $20. Sell one to even half of his voters, and you've got almost enough money to buy lunch for the CEOs of all the bailed-out companies.


Under the weather
I see through tired eyes
Sinus infection

2nd verse; worse than the first:

My nose is blocked up
The back of my throat is sore
Is that a fever?

Sunday, January 25, 2009


I've been wanting to follow up on my earlier post about volunteering throughout the year, and not just at the holidays. Unfortunately, I haven't had much to post about. Tsk, tsk. I had plans to post about...but it turns out I am an idiot.

Here's what I had done so far: I decided that I wanted to do pet therapy visits with Rosie at least once a quarter. In between, I intended to volunteer with the Humane Society and find out about local assistance for the homeless. So I wrote "Pet Therapy" on January, April, July and October. February is for information gathering and hopefully a first volunteer session with Second Harvest or Loaves and Fishes. March will be for the Humane Society, and then hopefully I'll just rotate through the rest of the year. At the very least.

So far, so good. Of course, I left my first pet therapy visit to the last possible one of the month, January 24th. To make myself feel committed to it, I emailed our organizer a few days ahead to tell her "We'll be there Sunday!" Saturday morning, I logged onto my email to find this message: "That's today; our next visit is Feb. 1." Of course, I was still in my pajamas, and the visit had started half an hour before. So, suffice it to say, my Year of Volunteer is not starting out so well.

For those unfamiliar with this activity, therapy dogs are certified (we're with Therapy Dogs International) to visit various medical and community institutions for emotional therapy purposes. Essentially, we bring the dogs around to patients' rooms to give them a few minutes to pet and/or talk to the dogs and their handlers. Usually I take Rosie to nearby nursing and medical rehab homes with a greyhound rescue group. It's kind of funny to see her with them--five or six tall, thin dogs with short coats in various combinations of white, brown and gray, and a short black puffball who loves to walk right under their bellies to check out the next dog.

So it looks like I'm already a month behind. Unless you count my recent moment of insanity last Thursday night. I went to the annual meeting of our homeowners' association, since I hadn't made it to the other two since we moved in. I just had a few questions and a suggestion, and was curious to see how many people were really involved enough to come to the meeting. (About 20, as it turns out--out of 158 houses.) I left the meeting as one of two new officers elected to the board.

Oh my God! It's a three-year term! I can't even keep my lawn mowed regularly, and now I'm on the board of the HOA? Am I nuts???

Heh heh...I don't know. I was very impressed with most of the board members; they're intent on keeping things low key and low-cost. I didn't know that our meager $120 annual fee had been much higher. It was lowered about five years ago, mostly due to the board taking over from a paid third-party management company. I am ex post facto grateful to them.

I'm not entirely sure what responsibilities are about to come my way, beyond sort-of monthly meetings. But during Thursday's meeting I had asked enough questions to make myself an obviously involved resident, and I had already met two of the board members. They seemed to want me to volunteer. What the heck, I thought, I don't have kids. Who's got more time than I?

Of course, Miss Chef was working the night of the meeting, and I just had to stay up to check in with her--to see if I was nuts. She was a bit shocked when I told her what I'd done. Then she said, "I guess I should've been expecting it." (I'm not sure what she meant by that, but I wasn't brave enough to ask!) And of course she said, "As long as I don't have to have anything to do with it..." Thanks, hon. Just you wait.

So that's what I've done so far: missed a pet therapy session and jumped into unknown waters. Plus...I've blogged about it twice. And I have regular readers now. Which means, I'd better follow up! Only then can I make the rest of you feel guilty enough to maybe find some time to do your own volunteering. Which I expect you all to write about. Got it?

Okay then. I'll catch you next month, and let you know if my calendar skills have improved.

I'd like to thank Alix at Casa Hice for awarding me the Butterfly blog award. I'll post my followup in the next few days. You know me...reflections take time. :)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Monkey Games

I'm tired of serious posting, so I'm gonna share some fun today. Which, unsurprisingly, involves the dog. It's kinda long, so relax and enjoy.

When we adopted Rosie from the local Humane Society, she was about two years old. She didn't come with any dramatic, heartbreaking stories of abuse, though she was abandoned by her former owner at a veterinarian clinic because, apparently, she decided she didn't want a dog anymore. Nice. (Hope she doesn't have any children; they can be a handful, too, I hear.)

Anyway, it was clear from the beginning that Rosie had definitely lived indoors: she headed straight for the front door, and seemed quite familiar with the purpose of a kitchen. She was housetrained--hallelujah!--and adapted very quickly to life with us.

However, a few quirks showed where she'd been, shall we say, socially stunted? First, she wouldn't--and still won't--set foot in either bathroom, probably having spent way too many hours in similar rooms. It makes me feel a little guilty when I think of the very first night we had her. I had to pick her up on a Saturday afternoon, but already had concert tickets for that evening (it being Saturday, Miss Chef was, naturally, at work). So, after three or four hours in her new home, I had to physically drag Rosie into the Badroom, and lock her in there for half the night! Poor baby! It's a testament to her loving temperament that she didn't take off the first time I let her outside.

Well, that's not so let's move along. The second most obvious shortcoming in Rosie's childhood education was toys and playing. I had bought her a couple of toys before picking her up (is there anything so fun as shopping for a new pet?), and there were a couple of others in the take-home bag from the Humane Society. Some hard, some soft, some for chewing, some for throwing. I offered them all to her, but Rosie had no idea what the things were, or why I was holding them up to her face. "That's nice," she seemed to be thinking, "but could you maybe pet me some more?"

I was flummoxed. I had grown up with golden retrievers, which all had an innate drive to fetch. Our second golden, Amber, would place her ball (always a ball, no other toys necessary) by your foot or leg while you watched tv or read, and would literally stare at it all night. I mean, you could sit down to watch the news at six, and stand up to go to bed at eleven, and she'd still be fixated on the ball.

Not that it ever really stayed there that long. None of us could stand being stared at all that time, and so intently! One of my favorite games was to move my hand toward the ball, and watch her front claws activate, curving down into the carpet, as she prepared to launch. Then I'd move my hand away, and the claws would retract. Fun times, for me at least. She didn't seem to enjoy it as much as I did. "Just throw the #@! ball!"

Charlie, our next dog, who is still creaking along today at age 14, came to us with a small stuffed rabbit. He of course tore the stuffing out of in a matter of days, but still has a fondness for stuffed animals. He doesn't get any, though; he also has a ball, and other tough rubber toys good for bouncing around the living room or swatting across the yard. They all seem to be red, which has turned out to be a good thing, as his sight fails. Red balls stand out quite well on green grass.

