Good Yarns

Maybe I should have done more it during my extensive vacation from the office, but today I made my first official outing to learn more about my adopted city. (This will give me something to offer when co-workers inquire what I did over the holiday. A response about reading and hanging curtains just doesn't seem so captivating.)
The Chicago History Museum. Here was the full story I was seeking regarding Chicago burning during the Great Fire in 1871. I was amused that the historical society seems a little trapped between its responsibility to verifiable historical fact and the wish to spin a good yarn. There was an homage to the legend that Mrs. O'Leary's cow tipped over a gas lamp and started the conflagration, but it was presented as a side note. The Mayor apparently officially pardoned Mrs. O'Leary and her cow a few years ago, since there was never any conclusive evidence to blame them. The museum offered enough of a tribute though, to allow the sale of red cowbells in the gift shop.
It was a seemingly tenuous thread that drew me to the museum today though, an exhibit of Christian Dior dresses from the 1940s and 1950s. (How did this Parisian designer tie to Chicago? Marshall Field's was one of the biggest sellers of Dior couture in the U.S.) I learned that it was Dior silhouette, the "New Look" as it was called (narrow shoulders, full bosom, tiny waist, big hips, full skirt) that drove the invention of the push-up bra. And Dior invented the "A Line." Dior found an investor who was a textile manufacturer, who loved his designs with their voluminous skirts -- some dresses took up 25 yards of fabric!

A Hearty Tarpaulin of a Man

Once in awhile the evil forces evade my Yahoo! spam filter and a misguided promotional, doubtless virus-laden, e-mail ends up in my in-box, masquerading as a legitimate message. I usually rely on Yahoo! to sort through the junk mail (and wish I had a similar servant at home!) so I rarely actually read the nonsense that goes into these messages. However, I inadvertantly discovered (by a slight mis-click) that instead of being entirely perverse, pornographic or explicit content that I expected, select spam seems to have evolved into a poetry unto itself:
stand looking dumbly at the device while I quietly died of thirst or
to work in an office anymore.
This went on until you couldnt see the trees for the mountains of
And with a million credits in the bank you can buy lawyers, live the Great. How do we get to meet Heimskur?

This pitch is supposed to entice you to buy Viagra. Really, very poetic and profound. No? Get Viagra, plus free sweet nothings to whisper in your lover's ear.

In addition, this message, with subject line "To Nightmare":
Since you are so particular, says I, I will amend my question, and in the part, and we had not got to the second merchants before she was moon nor stars to guide us; only the whiteness of the way in the midst Lesmahago, I believe, a very hearty, friendly tarpaulin of a man...

Had I taken a few more English classes in college maybe I'd recognize some of the prose as lifted from other places. Others have recognized this as art unto itself: The Spam Poetry Institute.
All good art may at some time face censorship by those who just don't understand. Your tax dollars are hard at work on the FTC website offering tips via underwater cartoon characters and cheesy (or, fishy) jokes warning us about phishing. Ironically, the site offers the option for you to spam your friends with an anti-phishing e-card from the FTC.

Powered by Procrastination

Wonderful Day 5 of Holiday Vacation. So glorious that, in fact, I had to consider what day of the week it was. I was momentarily horrified when my computer calendar incorrectly said it was Thursday! I was then truly dismayed to see that my first day back to work has made it onto the 7-Day Weather Forecast on the evening news. ("A weekend in every forecast!") That's at least one reason to prefer the 5-Day Forecast.
Despite this being my vacation, there are a few work-related tasks that I assigned myself during the break, like doing my year-end review and spending time thinking about a presentation filled with clinical data and such. My task is to provide the summarizing slides. My history major, summarizing scientific relevancy for physicians. Yahoo!
But there's a much longer list of tasks that have been accomplished in procrastination of the real work: planning curtains for the guest room, reorganizing the closet (both of them), finishing reading my book, hunting around for the best post-Christmas sale on kitchen knives. In my mind, knives are devastatingly expensive. However, when it's your little fingers at stake, it seems that a blunt instrument might be dangerous. So there are new knives in our home. (60% off too!) I also researched a Pottery Barn coffee table, comparing prices of floor samples versus web sale. Jason has remarked that he likes my having free time, since our dinners have leapt forward in their taste. And just the mere consistency of their being a dinner planned each night is impressing me too.

My Popular Education

Definitive proof that my family was not normal: This is the first year I'm watching A Christmas Story. Sure, it's one of those movies that is so strong in the undercurrent of popular Christmas culture that there are catchphrases I already knew ("you're gonna shoot your eye out!") and never once was I discouraged from putting my tongue on a cold pole without an allusion to A Christmas Story.
This Christmas Jason turned the channel to TBS, leaving me with my Christmas Eve homework: watch. With the movie on a 24 hour loop I don't feel guilty about wandering away from the TV to surf the net, or clean the kitchen. (Which I've cleaned and then sullied by cooking about twice already today.)
I did have to ask Jason towards the beginning, "So does anything happen in this movie? Is it going to be sad? A holiday tear-jerker?" Nope, just literally a story about Christmas, nothing tragic. Unless you count the shattering of that ugly lamp.
In a funny coincidence, the movie we watched last night, The Breakup, featured now adult Ralphie, in a minor supporting role. Seeing him in a role where he has kids of his own is surely a sign that I am woefully behind in my popular education. I think we must have spent too much time folding origami for our Japanese Christmas tree.

