Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Once-A-Year Meal

Pardon me for posting so late in the evening. And for posting such a short post after missing yesterday altogether. But I do have my reasons.

You see, dinner tonight found Christopher and I playing host to a couple of good friends. And Christopher made one of his most popular entrees--which we refer to as a "Once-A-Year" recipe: Macaroni and Cheese. 

No. This is not the kind of Mac & Cheese that I grew up with out of the blue box. It's also not the kind of recipe which is going to win an award for being new and innovative on the Food Network. 

It is, however, a high-fat, high-carb, artery-clogging masterpiece which takes more than 2 pounds of cheese (Sharp Cheddar, Colby-Jack, Muenster, and Velveeta) and one pound of pasta, adds in croutons and half-and-half, and comes out of the oven like a warm gooey helping of heaven. (And, with those ingredients, it could send you right to Heaven before dessert if you eat it too often!)

The four of us spent hours at the table eating and talking (we also had garlic bread and green beans with the Mac & Cheese), and finished off with a lemon pound cake which I absolutely love. Our friends just left, and now Christopher and I are both ready to slip into digestive comas.

Christopher's Mac & Cheese may only be a Once-A-Year meal, but it's sure worth waiting for!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thotful Thursday

Yes, for those of you paying close attention, the title is in reference to Winnie the Pooh and his "Thotful Spot." And I have been finding myself in rather thotful moods this week. 

Maybe it's because we're close to having an entire January without hitting 32 degrees--which apparently has not happened since sometime in the 1970s. A few times this month we've been teased with the possibility of a January thaw (I mean... it was warm enough for me to get my car washed and not have it freeze shut), but today I honestly couldn't get warm. I really need a warm day. 

Or maybe it's because my hair has gotten longer, and I'm debating whether I should cut it short again or let it continue to grow out. I mean, not as long as it was back in my college days (it was the late 80s, so it was really long), but longer than the short slightly-spiky thing I've been doing lately.

Or maybe I'm feeling thotful because I've been gradually reconnecting with a bunch of college friends, lately, and realizing that my life isn't exactly what I thought it would be 20 years out of college. Not that I had any idea what my life was going to be, but even so, that's kind of out there. You see people doing exactly what they said they wanted to do and it's both exciting and humbling. (Well, and a little annoying, too, but you can't admit that, right?)

Or maybe my thotful times are simply being caused by the fact that I was listening to an old Muppet Show record (yes--the vinyl 33 1/3 rpm kind) last week and Rowlf the dog was singing "Cottleston Pie" which is a song which Winnie the Pooh sings when his brain is feeling fluffy. My brain seems to have been feeling oddly fluffier than usual, lately, too.

Here's hoping warmer weather, a good hair day, and a good reconnection or two will soon cause some of that fluff to settle. If not, you'll probably find me downstairs listening to more Muppets... Either way, I guess it's not so bad.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Finding the Lost

There are TV shows which I watch almost religiously. Shows which I record if I'm not going to be around, or which I make specific plans to watch online after the fact. 

And then there are shows which I watch if I remember that they're on, but I seem to always forget about until they're halfway through. These are the "lost" shows in my schedule. 

Tonight's television watching has been filled with the joyful serendipity of finding some of this latter type. 

First of all, I remembered to watch "Leverage" on TNT, but not until I had already missed the first 10 minutes. That's not a horrible thing, since the show is character-driven and fun enough to kind of just "drop into" as it goes along. But it IS a "heist" show, so missing the opening does kind of make it hard to figure out what the end goal might be. Hopefully I'll remember to watch it in the future, because I've liked what I've seen (even if it has only been the final 45 minutes or so of 3 different episodes).

I've also begun watching one of MSNBC's "talking head" shows. I have always been highly opposed to shows with irate hosts yelling at the guests they're supposed to be interviewing, and I've detested the way they seem to be going downhill from show to show. But I stumbled across "The Rachel Maddow Show" a few weeks ago, and I loved it. She's funny--but not mean--and she's so danged smart that you find yourself having to pay attention to keep up. Her commentaries don't pound messages home, they simply float them out for you to catch. She doesn't call people names, she instead flashes a sarcastic smile and bares her opinions without a single word. Okay... She obviously has strong political opinions, but she strikes me as the type of person who would rather discuss them with you than argue. 

I really do need to try to remember to watch some of my "lost" shows more often. I frequently feel smarter after I do. (Kinda like Indiana Jones after a dig... Only not so dusty...)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Bears, Brides and Smart People, Oh My!

