Fulfilling

There's news to report on our little block: the sinkhole was filled! After Jason watched a Department of Transportation truck pull up three weeks ago his hopes were raised that they might have arrived to fill in the hole that's been on the street since February. Instead a worker hopped out, grabbed a new traffic barricade and placed it over the hole, this time tying it with plastic safety tape to the nearby tree. (The previous barricades were persistently tossed aside by desperate parkers.) If there was anything that suggested the permanence of our hole on the street, this seemed to be it.

Then last Thursday, while working from home, the cat and I watched another truck pull up and stop by the hole, also dispatched by the Chicago Department of Transportation. Surely this time work would begin and a patch made. Nope, two guys stood over the hole, scratched their heads (literally!), got back in their truck, sat there for about 10 minutes, and then drove away. I was crestfallen. Our hole lay gaping open -- I would say it had been "kicked to the curb" except that its location is by definition at the curb.

But when no one was watching (well, maybe the cat observed it) workers came and filled in our road hazard. Hurrah.
I had been planning a letter to our recently re-elected alderman (Chicago's equivalent to a city councilman) because he had printed our address in his campaign mailers as an example of the revitalization of our neighborhood, for which he took all the credit. Perhaps he could add street repairs to his resume?
I guess now I can move onto my letter to the manager of the Marriot Times Square. Their maids threw away my hanger. The hanger that I had left carefully hanging in the closet. I hadn't cast it aside, suggesting I meant to put it in the trash can, leaving them to complete my thought. Nope, it was in the closet and they threw it away. Very annoying when you have to repack your clothes and were counting on that hanger. In a fit of petty spite, I packed one of the Marriot's hangers in my bag and took it home. Maybe I shouldn't write after all, and risk exposing my crime. Shhh!

The Small Joy of an Empty Drawer

The universe is ever-expanding. Does the same inevitability follow with my stuff? Are all of us collectors? Not of important or significant items, but of general junk like books, sweaters, lamps, vases, baskets, throw pillows, and picture frames? If so, where does all the stuff go?

My first apartment was tiny, the upstairs of a Philadelphia rowhome with 3 shoebox rooms connected by a hallway. I ran across a photo of my old bedroom and felt claustrophobic just looking at how the furniture in my bedroom was fitted together like puzzle pieces, end-to-end, around the room. After trying to invent storage out of nooks and corners in smaller spaces, I might have had dreams like those that the readers of apartmenttherapy.com muse about: The dream of suddenly stumbling upon an empty room I forgot about, or even an empty closet would have helped. I think Uncle Paul will remember being beckoned to my apartment with his electric drill because there was a corner that was empty and I wanted shelves. An empty foot and a half of wall space was wasted! There were coffee mugs to store!

Now our apartment feels like such a luxury. There are empty drawers, empty corners. The dishes in our cabinets have room to breath! It's a wonder they lived through my previous apartments where they were precariously balanced on top of each other like pieces of a Jenga puzzle. (No criticism of Uncle Paul's shelving talents.)

I have to hold myself back from the impulse to fill each empty space. Even if there's nothing to put there. I was at one of my favorite places, The Container Store, and saw these handy under-bed storage containers: clear plastic, with little wheels and split top lids so that you don't even have to pull them all the way out to get to your sweaters or whatever. It was like the me of the past, resident of the tiny rowhouse apartment was telling me to buy them because she needed the storage space. Kind of like how people who lived through the depression hoard canned goods, I was hoarding storage goods. But I don't even have anything that needs to be stored under the bed!
Maintaining empty drawers and empty spaces is like a meditation. Breathe and appreciate it for being empty. That it's not filled with junk that you bought ages ago, haven't used in years and feel guilty about throwing out. It's satisfyingly empty and spacious.

Two Hours Richer

Because even the cutest glasses can't sass up a cafeteria worker's bonnet to make it look good, it's time for a new blog post to push those photos from the last entry down the page.
Today I thought about how it's not that bad to miss work. What is one or two hours lost from deleting and sorting messages from my inbox (a full time job), when I can take the subway to go see my grandma for an afternoon cup of tea? With chocolate cake. She fed me 3 pieces!! Good thing I had a few blocks to walk to the subway.
Today I visited my grandma. I may have guilted myself into it from the earlier post when I was in NYC and nary a friend or relative did I call on. Again, sorry guys.
I need to remind myself that in the long term, who will remember that I missed the afternoon at the office because I had a dentist appointment, or because my car hasn’t always been starting the first time you try it and a dealership visit might be required? But I plague myself with little worries about the consequences and damage of my time out of office, with my inflated sense of duty and responsibility. Maybe exaggerated sense of my own importance too.
Balance this with a project I recently completed: it was finsished on time, with bells and whistles even -- and I can't remember whether or not I missed a day or took time off during its development. Who would remember anyway? Who keeps count?
It's so cliche so say that no one lies on their deathbed wishing they'd spent more time at the office. Maybe it'd be better for me to spend more time now finding breaks in my schedule to hop the 6 Lexington Local. I'd be two hours richer for spending time with Gram. Probably 2 lbs fatter thanks to that cake.