So back to Rosie and her toy disability. I am happy to relate that, after much tutoring and encouragement, she has taken to her toys, and now has a whole collection which we keep in a basket in a corner of the living room. That is now her corner, thank you very much--she will allow us to use it, but likes to keep an eye on us. She's very good at going to her basket to find just the toy she wants, rooting around in there for the one that's always on the bottom. She's not so good at putting them back.

One of Rosie's favorite moves is to come in all energized from her evening walk, tear across the living room and POUNCE on whatever toy is lying by her basket. She is very catlike in her playing, tossing her head around with her toy, and all the better if it "accidentally" flies out of her mouth. Then she scrabbles after it, trying to grab it with her paws. I told her early on that dogs are supposed to go after things with their mouths, but she has a strong independent streak. And she's hysterical to watch, so I indulge her in her eccentricity.

At some point in the first year of her stay with us, I found a cute little plush monkey toy at PetSmart. Miss Chef has a Curious George fetish, and I thought she'd like the toy as much as, if not more than, the dog. It was a big hit; Rosie grabbed it and never looked back. That monkey was her #1 toy for about three months, inside and out. And then, one day, she popped a seam. That was the end of that monkey; once a dog gets access to The Stuff Inside, it's over in a matter of minutes. (We hosted a neighbor's runaway dog for a few hours one day, and I watched her methodically remove a squeaker from one of Rosie's toys in about 5.4 seconds. It was masterful.)

Well, I figured that monkey lasted about three months, so it was worth it to get another. I was worried, when the time came to make the exchange, that Rosie would reject the new, store-smelling monkey for her familiar stinky friend. But my fears were groundless; she grabbed the new one and never looked back. Actually, rather than being groundless, my fears were simply misplaced: within a day, Rosie popped a seam on the new monkey, and that was it.

So now we have at least one "retired" monkey, which I couldn't bear to get rid of, stashed in a closet. They're just so darn cute, and they felt a little like Baby's First Shoes. I could just picture it, when the reporters came to visit after she got her Hero Therapy Dog Medal from the President: "And this was her first toy, which she lovingly carried around with her." I'd have to re-sew the back of Monkey's head of course, to hide the evidence.

Well, we recently had to rearrange some things in our office, and somehow one of the Monkeys resurfaced. It was among a pile of homeless stuff awaiting repatriation on a table. I noticed it one evening or morning on my way to do something else, and smiled to see it, but didn't think much of it. The next day, it was on the floor, but I had my hands full at that moment and then forgot about it.

So of course, Rosie has her Monkey back by now! There were already several holes in its head, and some of the stuffing is gone, but he still looks like a happy monkey. The holes have been enlarged the past several days, and the cloth-wrapped squeaker is trying to escape, but so far, things are holding together. And Rosie is ecstatic. She's normally a pretty quiet dog, outside of walk time and meal time, but this Monkey still brings out the puppy in her. She even carries it to bed with her, which she doesn't generally do with her other toys. She is just too adorable, curled up on her bed, her head on her monkey, looking up at us with those big brown eyes. I can't resist petting her every time I pass by while getting ready for bed. Oh, she's good.

Of course, we've decided that we can't leave her alone with him, so she has to spend the day Monkeyless while we're at work. Miss Chef hates having to "be the bad guy," so I try to let her give Monkey back in the evening.

I have to say, I'm a little jealous of Rosie, having one single possession that brings such bliss. Oh, to be so uncomplicated as a dog. I don't know a whole lot about Buddhism and all that reincarnation process, but I have to wonder if moving from a human body to a dog's might not be a step up on the way to Nirvana.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Reflections on Inauguration Day

Yes, this is late, but reflections take time.

I wasn't sure I wanted to write another political post, but I have found myself riding an unexpected emotional roller coaster. It's more of a kiddie-sized roller coaster, but it's still a ride I am surprised to be on. I would like to try to elucidate what I've been feeling, and also reveal that there are those of us who supported our new President, but don't actually believe he is the Messiah.

I did vote for Obama, and was very excited about having such an intellectual President at the helm, but I do know the man is not perfect. He is a man, one man, and, even worse, a politician. He will disappoint me; I know that already. I don't even agree with all his viewpoints; I shudder at the gross amount of dollars offered up in his economic stimulus package. But I have to trust that, for the most part, he will move in the right directions.

I was determined to watch the inauguration from work, which I did in our breakroom, along with about ten other people. We have a fairly even balance of black and white in our office, and we had both colors represented in our little audience. Nobody got overwhelmingly emotional, but it felt like being in church--no one wanted to talk over or make too much noise during the important moments. I was happy to see our new President installed, but that was about it.

Until later. As I drove home that evening, and over the next few days, some surprising feelings surfaced.

I first reacted to some of the news coverage, which included images of, and sound bites from, many of the spectators. Most concentrated on black citizens. Of course, they are much more emotionally connected than I am, and I cannot fully understand how they feel right now. But darn it, he's my President, too! Even if you didn't vote for him, he's your President. I did vote for him, but the hope he brings to me has to do with a lot more than his race. In fact, the primary inkling I had of my support for him was due to his focus on energy policy, not his his race, or his military or economic stances. So let's not forget that he represents the rest of the population.

Tied into this are my feelings about our country. I've heard more than one black citizen interviewed say something like "I'm finally proud of being American again." One woman said she had stopped reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, but that she "might just stand up and say it now." I knew exactly how she felt, but from a whole different aspect.

The last administration wounded me more deeply than I realized. The loudest elements of the right whipped up a witch-hunt against anyone who doesn't fall into their religiously conservative norm. You think "witch-hunt" is a strong word? Then you haven't felt the stigma of being pacifist, homosexual, agnostic, Muslim, scientific, poor, or just plain unhappy with the government over the past eight years. It sure hurt to have the religion I grew up in used to flog the opposition with the very intolerance Jesus decried. And it angered me that it was used at all to determine national policies of a supposedly and specifically religiously pluralistic country.

So I could identify with those newly patriotic black Americans--we feel like we have membership again; that America really is our country, that it really does represent us. I've been doing things I haven't done in years, like making sure I capitalize the word President. I might even tear up the next time I hear the Star-Spangled Banner.

Unfortunately, I only partly feel like a real, card-carrying member of the United States of America. When we as a society stop discriminating against people because of whom they fall in love with, then I will feel like a full citizen. Still, I can't help feeling a little better about my place in our society, simply because I expect a return to reason and tolerance in our national discourse. Not in place of religious belief, but alongside, and equally valued. This is not an if/or world; we can have Christian values without excluding other values.

At the same time, I have to recognize that there is a faction on "my" side that is liable to be just as intolerant as I was complaining about above. I've heard Obama called centrist by those far more informed than I; this gives me some hope that he will temper this wild enthusiasm for every crazy left-wing idea that comes down the pike. I do hope we can civilize national discussions beyond name calling and "nanner nanner, I can't hear you!"

