Today I received one of my poem-a-day e-mails (although Knopf only usually delivers them to my in box during National Poetry Month, so I was a little surprised.) But pleasantly so, when I discovered the poem's subject: peonies!

Pink and White (by Deborah Garrison)

Peonies are the only flower I care for
and when I saw them from the window
yesterday, tumbled and heavy along
a fence, fully exploded, nodding
at the ground, hanging their heads but not
yet spoiled, I remembered
a summer (maybe seven years
ago, or was it ten?) I wasn't sure
our love would come again,
and here I am, almost

kissing the grass like that,
bursting and rich, cracked
all over like broken cake—
makes you cry but still sweet.

I Rescind My Previous Vote

'Member when I said lilacs were my favorite spring flower? Yeah, I think I might rescind that vote, because the peonies have bloomed and they are beautiful, plump and lovely.
Of course, I remember we had peony bushes on the border of the side yard growing up. Dad would go and clip a few to put in a vase for the dinner table. Halfway through dinner one family member would peer closely at the flowers and ask, "Are those ants?" Dad would lean in, brows furrowed with professional curiousity. The rest of us would lean in, dinner forks poised in mid-air, with civilian interest. Yes, millions of little ants crawling from behind the delicate pink petals, ready to make their home on our dining table. Dad would grab the vase, walk it quietly out to the back step, and we'd resume dinner. One year we tried spraying the flowers with Raid Antkiller before introducing them as a centerpiece, but I think the disappointing result was that they, and everything else including our food, then smelled like Raid.
But I think that professional peonies, like the ones you might order online for your favorite blogger, (I like pink!) are probably treated for that little annoyance.
I am somewhat excited that if we plan a wedding for next May, maybe I can have peonies. (Jason knows little that I might spend more money on flowers than the dress, the meal, the limo, the honeymoon...)
Part of the peonies' appeal must be that they're a very short-lived flower, just here for May and then gone. Slipping back into their buds to leave way for the hardy, riotous flowers of the full summer sun, like marigolds and geraniums. Spring is already going too fast.

So Many Choices


Last summer we watered our deck-top flowers and foliage with this glass pitcher that I inherited, most likely through mom's branch of the family tree. Last time I moved the guy doing the packing laughed out loud when he pulled the pitcher out of the cabinet, exclaiming that everyone that he's moved always has this pitcher. The lineage that I had before considered might be antique and unique was suddenly banal. (The hours spent practicing a flabbergasted expression of surprise in front of the mirror for my Antiques Roadshow appearance suddenly wasted.)
We speculated that there must have been some Lipton Tea box top giveaway in the 1950s that sent these pitchers out to the homes across America. As my moving man suggested, when we pack up our homes and move, we might just all agree to leave the glass pitcher in our cabinets, because it would save these pitchers criss-crossing the country in moving vans. It could be a new signature of the American home, a chicken in every pot, a car in every garage, and a ice tea pitcher in every cabinet.
But this summer the little pitcher is requiring two trips back to the faucet to complete the watering job, so I'm shopping for a new watering can. Sure, Lowe's had the basic green plastic job, but ... blaaaah.
Proving once again that it may be one of my best friends, the internet has served up a number of choices.
1. Elephant watering cans from fredflare.com These fellas are just so adorables. But maybe not addressing the problem of the multiple trips to the faucet. Only $12 though. And they also sell the Snoopy Sno-Cone machine Mom would never let us have. It'd make our decktop entertaining complete!! (Amazon has a neato, more true-to-life elephant option too. Shockingly, it's $34!)
2. A British gardening website expands the literal menagerie of choices to cats, rabbits, and even a pig. Those darn Brits love their gardens.
3. Of course, OXO has to make everything in our lives super-grippy. Their entry for watering can is a little weird looking, and I don't know how much it matters that my watering can is ergonomic. Their corn holders are pretty awesome though, and I recommend them.
4. The classic galvanized steel watering can. I like this one a lot. It might be our winner. Its sheen matches that super-shiny grill we just got too, which was referred to by our Memorial Day guests alternately as R2D2 and a space ship.
The glass pitcher may be able to return to its civic duties as an ice tea server.

Origin of the Coolness?


