Word Association: Dentist, Dread, Dismay, Decay

Today was my first visit to the dentist in Chicago. I confess, I was overdue. But the regularly scheduled appointment that my Ohio dentist cheerily called to remind me of in April, happened to fall just in the middle of our move to Chicago.
Six months later I was in the dentist's chair. Either dental technology has made some really astounding light-year advancements in these past months, or my dentist is the geek who has surround sound and the fanciest digital camera at home. I guess this because he had a fancy camera in the exam room. He gleefully invited me to look at my teeth with him, and see exactly what he sees. As the camera poked around in my mouth clinically it was likely not too bad. The dentist has certainly seen worse, but to the novice observer it was horrifying. If it had been a Discovery Channel show I might have disassociated and felt a little curious. But I just felt dismayed as my dentist offered the running commentary, "A little decay there, likely need a filling. Here's your existing silver filing; we don't do those any more because of the mercury," he remarked off-handedly.
I am the patient who crosses her feet and folds her hands tightly in her lap during the cleaning. Making quick affirmative noises to the hygienist whenever she asks me how I'm doing, trying to steer her away from conversation and back to an expeditious finish to the cleaning. I dread dental stories, like the one shared by a colleague the other night over dinner, explaining how over time her braces shift the teeth from their positions in the bone. Ugh, my throat felt like it started to close and I swallowed, politely hoping that the story wouldn't progress much further. Where were those entrees?!
Today there was also the part where the hygienist suggested that I might be giving myself cancer with my habit of biting the inside of my cheeks and lips. (Which happens to be twice as prevalent in women as in men. A small fact I gleaned while doing a hypochondriac's googling for "cheek biting cancer." The token of cheer was that you are more likely to develop oral cancer if you are a male over the age of 45. And chew tobacco.) I've had this biting habit my entire life: My mother's journal from our travels in England noted that although I was well-behaved and quiet for the entire flight to the UK, a bright red lip revealed that three year old Claire had been anxiously biting the inside of her mouth for much of the journey. How is it possible that no one has ever thought to mention the perilous side effects of this habit???
And what was that he said about the mercury in my fillings???
Quite a demoralizing and depressing visit to the dentist. To top it off, my next appointment for those fillings is on Valentine's Day.

Pretty, Yummy

One trip to the card shop and 2 pretty things discovered.
The first were cards featuring the art of Hanna Werning. To my delight, her work gets bigger than notecards; as big as wallpaper (too bad we rent.) I'm considering buying a couple panels and just framing them on the wall.
And just in time for Valentine's there's Hello Lucky with the most adorable Valentines cards. They are letterpress too!
It's thanks to the wonderful internet that I can enjoy these artists beyond the handful of greeting cards I might have walked away with otherwise. To my delight, each card featured a website on the back, and like Alice through the rabbit hole I discover a whole world of new imaginative creations.

While I muse on things I like, there's one yummy thing discovered in the bakery aisle of the supermarket: Pumpkin Cheese Pecan Streusel. They might as well call it "I Can Decide Pie" or "Compromise Cake" since it's got just the perfect combination of multiple tasty flavors. If I like cheesecake but Jason wants pecans, no worries. And we even get the pumpkin bonus. Yummy. I think we've bought three since Christmas.

Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio?

Craving some edible nostalgia, I wandered and re-wandered the aisles of my local grocery store this weekend, wondering if they still make Shake n' Bake. That's right, Shake n' Bake chicken, a dish that in my memory I think we had at least once a week growing up. The tradition anchors Sn'B in my mind as a kiddie dish only, like alphabet soup or pancakes stamped with Hello Kitty. Reassuring and simple comfort food. However, if I was eating it every week, then my parents were consuming it too. Adults. So why not have it as an adult myself?

But where do they keep the Shake n' Bake these days? I could only find McCormick's "Bag n' Season" which seems to fancy itself as Sn'B's more sophisticated older brother. Not the same, especially since you can toss vegetables into the Bn'S bag and you actually put the chicken and vegetables in a plastic bag (sprinkling on the seasoning, not shaking), and put it in a pan, in the oven. I wonder who had the job testing the flammability of different proposed plastic bags.