We Eat Well

Neither Jason or I are in the running for a James Beard award. If there's any notoriety we have gleaned amongst our neighbors it is the reputation of being the couple who orders or dines out more nights of the week than others. This is a hard won title, as our "emerging" neighborhood has few choices unless you're in the mood for a burrito. Recognizing our "area of opportunity" -- that's the term they use on performance reviews to make your
weaknesses sound more exciting -- Jason's mother gave us a gift certificate to Dinner by Design.
For the kitchen-challenged DbD lays out all the ingredients and you just pile them together, following the recipes in front of you. Moving from station to station, we made about 8 different dishes, all which are placed in freezer pans to take home and cook up later. Peach Pork Chops, Greek Stuffed Flank Steak, Chicken Puttanesca, Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaves. Placing our laundry basket full of food into the trunk, Jason said he felt like we were making off with pirate's treasure. Over two weeks of satisfying meals ahead of us. The manager floats around like a little bumblebee buzzing in your ear, "To buy all these ingredients in the store would be so much more expensive, you know." She's clearly trying to prompt repeat business.
Even when they appear to make it idiot proof though, Jason and I each realized on the car ride home that we'd make a little goof here and there in our recipes. Jason forgot to halve the seasoning for the Shrimp Scampi, so it's bound to be quite flavorful when we defrost it. I had no idea where the instructor was pointing me when she gestured to the souffle cups. To every normal person a souffle cup is the plastic cup that you pump your ketchup into at the cafeteria. I thought she was pointing to these special measuring cups instead. So I followed the recipe, pouring sauce into this measuring cup, even though it seemed a little unnecessary. (In fact, if you look at the photo above, you can see my mistake. Ironically, by looking closer, you see the souffle cups on the rack in the background, untouched by my chef's hand.) Turns out that I was supposed to keep my sauces separate in these little souffle cups, but right now the sauce is dumped in and frozen inextricably with my dishes. We'll see how that cooks up. Might not go so well, but at least there are 20 other dinner trays in our refrigerator.
Last night we enjoyed an amazing Greek Stuffed Flank Steak. Feta cheese, spinach, and roasted pepper rolled up and tied like a pretty package in steak. Seasoned with pepper and sage, I think. It was miraculously easy. And so tasty.
At age 30, will I learn how to cook? (Or will we just sign up for another Dinner by Design session? Next time we will know to bring our own caps and kerchiefs, so as to avoid the glam food service worker tissue paper hats. Lovely.)



Realizing You're Just Like Everyone Else


Just like her
Originally uploaded by claireantonia.
I'm guilty of some feelings of superiority. I glare at people who stroll in front of me at an art museum, ignorantly blocking the painting I was considering. At the mall, the slow-minded and slow-walking people who take up the whole thoroughfare and practically walk right into you because they can't grasp the concept of "sharing the road" irritate me. Idiots. I'm so much better than them.
But am I? After reading a bit of my latest book (The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt), and then watching my own behavior for a day, I wasn't so sure.
In a study written up in this book, an investigator asked over 50 people to take notes on any conversation they had that lasted over 10 minutes for one week. The topic of study was gossip, and not surprisingly the recorded conversations were indeed often about other people. What might be disheartening is that the conversations were often "overwhelmingly critical" of other people and dwelt on their "moral and social violations". Backstabbing and critical gossiping was ten times more common than conversations praising others.
After listening to myself all day today, I realized I do it too. Speculation about why my boss suddenly left the company, thoughts on how a coworker is handling a certain project. Even a conversation about men and their definition of when the trash can is full and how frequently the trash should be taken to the dumpster... Jason the unfortunate victim of that banter. It was like I couldn't stop.
The conclusion was that when people pass along juicy gossip they get a power rush. And no matter how negatively we may judge other people who gossip, we do it all the time ourselves. Me too.
I was really pretty disappointed in myself. Even if no one wants to hear it, I think I'll have to try to say some more nice things about my friends and coworkers. In sharing this thought with my hairdresser tonight, she agreed. "People will tell one friend about a good haircut, but 10 friends about a bad one."
So for starters, I had a very good haircut tonight. I have a very talented and amiable hairdresser, who always compliments me. She is great.