Do you remember who it was that introduced you to Nirvana? That's the premise of a some of the work of this photographer, Jason Lazurus, which I was reading about in my Time Out Chicago. I have never heard of him before, but it's an intriguing premise. By picking a band whose heyday has come and gone it fixes the recollection in the time, which all its attendant props (there's a very funny picture with a guy in front of his shiny red Camaro.)
I think it was my high school bud, Leah, who introduced me to Nirvana. I remember sitting in her bedroom, with its two cute little twin beds, perfect for sleepovers, listening to Nevermind. It was probably even a cassette tape (what was I saying about the props that are a signature of their era?) I looked at the album cover and wondered about whether or not it was right that there was a naked baby on the front, and how was he holding his breath under water like that?
My roommate Ellyn introduced me to Liz Phair, who probably had more interest and impact for me than Kurt Cobain. (I guess I wasn't really a full-fledged, card carrying member of my own generation.) Well really, Ellyn let me peruse her CD collection one night when I was looking for some new music to study to, who knew what I'd find?
But predating both Ellyn and Leah, was Andra who in fifth grade introduced me to the mere idea of listening to rock music on the radio. Oh God, I was such a nerd. I remember wondering what my mom might think if she heard me listening to the radio!

Must Have Been Beginner's Luck

Oh yes, it was mildly envy-inducing to have Jason's freshman effort on the grill turn out so darn well. How many stupid recipes do I try only to learn that cannelli beans are just really bland, or that while spices get old and lose their punch, salt does not, (result is really horribly salty pork chops where even I have to put my fork down and beg Jason do the same with his.)
Here is the recipe for this weekend's really good Korean Steak Lettuce Wraps. We would have taken pictures, but after waiting an hour for marinating and seeing those juicy steaks come of the grill, there was really no time to be a shutterbug.

Korean Steak
One of the best things about this dish is eating it; all the guests get to wrap up their own lettuce packages.
Ingredients:
* 1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
* 2 tablespoons sugar
* 2 tablespoons minced, peeled fresh ginger
* 2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
* 1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
* 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne)
* 3 garlic cloves, crushed with garlic press
* 1 beef top round steak, 1 inch thick (about 1 1/2 pounds)
* 1 cup regular long-grain rice
* 3 green onions, thinly sliced
* 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
* 1 medium head romaine lettuce, separated into leaves

Directions:

1. In large self-sealing plastic bag, combine soy sauce, sugar, ginger, vinegar, sesame oil, ground red pepper, and garlic; add steak, turning to coat. Seal bag, pressing out excess air. Place bag on plate; refrigerate steak 1 to 4 hours to marinate, turning once.

2. Just before grilling steak, prepare rice as label directs; keep warm.

3. Remove steak from bag; reserve marinade. Place steak on grill over medium heat and cook 14 to 15 minutes for medium-rare or until of desired doneness, turning steak over once. Transfer steak to cutting board; let stand 10 minutes to allow juices to set for easier slicing.

4. In 1-quart saucepan, heat reserved marinade and 1/4 cup water to boiling over high heat; boil 2 minutes.

5. To serve, thinly slice steak. Let each person place some steak slices, rice, green onions, and sesame seeds on a lettuce leaf, then drizzle with some cooked marinade. Fold sides of lettuce leaf over filling to make a package to eat out of hand.

My Weekend

Even though I'm sitting here on Sunday night wondering where the weekend went, in reflecting over it, the weekend went a lot of places:
1. Lowes: We got a grill to head into our Second Summer in the Second City. It's shiny. Jason put it together, since I was quite grumpy about not even having a chance to shower before we were off to adopt it in the morning. Jason already found this delicious steak recipe which tastes just like the Hunan Beef Lettuce Wraps at PF Chang's which we grilled tonight.
2. Blue Water Grill: We checked out a potential wedding reception venue. Very swank and loungey with an amazing bar with a backdrop of clustered starfish.
3. Arcade Fire concert last night at the Chicago Theater. SO GOOD. So amazing. And the band had two french horns. I love brass. I also love the Chicago Theater. I was ready for it to be a dusty relic that gets by on reputation alone, but inside it was grand with gigantic chandeliers and marble staircases. I'll have to check their schedule for something else to go to soon.
4. Made it to the gym for the first time in months and months. This was partially prompted by my being cornered in the hallway last week by a group of enthusiastic co-workers who saw me and exclaimed, "Let's ask Claire! Claire will join our team!" "What team?" I asked with caution. "We're calling ourselves the "Try for Kids team." What they really meant was the "TRI for kids" and were asking someone who hasn't broken a serious sweat in about 2 months at least, to bike, swim and run all in one day. "Um, can I just write a check??" I pleaded. I will continue to evade the triathletes, but I thought the gym might be a good idea. So I went... only to see this weird old man parading around in what was really pretty equivalent to tighty whities, *wet* and *clingy* tighty whities. The gym doesn't even have a pool so I guess he'd just decided to stroll around after his shower?? The girl on the next machine and I exchanged horrified and bewildered looks. Not sure about how soon I'll be returning to the gym.
5. Checked out potential wedding reception venue #2, the Signature Room, on the 95th floor of the John Hancock Tower. This would be so classic for a Chicago wedding, and no matter where you might be in Chicago, Jason will be quick to point out the Hancock. Unfortunately today I saw what it would be like on a cloudy day, where the glass windows become just like plain old white walls.On a similar day, our wedding reception would become the equivalent of an outdoor wedding being rained out. Something to think about.

