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.

Wicked Good Fun

Theater-going for musical entertainment was a regular routine growing up. Saturday matinees at the Walnut Street Theater, to enjoy the season ticket subscription seats that Mom and Dad shared with friends. This was where I learned the basic rules of musical theater, like when the audience walks out singing the songs, it means it's a hit. (Mom whispered this into my ear as we shuffled out at the end of a show next to a couple absently-minded humming the score.) But I honestly can't quickly remember the last time I went to see a big show. It might have been due to an oversaturation of overhead show tunes in college, from friends like Abby and David. (Just the same with my hiatus from Tori Amos, thanks to roommate Ellyn who selected Tori's albums as a our dorm room soundtrack.)
The dry "spell" was broken on Friday night as I was invited to join Jason's mom and her friends to see "Wicked" now playing in Chicago. I felt the familiar tingle that comes over you as the lights go down and the orchestra strikes up the music. Spectacular sets, funny lines, and intriguing lighting effects (wait, is that really rain?) kept me captivated.

I had read the book, "Wicked, the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West" and was really disappointed. Such an interesting premise, but such a preachy, unenjoyable book. At the end, I didn't feel any differently about the Wicked Witch. She was blunt, unhappy, and... wicked! Thankfully, the musical boils the story down to its best parts, editing out the disjointed, annoyingly slow pace of the book. I had been slightly cautious, since so many people had told me the book was so good, and I heard the same of the muscial. Luckily, the reviews of the musical were accurate.
Thanks to Nancy and her friends for inviting me along... perhaps inspiring my musical reinassance.

2 Funny Things

One political funny (a good pick-me-up after Jason and I spent the evening watching "So Goes the Nation" on the Independent Film Channel. Post-traumatic flashback of election day in Ohio, Bush vs. Kerry) and one avant-garde funny.

Frank Caliendo on Letterman


My Hands are Bananas

I Didn't Make It; But I Voted On It

We're voting: what are the Seven Wonders of the Modern World? Points to anyone who can name more than three of the Wonders of the Ancient World. (I can't participate since I read about them in my airline magazine this evening, so the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Lighthouse of Alexandria are fresh in my head.)
Now we can all add our input to naming the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. Will it be the Great Wall of China? Eiffel Tower? I'm not sure if the Wonder still needs to exist, because after reading "The Devil and the White City" the first Ferris Wheel sounded pretty spectacular. Thirty six cars carrying more than 2,000 passengers! But it's not in Chicago anymore for me and Jason to take a turn on it.

Never Far From Home

On the road again this evening in Hartford, CT. I can't say much about Hartford so far, except that their airport is under construction requiring you to carry yourself and your luggage down physical stairs to the baggage claim and ground transportation. Real stairs, how archaic. My fellow passengers and I were a little bewildered.
But I noticed at least two little reminders of home on the way to the hotel. A moving truck passed my shuttle on the night highway, the company's name was the same as our current street in Chicago. At the hotel, my room number has the same first three digits of my home phone number growing up: 535. Or JEfferson-5 in the old school style. Both coincidences that make me feel a little warm inside. Or maybe it's just that I haven't figured out the thermostat here yet.

Political Action Couple

We were at their office only yesterday, but already tonight I had a voice-mail from the local alderman candidate's campaign coordinator. Get out the vote activities every night this week, would Jason and I like to join?
Jason had found a postcard on his windshield inviting us to watch the Bears game on Sunday with Jim Ginderske, candidate for alderman of our little ward. I'll confess that much of our motivation was that our current alderman (the Chicago equivalent of a city councilman for you Philadelphia and C'bus readers) is a national laughing stock, "national" as in covered by the Wall Street Journal! He's most well known for sponsoring Chicago's ban on foie gras. It would certainly be nice if our neighborhood could support retail and restaurants that might first consider serving foie gras before we pursue banning it. He's also led the fight against bringing Wal-Mart and Target to Chicago. Yes, he has a reasonable logic here: requiring the big box companies to pay a reasonable wage to their workers. However, it was revealed that his staff drives up to Evanston, outside of Chicago, to buy their office supplies from big box store, OfficeMax. Like many others. Here's the WSJ quote, "It turns out that the wage bill's chief sponsor, Alderman Joe Moore, shops at suburban big-box retail stores, for the usual reason. His campaign committee has purchased $30,589 worth of supplies at big-box retailers outside the city, according to disclosure forms. Alderman Moore isn't alone out there with a cart among the high stacks. A review of Illinois State Board of Elections disclosure forms finds that the 35 aldermen who voted to stick it to the 'big box' retailers have spent $114,000 patronizing these non-Chicago stores."

Ironically though, our new candidate's website intro points out that he is not here to just run against someone, he's there to run for something. Poetic. He drew Jason's attention since he's a member of the IBEW, and Jason's from a big electrician family (father, brother, grandfather etc. etc...)
I must say it is nice to consider being involved in a campaign where the candidate sits down and chats with you, alternately about the Bears offense and then about the rumors of extending Lake Shore Drive further north. (Not going to happen.) Obviously I was more interested in the latter.
Ed Rendell claimed to know me when Uncle Paul shook his hand at a little meet-and-greet during his gubernatorial campaign. I think I met Ed about three times, but at least one of those times I got the picture to prove it. Ann Richards is on my right. (May she rest in piece. Only death has kept that spunky Texan down.)
Post-Script: This is my 101st post. Wow, I'm old.