Finally, and overriding, underlining and coexisting with these other feelings, is a sense of unreality. I was happy after election day, but the "transition period" was so long, and so ubiquitously reported, that it started to feel like a reality show. So I have to stop myself and virtually shake my head--yes, we have a new President. Yes, finally, somebody I voted for won!

As the new administration revs its engines, I find myself teetering between ebullience and cynicism. Yay, a new start! Nah, it's just a new day with the same problems. Yay, we're finally gonna make some progress! Meh, maybe yes, maybe no. Yay, the US is going to stop being so divided! I dunno...we'll see.

Well, hope is not a bad thing, so I will enjoy it, dammit. And whatever changes the new administration makes--for better or for worse--it will take a while. So I guess I'll just be happy I have a job to go to every day, and keep on plugging. Hopefully I'll see a light at the end of the tunnel before my hope runs out.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Alphabet Game!

Liz over at Eternal Lizdom is "organizing" a fun blog game. She assigns a letter to each player, and we get to come up with ten things we like that start with that letter.

My assignment is, as you may have guessed, the letter "C." Oh yeah; this'll be fun!

1. In spite of our good friend's admonition above, I am going to broaden our first item to CHOCOLATE! Cakes, Cookies, hot or cold, this certainly belongs at the top of my list.

2. COMEDY comes next. I couldn't live life without laughter. Not only does it herald the most joyous times of life, but it is, for me, the first tool in dealing with stress and even sadness. It may not be uniquely human, but it is universally so.

3. CANINES have to be ranked pretty darn high on my list, of course. We've had a family dog since I was two years old. I didn't like Buffy at first, since she stole my gingerbread doll, but I got over that rocky beginning. Now my dog is my family.

4. CENTRAL A/C is the only thing that makes it possible for me to enjoy living south of the Mason-Dixon line. Cut the power lines, and this is one Yankee that'll be hightailing back to the snowbelt!

5. CARDIOLOGY Not really something I like; more like grateful for. If it weren't for amazing advances in research, surgery and care, my father wouldn't be here, and my own life expectency would probably be markedly shorter. Thanks, Dr. Yip.

6. COMPUTERS Well, duh! First of all, computers put food on our table and sent me to college. Now the warm glow of the interwebs keeps me company and answers all my weird questions. Plus, Miss Flartus would never ever get her taxes done if it weren't for PC power. On the other hand, would the government be able to create such a complicated tax code without computers? Hmmm....

7. COCA COLA Yes, in spite of my ongoing personal battle against processed food and the overwhelming presence of corn (syrup) in every aspect of our lives...nothing can beat an ice cold Coc'Cola. Pepsi? Pah! Sugar water.

8. CHEESE, glorious cheese! A lot of food items on my list here...well, when people asked me why I was so passionate about studying French, this was a big part of my answer. Yeah, #5 on this list shouldn't be a big surprise! Mmmm...Brie, Camemebert, St. André, Emmantaler....droool...

9. CREATIVITY, both my own and others'. Linked to my appreciation of humor, I love anything that makes new and unique links between things we already know, or takes a completely novel approach to an old question. This is also one of the things that makes our American culture truly unique.

10.COMMUNICATION has been the focus of my life, in many ways. I think most of our social ills could be eased if people truly communicated with each other. Unfortunately, we tend to forget about the listening half of communication. How often do you "discuss" an idea with someone of a different viewpoint, and actually allow yourself to change your mind? And how often do you simply wait for them to shut their mouth so you can tell them the next rebuttal?

The hardest homework assignment I ever had was to go through an entire week without interrupting anyone. Try it; even if you don't succeed, it will surely raise your awareness.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Barack Obama

Congratulations to our 44th President. It's been a long, long time since I've heard a president speak with such inspiring hope and determination. We've got a lot of work ahead of us, but it'll be a lot easier if we feel like we're headed on the right path.

This is certainly not the most pressing issue facing us, but...I just have to ask: If you truly believe that "...all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness," will you be actively supportive of marriage for all? Because that surely would be the full measure of my happiness.

I supported you...

Bon appétit, President Obama. See you at the office.

Mea culpa maxima: Flartus needs to do her research!! Thanks to Liz's heads-up to the Wockner blog (nice template, btw!), I found a very explicitly detailed list of LGBT issues which President Obama plans to act on. He does not support gay "marriage," but rather fully equal civil unions. Which becomes a matter of semantics--if it's the same thing, why don't we call it the same thing? But I will recognize that that may be a fight for another generation; if Miss Chef and I can enjoy the same rights, I won't quibble about names.

Wow, I feel so much better now! Thanks, Liz!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Kitchen Conversation

"Hi Cutie!"

"Watch out."

"No, not for you!"

"Watch out."

"Watch out."


"Rosie, move."

"Get back. Back."

"Rosie, GET BACK!"

"That's a good girl."

"*$#*%!! No, get back."

"Ok, girl. C'mon."

"Alright, get back. Good girl."

"Well, I don't know if it's gonna be any good, but I guess we'll see."

(water running, steps to garbage can)

"That's ok; you're alright. That's your job!"

"Wow, it looks really good! I hope it tastes ok."

"Hmmm...I wonder what I should have for dinner tonight?"

It didn't taste quite as good as it looked...needed more apples, and probably more salt. But I did catch Miss Chef sneaking a second helping later, so it certainly passed muster!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Quick Thoughts

Wish I'd had this to add to my October "Boob Tube" post (click for larger view):


Today, I'm thankful for...earmuffs!! Miss Chef "dragged" me to the farmer's market this morning. It was kinda fun; the farmers were happy to see us, but man, my toes were cold. My ears, however--toasty!


I suggest we rewrite typical ethnic stereotypes to: White people are lazy.

Every summer since we moved in, there has been an irregular flow of kids coming to our door, asking if they can earn a few bucks mowing the lawn. We've even taken some of them up on their offers. I'd guess the ethnic makeup of our neighborhood is 60% white, 30% black, 10% Hispanic. Of the teens looking to sweat for a few dollars? 100% black. (I loved the kid who roped his sister and her friend into doing the talking for him, 'cause he's so shy. It worked!)

We also frequently get flyers in or on our mailbox from local entrepreneurs offering services in landscaping, siding, construction and other skilled, manual jobs. 90% of them have names like Garcia (granite countertops) or Rojas (carpentry). As the child of a small-business owner, I understand the hard work involved not only in these fields of labor, but in just getting a company off the ground and making a profit. I tip my hat (if not my wallet) to them. And if my white ass weren't so lazy, I might even have some money to hire these guys!