Our Dirty Laundry

A popular amusement for Jason, when we find ourselves in mixed company, is to ask the couples in attendance, "If you don't mind my asking, who does the laundry in your house?" His research to-date (not coincidentally supporting his thesis, due to what I believe to be selective sampling) delivers the conclusion that he is the only man in a relationship in America doing his own laundry. There's a quick head turn to me with the accusatory (mocking) question, "See, why won't you do my laundry?" Followed up by self-pitying frown.
Before I go too far, I will allow Jason a rebuttal here so that he won't continue to moan about being the "whipping boy for my blog." (That's a real quote, with overtones of melodrama.) When threatened with publication of this debate in blog forum, Jason rushed to include a statement that he is a "new age guy" and doesn't really think I should be doing all of the laundry. But he did make some comment about doing laundry being in exchange for the generosity of being granted right to vote. (Mocking again.)

I counter that now that we have important matters to consider like voting, there's just no time for extra laundry. My opinion is that my female peers who are doing their hubby or boyfriend's laundry are a failure in the solidarity with fellow women-folk, succumbing to the archiac, societally prescribed roles for women, that are no longer relevant since women are doing much more these days. (Woah, felt like I was back at Oberlin there for a minute...) I asked my Aunt Eleanor, who has been married twice, who did the laundry in her marriages. I found it telling that during her 1970s marriage, she did. In her 1990s marriage, the task was shared.
Some of my survey participants noted that their agreement to laundry had not been unconditional; it was in exchange for other chores assigned to him, i.e. keeping the kitchen clean, cleaning the bathroom. However, there was universal agreement that the woman's tolerance for dirt was lower than the man's and the chore often ended up being done less frequently than desired. I guess that bathroom cleanup has no neat definition of need and urgency such as, "I don't have any underwear."

Jason does see some of the rationale of my argument that he should do his own laundry, especially since he works from home, just 12 feet away from the washer/dryer. When I consider that my own commute is a grand total of 2 1/2 hours a day, I begin to consider if he should be doing mine.

The NYT recently offered an article on those pesky kinds of things that should be sorted out prior to marriage. The accompanying article offers tips like that you shouldn't just submit the list to your partner as though it's a quiz. (Which I did because I read the list first and then the article. Oopsie.) Agreement upon the divyving up of household chores like laundry makes the list at #3, and oddly so does whether or not there should be a tv in the bedroom.
NYT: Questions Couples Should Ask (Or Wish They Had) Before Marrying.

Finally, for the record, Jason does his own laundry, proving perhaps that he is the only man in a relationship in America that I want to be in a relationship with. And I do my own laundry.

Flaky Post

Here's a fun little seasonal activity from Juliet & the Salvation Army: Create Your Own Snowflake.

When Will I Find the Time?

I browsed the aisles of Barnes & Noble last night, Christmas gift card from Aunt Marion & Glenn tucked in my hand (secretly glad that they'd switched off of the annual summer sausage and cheese gift box) eyeing the spines of each book for an interesting title. Mom once worked in a used bookstore in Philadelphia's 30th Street Station, a dusty and cavernous shop, and met someone who was killing time before their next train. I don't know how the conversation arose, although I imagine it might have been while mom was punching up their total on the calculator at checkout and spied a distinctly oddball collection of unrelated titles. It turned out that this shopper merely bought books for their amusing titles. A game, for their friends to notice during parties and dinners. I wonder if this is why I have an inherited book, "How to Tell Your Friends From the Apes" on my bookshelf today.
I haven't read it, but that brings me back to my dilemma: the backlog of books that I am dying to read, but haven't found the time. And last night I added Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser and Are Men Necessary? by Maureen Dowd to the pile.
Sadly, I am still working my way through the first of the pile of books that Juliet bought me for my September birthday, Sophie's Choice. (Juliet's gift giving theme was housecleaning my amazon wishlist.) My author, William Styron died just as I started reading the book, but I had to block out reading the obituaries, just in case there might be some surprise ending that I'm approaching page by turning page.
Despite the growing pile, I want more books. And I optimistically stack them up on my bedside table, feeling that I will get to each and every one of them, in just a little bit. Which one next? And how shall I welcome the new volumes that I hope Santa Claus may bring?
Evelyn, not coincidentally both a bookworm and my mother's best friend, read (and once valiantly tried) a home organization tip to put stickers on the spine of each book you have waiting to be read. Only when you have collected 3 stickers (peeling them off as you complete each book) can you purchase a new book. But certainly there must be an exemption for gift cards from Aunt Marion and Uncle Glenn.

All I Want for Christmas (Not a Toaster)