It might have been easier to find dear old friend Sn'B through Peapod. A rite of passage for the snow-bound Chicago resident appears to be this home-delivery grocery service. Actual snow on the ground is not required, it could just be darn cold, like it has been for about a week. Through Peapod we can shop online and the groceries arrive the next day. Rather than aimless wandering --during which I incidentally encountered someone begging for change...our neighborhood's a sometimes uncomfortable mix of yuppie and needy-- I can type "Shake n Bake" into a search box and if Kraft still makes it, I'll have it carried up the three flights to my apartment door within 24 hours. Which seems to highlight in greater definition the contrast between yuppie and needy: Going to the food store for money, versus having the food store come to you, because you have money. Complex, troublesome dilemmas that never crossed my mind when I was eating Sn'B.

Breakfast of Champions

In the town-car ride home last night (I know, sounds posh, but I negotiated a price comparable to taking a cab, relax!) the radio announcer mused about a Chicago Tribune story highlighting the growing trend of cola accompanying breakfast. --Sorry, since the article appeared in a Midwest paper, that would be "soda pop."-- I laughed and thought to myself, "Accompanying breakfast? Diet Coke IS breakfast," ...as this has been my ritual ever since high school.
For historical accuracy it was Pepsi in high school, until my doctor advised me that I was "over my ideal weight" and should switch to Diet. Ironically, I later learned that my doctor was rumored to be a former anorexic, and now after years of drinking Diet I probably am over my ideal weight. (But aging, a slowing metabolism, and a boyfriend who makes big milkshakes have probably contributed.)

"Coke has been `Southern coffee' at breakfast for some Southerners for a long time," according to a professor quoted in the news article. "It's really not unusual to see Southern women, particularly, clutching a Diet Coke for breakfast." The Coca-Cola company seems to have caught on, I spied an advertisement for Coke Blak "Coke Effervescence with Coffee Essence" on the top of a taxi cab next to me in traffic. This product is presumably a gateway drug for coffee drinkers considering switching to Coke for their mornings.

This story coincides with a scientific study that landed in my inbox at work, regarding the impact of cola on absorption of calcium. Being a woman, osteoporosis is a shadow that looms over me as I age. (Like one of the grim reaper's opening acts; followed onstage by senility, arthritis, and glaucoma, no doubt.) According to this horrifying article it doesn't matter how many calcium supplement horse-pills I swallow each day, because the phosphoric acid in cola impedes my bones' ability to absorb calcium. Previous studies have speculated that the diminished bone capacity of cola drinkers was a function of soda displacing healthy glasses of milk. Not the case. According to this study, drinking one daily serving of cola lowered a woman's bone density about 4 to 5 percent. Yikes, I drink like... 4 servings a day? (I was apalled to discover that the 12 oz bottle from the soda machine on my floor is actually about 2.5 servings. The plastic bottle nearly fell out of my brittle hands.) The women in this study reported consuming an average of five carbonated drinks a WEEK, four of which were cola. Gulp. Big Gulp.

So despite being the ardent Diet Coke drinker that I am, I find myself at a crossroads. And I am going to try to cut back. Unlike any fly-by-night, one-off study that I might easily dismiss as unfounded hogwash, this study comes from the Framingham Study Group. They're the ones whose findings on heart disease set the standards for cholesterol and blood pressure values in the U.S. They might be right about this one.
But I won't start cutting back at breakfast, maybe by lunchtime.

I don't put Diet Coke on my cat's head, but I was astounded to find this photo online that looks so much like him. Two of my favorite things, together.