Best Pigeon Ever

It was time for our belated birthday dinner last night, at fancy-schmancy Chicago restaurant, NoMI. The wine list was 12 times as big as the menu. And even with such a minimal menu, there were still at least two items which I had no idea what they were: some fish that had a name that sounded like "tourniquet" (oh, it was "turbot") and another dish called squab. I politely asked our most attentive waiter if he might explain these two dishes. Squab, he explained, is essentially a flavorful pigeon. With a gesture towards the expansive floor-to-ceiling bay windows that look out on Michigan Avenue and the illuminated towers of the Water Tower, he offered that I could pick out my own pigeon for dinner from the street, much the same way that one picks their lobster from the tank. Chuckles all around our table. I figured if there was anywhere to try a flavorful pigeon, a place that might really do it right, it'd be here. Not too bad.
We realized that what makes a high-end restaurant like this 10 times better than the Olive Garden is not just the food. Maybe the food is 4 times better, but the ambiance is 3 times more impressive and the service is 3 times better also. The view was exquisite, overlooking the Water Tower, with a bright full moon hanging between its two spires. The photo below shows exactly the view I had all night.
For service and place settings: our cocktails arrived with the alcohol in a tall glass with ice, accompanied by a petite glass pitcher of tonic, in my case for my gin and tonic, so that you can gauge your own concentration of alcohol. (See little pitcher in photo above.) An elegant tray of extra treats arrived with the dessert we ordered, with a thin chocolate disk in the middle, proclaiming "Happy Birthday" in scripted white chocolate. Jason and I gave each other quizzical looks, the waiter had clearly been eavesdropping on our conversations with our neighboring diners who were also celebrating birthdays. We chided our server, and he confessed that he had overheard, but that he only listened to the important parts, and he didn't know that I was from Philadelphia or anything like that.

A Few of My Favorite Things


I'm not always cranky like yesterday. Here are a few things that make me happy:
- a great parking space at the mall, especially when someone's just pulling out as you turn into the aisle
- a heavy thunderstorm that starts just *after* you walk in the door
- coming home from a business trip
- dailykitten.com (which features a photo that perfectly dramatizes how I feel when I get home after a long business trip, see below. What a cute little moppet.)
- waking up before the alarm clock
- juicy nectarines (a good thing too, since my doctor advised me today that they're thinking of revising guidelines to suggest we each have 8-9 servings of fruit or veggies each day... wow, how many meals is that?)
- an outfit that doesn't requiring ironing

Little Irking Things


Why does the volume have to get 10x louder when the commercials start?

Why can't I get a normal size of toilet paper anymore? Instead Charmin wants me to spend additional money on a "roll extender" to accommodate a bigger "mega roll." After resisting for 2 years, and digging deeper into the shelves for the normal rolls, even a brief experimentation with Angel Soft, I surrender. I ferreted out an offer on their website for a free extender. I patiently wait. On principle I refuse to pay money for something that only grants me entry to pay more money for related things.

Why do manufacturers assume that if you have enough money for a purchase like a flat screen tv, that you'll have more of that money for the expensive wall mount, the new DVR that costs like $800 and the increased monthly digital DVR fee? Isn't it rather obvious that you just spent a small nest egg on the television itself?

And that CNN Internet Reporter still bugs me.

Movie Night

Saturday night I relaxed into a lump on the couch and watched, "Friends with Money." This was one of those movies that after it ended I clicked rapidly to the Special Features, hoping that the director hid more of the movie in the bonus materials. (Rarely the case! And by the way, it seems like they never include bloopers anymore in the SF's.) One reviewer on IMDB wished that this might be a tv series; it has enough story threads to jump there.
The premise of the movie is pretty direct from its title, a vignette about friends who have money and one who doesn't and how awkward and infuriating that can make things - despite the fact that they are all friends. Although this story is set amongst the very, very rich, differences in wealth don't have to be as wide as they were in this movie to prompt the financial-social dynamic. I confess, I've wondered sometimes why some friends couldn't get a credit card but shopped weekly at B-Rep; or fretted about shopping with friends and their mistaking a splurge for my day-to-day spending, when I thought they might be counting their pennies. I've also pressed my lips tightly when a co-worker asks how much I got for my year-end bonus. No good can come of answering that question.
Catherine Keener, one of the actresses in "Friends With Money", is one of my v. favorite actresses. There's intelligence but also genuine down-to-earth goofiness in her characters. She's spunky and endearing, but quiet and thoughtful. I should add Capote to my Netflix list, since she apparently did a very good Harper Lee.
In the "Coming Attractions" portion of this post I'd like to highlight two films that I'm pretty excited about:
"The Departed": Jason assigned me to the couch one night in Ohio to watch the Hong Kong original, ""Infernal Affairs". He was right about that movie. V. good and I highly recommend it for those of you who can't wait for Scorcese to arrive at the multiplex on October 6. (Unfortunately, being right about this one movie has encouraged Jason to pepper me with many, many other recommendations and assigned viewing. These demands when he fell asleep during the one movie I requested he watch, Amelie.)
"Everything is Illuminated": I had no idea one of my favorite recent books was turned into a movie. So this isn't really a coming attraction, since it came and went and I didn't even know about it. But it's also now on the Netflix queue.
 

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