My Dirty Wow Wow's Cuter Than Yours

Our beloved and steadfast companions finally have their long-deserved homage. A president's medal of honor might have been more appropriate for these dedicated soldiers who absorbed scraped knee tears and were hugged to an inch of their stuffing, until threadbare and battered. Binkies, boppies, or Dirty Wow Wow's in the favorite phrase of the publishers of "Dirty Wow Wow and other love stories" which chronicles the histories of our childhood favorites.
To publicize their book, the authors invite us to post pictures of our own favorite childhood stuffed animal. The pictures are just so adorable to peruse.
I am almost jealous that some people's companions might even be cuter than my little guys... Lemons the bear, so cute. Nah.
My Dirty Wow Wow's: There's my bunny, which I got when Juliet was born. The "remind Claire we still love her too, despite all the attention we're giving the needy little baby" gift. The bunny's ear is now held on by a crusty safety pin and the tail looks to be the next candidate for similar reattachment surgery. The music box in bunny's tummy still plays Frere Jacques though, which I have hazy memories of singing with my Mom. ("That thing plays Frere Jacques?" Jason asked. I nodded and he rolled his eyes, just more evidence of my alleged bourgeosie, blue blood East Coast upbringing.)
Maybe Juliet can help me out with the other little guy who's followed me around into my 30s. We each had one of these dolls and I think we called them the Silly Brothers. 'Cause brothers are silly, who needs them? Except to make these dolls squeal at each other in a goofy little boy way and then fling across the room, which is what I remember doing with this Silly Brother.

The Neighborhood that Friendliness Built?

Our little neighborhood was its most adorable today. The morning began with our alderman catching a purse snatcher. (But really, our zip code is not as crime-ridden as they say! The hookers are in the _next_ block.) Jason told me the purse snatcher story when I got home tonight and we went through the "You're kidding." "No really" "You're kidding" "No really" cycle a few times until the boy who cries wolf convinced me of the veracity of his story. The detail that had me really skeptical was Jason's impish grin when he told me that the alderman said he saw the thief running down the street carrying a purse and knew it wasn't his because it didn't match his shoes. It gets even better, a witness to the drama told news reporters, "Normally, you see aldermen running away from the law, instead of being part of it. A neighbor said they're politicians and they're all running for something."
Our day concluded with a bright rainbow arching over our homes. *Sigh*

And another thing...

And another thing I like about spring and summer *finally* arriving? New fruits in the grocery store, like cherries! Reminds me of climbing the tree in our backyard to pick them direct from the branch.
I'm waiting for it to be warm enough again for us to sleep with the windows open again. The branches of the cherry tree used to swish in the summer breezes as I fell asleep every night at home. Ever since, there's never been any slumber so sweet. So far, Chicago weather is not cooperating. Why is it so cold on weekends, but then the forecast calls for 80 degrees tomorrow... Monday??!

I love lilacs

After my "angry hostage in a hotel room" post, maybe it's time for a more pleasant reflection. I love lilacs. I don't know if I love them just intrisincally for being purple, so full of little petite blossoms, and pretty, or because they are one of the first signs of spring.
I also love looking out our living room windows and seeing a curtain of green leaves, rather than the barren brown branches we've seen all winter. Welcome spring. I think I might buy some flowers today to decorate our back deck. Deck season has returned to Chicago!

There is nothing on tv at hotels

There is nothing on tv at hotels. This morning I watched a story that CNN calls news about a sheep race, twice in a half hour. Not just a sheep race, but a sheep race where there are little stuffed animal sheep tied to the back of the racing sheep. And ENOUGH about Paris Hilton going to jail already and OJ getting kicked out of some restaurant. Whatevs! (Although CNN.com provides an ironic headline: Dilbert creator likes working from home. )
And what's their objection to Comedy Central? I miss Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert almost as much as my boyfriend and cat when I'm on the road.
Growing up, hotel tv was so cool because it had MTV and VH1 which we never had at home. Now it's just such a wasteland of useless pictures and noise. And MTV doesn't even play music videos anymore.

Where's my warm cookie?