Top Things This Year

When I was in fifth grade I started keeping a diary. I unwrapped a pink paisley fabric-covered journal for Christmas and Claire, the (semi?) famous diarist, was born. And at the conclusion of 1985 I made my list of Good and Bad Things in '85. I did the same for 1986 and for pretty much every year after. I abandoned this practice and pretty much the diary itself in the last 5 or so years.
My little ritual to close out the year had me reviewing the major events of the past 365 days, just like Barbara Walters does on 20/20. (Note that I also fancied myself the next Barbara Walters when I was in 5th grade.) For the first few retrospectives my highlights included childish things like winning the handbell choir award (twice!!! I was a very talented middle G note), fighting with Juliet less one year, going to San Francisco on a family vacation, getting a big role in the school play...
As the years went by there was often a list of the light and sometimes profound. Grandpa died. Got cut from the tennis team. Was recognized as the smartest girl in Social Studies class.
In reviewing the lists I can tell that I've grown up (thank god) because the milestones are related to jobs, apartments, cars, and boyfriends who I actually speak to, instead of the 7th grade crushes who I insisted I LOVED!@!!! in every other preceding diary page, despite the fact that they likely knew me *only* as the smartest girl in Social Studies -- and that wasn't really a desireable trait.
So, for nostalgia's sake...
Good & Bad Things in 2006
1. Moved to Chicago... with Jason!
2. Finally moved out of the service side of the industry, now becoming the "client" and no longer the receiver of the short end of the stick, ...and deadline
3. Went to first live football game (OSU @ NWestern) and first Cubs game @ Wrigley Field
4. Went to San Diego on vacation
5. Traveled A LOT for work (Dallas, Houston, CT, San Francisco, LA, Florida, Louisville, New York, Atlanta, Dallas again, Boston, Virginia, New York again, New York again.) And suffered the new TSA liquid carry-on rules. (Apologies now to everyone whose town I visited and never mentioned it.)
6. Got to meet Magic Johnson (had nothing notable or auspicious to say)
7. Started a blog
8. Danish newspapers printed cartoons of Muhammad, making me wonder if this would be one of those seemingly small, odd things (Archduke Ferdinand) that go down in the history books as being a catalyst for major events. Same for the war in Lebanon and Israel.
9. 3,000 US troops died in Iraq, along with Sadam Hussein. Jason suggested to his grandparents we are now the greatest generation as the war in
Iraq is now longer than WWII. They respond grumpily to this suggestion.

Here's another list, with pictures of the year's events:
Yahoo!'s 2006 Year in Review

Local Tourism: FLW

Even though I had saved the section of the New York Times years ago that featured the Frank Lloyd Wright- inspired Usonian homes of Columbus, we never made it to the neighborhood while we were locals. The section of the paper even moved with us here to Chicago, too late. Not to repeat that missed opportunity, today we drove to Oak Park and Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio. FLW lived and worked in the home and adjacent studio from 1889 to 1909, with his wife and at least 4 of 6 children. For his children Wright built a playroom complete with barrel ceiling, fireplace mural inspired by the Arabian Nights, and gallery to accommodate audiences for plays and puppet shows. From the outside, this shingle-style abode didn't look like the Wright homes from my textbooks. Since it nurtured the early years of his career, the home was a space for Wright to experiment with new ideas and designs that were not fully mature, like the Prairie Style. Throughout the home I was impressed by how much ornamentation could go into each room (stained glass, stenciled walls, murals, hanging lights), while each still maintained a simple and down-to-earth feel.
To guide the restoration of the home in the 1970s, preservationists interviewed one of Wright's children who had grown up in the home. He provided valuable details, like that under the 7 layers of paint in the master bedroom, there were two murals of Native Americans. It made me wonder what it would be like to be interviewed about my own childhood home, walking back through the rooms in my mind, sharing details like the green-brown tile of the entry way (family legend had it that the home was built by a tile manufacturer), the oak beam work in the front living room, the drawings that our parents let us make on the bare plaster walls before we hung new wallpaper in the family room...
I wish I might offer more of my own pictures of the home, however photography was not allowed inside. With a giddy wink, our guide helpfully noted that postcards were for sale in the gift shop. And then she reminded us to keep our hands to ourselves, turn off our cellphones, spit out any gum and proceed inside. She even assigned one tour member to be our "sweep" making sure every tour participant left each room with the group. Jason wondered if this was what it was like when you enter Gitmo. Ironically as we left the same tour guide nearly closed the door on us, locking us inside the house.