That's right, folks, it's Movie Monday! And you're in luck, because I just came home from an actual movie in a movie theater. Plus, with the recent cold weather, I've seen a couple of Netflix, as well, so here we go...

1) The Golden Compass. I saw this one via Netflix, and I think it may have been much more interesting in the movie theater. I really didn't get why the movie was protested against for being anti-God. I was looking for it in the movie, and never saw anything like that (apparently the book is more specific about it...?). Unfortunately, the movie opens up all of these doors along the way, but doesn't go through any of them. In fact, about 10 minutes before the movie ends the main character lists off all of the things they need to do, but they don't do any of them because, well, the movie ends. Very unsatisfying. Check it out for its amazing blend of live action and CGI? Sure. Expect it to fill you up in the cold winter? Definitely not. Overall: C-.

2) Bride Wars. This is the one I saw tonight. Fun enough movie with Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson as inseparable friends who, due to a scheduling mishap, end up with their dream weddings scheduled to be on the same day at the same time. Sadly, a lot of the funniest stuff is in the previews, but there was plenty of other stuff to keep the movie going. And this time of year a happy fluffy ending is kind of nice. Go to it to watch incredibly smart pretty women do great slapstick and comedy? Yes. Pay full price and expect it to fill a void in your life? Oh, I really hope not. Overall: B.

3) Smart People. You saw the promos for this before it came out--they showed Sarah Jessica Parker (from Square Pegs and Sex In the City) being aggressively served a turkey dinner by Ellen Page (from Juno) while Dennis Quaid and Thomas Hayden Church look on. Sadly, that promo is only glancingly like the rest of the movie. The rest of the movie is actually really good. It is, in fact, a smart movie. It talks about second chances and taking any chances at all. I wouldn't say it's a happy movie, but it's a movie with a good heart that you want to know more about. Unlike Golden Compass, where it ended with too many blatantly loose ends, or Bride Wars with the expected outcome, Smart People leaves you with just enough that you want more. I saw it almost 10 days ago, and I think I remember more about it than I do about Bride Wars. Watch it on a date night? Only if you both like painfully uncomfortable dates. Watch it, regardless? Definitely. Overall: A-. 

Luckily, I seldom go to movies on Sundays. Why is that lucky? Because I just found out that the next season of The Amazing Race begins on Sunday February 15th. Good thing I've got another 6 nights each week to do my homework for Movie Mondays!

Sunday, January 25, 2009


I seem to be writing about patience a lot, lately, in one form or another. 

There's been me apologizing for making you wait for me to post when my "daily" blogs aren't so daily.

There's been me talking about the idea that February is just a week away, that spring is just a couple of months a way, and that there might be a thaw sometime in there, too.

I've gone on about waiting for customer service. 

I've even talked about how odd it is to wait for a resume reply and/or acknowledgement (which may or may not ever come).

But this week I have found myself trying my best to be really really patient for one thing: Our orchid. 

When I wrote on Thursday that it was "almost open" I really thought it would be open by Friday. But Friday the largest of the buds was still completely green. Saturday, it started to lighten a little, but was still as tight as could be. When I came out into the living room today, I was sure it would be open, and it is. EXCEPT that it was just barely splitting open. 

All day today I've been watching as the first of this batch of buds has gone from just a crack open to being about one eighth of the way open, now. It seems to be gaining momentum, though, and I have high hopes that by tomorrow... or maybe Wednesday... it will be all the way open. 

Then I'll be able to focus my attention on the second bud, then the third, fourth, fifth... 

I figure that if I practice my patience in small doses like this, by the time they're all open it might actually be spring. Or, if not spring, then at least I won't have to be patient too much longer...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

It's the Little Things...

It is, in fact, the little things that are getting me through this winter. And I've decided that I'm going to use today's posting to name just a few of them:

1) Yesterday was a warm enough day that I could take my salt-encrusted car to the carwash. My poor car has been covered with sand and grit for at least a month or two. I actually "lost" it in a parking lot a week ago because I was looking for the wrong color of car. But, as of yesterday afternoon, it once again looks dark blue. That's exciting. Along those same lines...

2) When I went to, today, to check on the next few days, I noticed that the 10-day outlook included the 31st of January. Which means that, if I look tomorrow, we'll already be looking at February. Can spring be far behind? (Okay... spring doesn't come to Minneapolis until at least late March, but I'm taking what I can get!)

3) The tulips I bought, yesterday, and thought seemed a little long-stemmed and... well... "bendy" to survive long, all straightened up in water overnight. They will happily make it through tomorrow (Christopher's birthday), and--hopefully--well into next week. At the same time...