Wasting time on the internets

As much as the internet has to offer society, it also supports a wastrel lifestyle.

How much time can I spend watching a baby german polar bear? Knut is cute. I have screened many minutes of footage on YouTube and find this one to be the most adorable and relaxing. Makes me wish my cat were a little polar bear.


And for as much as the internet promises to deliver in baby polar bear delight, it is so profoundly disappointing when what you seek cannot be found on the whole wonderful world wide web (that'd be WWWWW). On Friday I was ironing my new blouse only to discover that the iron was hotter and the shirt more delicate than I calculated. The result was a scorched blouse, with poplin fabric that now felt like thin crisp paper. Since I bought the blouse only a few weeks ago, I thought it might be easy to replace, but the racks at two different Macy's were empty. And all of the racks across the WWWWW were too. I had to stop myself after spending nearly a half hour searching bloomingdales.com, nordstrom.com, and bluefly.com. Ridiculous, how much could a blouse really mean to me? But why did I have to scorch the newest blouse? The one I'd worn only once, on a day where I had to make a presentation to new sales representatives. At the end I asked the crowd if there were any further questions, two women asked, "Where did you get that blouse?" "Nowhere where you'll ever find it," I should have replied.

Things That Don't Work


Let me help you save $50. I will tell you about two tools that we brought home this weekend that just really didn't work so well. Not as miraculously well as advertised:
- the Swiffer Sweeper Carpet Flick (sounds really cute)
- and the Swivel Sweeper, a similar device that Jason saw on TV

When you have a predominantly white cat, and a dark grey carpet (in Jason's office) regular cleaning is needed. Wishing to spare himself the chore of lugging the vacuum of out of the hall closet regularly, Jason expressed a wish for a carpet sweeper. What every little boy wants.
I was enticed to buy the Carpet Flick by a coupon, softening the risk of experimenting with this new cleaning tool. It's adorably orange, with a smart little grippy handle. But underneath, it's really just a big sticky lint roller. Cleaning up cat hair requires persistence, singling out each individual hair and chasing it down with increasing force. For crumbs, maybe this works but not for the cat.

To increase the muscle in our pursuit of cat hair, the Swivel Sweeper is actually electric. A little battery pack piggybacks on the handle, driving little brushes around the carpet. But still the cat hair holds tight to the carpet. I had to suppress a spiteful "HA!", after Jason had chastised me for spending money on the useless Carpet Flick, when we both observed that his sweeper choice didn't work so well either.

What a disappointment: two tools that promised to change my life, clean my carpet, and make the presence of our cat less obvious. And I am only $50 poorer.

And I still have a little cold, by the way.

Cold

The sore throat of earlier in the week turned into a full-blown cold by Friday. I was at the office counting the minutes until I could catch the early shuttle to the train station home. Luckily everyone else was ditching early, with a sudden appearance of religiousity in the office, everyone was leaving for Good Friday. Sometimes it surprises me to see everyday people be religious. I guess it seems a little old fashioned, quaint and traditional. "Do people still do that?" I ask myself. They do, and they are probably more of them then there are of types like me. And older folks have told me that I might come around some day when kids arrive and need some proper religious foundation. I'm not so sure.
Regardless, my Easter meal will be most notable for its beverage, an effervescent glass of Airborne. I find it quite ironic that the number one recommended remedy for my cold was an herbal antioxidant cocktail, invented by a school teacher. Here we are working for a pharmaceutical company which employs many research scientists to extricate important compounds and then combine them back together, lawyers to protect the patents on those sophisticated compounds - but with one sneeze we run to homeopathy.
I guess it might work, since I am feeling a bit better. But it might also be the entire day spent on the couch, and the nap I took. Waking up to find myself scrunched into a corner of the couch because the (fat) cat had decided to stretch himself out next to me.

'member when I had a blog?

Yeah, that was fun.
Right now I've just got a little soar throat and sniffles. Of course when there's so much work to do and no time to do it.
When a co-worker reflected today that she was glad it was Wednesday I murmurmed my agreement but worried aloud, "Yes, but it means there are only two days left in the week to get all my work done."
My blog has dissolved into a butterfly net to catch my wildly flying anxieties.
Did I mention that FedEx lost a $60 refrigerator part that I had to order online? >:[
 

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