I finally found the missing Christmas boxes. They were in the shed, one of them mysteriously lying on its side. I think Miss Chef tossed them in there last, ahem, March. I'm guessing that we don't really need whatever's inside, since we happily managed to get through the holiday season without it this year. I'm also guessing I have very little chance of getting rid of it, either.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Dinner For One

Today's shall be a short post, partly because cold fingers don't type well, partly because I'm too lazy to be thoughtful, mostly because it's a cold Friday and I just want to crawl under the covers with a book.

However, I do want to take a few pixels to thank my few dedicated readers--Alix, Fred and that ever so Courteous Chihuahua. I'm quite new to this blogging thing, and have been working on finding my "voice" (as I guess writers say), and it's so wonderful to get feedback! It's fun to see what you find interesting, and how it connects with your own interests and experience. And Alix, you give wonderful compliments! I am still whining that I can't get my own family to read this, but I've got perfect strangers checking in every day. Actually, thinking about Alix's latest post...yeah, that seems about right.

Well, anyway, I'm back to my "single nights" for awhile; the bliss of Miss Chef's evenings off are a warm and fuzzy memory until Sunday. So, of course, my living standards have nosedived.

Wednesday night was Leftover Night, but of course when Miss Chef does leftovers, she still makes them look good!

On the left is her plate (extra veggies), and on the right is my special plate (broccoli being one of the few I like).

I don't know why, but Blogger insists on flipping my plate pics on their sides, and it's really getting annoying. Anyone know how to fix it??

I guess I should mention that the plat du jour was leftover ham turned into BBQ pork, with cheesy cheese grits and, well, légumes au choix. (That would be French for "whatever veggies you can dig out of the fridge.")

I should also mention that Miss Chef thought I was absolutely nuts for taking these pictures. "All I did was take some stuff out of containers and plop it on a plate." Well, yes, but she plops so artfully. By comparison, see what I came up with my first day on my own:

I needed to finish up the leftover pesto pasta, so that's what you see sprawled all over the plate. Now, I am a little proud of myself for cleverly putting the leftover BBQ on a biscuit (made by ME over the weekend!) to make a mini BBQ sammich. But as for the presentation, it leaves a lot to be desired.

Please note, however, that I did remember to take my medicine!

Which I am also in the process of doing as I type this. So now I take me off to get fuzzy around the edges, and then find that book and those covers I mentioned earlier. Stay warm, everybody!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Great Babysitter

However did civilized man survive without television? It is so ubiquitous, we tend to forget and ignore the way it has sneaked into every aspect of our lives. From the newlyweds who install the tv in their bedroom so they can fall asleep to 24, to the harried mother who plops her kid in front of the Teletubbies so she can get something done, to the middle-aged couple who spend their evenings in silence in front of the tube, tv is our best, most reliable friend. From cradle to grave, there it is.

As part of my job, I call to interview all our new customers, many of whom are low-income--underemployed, retired, disabled. Today I reached an elderly woman who still works part-time at a fast-food restaurant. As I went through my list of questions, I could hear the television on in the background. I immediately drew a picture in my mind of her living room: small, dark-panelled, overheated, with a love seat and recliner, probably a hand-knit throw somewhere in there, and maybe a small pile of magazines.

After I hung up, I thought, "Well, at least she didn't have the volume up so loud she couldn't hear me." That happens a lot during these calls. And then it struck me--so many of these elderly or disabled people have the tv on when I call. What would they do without it? If they're stuck in their home, unable to drive, are there many other options for diversion?

As a college student, I once spent a drizzly afternoon doing Meals on Wheels deliveries with my grandparents' neighbor. What a wonderful program that is, and I could certainly tell several of these housebound people were delighted to see a young face. The neighbor had to practically peel a couple of them off of me, and I was sorry to leave them in their loneliness. I can imagine that having a tv to add some life to a small, lonely apartment must be a necessity. But again...what would these elderly people have been doing in the days before tv?

My father remembers pre-tv life; he has described to us the day the first tv showed up in his Queens neighborhood. I know that one of his grandmothers lived with them for some time after she was widowed. I suppose that, "back in the day," the elderly would most likely have gone to stay with their own families. Or, if there was no family, perhaps they ended up in a retirement home. (I'm sure I'd much prefer the former over the latter!) Today, though, we all need to figure out for ourselves what we're going to do when the house gets too big, and we need some help getting dinner. Moving in with the kids is rarely an option.

I would not be the first to bewail this crumbling of the family dynamic; the loss of respect and support for our elders; the absence of their wisdom and love from their own grandchildren. We all know about this. And yet, both our children and our grandparents end up being babysat by the tv.

What is it about our society that prevents us from getting these two groups together? Is is laziness? Complacency? Inability to get over the generational gap that makes our parents drive us crazy, and argue over what time Junior should go down for his nap? I can hear the eye roll in my own mother's voice when she describes the video games my nephews play, or the way my brother talks to his kids. Ah, the delicate balance of parent and child both learning to keep their mouths shut.

(Which, honestly, might be a great benefit to grandparents' spending more time with their kids' families. Don't you think, in this age of instant messaging, reality shows and comment forums on every dang thing, that the art of discretion could do well to be revived?)

However, I can't say that inter-generational conflict is the only reason we haven't changed the way we treat our elderly. There is a certain amount of selfishness, too. Adult children aren't going to hang around in Hometown, USA, just to keep an eye on Mom and Dad. For that matter, Mom and Dad aren't really interested in moving in with that rowdy younger bunch, either. We've all gotten used to having it our way, all the time. We modern Americans don't adapt well to lifestyle infringement--witness all the whining about high gas prices last summer.

I suppose, in the end, it's up to each family to negotiate its own path, but society has made it too normal for these families to be splintered off across the country. Would it be callous to lay some of the blame at the feet of the elderly themselves? After all, weren't they the ones who instilled whatever values exist in their own children? On the other hand, looking at my brother's and my vastly different relationships with my parents, nothing is predictable when it comes to raising children.

Hmm. This post started out being about how we use the tv to babysit folks we don't have time to take care of, and ended up being an examination of the status of the elderly in our society. And I don't have a whole lot of answers to any of the questions I've raised. All I know is that when the day comes that my mother or father is tragically single, they are welcome to our little ol' guest room. It's not much, but all anyone can offer is what they've got. And I think my parents would be happy to have it.

Plus, y'know, there's an extra tv in the shed, if needed...

Thought for the day

Happiness is...central heating.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ordinary Folks

I feel like Miss Chef and I have suddenly entered a new level in our life together. As I mentioned in my last post, her schedule has changed, so that she is now home for three weekdays--in a row! Last night was the first of these, and I was amazed at the difference.