If there's one thing (we all know there's more than one thing, but let's pretend) that irks me about the holiday season it's the ads for items like vacuums, mops and emergency car starters that frame these items as the PERFECT!!! holiday gift for wife, girlfriend, sister or daughter. (If you really love her and care for her safety in perilous roadside situations, you wouldn't wait for Christmas to get that car starter.)
Clearly these ads are aimed at unfortunate men who have no idea what to get their wives for Christmas. Driven by a practical and well-intentioned impulse they think to themselves, "yes, Sweetheart does clean the house often, perhaps she would like the Dirt Devil Cone Vac." This new product even caught Jason's eye one evening as we browsed the aisles in Target. "Don't you think this is cool?" he asked, admiring its design which camouflages its purpose as a dirt sucker. I think it lights up too. "It's a vacuum," I replied flatly.
Answering questions like "Don't you think X is cool?" around Christmas time deserves caution as it is often a loved one's covert attempt to test your feelings on finding that item under the tree. I therefore tried to be kind but firm that this cleaning tool is not be an item I'm interested in seeing in gift wrap. In hindsight, I should have suggested that if Jason liked it, he could get it himself, and start vacuuming the house too. :) Or better yet, maybe it'll be under the tree with a gift tag addressed to him...
While other daughters may take lessons from their mothers regarding the perfect seasoning for lamb chops, from my mom I learned the rule that there should never be any gift under the tree that has an electric plug attached to it. No vacuums, no toasters. I suggest the addendum that if it's something for the kitchen or cleaning -that has not been specifically asked for- it should also be left on the store shelf.
However, I write with the bravado of someone who does not know what she's getting for Christmas. I will be very bashful and guilty if I open a gift from Jason or others who have decided that I would like the new Swiffer Sweeper Vac.
I felt very sad yesterday, waiting in line at Macy's, when a man came up asking if they sold Vera Bradley bags. The answer was no, and the sales associate could not even suggest where he might find one. The man looked crestfallen, "Oh, I had heard you carried them." He left, shoulders slightly drooped in failure. I wished I knew where they sell those bags, because I worried that after this initial attempt met with failure, he might end up in the aisles of Sears instead, considering a different gift. I wanted to shout after him, "TRY ONLINE! E-BAY! E-BAY! Just please, keep trying! She doesn't want a Dremel!"
p.s.: All I want for Christmas is here.

Merry -oops- Christmas

Sunday was definitely one of those days where it is good that brain surgery was not my chosen path. An unfortunate day when bad luck and mishaps jumped out at me as I turned every corner.
After spending a good half hour (likely an hour plus an eternity by Scroogy Jason's timekeeping) we determined that our crooked Christmas tree just could not be righted, so we shoved one issue of InStyle and another issue of Cooking Light magazine under the stand and called it done.
I started to wrap my strand of pretty multi-colored lights around, only to realize that I was just one third up the tree, but with 1/16th of the strand left in hand. With determined patience I hopped in the car to return to Lowes. Lowes let me down. Three weeks ago there had been a full aisle of lights, of many and sundry types, shapes and sizes, and beckoning lighted Santa Claus', snowmen and miniature motion-activated carollers. This week there were about twelve types of extension cords but none of the lights I'd seen on my last visit. (Mental note that if you don't get to Lowes the weekend after Thanksgiving, you will have a very dark Christmas.) So off to Home Depot, where there were lights, but none to match the kind I had at home. As someone who feels like she occasionally puts up with too much of "almost good enough" I was determined not to have mismatched lights. So I bought two new strands. And then back drove home, (stopping by a gas station where I put 75 cents in the vacuum machine to suck up the pine needles in my trunk and backseat, from the tree's journey home, only to learn that the machine apparently breaks down in the cold and therefore had no suction to offer. I drove on with needles hastily brushed away instead. See what I mean by putting up with 'almost good enough?') I returned to my tree only to realize that one of the new Home Depot strands did not even work. Even after fuse replacement that certainly mirrored brain surgery. ARGH. (Lights pictured above courtesy of Target.)
And I burnt a batch of Christmas cookies too. Then I tried another type later that night and they never seemed to cook well enough. Since these six dozen cookies were for a Girl's Night Cookie Swap I certainly couldn't offer up undercooked treats to people who I consider friends. This is where I learned that you cannot re-cook your holiday cookies, especially after you have painstakingly lifted them off of the pan and onto delicately balanced cookie racks.
If you don't hear back from me and Jason for a few weeks it may be that I have killed us with under-cooked salmonella infected cookies. Or that our tree has fallen down off of its magazine perch, with lights blowing out and hit us on our heads. If so, perhaps the cat can carry on this blog.
Merry Christmas!

Home Stretch

You may have heard in the news that there was some craziness in downtown Chicago lately. Namely, a gunman who went after a patent lawyer who he thought had stolen his idea for a truck toilet. The patent lawyers must have felt that they'd gone into the safest facet of law practice, not criminal defense or prosecution; just shuffling paperwork through the government patent office. Sadly, not.
The personal impact of this event was that the office building where the shooting took place also happens to be terminus for many of the suburban rail lines, including the one that takes me home from work. All the trains were halted immediately, and for about 2 hours. Although my offices are located in "North Chicago" they're really nowhere near Chicago proper. I was seriously stranded.
But my commuting colleagues and I rallied, quickly flipped open cell phones to comparison shop the cost of two different taxi companies and one limousine service to arrange alternate transport home. Ultimately it felt like we were all going to prom together, not just trying to get home on a Friday night, as it was the limousine service that gave us the best price home. A stretch limo no less.
In looking for some photo to make this post more visually interesting, I couldn't happen but reflect on how many different cars they turn into limos: hummers, SUVs, and even the little Mini Cooper. Seems like the Mini is supposed to be the philosophical antithesis of a limo. (No such fun for us though: we made it home in a staid, traditional towncar.) To any bystander it might have look those darn wasteful pharma executives, taking limousines home from work, geez.

The Winter I Was Promised Arrives

...but I'm not there to see it. However, the Chicago Tribune offers coverage and these photos, which seemed a nice contrast to my post of a couple, warm and sunny, days ago.