4) The orchid which was "in spike" (ie, was close to blooming) when I bought it last fall--and, since, has gone through a full bloom cycle and lost its last flower a couple weeks ago--has decided it might want to continue to bloom. It has 4 more buds on the same spike, and one is within days of popping. That's amazing! (If you don't know about orchids, there's a whole lot of "wait and see" with them. They usually bloom once every 6-12 months--if you're lucky.)

5) I made a really mediocre Caesar salad dressing (yes, from scratch) the other day. It was depressing. But the croutons were good (and--of course--really easy). So, last night, I used the same general method and made satisfyingly good garlic toast with oregano. (Like I said... This is all about the little things.)

6) Of all of the job-related correspondence I send off on a daily basis, I actually got a personalized response back from one of the pieces, yesterday. Sure, it was simply a "we got your resume, we're looking at them" email, but it was an actual real person contacting me. It was great. And speaking of real people...

7) I've gotten real responses, comments, and queries on some of my postings! I don't get a lot of them, but I've been getting more of them this month. That makes me very happy!

I hope there are some small things--or big things, even--that are helping you through the dark months, too!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sorry... I Was Watching the Inauguration

I fully admit that, although I was within arms' reach of my computer for most of yesterday, I had not thoughts at all of writing a post. Instead I spent most of yesterday's daylight hours watching the inaugural activities on TV. 

You've all seen as much coverage as you want by now, I'm sure, so I won't go into much of it here. But there are a few things I wanted to mention...

1) I loved that we once again had an Inaugural Poem. I'm hoping to get my hands on it and read it on my own sometime soon.

2) I was thrilled by the amount of music included, and how important it was. Although I'm afraid of how overplayed "At Last" is going to be in the next few months.

3) I think it's amazing that there were no reported arrests related to the inauguration--even though there were close to 2 million people there. I think it's even more amazing considering there was only one porta-potty for every 400 people.

I'm also very glad that by the evening many of the channels on my TV were no longer doing coverage. Even I was over the pomp and circumstance by then and looking forward to seeing what happens next. 

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Good Snow, Bad Snow

Remember how, a few days ago, I commented that we in Minnesota know how to adapt quickly to changes in weather? I'm not sure if I adapted today, so much as changed my mind.

This morning I got up and was watching an amazing fluffy white snowfall outside the windows. It was one of those snows that is supposed to fall just before Christmas, and it was falling all around in the monochromatic world of our January morning.

Around noon, as the snow had mostly stopped, I went out and cleared the sidewalks. Since it was a light snow--and there wasn't much of it--I simply went out with a pushbroom and cleared it all. It was great. The sun was almost out and I was actually warm in my coat. People were walking dogs and saying hello from across the street. When I was done, I came in and admired my handiwork and then enjoyed the fact that the sun was coming out and everything would look great for Christopher's return home tomorrow afternoon.

Then I looked outside at about 2 o'clock. It was snowing again. Some large flakes, but mostly smaller ones (the ones that make for blizzards and are no good for snowmen). It snowed off and on for a couple of hours--not enough to be a real problem, but it didn't stop until after dark. I looked outside a little while ago and the entire driveway is covered in snow--as are all of the sidewalks. I'm waiting until tomorrow to see if I need to worry about them (it will depend upon how thawing the "January thaw" we're expecting this week is).

Which makes today a microcosm of winter in Minnesota: It starts out exciting and fun with pretty snow and a thrilling nip in the air. But by mid-winter snow is simply a frustration to be dealt with. So we learn to focus on spring when all of it goes away. 

Thus, as the wind changeth the direction of the snow, so changeth my opinion of that which bloweth. (Or something like that.)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Changing Weather and Belated Friday Food

I woke up this morning realizing something was different. It was darker than it should have been at 8am. As I lay there thinking, it dawned on me that this meant it was cloudy out. Hurrah!

I know that sounds wrong. But in January in Minnesota a bright clear day frequently also means a very cold day. On the other hand, as the frigid stuff pulls away, warmer air often causes clouds. 

Thus it was that with great glee that I jumped out of bed to greet the day. (Full disclosure? I jumped out of bed to greet the day at about 9:30. It is Saturday, after all.)

I am happy to report that it is a whopping 20 degrees ABOVE zero today at noon. That is a temperature swing of something like 42 degrees since yesterday at 8am. It's practically balmy! I plan to run errands, just for the sake of running them--even though it means I'm heading for shopping epicenters on the weekend. That's how warm it is.
But before I go out into the balmy breezes I owe you a quick note on Friday Food from yesterday... This week's topic: Thai food.