Business travel again this week, in an undisclosed city in the South -- since I did realize as the plane landed that I do know someone here. I guess there are a lot of other travelers here since finding a hotel room was harder than usual.
So much business travel has made me a discerning hotel guest... or snob.
We started our stay last night at a Residence Inn, one of those places that are meant for longer term visits where there's an old refrigerator and little electric oven in the corner of the room. I felt like I was at summer camp after locating our cabin on the edge of the wooded property. It was the kind of place that's a little creepy by yourself at night, on a first floor room, with windows that are just a menacing psycho killer's reach from the dark forest...with a lock that doesn't feel like it's entirely secure.
When we heard yesterday afternoon that rooms were available in the Doubletree we immediately shuffled through our files and papers to read the cancellation policy on the Residence Inn. Just one night there and then we could leave without penalty. My coworker politely informed the front desk that we wished to "abbreviate our stay."
Today I happily accepted the warm chocolate chip walnut cookie that Doubletree gives you at check in. Now I have wireless internet! I have bottled water in my room! (*only* $4?) I even have a pillow that's embroidered with the wish for "Sweet Dreams." Ok, that's a little marketing scheme to sell me bedding, but whatever it's so much better.
Ironically, I'm traveling for market research with a moderator who's also done a lot of work in the non-healthcare realm. From working with one hotel chain and interviewing consumers, they learned that when men walk into a hotel room they most often first check the tv, the thermostat and other technology. Women check the towels and the sheets. I think Doubletree gets it.
While we're at it, I'll also put in my vote for the Hampton Inn, they've come a long way in the last few years: wireless internet and little lap desks so you can work from bed while watching tv!

Warm Cookie Update: As I waited for the elevator to arrive on my floor and take me out for our evening appointment I noticed a small framed notice on the wall. It informed me that the elevators are being modernized and therefore only one was operational. There might be some delays, so I should feel welcome to pick up an extra warm cookie from the desk on the way out, for my inconvenience.

Saturday Self Evaluation

Quaker schools, ultra-liberal parents, world travel, and Oberlin taught me to think of "prejudice" as a dirty word. This little sheltered idealistic upbringing has had its challenges, and accusations of being a pinko commie have followed too.
Testing my own prized (but admittedly self-awarded) open-mindedness has occupied some of my Saturday afternoon this weekend: www.projectimplicit.com is run out of Harvard and tests your possibly unconscious prejudices across a variety of topics.
Today I learned that I favor the young over the old. And I am religiously neutral: "Your data suggest little to no automatic preference between Other Religions and Judaism." Perhaps I shy away from all types of pontification.
As part of this study, researchers found that Americans of all races, classes, and ages relate black faces to negative words, even some African Americans. Try as we might, does the culture and the prejudice around us seep in? Will you know when you're being racist?
One day I was walking down the street in Center City Philadelphia, at a brisk clip on my way to catch my train home after the gym. A black man in a beige jacket loomed suddenly close up in front of my face, "Excuse me," he began. "Sorry, no" I said as I dodged away and kept walking. "You think I'm homeless?!" he yelled after me. Yeah, I did. People asking the time don't usually get within a foot's distance of your face. But I was wrong.
The fair counterpoint might be riding the trolley home with Hugh and Juliet on Christmas eve two years ago. A little black girl sat next to her mother across the aisle from me. Feeling full of Christmas cheer, when I saw her looking my way I gave her a little smile. She turned to her mother and said loudly, "You know what, Mom? I hate white people." Her mom gave her a prompt little slap of the hand. Guess she's well on her way to a more open-minded upbringing, so she can question herself later in life?

Quack?

I thought I'd try to take action on the "I told you so" I was telling myself a few weeks ago: next time I get a cold, I'm going to the doctor early, getting antibiotics, and won't waste two weeks feeling crummy. This morning I spent the typical impatient outpatient 10 minutes waiting in the exam room for a doctor to greet me and my recently returned sniffles.
Sidenote: Why do they take you from the magazine-filled waiting room only to make you sit for 10 minutes in a room that has no reading material, no windows and nothing to do? I swear I've been tempted to start going through drawers in the exam room just for something to entertain myself until I hear the sound of my medical chart slipping out of the holder on the other side of the door, signaling the final arrival of my doctor.
I thought I'd earn points with the doctor by pointing out that I'd had this cold just a few weeks ago and I'd already made a valiant effort at toughing it out au nautreul -- not naked -- but with lots of fluids, rest, more fluids, and Airborne vitamins. And make the more pointed remark that this didn't help much. This time I wanted to lead my doctor towards his little prescription pad for some antibiotics. But I think I got some homeopathic quack. He commented that he really liked the idea of Airborne, since people should take more vitamins. He led to a quick diagnosis and conclusion that everything that there was to offer my cold could be found... over the counter.
As if those insidious words don't plague me enough in my pharma marketing career, now they came to assail me in my own misfortune.
Sudafed. Maybe Zycam, but it might already be too late for that.
And then he suggested something that caused me to wonder if I should ask for my $20 co-pay back: nasal wash. Salt water squirted up each nostril. To the old folk they might use the tool called a netty pot. Geez, that's all modern medicine had to offer me?
I thought I'd try asking if he was SURE there wasn't something more I could get or do. Nope. Really? No. "So you're saying there's no cure for the common cold?" Yes.
 

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