Grab Your Things, I've Come to Take You Home

I've mused before that these days it's hard to know how to characterize "home." In rummaging thru my glove compartment tonight I realized there are envelopes labeled "Philadelphia Directions," "Ohio Directions" and now I should start one for Chicago. (Driven by the rare combination psychological disorder: Type A personality combined with pack-rat, I save directions to most places I have to go. Never know when you might visit again...and it's embarrassing to ask your cousin every year what exit she is on the Jersey turnpike.) The crinkled maps also shoved in the glove box reflect where I've lived, as well as where I've ventured to see others: New York, Westchester County, Connecticut, Rhode Island.
Most of the people I work with assume that home is Columbus, since that is where I moved to Chicago from. (And I delivered a sufficient amount of jibes to the many Michigan grads I work with prior to the big game. I'm still looking for one co-worker who took the week of Thanksgiving off so that I may now gloat. He seems to be in hiding.)
But there is "home-home", which is where I head this week. As most trips back to PHL go, there is a busy schedule: Dinner here, an Uncle Paul lunch there, and then the casual night where I hope to do nothing much more than hang out with Juliet and Hugh. (Mark your calendars for Friday night please, guys.) Along the way, I'll be trying to make sure to spend time absorbing the things I sometimes miss from home, like the lights on Rittenhouse Square at the holidays, a sandwich from Le Bus, a real soft pretzel, a ride down Kelly Drive.
And the seasonal day trip to NYC to see Gram. Aww, Gram. Gram whose home has been the same little apartment in New York City for the past 50-plus years. Barely traveling out of a 100 mile radius during this time; 105 miles to Juliet's wedding last year, complete with an overnight stay away from home no less. She has no car, much less labeled envelopes stuffed with directions from Google maps. She doesn't even have the Google. She only needed one map: here is Czechoslovakia, there is New York, I'm done.

Tiny Bites

Where do I go from here? On Friday night we dined at America's Best Restaurant, Alinea, so designated by Gourmet Magazine. After the fact, it's odd to reflect that we have had the best. According to the most refined palates in America, it does not get any better. And they only do this list every five years.
Dining at Alinea was a once in a lifetime experience. Not only for how tasty the food was, but for how uniquely it was prepared and presented. I did not dare bring my camera in (wishing to pull off the impression that this was just a hum-drum, run-of-the-mill dinner for moi), but I did find photos online that document the full experience.
We had a 14 course tasting menu, meaning that each round was literally just a biteful of food. But in each bite were more pointed and distinct flavors than you could ever get in a whole night at the Olive Garden. Gourmet Magazine described our first course of hot potato, cold potato, black truffle and parmesan as follows, "This is dining as performance art, and each tiny interactive dish teases, astonishes, delights. You pull out a pin and watch a little puff of cheesy hot potato drop into a tiny curved cuplet of soup that you slurp as if it were an oyster." (See photo above.)
There was one course of bacon, butterscotch, apple and thyme where the ingredients were wrapped delicately up in the bacon, which hung suspended by a thin wire over the plate.
For another course we received what appeared to be a tall narrow shot glass, with a bright orange gobstopper balancing above clear liquid. This was a dish of carrot, smoked paprika and orange, which we were encouraged to just open wide and knock back down our throats. (There were quite a few courses where we started to feel like we were doing shots, just of solid food and not liquid. After each curiously arranged plate arrived we had to look up at our servers begging for instructions as to how we were supposed to attack this round. Lick-it, slam-it, suck-it?)
Another plate placed before us had a upside down glass covering the food, which the waiters then lifted up releasing a gentle smoky cloud smelling like burnt oak or tobacco; the smoke cleared revealing rabbit prepared with cider and roasted garlic. All of our senses were ordered to attention and engagement for this evening.
The New York Times has called Alinea's kind of cooking "molecular gastronomy" where your chicken in sauce may arrive with the sauce being a solid and the chicken a liquid. Along these lines, we had one course of Concord Grape where a purple rectangle was placed before us, with a slight frosty fog covering its surface. A frozen and chewy grape, but with a walloping concentrated flavor. I compared it to the nearest similar experience I had before, which would be, as a kid, taking a spoonful of the ACME frozen grape juice before you mix it up with the required three cans of water. (Gourmet Magazine could probably describe it better.)
For a girl who was just proud to have managed her first mashed potatoes for this year's Thanksgiving dinner Alinea is far, far out of reach of what I might ever hope to replicate at home. (Compared to what I make at home, Alinea does not serve food, it serves sorcery.) However I think I can walk away with an appreciation of the flavors that lie within each ingredient, and how with the proper conjuring they can be called forth with a saturated kick. YUM.

Christmas Comes to Chicago

It's the beginning of the holiday season in Chicago. Although we were there to see the art, out-of-town guests Abby and David and I viewed the "wreathing of the lions" at the Art Institute on Friday. Special museum hours were supposed to see the doors open at 10 am, but instead they detained us on the steps for a children's choir and maintenance guys hoisting greenery up on the statuary. I wondered if they would have had an audience for the ceremony if they hadn't deceived us with those holiday hours which were supposed to have us already in the doors a half hour earlier. But we participated, even counting down with the crowd to light the little pine trees flanking the entrance.
There were throngs of shoppers on Michigan Ave; the most crowded I've ever seen it. And there was the German Village crafts market on Daley Plaza, in the shadow of oddball Picasso sculpture. This was helpful too, as I finally figured out what Chicago's city hall looks like. Philadelphia's is hard to miss, with William Penn standing at the top and it's taking up an entire city block. (Chicago's is the stone building on the left in the photo. Good to know if and when I ever get called for jury duty.)
Tomorrow I'm planning on bringing Christmas to our apartment, at least in the form of some festive holiday lights around our outdoor deck. After rooting around the storage locker tonight, I realized that I must have tossed my Christmas lights in our move. Nevermind, it just permits a trip to Home Depot or Lowe's for a custom designed light installation. I'm debating whether lighted greenery garlands will add warmth and texture ...or tackiness to the deck. I'm usually a fan of the classic multi-colored lights. A good Charlie Brown vibe. Definitely none of those icicle lights, they're a little overdone. You should have seen the look on dear Jason's face when I mused aloud about taping up the icicle lights on the exposed heating duct work that runs the length of our living room ceiling.