There are a number of really good Thai restaurants in the Twin Cities. I'm not sure why, there just are. Here are three of them that I know of (the reason why these are this week's Friday Food focus will become apparent. Don't worry.):

Christopher's and my favorite is Sawatdee (the location on Washington Ave in Minneapolis, to be specific)--not the best ambience, but great food and good (overall) atmosphere at decent prices. We've taken a lot of people there--and gone there a lot on our own--and haven't ever had a clunker off of the menu. It's become one of our staples when we want to go out. I'd give them an "A-" overall, and they only get the "-" because it can get kind of loud.

About 10 days ago, I went to dinner for a friend's birthday at Mango Thai in St. Paul. (You may remember this dinner from the posting entitled "The Kindness of... ummm... Strangers".) It's a small place, brightly lit and minimalistic. The food was good, but they stressed over and over that it is served family style with large portions--and although the food was okay, the portions weren't all that big. The price was good, though, and the staff was friendly (although they didn't do well with "exactitude" of our order). We had a very nice time, in spite of everything. "A" for effort. "C+" for overall. 

Last night (See? Friday Food!) I was out to dinner for another friend's birthday at King and I Thai in Minneapolis. It's a well-known Thai place, known for its style as well as its food. The prices are a little higher than other places, but I found out in the course of the evening that these family style portions really are big enough to share. The food was good, although some people complained of incongruous heat levels (things meant to be spicy weren't; and vice-versa). We were a large group, and our waitress was very charming, but mixed up a few orders, as well as taking loooooonnnnngggg pauses between trips to the table. Although it is slightly more elegant, I'd still vote for Sawatdee. King and I's ratings: "B+" for food. "C+" for service. "B" overall.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cold Comfort

No. I don't mean that as in "barely consoling" or... to quote a recent movie title... merely a Quantum of Solace. I mean "comfort when it's cold out"--and it has happily been in good supply this week. 

With Christopher working on getting over his cold and packing to leave for Amsterdam this week, I made a remarkably satisfying one-pot chicken and rice casserole on Tuesday night. (I have to say that it was very comforting on that first sub-zero day.) Since one of Christopher's favorite foods is pizza, we had pepperoni pizza for dinner last night, followed by a couple of late evening mugs of hot chocolate. Today, after I dropped Christopher and Julie off at the airport, I headed for the Mall of America for a meal from Panda Express--my favorite "bad good" Chinese food. Yeah. Comfort Food. mmmmmm

But, of course, man does not get comfort from food alone. My other main way of dealing with cold weather (or any other outside stress) when I'm on my own is to spend time on the phone. I've always enjoyed talking on the phone, and find it much more useful for emotional comfort than emailing (or any other means of long-distance conversing). This week while Christopher has been busy getting ready to leave, I've spent a lot of time on the phone with my folks and my family, but also with good friends. I carried that theme through tonight, as I spent a large portion of "prime time" on the phone. (Yeah. No idea what the president had to say... or how Grissom left CSI... but I do know that it's a good thing we have an unlimited phone plan.)

And, of course, there is one other form of cold comfort which I really enjoy: Cold Comfort Farm. It's a wonderfully eccentric British movie from the mid-90s starring a very young Kate Beckinsale who goes to live with relatives with whom she has nothing in common except genealogy (one of whom is an equally young Rufus Sewell). The movie tagline, according to the Internet Movie Database ( was: "She discovered a new branch of her family tree... the one with all the nuts." You may--or may not--take comfort in how much the Starkadder family will remind you of your own family/town/high school/life.

Finally, there is one more way to take comfort during the cold weather: Snuggling up in bed. Unfortunately, that works best when you're not alone. Guess I'll be taking cold comfort in wrapping up under the blankets tonight...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Cold Is Cold

Having received a bunch of emails in the past few days which have been about the extreme weather we in Minnesota (and a lot of other places in the northern section of the States) have been dealing with, I thought I'd make a few comments about it, here.

Yes. It's [expletive deleted]-ing cold in Minneapolis right now. We're in the middle of about 80 hours of below-zero temps, with high hopes that we'll be above zero by Friday afternoon. 

Yes. Even though it's this cold, we still got snow, yesterday. Basically, if there's moisture in the atmosphere, it can snow no matter what the temperature is. The major difference is that the colder it is, the smaller, drier and fluffier (and more prone to drifting) the snow flakes will be. So we got snow yesterday which drifted all over and filled in the sidewalks I had cleared out over the weekend.