So Not Worth $10

And not even really worth a slot on your Netflix list either. Although it provided an enjoyable excuse to go out with 5 friends (all-time record for Claire! 5 friends at once!) The Holiday was so not worth my $10 movie admission.
For starters the first scenes, set in London with heroine #1 Kate Winslet, were a direct lift from Bridget Jones, complete with Daniel-Cleaver-like cad character, destined heartbreaker, and scene of our bundled up heroine crossing a bridge in London misty eyed and frowning. Although I think Kate's brit accent is genuine. And even in the happy ending where heroine #2 Cameron Diaz is running across the english countryside back to her beloved, she does the cliche stop-for-breath pause, but then looks up spiritedly and forges ahead with renewed ardor -- about three times. (Every time she hits a fence gate.) And she's of course running perfectly well across the soggy dale in high heels.
I should have lobbied for another movie. This was one of those films where you wonder if the actors cracked themselves up with how cliche some of the scenes were. I think Jude Law, who plays a charming, sensitive, widower, must have only taken the role at his agent's urging that it might help repair his image in the press.
Perhaps to be polite, and convince ourselves that we weren't all $10 poorer and missing 2+ more meaningful hours of our lives, all 6 of us agreed that this was a "cute" movie.

Goodbye Mr. Noodle

A sweet but sad obituary and appreciation appears in the NYT's most e-mailed list today: the homage to Momofuku Ando. (Say his first name aloud to yourself, it's fun.)
Mr. Ando invented ramen noodles, and founded the Nissen Foods.
Even in honoring him, the NYT concedes that Mr. Ando's invention had its human flaws, "There are some imperfections... The silver seasoning packet does not always tear open evenly, and bits of sodium essence can be trapped in the foil hollows, leaving you always to wonder whether the broth, rich and salty as it is, is as rich and salty as it could have been."
The final sign-off from the author is ironic, "Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. Give him ramen noodles, and you don’t have to teach him anything." I probably ate more ramen during my most intense 'being taught' days than anytime in my life: college.
Now I just shed a salty tear in my noodle soup.

Hard-Hitting, Fairy Tale Journalism

I have to wonder about the journalist who found this assignment in their lap: Three pigs trigger fire in rural Serbia . The link is offered so you know I'm not making it up. Further proof that this is not a fairy tale? The three little pigs perished. It seems like there have always been forces conspiring against the impulse of pigs to domesticate. (Big Bad Wolf, poorly manufactured televisions in Serbia...)

BELGRADE, Serbia - A farmer's home in northern Serbia was destroyed in a blaze caused by three pigs that broke out of their pen, walked into the living room and knocked over the TV, police said Wednesday.

The television tube burst, starting a fire that spread through the house late Monday in Temerin, 50 miles, northwest of Belgrade, local police said.

No people were hurt, but the pigs perished.

The farmer was out at the time, police said.

I wonder what George Orwell might think about this one.

I Have Socks!

I have socks! Knit by the hands of friendship. I have never had handknit socks before, and they fit very well. It's easy to feel loved when you are wearing socks that someone made just for you, spent a lot of time on painstakingly piecing together, just so your little tootsies won't be cold. Abby was very thoughtful in noting that these will also be comfy to slip on during long plane rides home. (Take your pick, in the next two months it might be Denver, Houston, Los Angeles or Washington D.C.)
I remember learning how to knit, and then not getting much further than knit and purl. There were many scarves produced, but once it became complicated, I bailed. Perhaps it's time to try again. And it is the new year, time for those optimistic resolutions. Mine usually become no more weighty than promises to drink more water, take my vitamins, get up the first time the alarm goes off in the morning (no snoozing), and take the stairs instead of the elevator. Like every other American I see on the elevator in February, these ideas are forgotten soon. Best not to really committ to the knitting, at least not in the public forum of a blog. There are a lot knitters out there too, they might actually hold me responsible for some progress towards adding and decreasing stitches and yarning over.

Baby Boom, Boom, Boom... anyone else?