Gobble Gobble

Here comes Thanksgiving. One of my favorite traditions of the holiday is admittedly the annual Presidential Pardon of the turkey. (A favorite West Wing episode also.) Although I'm not cooking the bird, I have been assigned the mashed potatoes and salad for tomorrow's feast. Jason and I had a little potato peeling date tonight where about 10 pounds of Yukon Gold were denuded. All right, there's a potentially cheeky remark there about our clothing status after this "date" which I will politely decline to make. (We remained fully clothed.)
And since wine buffs David and Abby will be coming into town, we're also in charge of the beverages. To others who may be interested, and since it is Wine Blogging Wednesday, here is David's advice for holiday wine: David laments that Thanksgiving is full of wine unfriendly flavors so he recommends a dry to off dry German Riesling or Cru Beaujolais (specifically Fleurie & Julienas... and I can't really tell you what that means.) For "Thanksgiving is an America holiday and requires American wine" purists, David humbly suggests an Anderson Valley (CA) or Oregon Pinot Noir, under 14% alc. Others may advise Roussanne or Viognier for whites and Zinfandel or Syrah for reds. At all costs, David warns that this is not really a Chardonnay or Cabernet meal. For the leftovers, this guy has further wine recs.

p.s. I can't help but giggle at this photo, below, of a previous Presidential pardon. Dick Cheney is poorly hiding his smug desire to fire some bird shot on that poor turkey.

Hit Me Baby One More Time

It's a baby weekend. Today there was a baby shower to attend, which I mistakenly kept on calling a bridal shower. Freudian persistency, revealing a denial that my friends are moving into Phase II of their lives. Especially since I'm not up to Phase I: Wedding yet. I'm not used to being behind the class! >:(
Going to Babies R'Us for the gifts was crazy, so many things to buy for a new baby: a million different kinds of cups, bottles, breast feeding pumps, pads, blanket-like-things and to do. So many moms and grandmom's swarming around, chasing errant children through the aisles and parking lot. It was ironic to hear from the other moms at the party how many things might never be used or needed, like the little snuggly baby hoodie bathrobe. Cute, but useless I suppose.
Thankfully the shower games were light. There had been a threat of having to eat mysterious foods (resembling you-know-what) out of diapers and guessing what the food was. Ick. One surprisingly challenging game was the jotting down the most songs with "baby" in the title. Very hard when the first song in your head is "Hit Me Baby One More Time" and then no other songs can conquer its ubiquitous tune. Half of the room started with "Hit Me..." and the other half found that "Baby's Got Back" was the first song in their head. Try this yourself, it's not as easy as it seems.
Tomorrow I will be babysitting twin 6-month olds, thankfully with a second set of hands. Apparently an even adult-to-child ratio is advantageous.

Aural Memories

As I was driving home tonight, I noticed a trash can sitting outside on the street. Waiting for the returning homeowner to drag it back in, empty. It reminded me of a familiar summmer sound: the rumble of a plastic trash can dragging and bumping gently along the long cement driveway alongside our house, a signal that Dad was home from work. This was back in the day before wheels were integrated into every plastic trash can.
I wonder why the brain holds onto certain pieces of information, but then never manages to imprint others (like a co-worker's wife's name, or how much the electric bill was this month so Jason can pay me half.)
In the catacombs of my grey matter there will always be:
- The sound of a garbage can coming up the driveway
- Grown-up voices chattering downstairs at a dinner party
- The muffled click of the tape recorder turning off after a song on a radio mix tape
- Squeaking sneakers on a gym floor
- The screech of the Philadelphia El line making the turn by the York-Daupin station
- Any Honda starting up (I drove one for 10 years)
- His desk chair rolling across the wooden floor boards and Jason clearing his throat while working late in his office, as I snuggle deeper into the covers and fall asleep. This is probably one of the sounds I won't want to forget.

12 miles later, craving ice cream

I fought all the lazy little bones in my body this evening, and despite each one of their whispered yearnings to stay on the couch with Starbucks Java Chip ice cream, I went to the gym. On a rainy, cold night no less. The secret of my success might have been changing into my gym clothes immediately upon arriving home, even though I knew I wanted a bite to eat first. My nose and eyes were keened to every person eating on the train ride home. Ham sandwich slathered with mustard on my left; carrot sticks next to him; Panera sandwich on the lower level. I came home hungry as a hippo. But it certainly would have been ridiculous to be found sitting on the couch, in my gym clothes, with nothing planned but a microwaved meal. I shamed myself into going to work out.
I hope I can do it again. I realized the need for a return visit over lunch today when I reached my arms behind me to stretch and felt like there were cobwebs falling off of the muscles of my shoulders, and heard the creaking of my shoulder blades being forced into a greater range motion than is required in a normal day of cubicle slouching.
But I still would really like some Java Chip. Have 12 miles on the bike earned that?