No. We don't all stay in and hibernate when it's like this. Christopher has still been getting up and leaving home in the very early morning (when the temp on Tuesday was -14 degrees), and I went out and did the grocery shopping today before taking the time to clear the sidewalks. One of the major things you learn in this part of the country is that you need to dress for the weather and not worry about being cute. Hat hair (or earmuff hair) reigns supreme this time of year. 

No. It doesn't stay this cold all year. In fact, it seldom actually gets as cold as it is this week. The "average" high this time of year is supposed to be in the low 20s ABOVE zero (or between 25 and 40 degrees warmer than we've got at the moment). But more importantly, we'll have spring in March and be back up into the 90s in July and August. Living here, you learn to adapt quickly. Heck. You'll probably see light jackets when we get to 20 or 30 this weekend!

Yes. I'm looking forward to it being gone.

Yes. I'd prefer it to be warmer.

No. I'm not moving anywhere just because of a cold snap. Planning a vacation for next January, though? Maybe.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Just Who Is John Barrowman?

I found a comment on yesterday's post asking for clarification on who John Barrowman is (and, I suspect, that person also wants to know why I keep talking about him). Since it's always exciting to get responses to my postings, I decided to address that directly.

So... Here are some reasons why I find it fun to mention John Barrowman from time to time:

Photo image from CD art for "Another Side"

The easy answer is that John Barrowman is a Scottish-American-Scottish (he's moved back and forth) actor/singer/dancer who is probably currently best known in the States for roles on British television (on Dr. Who and Torchwood), but has also been on Broadway and London's West End in some big shows (like Sunset Boulevard and Anything Goes). He's also been in a few movies (including the Cole Porter bio-pic De-Lovely, and a very small featured role in The Producers).

He's also openly gay AND has played gay char
acters, as well as straight ones. His Torchwood character Captain Jack Harkness is a military man of mystery who is in command, flirtatious, and just happens to like relationships with men. (Oddly enough, it's fairly rare for gay actors to play gay roles. Frequently gay characters are played by straight actors who are "stretching their talents," while gay actors play the straight characters around them. Just look at Brokeback Mountain--one of the most powerful "gay" movies in years, where both leads were played by straight men.) 

On an even more personal level, it's fun to note that a few years ago Barrowman had a full wedding (errr... Civil Partnership) ceremony with his husband Scott (while wearing a kilt--not an important fact, but a fun one!). Just take a look at the photo below and you'll see why that day looks like it was a lot of fun--and the start of a great marriage.

Photo of Barrowman (in kilt), his husband Scott, and three of their Cocker Spaniels on their wedding day from "Out in Hollywood" website.

Christopher actually gave me Barrowman's autobiography (also named Anything Goes) last year for my birthday, and it was a fun read. Barrowman has had a pretty amazing life, and he sounds like someone who actually appreciates the life he's had--unlike what you read about a lot of the stars out there. Which is why I frequently mention that he and his partner seem like they would be good dinner guests. (There's a fairly short list of celebrities on that list, maybe we'll talk about them later.)

Finally, Barrowman also happens to be just a few months older than me. Again, this is a fact which really doesn't matter much, but makes me happy. After all, it's nice to see a "sex-symbol" type in the media who isn't at least a decade younger than me.

Oh. Since I'm using Barrowman's name and image a lot in this post, I figure I should also give him a little free advertising. He's got a new CD coming out, called Music Music Music (if I'm not mistaken it's currently out in Britain, but not due here in the States for a while). His official website is: .

Monday, January 12, 2009

"Death" Be Not Proud AND a John Barrowman Sighting

You know those movies you watch and really want them to be good? I watched one of those last weekend. It's called "Death at a Funeral" and it was recommended by a friend (although I can't remember who, actually, so I'm sorry if I offend anyone...), and I really wanted to like it.

It's got a basic British light-comedy-drama plot: Group of disparate folks all gather for an occasion. Something out of the ordinary happens. Mayhem and mirth ensue. All is right in the end. Only, in this case, the disparate group are all meeting for a funeral (you may have guessed that from the title). 

I really liked many of the people in the cast. There's that guy from "MI-5," and the strawberry-blond guy who dies in "Serenity," and the dude who goes off to America and meets all the girls in "Love, Actually," and there are a couple of women that you'd know if you saw them. Oh, and Peter Dinklage is in it, too, as the bit of "out of the ordinary" which happens.