It's been hard for me, over the past eight years, to fully explain, even to myself, all the difficulties and disadvantages in having a partner on a schedule completely opposite of mine. Yes, it sucks that she's not around for the few dinner parties we get invited to. And I've been very aware of the struggle to make myself cook or eat a full meal at night when I'm by myself. But actually having a normal, get-up-together, come-home-together day made me want to try to capture the real differences.

For example, yesterday morning, as I was standing outside the front door, locking it on my way out, I thought of something I had wanted to tell Miss Chef. Nothing imperative, just something we needed to think about over the next few days. My first thought was to reopen the door and tell her before I left. Then I remembered, "I can tell her tonight!" We have both gotten into the habit of keeping a mental list of things to tell each other when we have a chance--in the ten minutes she's awake before I leave, or the ten minutes I might be awake when she gets home. Otherwise, we have to save it up for Saturday morning.

Since my memory is like a sieve, I constantly have to trim and re-prioritize my list, keeping only the most essential bits. Then, when we finally have a couple of hours to spend together, I am constantly trying to remember the other stuff I had wanted to tell her, thinking I'm going to miss the chance to bring up something else. It made our time together feel like overtime at a football game--gotta make the most of it!

So I was truly looking forward to last night. I got home first, but had barely managed to change before Miss Chef walked in the door. The dog was overjoyed, if not a little confused.

The first difference: we got to talk about our days while they were still fresh in our minds. I didn't have to wait until 11 pm to share how stressed I was when a coworker was called out suddenly, and we had to scramble to redistribute the day's workload. By 11 pm, I would have swallowed my stress and been too tired to talk about it. Plus, we both felt we had time to listen and ask questions and, conversely, didn't need to worry if we forgot to ask about something. We could ask over dinner!

After catching up, I took Rosie on our daily walk while Miss Chef started dinner. Yay! Finally, I get the advantage everyone always thinks I've had--a personal chef! Normally, she cooks on Sundays, but the rest of the week I'm on my own. Which usually means sandwiches. Because I've had enough of cooking for one, and often don't feel like eating much at night anyway. The serious problem with that, though, is that I'm supposed to be having a glass of red wine every day by doctor's orders. Seriously! I inherited a dangerously low "good" cholesterol level from dear old Dad, and red wine is "like medicine," according to my doctor. As a Francophile, I was delighted, but red wine and PB&Js really don't mix that well.

Anyway, as I was out walking my stress off, my mind kept wandering back home, thinking of Miss Chef bustling around in there. Usually I get back from a walk to a quiet, semi-dark house, then settle in front of the computer while I try to figure out what kind of sandwich I want for dinner. Yesterday, there was life and light, and conversation when I got back. It was Home, instead of The House.

An easily predicted benefit to sitting down to a real dinner is eating a more balanced diet. Miss Chef knows I don't like vegetables, so she makes a point of seeing how many different ones she can get me to happily ingest. Last night was Asian lettuce wraps. I love your basic Chinese, and this is a nice, light approach. The sweet/salty mix in the sauces satisfies all kinds of cravings. Besides lettuce, she got raw carrots and bean sprouts into me. And no carbs. (Except for the Nutella-spread biscuit I had as dessert. But she knows she has to choose her battles!) Plus, I had my glass of red wine.

Of course, over dinner we got to talk. I don't think we made any big consequential decisions or discoveries, but we didn't have the pressure of trying to get it all in, either. And then, the real Adult Stuff started: we got up and did the dishes.

When we eat by ourselves, we both like to read. As a result, we spend far longer at the table, and by the time we look up, either Miss Chef needs to get in the shower, or I need to get to the one or two things on my list before it's bedtime. So we usually end up just throwing our dishes over by the sink for "later." Which often means we start our weekend with a huge stack of dirty dishes, and a dishwasher that needs to be emptied, filled, rerun and re-emptied. It doesn't make for a relaxing Saturday morning to walk into that kind of mess.

So I was thrilled to be acting like a responsible adult, leaving a clean kitchen behind. Also, since we're cooking more, we'll run the dishwasher more, which means the dishes won't dry out and cake, allowing the dishwasher to get them cleaner. It's like a big system that we just hadn't quite gotten the hang of before.

Next bonus: a Miss Chef-packed lunch for the next day! Again, she makes a point of making sure I get my veggies. "How about an Asian salad?" she asked, and ready to dive into this brave new world, I said ok. This is a big step for me; salad does not a meal make. I did sneak some biscuit bits and Nutella into my lunch box though!

As we finished up the kitchen, Miss Chef said "It's eight o'clock already. How did that happen?" That is one disadvantage to all this grown-up activity; you don't get to screw around for hours doing nothing! But as I've found in my past lives, the more I have to do; the more I get done. I sat down at the computer and checked my email, but instead of wandering around on different blogs, I finally remembered to write my aunt and uncle a thank-you note for the Christmas gifts they'd sent me. I mean, how much more adult can you get?? And, as it turned out, I still had plenty of time to sit down and get lost in my novel, which is all I'd really wanted to do all day.

I was once again glad that I don't have kids, because this all would have been quite different if we'd been trying to fit in practice, homework, extra laundry and general Quality Time. As I said in my previous post, as long as Rosie gets her walk and a little bit of attention, she's pretty happy. So I guess I haven't gotten the full Adult thing down, but I'm satisfied with what I've got!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Dog Baby

To quote myself:

I'm not a parent, and never plan to be, but every once in a while I get some glimmer of what it must be like to have kids. My dog is not one of those spoiled, anthropomorphized pooches with a miniature futon and different "outfits" for special occasions. She is a furry canine who sleeps on the floor and eats the best darned kibble I can afford. But I cannot deny that whatever few ounces of maternal feeling exist in me are dribbled softly all over her. Which works for me; no diapers!

My first "Oh, now I get it" moment was when I was about 16 or 17, closer to a child than an adult, and it was the family dog that brought it out in me. She helped me get the "I'm only making you miserable because I love you" side of parenting. She wandered too close to the road (we lived in the country, and the dogs were quite good about sticking close to the house), and scared the bejeesus out of me. As I was soundly chastising her, the little lightbulb went on. Yes, it is possible to purposely hurt someone you love, in their own best interests.

This weekend's lesson wasn't nearly as fun. It was the "Oh my God; can't I even pee without you needing something??" moment. I now understand why mothers of toddlers sometimes have to hide in the bathroom. It wasn't that Rosie was doing anything atypical. The morning started out as usual: roll out of bed and try to walk to the bathroom without stepping on the dog's feet or tail, as she dances around me, licking my hands in alternating fashion and sniffing loudly. (She does this weird sniffing-out thing when she's anticipating some excitement, like getting the mail.) This is even more fun when you consider I'm trying not to wake Miss Chef, while walking bleary-eyed across a dimly-lit bedroom.