Hot Dogs, Cold Fans

2. Long underwear top
3. Long sleeve shirt (blue - advised by Jason to remove at the bar as OSU fans might mistake me for a Michigan fan. My rookie mistake.)
4. Hoodie (Appropriately emblazoned OHIO STATE.)
5. Long underwear tights
6. Jeans
7. Wool socks
8. Winter boots
9. Turtle fur neck warmer
10. Mittens
11. Puffy coat
12. Stadium blanket, tucked tightly
Despite those well-planned layers, I was still a little cold at the Ohio State/Northwestern game. The second not-surprising piece of information to share from the game is that Ohio State won. 54-10. The first two touchdowns came quickly in the first quarter, right in front of our end zone seats. Unfortunately while Jason stood in line for hot dogs and sodas.
The streets of Evanston were saturated in scarlet and gray as early as 11 am this morning. Being a very short flight and fairly reasonable drive away from Ohio, the Northwestern game drew many Buckeye fans. (We hosted two out-of-towners ourselves.) The Northwestern fan sitting next to me during the game complained to his girlfriend on the other end of his cell that of the 40,000 attendees, 30,000 were Ohio State fans.
Although with some confidence that today's game would be a put-away for the team, most fans used this Saturday as a pre-party for next weekend's OSU vs. Michigan game. I learned a new song; it goes, "Oh, we don't give a damn for the whole state of Michigan!..." This 1940 song, offering a very straightforward opinion of the Wolverines, is still in my head 7 hours later. (Use the link to put it in yours too, and read a little about the rivalry.)
And seven hours later, I'm still kind of exhausted. It's surprising how tiring sitting down in the cold, and then crushing back into the El to get home, can be. But certainly a worthwhile rite of passage. I'm making my short-list of museums to drag Jason to as recompense though.

p.s. We don't really know that guy in the photo, he was just pretty friendly. Most folks from Columbus are that way.

How Does One Properly Prepare?

I stand on the cusp of an auspicious event for Claire: my first Ohio State Game. Ironically, it follows my move away from Columbus. This year the Buckeyes play Northwestern at Northwestern, just a few miles north from our new home in Chicago.
Not only is this my first OSU game, it's my first serious live football game. I am not counting the one or two football games that Abby and I made an appearance at, out of idle curiosity, at Oberlin. Considering they never once won, and barely scored the whole time we were there, I'm not sure those games count.
(Wikipedia offers some education on my alma mater's tragic football history: Ours was the first team coached by John Heisman --yeah, as in Heisman Trophy!--, who led the team to a 7–0 record in 1892. We even beat OSU twice! But in the modern era our fortune has changed: "The Oberlin teams of 1994 to 2000 have been rated the fifth worst college football teams of all time by")
Being a girl, and one who worries a lot at that, I think the most serious preparation consideration I have is how to properly bundle for a November football game on the shores of Lake Michigan. And properly sport the scarlet and grey. And look cute. Part of the answer must be layers.
Although it was 65 degrees here yesterday, giving me a totally false sense of security going into my first Chicago winter.

I Hope You Voted Today

I hope you voted today. I did, before going to work. I was voter #11 at my polling station. The folks in Chicago get up earlier than those in Philadelphia. I was reliably a single digit in my old Philadelphia neighborhood. At work, my suburban coworkers displayed their voting stickers. "I didn't get one of those," I jealously grumbled. My coworker pointed out that they might not give the "I Voted!" stickers within the city limits, because it would show that you'd already voted, preventing you from going back to the polls a second or third time.
Despite the legendary Chicago polling station generosity I didn't try to vote twice today.
I eagerly sit watching the voting returns tonight. I already saw Pennsylvania's Rick Santorum's concession speech, and his poor little daughter clutching her American Girl doll, looking like she was really going to lose it. Poor gal, your dad lost in the Senate. Oh yeah, and your dad's Rick Santorum.
Ouch, I'm sorry. How smug I get with just a little nudge towards a Democratic congress. I'll repent quickly, lest I jinx tonight's trend. Rats, they just declared the AZ senate seat for a Republican.

You Love the Things That Make Me Cranky

This blog may have at times seemed to struggle to define its theme. Unlike the blogs of my peers, the focus is not denim, and it's only occasionally about cocktails but not once about yarn.
Much like the way that I selected my major in college, I look at the proliferation of topics (or history classes) and see my path. That this blog exists for me to share the little irksome things in my life with you. And you appear to like to read about those things. Sure I might be able to sign up for Google AdSense and make mountains of pennies a day with some focus, but this is far more satisfying.
Today let's draw our attention to computers and specifically, presentations. I have just sat through 9 hours of them so I consider myself a subject matter expert. Here are a few matters that require humankind's attention:
The Fly on the Wall Pointer: Someone wishes to show you a video on screen, but neglects to move their pointer out of the way. So just like a fly sitting on the screen, there's the little arrow, or pointing finger, wandering around aimless and lost. In the way.
The Singalong Bouncing Red Dot: Perhaps corporate types should take lessons in responsible use of the laser pointer. I sat through a presentation today where the speaker tried to keep her audience riveted to each and every one of her words by pointing to each of them with the laser pointer. Just like the old school cartoon singalongs facilitated by the boucing red dot. Or maybe karoke. To be helpful, she started circling some words for our special attention. We get it, we're reading.
I can at least take solace that Microsoft did address one of my hall-of-fame irritations, Clippy, that annoying and nosy MS Office Assistant. (He was dismissed years ago, much to my delight.) You'd click him to make him go away and like some slimy guy at the bar who insists you'll miss him the minute he walks away, Clippy would wink at you! "Ciao baby!" he seemed to say.
These are the little things. For the record I'd like to point out that there are many big things that bother me too: war; terrorism; hunger; disease (hereditary, viral, bacterial, unexplained); social inequality; racism; religions who preach love but practice hate; that gay people can't marry; poverty; homelessness; layoffs; sick people who can't afford healthcare; medical errors; spousal abuse; animal abuse; child abuse (children not intentionally put behind animals); crime; addiction; death. But as you can see, there's a lot less anxiety in harping over Clippy and his bouncing laser pointer pals. I'm lucky to have such small worries.