And... Well... that's kind of how I felt about the movie. I was watching all of these people I've seen in other things, and thinking "Hmm... I never would have thought he'd look like that naked;" or "His hair looks funny that way;" and I never really got into the movie. 

Watch it if you need a light-hearted Brit-com to watch while balancing your checkbook? Sure. Invite any of these people to your own funeral? Not on your life (although... if you're dead...).


Now, on to the John Barrowman bit.

Remember how, in my "Riddle Me This" post, I commented that it seems to have been a long time since I had anything to say about John Barrowman? Well... I was watching TV the other night and heard a voice in a commercial on HGTV and thought "I think that was John Barrowman," but then the announcer went on and I didn't hear any more. About half an hour later, the same commercial rolled back through, and this time I paid attention. And--yep--it was John Barrowman. 

Apparently John Barrowman is going to be hosting a one-off show on HGTV called "Keys to the Castle," wherein he'll--again--apparently be showing off a bunch castles in France. There's not a ton of info on the HGTV website, but what there is is here.


So, how's that for a Monday post? Not only did you get your "Movie Monday" but also a John Barrowman sighting. I fear I may have peaked early this week...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

"Miscast"... Now What?

I spent a couple of hours this afternoon at a small theater in St. Paul watching a cabaret-style show called "Miscast 2: Once more, with feeling." This is the second local iteration of this show ("Miscast" apparently played last fall), and it's a great little idea: performers singing numbers they would never be cast to do in their original shows. (In other words, you get a guy doing a female lead's song; or a substantially-built woman doing the petite Evita's "Don't Cry For Me Argentina.") 

I have to say that I laughed a lot during the show. Some of the twists were really well done. I actually started laughing before many of the songs started. I'd hear the opening notes, see the costume coming onstage, and laugh. When the woman came out with a floodlight attached to her baseball cap, and a flashlight in each hand, I recognized it as the "candelabra" from "Be Our Guest" from Disney's Beauty and the Beast and laughed so hard that she looked my direction during her patter and said "Yep. You know what's coming, don't you?"

**sidenote** I should mention that we were a small audience, so it was easy to figure out who was laughing. With 10 people in the cast, the audience only out-numbered them by 4 people. **end sidenote**

With a cast of 10, you know there were some great things and some clunkers. A soprano who could nail any notes, a dancer who leapt circles around the cast (literally), and the various costumes in the "Be Our Guest" number (including a microwave oven, a fridge, and a George Foreman grill) were great. And seeing 4 guys do "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" from Sound of Music was a trip! The barnyard version of "Circle of Life" from The Lion King - priceless!

Unfortunately, the fact that only one of the serious numbers ("Send in the Clowns") was taken seriously, although there were some beautiful voices which didn't need gimmicks, was a bummer for me. And although the original incarnation of the show was pre-Election, a couple of political jabs were really past their shelf-lives at this point. 

So... If I'm pointing out the clunkers from the show, why did I leave it with such a good feeling?

I loved it for it's heart.

I love the idea of being able to re-take control of your world. To say to the casting directors (or HR people, or whoever) that you're going to sing a song, even if they say you're not right for it. Okay, yes, sometimes the people who say they know better really did know better, but how do they know without giving you a shot? Wouldn't it be great if we all had the opportunity to take the chance and find out? To take to the stage (metaphorical, or otherwise) and try on another role? Wouldn't that be amazing?

Or maybe that's just me, hoping for a hiring manager to take a shot on my resume and me. 

Until then, I guess I'll just keep singing in my car.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


I thought I should give you a few follow-up comments about some of my past posts.

First of all, I've gotten some good feedback on my "Riddle Me This..." posting. I'd suggest going back to that and reading the comments. There are some good -- and very plausible -- answers to my questions.
Then, from my New Year's Resolution posting " 'Eat the Cake Please, People' ", I received a correction to my erroneous neighborhood location of Charm City Cakes.
Mainly, though, I have a new story to tell about the post entitled "Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is.

A couple of days ago, I received a call from the manager (Dan) of the local Apple store. He had received my online survey, and was calling to do his own follow up. I've been on that side of the phone before, where you have to make a call to an unhappy customer and try to placate them. Which put me in the weird situation of trying to point out my complaint, while also trying to not make him feel too bad about his staff.

We spent probably 10 or 15 minutes on the phone. Dan started out going along the "We were really busy on the day you were here" line of conversation, but when I reminded him that I have had bad Customer Service experiences every time I've been there, he started to listen a little more and ask more specific questions. There came a point where I was kind of apologizing for complaining, while he was almost bashing on how badly his staff had performed. (Yeah. That was a weird turn of events.) But it was a good phonecall, overall. 

