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.

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