Sunday morning, it didn't work. One sniff too many, and Miss Chef was awake. Oh well, I tried. I finally managed to make it past my furry obstacle course to the sanctity of the powder room. And of course, when I open the door, there she is, leaping up for more. Now I have to walk through the maelstrom again, to find some pants and a sweatshirt so I can let her out to pee. Not that she has to pee, but you never, ever know. God forbid I just get up, go to the bathroom, and go back to bed. Nope. Every move is accompanied by just enough enthusiastic dancing to make it possible she just might need to go out.

I was actually kind of glad that Miss Chef was awake to witness my "Can't I even pee??" moment, so I didn't have to explain it to her. She has already commented more than once on Rosie's need to follow me everywhere; I've read that it's a sign of separation anxiety. From her resistance to entering either bathroom and her general dislike of enclosed spaces, I've concluded that, as a pup, she was left locked in the bathroom while her owner was at work (or out partying, who knows?). She's not too bad when she's alone, especially if we're on a schedule she's familiar with, so I'd say her "SA" is minimal.

However, she was having big issues Sunday. Miss Chef and I had finally gritted our teeth and committed to de-Christmasing the house. Not that it was an-all day affair, but still, it's a many-step project. Bring the boxes in from the shed (wait, I think we're missing one...where's the little box for the Santa ornaments?), try not to undecorate in the wrong order (Crash! Whoops, forget about those ornaments on the garland), stuff everything into the appropriate boxes, jigsaw-puzzle them back into the storage closet, discover you forgot to take the lights off the tree before putting the boxes away, drag the tree out and discover the base has been leaking for a month and a half.

So for several hours, we had the living room furniture shoved out of the way to make room for all this, and this apparently made Rosie very uncomfortable. Even Miss Chef, who is normally a bit jealous of my "leader of the pack" status, finally had enough of Rosie's overwhelming attention. "You have the best ability to be exactly in the way, did you know that?" she told her before putting her on the line. Again. We don't like to leave her out there for a long time, especially once she's lying on the patio staring at the back door, so she was on and off the line about 3 times. During the "off" periods, she was constantly winding her way into our paths, which is even more annoying when you've got a double-handful of fragile ornaments.

After we had the pine needles (mostly) vacuumed, the water (mostly) sopped up, and the furniture re-arranged, I finally sat down and said to Rosie, "Do you need some attention? You know, I still love you, even if I have been annoyed at you all day." At that moment, I could just imagine reassuring a 3-year old that Mommy still loves you, even when she makes you cry.

The great thing is, dogs get over it quickly. They don't dwell; they forgive and forget. I don't have to worry about whether I traumatized her poor developing psyche by making her feel unwanted for a day. Nope, just make sure she gets a nice long walk and some kibble, and let her sleep by our feet while we watch a movie, and all is right in Rosie's World.

So, while I may feel sometimes that I do have a furry, four-footed child with extraordinarily bad breath, I am always very aware of the fact that I've got it relatively easy. If only I could teach her to do the dishes. (and not with her tongue!!)

FYI, my posting may be a bit less regular for the next several months. Miss Chef's schedule has changed, so she will now be home THREE nights of the week! Which I am definitely looking forward to, but when it comes to choosing between this blog and Miss Chef...sorry, Miss Chef's gonna win every time. :)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Customer Service

I had two interesting encounters this week at retail counters. They demonstrate the vast difference that just a little bit of good training can make.

The first one was an example of bad service. Unfortunately, it came at the end of a long work day, when I was tired, and on a rare evening that Miss Chef was at home waiting for me. I stopped at our local CVS, where I get all my prescriptions filled, to bring in the renewal for one. I dropped it off at the counter and was told it would be "a few minutes."

Now, while we're waiting, let me explain that I very deliberately chose to go to CVS, as opposed to the Rite Aid across the street, or the grocery store pharmacy. When I was living in Mobile, AL, I generally went to the Rite Aid that was nearest to work and home. However, after too many times of being treated like an annoyance, rather than a customer, I decided to try some other places. Two other Rite Aids gave me the same service, but when I went into CVS, it was like walking into a different world. I immediately transferred all my prescriptions there.

Switching back to my new address--I first I didn't have a choice; Eckard's was the only drugstore nearby (and their service was almost as bad as those Rite Aids). But a year or so after moving, a CVS opened right down the street, and I was quite happy to see it. I'm not usually so brand-loyal, but I've never been able to accept disrespect very well, when I felt it wasn't deserved. I guess since I was always treated with respect--even as a child--it somehow grates on me today, right down to my toes. (Not that I wasn't disciplined as a child; not at all! But I was never belittled, and my parents never acted like it was a burden to explain things to me.)

However, I was quickly disappointed by my new pharmacy. Whenever I approached the counter to pick up a prescription, I would see three or four people back there, busy filling orders or entering information into a computer. Now, I don't necessarily expect them to drop everything to serve me immediately. My first job was at a local small-town pharmacy, and I understand that sometimes you're in the middle of something you just can't stop. Fine. But is it too much to look me in the eye and say eight words: "I'll be with you in just a minute?" And maybe even a smile? It won't shorten my wait at all, I understand that. But it sure will seem like a shorter wait.

Ok, well, we've been waiting long enough for that prescription, let's go see what's going on. Walk back toward the counter, and of course nobody looks up. It's only been about 5 or 10 minutes, so I'll take a seat over here, right next to the counter, where any employee can see me and realize I'm obviously waiting for my order.

After browsing through a Rolling Stone left there (hey, I still recognize most of these names!), I look at my watch and realize that it's now been half an hour since I dropped off my script. And, of course, there's now a line four deep at the counter. So I get in that line, trying to be patient, but not doing a good job of it. While I'm waiting, I see a woman further back in the pharmacy section pick up a microphone and project this announcement through the store: "ortizordersready." Wha..? Fortunately, I had happened to overhear the Ortiz family giving their information a few minutes earlier, and it dawned on me that they must have announced my order being ready at some point.

Several thoughts run through my mind at this point:

1. I was unaware that I had to be listening for my name.
2. I can guarantee they would not have pronounced it in a recognizable way.
3. The announcements were made ridiculously unclearly, and the name was not repeated at the end.
4. Wasn't it damned obvious I was waiting for half a freakin' hour??

As you can tell, I'm still irritated by this experience. I did my best not to take it out on the cashier, but I did make a point of noticing the manager's name as I left the building.

Fast forward to today. Miss Chef and I were out spending her bonus (thanks, Chef!!), and realized we needed to eat quickly before she had to go home and change for work. We somewhat reluctantly headed into Chik Fil A--neither of us likes to eat processed food, or support the factory farms that supply it.