Palm Tree Inspector Covers Both Coasts

After flying home from San Diego just last night, I find myself comparing the features of palm trees on the eastern coast in Miami for a weekend business meeting. Well, at least I'll do that in the morning, since all I saw out of the cab windows tonight were leafy silohuettes. (Which, incidentally, look pretty similar to those on the west coast.)
How quickly the vacation ends and I'm back to being an e-mailing, note-taking, frequent flying, member of the white-collar working class.
There's no elegant segue here, but I want to tell you about my flight home yesterday. A brutal, well at least soggy, experience catapulting me back to real life. Jason and I board our flight. Since I had window seat on the way out, he gets window on the way back. (Sound like a familiar routine, Juliet? Front seat! Front seat!) I perch on the edge of my middle seat while arranging my bag under the seat in front of me, and once it's suitably wedged in, I sink back to get comfortable. And then, 1....2....3...4.. My Seat Is Wet! MY SEAT IS WET! EEEEWWWWW. I jump up, and climb over fellow travelers negotiating their luggage into overhead bins to address my situation to the flight attendants not paying attention in the back of the plane. I might have elbowed a little old man on my way, sorry. But there is a soaking wet seat at 22E!! While I am away complaining to the attendants, I am told that Jason rubbed his fingers on the seat and then gingerly smelled his fingertips, just to make sure it was a beverage that had spilled. The woman on the other side of my seat promptly gave him a wet-nap, just in case it wasn't.
Let me offer a point of advice to my internet audience of 5: if you spill your drink on the plane, Tell Someone. Spare the next passenger the discomfort and disgust of a soggy jeans bottom. I fumed for 10 minutes waiting in the aisleway, discretely trying to wave air onto the seat of my pants to expedite the drying process to little avail. (A recent NYT article pointed out that the now-CEO of JetBlue shared my same experience, which is why all the seats on his airline are leather. Smart man!)
They swapped in a new seat, chirping about how this is how American Airlines is here to serve me, and allowing Jason to actually practice how to remove your seat cushion, which also functions as a flotation device. This new seat worked fine until I realized that the back of the seat had been splashed as well. At which point Jason demonstrated the further utility of aircraft safety tools by taking the laminated safety card and putting it behind me as a protective barrier. Better.

Last Day of Vaca

I am averaging about 70 photos a day on this vacation. Thank you digital photography. Loading the old plastic roll of film onto the spokes of a 35mm camera seems so arcane by comparison. And then the waiting for photos to come back from CVS to know how good your vacation had really been.
Granted, about 10 of those photos are of our hotel shower, which is a functional wonder. A large shower stall with glass door, one of those rainfall shower heads, and a healthy size ledge/bench for sitting or propping a leg up for shaving. As Jason and I inch closer towards home ownership, these things take on more meaning and value. Yes, we were wooed by the jacuzzi tub of our apartment, but I think the jets have been fired up just once in 6 months, and yet we spend every day cramping into the the standing-coffin-size shower. We've also discussed the imperative need for a heated towel rack.
Even though I may paint myself the compulsive shutterbug (who else takes 10 photos of a shower?) I do remember that it's better to put down the camera and experience the moment and the place through my own eyes. Your memory can absorb the sounds, the smells, and the sights with far more depth than any photo. It would be a shame to see my entire vacation through the lens of a camera alone.
But for those of you who cannot be here, you might enjoy the photos.

Create Your Own!

Things We Have Done On Vacation

1. Satisfied Jason's west coast urge for In-n-Out Burger
2. Walked ... a lot, around Balboa Park, Pacific Beach, Coronado Island, and Santa Monica
3. Missed two different art museums after showing up on days that they were closed, or at the wrong branch. (This is why I usually obsessively and successfully plan!!)
4. Watched the sunset in Santa Monica
5. Experienced the gridlock of LA traffic
6. Made a hodge-podge sloppy blog photo entry
7. Invited my blog guests to spend 30 seconds on vacation with me:

Vaca in Photos

Vacation Day 2 - fewer complete sentences in today's blog as I detach more and more from workaday tasks like communication.
Spent the day with Jason's sister, Courtney, and her b-friend, Claudio, in La Jolla. Courtney brought us up to speed on the local wildlife politics (what a surprise, in California.) The seals hang out on the beach. Some people think they should be able to use the beach. And despite specially designed signs discouraging it, they set up umbrellas and towels on said beach, under the scornful eye of tourists and locals who come to enjoy the seals. It seems petty to me, especially when you see the little beach. Is it really worthwhile to try to claim every square inch of land for human domination? Do we really need those specific grains of sand to add to the piles that we've already claimed for public and private beaches on both coasts?
However, the seals sleep and scratch themselves under the sun, seemingly unaware of the animosity around them.

California Dreaming

Vacation: Day 1
View from Hotel Balcony
Wonder if Jason and I can rent one of those tandem bikes. If so, a photo will be blogged. But considering the minor meltdown he had being out of control of the driving (rental car is in my name, so therefore I had to be the driver as we exited the Hertz parking lot) and the quick temper flare I had in reaction to his back seat driving, we might be better off on separate two wheelers.