Finally, toward the end, Dan asked if I'd like a free class in the store, and I had to laugh and say that as little as I enjoy the store, I couldn't imagine sitting at the "Genius Bar" for a half-hour without having an anxiety attack. But I have to say that I really appreciated the gesture. He eventually offered to send me an iTunes giftcard for my troubles, which I certainly wasn't expecting, but very much appreciated. I doubt that I'll be going into the Apple store any time soon, but at least now I've got a less-bad taste in my mouth about it.
So, that should get you mostly caught up on what's going on around here. The Beef Wellington and Kouign Amann are long gone. We're still stocked up on Orange Juice and fighting off the end of our colds. But it's a sunny day and might actually be above 20 degrees before all is said and done. For mid-January, life is good.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Riddle Me This...

Over the past few days I have been hit with a few odd questions, and I thought I'd share some of them with you so that they stop bouncing around in my head. 

I should note that, although there probably are answers to many of them, I don't have them. 

And, at the same time, I'm not sure I want a "real" answer to any of them, either. I mean, does anyone really want to know how the rabbit comes out of the empty hat? Isn't it more wondrous just knowing that he does?

And, yet, on the other hand, if you do have any insight into any of the following situations, please feel free to let me know.

1) Why, if the local news starts at 11am, would they refer to it as the "midday news" or--worse yet--the "noon news at 11"? 

2) If the sun is warm enough to melt the snow on the roof and cause it to drip and/or form icicles, why isn't it also warm enough to melt the snow and ice off of the driveway?

3) (Related to 2) How is it that soft, slushy, snow can become so hard-packed around your tires that it doesn't fall off when you drive? Shouldn't all of the salt and ice-melt stuff that has softened it in the first place cause it to degrade and fall out?

4) Why is it that, although I've taken the trouble to clear the entire front walkway, the postman insists on walking through the yard? Should I shovel multiple paths just for him?

5) Do all Blu-Ray disc players also play "regular" DVDs? And what, exactly, makes them different, anyway? (For someone with such a small amount of technical savvy, I'm amazed that I can blog...)

6) Why are TV show runs listed as "seasons" here in the States, but as "series" in Britain? (It can make DVD (Blu-Ray or otherwise) shopping a tad confusing...)

7) How much sunlight do you have to get to equate to 1,000 I.U. of Vitamin D3? Why do I suspect that there would be skin cancer--or freezer burn--involved if you waited around outside long enough to absorb it? And, it that's the case, are we sure it's good for us?

8) Why hasn't John Barrowman come up as a topic in any of my blog posts, lately?

Like I said. Strange things have been bouncing around in my head, lately. (And we won't even get into the weird dreams I've been having...)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Kindness of... ummm... Strangers

Imagine, if you will, being invited to a birthday dinner for one of your best friends. 

Imagine that it's going to be in a restaurant you've never been to, but you have faith in your friend's food choices so you're looking forward to it. And, of course, it's your good friend's birthday, so no matter what you're hoping to have a really good time. But you're unemployed and a little nervous about how much it could cost.

Imagine that you go to the restaurant's website and verify that the food looks good, that the restaurant is where you thought it was, and that--hurrah--the menu prices are within your week's budget. And, yet, on the drive to the restaurant you suddenly become nervous that you're going to be asked to kick in for the birthday girl's birthday dinner--which is decidedly not in your budget. 

Arriving at the restaurant, everything goes well. You reacquaint yourself with the other guests, you settle in at the table, and you verify which menu items you know that you can afford. The fear sets in, though, when people start talking about ordering "family style" and sharing, while you were planning to drink water and order the least expensive entree on the menu. But this is your friend's birthday and you want it to go well, so you just keep going along, figuring that you'll just blow your budget for the week and everything will be okay. 

Imagine that the check comes, and you've resigned yourself to simply going over budget. And then, from a hushed conversation at the other end of the table, you hear and see two of the other guests discussing the bill. And you hear one of them whisper "...well... yeah... and Robert's unemployed, so..." 

And imagine what it's like when the conversation comes back around, that same person sets the bill on the table and says "The two of us are covering the birthday girl's meal as our gift to her, so the rest of you just owe..." And, with that gift to you, as much as to the birthday girl, miraculously, you come in right at budget--with an overwhelming desire to say thank-you, but the knowledge that this was supposed to have been done without you ever knowing.