But desperate times and all that; in we went, and placed our orders with a nice, friendly teenage girl, who gave us a number and told us she'd bring our order to our table. It was starting to get busy; it looked like we had begun the afternoon rush. When she brought our order out, our server hesitated, saying "Were these both supposed to be deluxe?" When we told her no, she said, "Oh, good, then it's exactly right." I thought she seemed overly concerned, but didn't think too much of it.

Then I discovered that, no, in fact, it wasn't exactly right. The sandwich in the box was not what it was labeled as. I went back up to the counter, hoping I wasn't going to have to get back in line. Fortunately, I managed to catch the same girl's eye, and you'll never guess what happened! She looked right back at me, finished what she was doing, and came over to help me!


She was very concerned and apologetic about the error, and even told me to keep the original sandwich, as they would just have to throw it out anyway. (Poor chicken, giving up its sad little caged life, just to be tossed away--of course I kept it. Plus, I'm cheap.) She told me she'd bring out the correct item, and she did, quickly, and apologized again.

Ironically, there was nothing I saw in the restaurant to facilitate customer comments. But I've already gone to the company website and written a note, using the server's name. I think that, since I was able to give the store number, the comment will be filtered down to her manager, who should know that he/she is doing a great job hiring and training, and that this server should be encouraged to keep up the good work.

On the other hand, I have yet to contact CVS about their ongoing poor service. Now that I've written about it here, though, I feel duty-bound to follow up. I suppose it's the teacher in me, but I feel very strongly about giving positive feedback to folks who probably don't get it very often.

I once contacted Harris Teeter about how the baggers obviously needed training, especially with paper bags, and received a phone call from the local store. (Turns out if you go through the corporate website, it's a bigger deal than just contacting the manager.) After a couple of months, I noticed a marked improvement in their service, and went back online to let them know. Lord knows, I don't just want to be a crank!

I'm hoping that in this tough economy, retailers and other businesses will realize that just a little shift in customer service can make a big difference on our side of the counter--the side where the money is coming from. In the meantime, I guess I'll still be out there, trying to teach them all!

Note: I find it interesting that googling the phrase "customer service" mostly gets you pictures of smiling women with phone headsets. There's a big hint at the problem, right there--no face-to-face contact. As much the consumer's fault as business'; our demand for cheap products requires vast, centralized organizations. Plus, we can't be bothered to get off our butts and go talk to someone.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Junk Drawer

I've been semi-wracking my brain today, trying to think of a subject that's gotten me to thinking, but nothing has surfaced. Such pressure; I can't possibly let that silly sing-song poem sit at the top of the page! So I'm just gonna jot down a few unrelated ponderings, à la Andy Rooney. "Didja ever notice...?" My sympathies to those too young to know him.

We had somewhat frighteningly gusty winds all night last night and through the day today. It added some interest to what's been a dreary post-holiday season. I rushed home from work to see how far our garbage can had migrated. When I left this morning, it was flat on its back about 5 feet back from where it started, and the recycling bin was joining it. It was raining too hard for me to deal with it in my work clothes, so I left it. No major damage; the recycling bin won the race, but neither container made it out of the yard.

I was overjoyed, after changing quickly and snapping the leash on the dog, to realize that it was still light outside! Finally, the dark evening walks are over--more or less. If it's overcast it will still be too dark to go into the park, but even a little remaining sunlight makes a big difference. It changes the entire feel of the neighborhood, for you can see past the house fronts, and colors come back to life. Plus--joy, rapture--I no longer need my mini light to clean up after the dog.

It's the small things...

There is one remaining deflated Christmas decoration in a front yard. We've walked by it for several weeks now, but today Rosie decided it was suddenly interesting again. She was far more alert than usual, as the wind created so much movement, her head continually swiveled, and her ears were on full perk. She's so darn cute, I even had the patience to take her into the middle of the street to investigate a leaf that she had started to obsess about. She didn't even thank me for going out of my way. Hmph.

Tonight I was trying to think of a good side to go with the ham that Miss Chef cooked yesterday. I have to say, I recommend everyone keep some pesto on hand. Ten minutes of boiling pasta, while thawing some broccoli in the microwave and grating some parmesan, and voilà! Broccoli pesto pasta! (I would have put grape tomatoes in if we'd had any.)

Here's what you need to do (uh-oh, I feel like Oprah): in the spring, go out and buy two or three basil plants--or more, I think we had 5 or 6 this year--and plant them in the ground, in full sun. Keep enough of an eye on them to pinch back the flower stalks as they develop, to encourage bushier growth. By mid- to late summer, you should be able to harvest an enormous amount, just by cutting the plants back quite severely. We got two giant harvests last summer, not counting the day-to-day use we got out of them. We ended up with probably close to 2 quarts of pesto from that. We froze it in 1-cup containers, though now I'm wishing we'd made some pesto cubes.

How to make pesto? Well, Miss Chef never gives me measurements, so the best I can tell you is: in a blender, blend together a small handful of pine nuts with 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, plus salt to taste. Then fill the rest of the blender with lightly-packed basil leaves. (Picking and rinsing the basil is a chore best done in front of the tv or over wine with a friend.) Start the blender, and slowly add olive oil until the blades start to "catch" on the basil. I had to stop the blender a few times to push the basil down.

Yes, this is a very imprecise recipe, here's a more detailed one from

Once you've got it down, pesto is so darn handy: Miss Chef incorporated it into stuffed shells, I mixed it with some leftover ricotta and goat's milk cheeses to make ravioli, I brought a cold pesto pasta salad for an office potluck, and when my mother needed to bring sides to three different parties within a couple of weeks, I gave her her own cup of pesto. I think she got 5 uses out of it. I haven't even gotten around to stuffing it under the skin of a roasted chicken. Mmmmmm.....basil garlic crostini...drool...

Of course, if you don't like basil, or olive oil, or are allergic to pine nuts....well, never mind, then. But for the rest of us, letting some basil grow for a few months, and then spending half an hour with a blender, is a wonderful, easy way to add more flavor to your kitchen. Plus, you know what's in it!

Oh yeah, one other thing: not only do basil and tomatoes taste wonderful together, but they also grow very well together. I think they chase away each others' pests or something. I doubt it works on rabbits, though.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Finally, this morning my legs felt normal again. It's only taken two full days to recover from Saturday's weeding frenzy. As I stood in front of the sink this morning thinking about how age creeps insidiously up on you, I was reminded of Emily Dickinson's poem about hope, the "feathered thing that perches in the soul." Age, I thought, is more the slinky thing that settles in your lower back. And as I showered, a poem started in my head.