1980 Calling...

In my last job we had the same phones that CTU has on 24, from Cisco System. They have all the features that we presume to be standard on our personal cell phones: caller id, missed call log, speed dial. (On 24 I figure they probably have some extra perks, like ability to track Jack Bauer across international borders.) You could change the ring tone too: jazz saxophone or piano interlude? A couple of different lines, so while chatting with your loved one about what's for dinner you could know that the important client was calling in (and weigh whether it'd be easier just to let them leave their problem on voicemail so you could call back with a solution already prepared.)
At my new job, at a considerably bigger and one might think, wealthier, company I seem to have the same phone my sister had in her college dorm room. 10 years ago. Come to think of it, her phone probably had even more features. This Fisher-Price looking phone on my desk has no useful features, not even a second line. If I'm on the phone discussing leftover meatloaf there's no way to know if anyone else is calling. Meatloaf is the mandatory priority. (Maybe the point that the higher-up's are trying to make is that I should minimize the personal calls? Do you think?)
This is just one of the disappointing surprises of coming into corporate life. I figured things might be a little more luxe, especially versus the start-up where I'd worked before. I guess I forget that at a start-up the decisions are made by a handful of folks who are innovative and ambitious. At a big corporation the purchasing is made by a committee of bean counters, who probably don't even have cell phones of their own yet.

One Potato, Two Potato

Not that this is going to become a "Claire as Fledgling Cook" blog or an obsessive food diary, but tonight we made yummy baked potatoes. I even snuck a vegetable into Jason's diet with steamed broccoli on top. (Don't tell him that the veggie count was actually two - since potatoes are veggies.)
Jason suggested he might call his grandmother to tell her that I had to look up how to cook a baked potato in my Good Housekeeping Cookbook. (Ok people, stop laughing. No one wants a crunchy potato, unless it's in saturated-fat chip format.)
They were so tasty that no photos could be captured prior to their speedy consumption. Their representative appears in their place, above.

Half Teaspoon Childhood Memory

My best cooking (all three dishes!) seems to be most suited to the colder weather. And with less inclination to spend time outside as the days grow chilly, a Sunday afternoon cooking is ideal. Lasagna was on tonight's menu. My lasagna is based on Mom's recipe. Well really, the memory that I have of Mom's recipe. I don't think she had anything written down.
This is ironic because it seems to be a trait of the world's best family chefs, whose recipes were passed down generation to generation through observation and practice. Grandmothers and mothers who had no formal measurements; just a pinch of this, a cup or two of that, and a dash of this. Mom was not one of those world's best chefs. She'd freely admit it. One year for Christmas I drew the words "I HATE COOKING!!!" on a piece of notebook paper, crayoned in the letters, and glued the page to a piece of stiff cardboard (to make it suitable for hanging) and gave it to her. I don't remember many more well-loved gifts. In this gift, she recognized that I got it. She didn't cook for us because she enjoyed it. She cooked for us because Dad worked all day and starving children can be cranky and annoying, especially when you're trying to get to the end of your mystery novel.
So it's from memory that I reconstruct Mom's lasagna. Did she put onions in the ground beef, or does that just seem like a good idea to me? Or is this just my confabulation with a memory of Dad making Thanksgiving stuffing? (Both sure taste good with onions.) Most of what I remember is using lots of cheese, which can easily make my dish a winner. Tonight we even invited our neighbor over to join us. I've learned that we already have a reputation in the building for being a couple who never cooks. (Jason was commenting to our neighbor that our gas bill was often as low as only $15, Neighbor chuckled and replied, "Well, that's because you guys never cook.") Let my lasagna be my rebuttal. I cook ... about once a week.

Fashionably Late?

Early Adopter, I am not. I'm of the school of thought that it's best to let the impatient and foolhardy buy Round 1 of any technology, so that they can suffer (and hopelessly try to fix) the bugs and problems. (Like discovering that your beloved TiVo won't work with an HD plasma tv. *Sigh* I miss you TiVo. If I had only known the new TV would render TiVo an annoying obstacle sitting uselessly on the floor, I'd have forgone the new TV.)
But I'm also not one to like feeling as though I'm just trendy. Jumping on the bandwagon of the latest fashionable thing. One of the many sporting this season's identical shoe/coat/bag.
So where does that leave me? I am not ahead of the trend, and I don't like to follow as part of the herd... so let's just call me Fashionably Late. If it has endured the endorsments of those who came before me and now might qualify as a basic staple of fashion, I'll get it.
And if it's a cozy, nubby boot, and I'm just going into my first Chicago winter, the Ugg is mine. Yeah, you know, the boots that just seemed painfully hippy-dorky five years ago, and then made the big time with Jessica Simpson and the like sporting them. Although I'm the second wind of this fad, I am pleased with my new booties. Warm and cozy, especially after a day of storming around the office in heels. And warm indeed, I tossed them on my barefeet last night when Jason and I went out for sandwiches. They do make my feet look a little like muppet feet. We never get to see Ernie and Bert's feet, but if we did I think they'd look like this.

Addressee: Consumer

This week the responses to my needy consumer pleas were answered:
- Charmin Roll Extender arrived. We'll add those Mega Rolls to next week's shopping list. Right now, our regular rolls look puny and sparse on the new spindles.

- And tragically, Ann Taylor sent me an empty envelope. An envelope ravaged by the postal service, spilling my desired buttons across the floor of some postal distribution center in who knows where. The spherical little clear plastic buttons, just lying on the floor, likely ready to cause a workman's comp lawsuit against the federal government, raising all of our taxes. My fault, because I wanted buttons that stayed on a blouse for more than one day. Sorry. I don't think I'll bother writing back to Ann, she made a halfway reasonable effort.

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