No sooner had I met our new little squirmy neighbor, (he looks a little like Suri Cruise with a full head o' black hair) that another new little babe arrived in my in-box. A girl this time, born on December 30th, daughter of an old friend and co-worker. Sharing my mother's birthday immediately endeared this new little one to my heart. But it did get me thinking, what is everyone doing?! Hang on, are we getting old? (Surely the response is that if you're asking yourself that question, then yes, you are.)
I reflected to friend James, who had e-mailed me to mention that a high school classmate of our is also expecting, that my own unmarried and childless disposition has probably made me feel younger than I really am. (40 is the new 30. Or 50 is, per ABCNews.) That, and evading my high school's mailing list (they only ever ask for money) means that there's no alumni magazine to put the wedding and baby photos of my old classmates in my mailbox and my face.
But really, I am closer to 40 than I am to 20. Whether I have a MySpace page or not. The fact that I also have a Friendster page likely confirms that I'm not quite as young as I think I am.
And yes, that's a baby porcupine that's up top of the post. Funny the things Google image search sends back sometimes.

Second Rate Jane Austen? I'll Take It!

Where was I, or what was I preoccupied with, that I did not get the chance to anxiously await the arrival of new movie, Miss Potter? (I offer the link to the UK website, since it's much more bearable than the US site.) Can we possibly contain more of the things that Claire loves??:
- Beatrix Potter (Newly-arrived Neighbor Baby received the unabridged complete works of Beatrix Potter from me. Complete with the content noting that Peter Rabbit was warned by his mother not to go into Mr. McGregor's garden because his father had an accident there and ended up in a pie. I noted that this wickedly funny fact was edited out of other editions.)
- Speaking of McGregors: Ewan McGregor
- Renee Zellweger with British accent (like an old-fashioned Bridget Jones. I only like Renee when she's with Brit accent, otherwise she's sugary-sweet annoying, i.e. Jerry Macguire)
Surprisingly, reviews seem pretty favorable on this one. Usually when it's a movie I'd like because 1. it's related to literature, and then 2. it might have one or two off-the-beaten track actors that I like (Ewan) then it's doomed to be a flop. Let's take, for example the movie version of "Everything is Illuminated." It is a book that I loved, and it stars that buggy, meaningful-eyed actor who played a hobbit whose name I can't remember right now. (Elijah Wood!) And I only found out about it through getting lost in one of the corridors of Netflix. Did this movie ever appear in theaters? Must not have been very successful if it did, because it's already on its way to me in the mail from Netflix.
Admittedly, one critic/blogger called Miss Potter a "second rate Jane Austen" but even second rate will do for me. (I was very sad when I finished reading my last Jane Austen novel. I must remember not to get attached to authors who have long-ago died.)
Sadly, the reviewer of Miss Potter went onto say that "Zellwegger pummels the delicate lines of her character beyond eccentricity to questionable retardation."
Maybe the predictive rule of Claire anticipating a movie meaning it will be a flop holds true after all!

post-script photo: Peter Rabbit aptly demonstrates how I felt about waking up this morning. It has been a very challenging return to the office.

New Neighbor

We're waiting for a new neighbor to move in soon. All of his stuff arrived before him, and in a way he's been around for the past nine months. Our next door neighbor's first born arrived on New Year's Day. I was keeping Mom company during the day on New Year's Eve as she valiantly began labor at home. Ouch. And in between contractions, vigorously exclaimed that she did not want to have the New Year's Baby, the child born at midnight on New Year's. Who wants to be on the local news after being in labor for the past 12+-24 hours?? For better, (or maybe for worse, since it did mean 3+ extra hours of labor) our new little neighbor arrived at 3:46 am. A boy!
In the meantime Jason and I have been keeping an eye on the true baby of the family, dog Winston. He's a big, loping fellow, with the proverbial puppy dog eyes. Of course the first night he was in our care, he decided to take a nice lie-down in the mud. When I asked how dirty the brown dog was, the reply was, "He's black." Fortunately it was warm enough that we just hooked up the garden hose, and four slightly-tipsy New Year's Eve celebrating adults held him in place while he got a little bath.
Here's a photo of a smaller and drier Winston, doing his thing in the mud this past summer. Little devil.

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