Now, it is a wonderful thing to finally have a place to put these random creations that spew occasionally from my brain. But of course, they often look less like genius in the cold light of the computer screen. (It wasn't until I finished this that I looked up the "Hope" poem and realized it's only 3 stanzas long!) As I blunder into my 50th line of verse, Dickinson's lovely, inspiring rhyme scheme seems to devolve into an insipid singsong, but no matter--I bravely offer you the following:

Age, the faceless creature
That sneaks up from behind.
It takes over your body
As it tries to rule your mind.

Where you were strong, you find you're weak,
Where fast, you find you're slow,
And you stop to search your mind to find
The things you used to know.

Your eyes decide they'd rather see
Things not quite so near,
And your worries start to circle 'round
Strange new things that you fear,
Like heart attacks and cancers
Of the colon and the breast.
The doctor reads your numbers
And is really unimpressed.

College students seem like babes
Were news anchors always young?
To watch the entertainment news
Is to hear a different tongue.
Celebrities--they rise so fast to become household names,
You're not sure if you should care or not
When they spiral down in flames.

You start to slow, you fall behind,
You watch the young horde go
To higher hills and further realms
And deep inside you know
You may have passed the highest peak
Of physical finesse;
Gone are the days when you could find
Delight in your undress.

And yet the thing with feathers
Still perches in your soul
Resisting age's blandishments
And worry's timeless toll.

It keeps intact a child's way
Of looking at your days,
Insisting that you stop and see the thousand different ways
That time has brought you wisdom, and a chance to feel the peace
That descends when you stand still enough;
A soft and downy fleece.

It seems that youth is full of wants,
Of need and of desire,
And as we age, this slowing down
Brings meaning to "retire."
For in the French, this selfsame word
Means simply "to withdraw."
To pull back from the crazy push
Of society's great brawl.

Today I know it's not what I have
That makes my days complete.
Instead, I find that what I've done
Gives my heart its fullest beat.
I value more the memories
Of trips I've made afar
Than the art upon my walls or pennies in my jar.

The things I want my niece to know
Are not in numbers bound
But in the quiet sunrise
And the smallest creatures found,
In the satisfied reminders
Of people that you've known;
Connections made, laughs and jokes
Stick deep inside your bones.

I may still find some small regret
In stepping to the side,
But I smile in a knowing way
At youth's loud hue and cry.
Someday, they too may finally learn
There are no points to gain,
But patience and a sense of zen
Make up for all life's pain.

Epilogue: I've just noticed that I've used the word "insidious" to describe both age and Bermuda grass. I'll have to ponder if there are any meaningful conections to be made here.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Monday morning

Ugh. My legs still hurt from Saturday. Last night was the holiday staff party (or the staff holiday party?) at Miss Chef's restaurant. It's a good time, where Chef serves all the staff a full meal at one giant table stretching down the middle of the dining room. The past two years, this has been followed by the most enjoyable game of Charades I've ever had the pleasure of participating in.

This year was doubly difficult, because the three teens in the crowd kept writing down movies and tv shows most of the rest of us had never heard of. I guess I've finally found a drawback to not having cable. What the heck is "Steven's Untitled Rock Show," anyway?

We finally left the party around 10:00, and headed home to bed. But a belly full of beef tenderloin, potato gratin, chocolate cake and a couple glasses of cabernet sauvignon does not for restful slumber make. Stumbling out of the front door into a pitch-black wall of fog was extra disorienting this morning. Phew! It's been a comedy of errors this morning just getting to work, but I have hopes this confusion will smooth itself out.

It's days like this that make me happy to not be teaching anymore--you can't slide through a day of teaching half-alert!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Winter Gardening

I hate Bermuda grass.

I don't like to hate plants; after all, either they were here before we were, or it's our own damn fault they got here. But after wrestling with it for over two years, I am giving into my baser emotions.

I have to admit, Bermuda grass has a lot of admirable qualities. It's a tough little bugger of a plant, able to grow in hard, compact soil; able to go dormant during times of drought or temperature extremes; able to sprout up from any part of its little plant body. And it's exactly those qualities that piss me off.

Let me lay the groundwork (no pun intended): we have a bed surrounding our mailbox, which the previous owners planted with phlox and a dianthus-like plant. Both of them are literally covered with blooms for a month or so in the spring, making a very nice highlight in the front yard. The foliage creates a kind of mat, which has its own interest, and does a good job of shading out weeds.

Or so you would think.

For, you see, Bermuda grass is the very definition of insidious. It creates tough, ropelike runners underground, which it sends anywhere it can. Between stones, through landscaping cloth, even--I swear--through wood. I pulled up a large chunk of wood from old mulch that had a runner of Bermuda grass going through it lengthwise.
As the runners go, they send up shoots that are equally insidious in their quest for light.

So you can imagine that a paltry little mat of happy-go-lucky phlox is no match for this weed. The shoots come right up through it, while the runners lurk happily below the mat. Wanna pull it up? *snap!* Come back in day or two, and there are two sprouts where you removed one. Now the phlox is actually protecting the grass that is sapping all the nutrients in that soil that was so nicely amended.

Not only that, but once the Bermuda grass has pierced through the landscaping cloth, it actually uses it as an anchor, weaving tiny little rootlets into it, and snapping off at the surface.

My mother, during her visits, and I have both been trying to beat back this scourge, but all we've really been able to do is cut off the above-ground approach. Meanwhile, several inches below the soil, the runners have been running, and of course, re-sprouting. I finally gave up late last summer, and watched as the bed turned into unmowed lawn, completely camouflaging the phlox and dianthus.

However, now that we've had a couple of weeks of regular rain, and the temperatures hover in the high 50s, I was ready to launch a fresh attack. I decided to weed with a shovel. I essentially peeled up the phlox, pulled the grass roots out from below, and stacked the "disinfected" plants to the side. I also pulled up the landscaping cloth and tossed it. This took about two hours, at the end of which I was literally trembling. I am not in very good shape, and my muscles were wondering what the hell was going on. I finally had to quit about halfway through the project; about, oh, six or eight square feet.

I laid the phlox back down, trying to cover any exposed roots, and watered it in. It may or may not survive. At this point, I don't care. It's supposed to rain all day tomorrow, so it's going to be at least a week before I have any chance of finishing the job. And if the phlox gives up, so do I. I will give into Miss Chef's ongoing campaign to simply remove the brick border and let it grow into lawn.

What the hell, let the Bermuda grass do what it does best. I'm just afraid I'm eventually going to let it take over all my beds. I can just imagine a botanical domino effect spreading across both yards. But I'm not about to lose all that landscaping that makes our house look like a home. So, you may win this battle, little grass...but the war is far from over!

To borrow a phrase from Churchill, "...we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender..." If only I had an army.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the picture at top is a miniature Alberta spruce and some pansies I manged to plant in a container for our front stoop, before calling a general retreat for the day.