Yeah. Just imagine that. 

Monday, January 5, 2009

Of Mae, Will, and Wall-E

I've actually seen a whole bunch of movies in the past week, but I don't know how to wrap them all up in one post. Which doesn't mean I'm not going to try...

Movie 1 - "She Done Him Wrong" - It's a Mae West movie from 1933, and... well... that's really all you need to know about it. West is glorious in it--if for no other reason than it's impossible to believe that she could move in her clothes. But she's also sassy and brassy and, somehow, classy as the "liberated" woman who still sings in the nightclub, but doesn't walk the streets. Oh. Yes. There's actually a plot, which involves mafia ties, the mission next door (run by an undercover cop--a VERY young--Cary Grant) and a young woman who is saved from committing suicide just downstairs. It's a short movie, but it's packed with so much power that it's really a must-see.

Movie 2 - The Reduced Shakespeare Company's "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)" - Oddly enough, the title of the disc is almost longer than the number of words they devote to any of the 37 plays (and ALL the sonnets) which they send up in the 90-minute show. If you haven't seen anything like this... well... it's 3 guys playing all of the parts and tossing out just enough lines from the shows to make it a little more scholarly than you'd expect. Yes, it's best if you know at least some Shakespeare before you watch it, but the fact that they admit that they focus on the tragedies "because they're funnier" than the comedies. Well. I think anyone can appreciate that. 

Movie 3 - "Wall-E" - I know. This one came out last summer, and I'm pretty sure I wrote about it when I saw it in the theaters. But last night, around a fabulous meal which Christopher prepared  (the entree was Beef Wellington, and the dessert was a from-scratch Kouign Amann--if you want to know more about those, ask me!), we settled in and watched "Wall-E" again. Now, remember, this was also the day that the Christmas tree had come down. And the Beef Wellington was originally intended for New Year's, until we both felt too sick to celebrate. So last night, watching Wall-E and Eve and their wordless communications, eating our amazing meal, and snuggling up on the couch was like having one last celebration before "real" life kicked back in today. Okay. You're right. I know that's not a review of the movie, so here you go: It's really really really good. You should see it.

And there you have it. Three movies (and one fabulous meal) all in one Movie Monday posting. 

(If I were in Movie 2, this would be the point where I would jump up. Plant my feet. Do "jazz hands." And yell "Ta-DAH!" But I'm not.)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Tree Is Down! (Long Live The Tree!)

'Tis a sad sad afternoon in our house, today. We have taken down the tree and packed up all of the ornaments and Holiday kitsch from around the house (or at least we think we have, although we're both feeling like we missed something). 

As some of you may recall, this was my first Christmas with an artificial tree. So while it was a bit odd to find myself packing it back into its box, it was also kind of nice to know that we weren't kicking it out to the curb to be picked up by the trashman on Tuesday morning. After all, it had been a very nice "slender" 6.5-foot tall tree. It had supported all manner of ornaments quite well, had given just enough space underneath for a mix of plaster houses and wrapped presents, and had garnered many a comment about how well it fit in the house due to its "less than wide" stature. But all good things must come to an end--or at least to a moment of suspension. 

So Christopher and I spent a few last minutes cuddled on the couch last night with no lights on except the tree. And we marvelled at the ornaments again as they got packed up, listening to some of the more extravagant ones play their tunes and/or vignettes. And we packed everything into boxes and hauled it all back into the basement for next year. 

The Christmas cards which have been decorating our living room for the past month are now in a pile on the table. We're down to our last dozen Christmas cookies. And shovelling is rapidly becoming drudgery instead of a fun and festive occasion.

But now it's time to stare out at the cold snow and start contemplating spring and the trees outside. It's much easier, after all, to plan for a season which is only 11 weeks away (on the calendar, at least) than it is to try to patiently wait for one which is still 46 weeks away...

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Tea and Empathy

I hate being sick. I really do. I especially hate "the common cold" because no matter what you do, there's really nothing you can do about it. You're simply stuck with it.

I began coming down with mine not quite two weeks ago--the Monday before Christmas. Christopher had valiantly fought off his for a week or so, but it took a good solid whack at him at about the same time. So now our house is filled with the snufflings and coughs of two people dealing with colds. We've got a fridge full of Orange and Apple juices. We've got cough drops aplenty and cough syrups galore. (Whoa. I'm ending this paragraph before I break into a Dr. Seuss-style musical number.)

Here's the rub: Mine seems to be going away quicker than his. Most likely, this is helped along by the fact that I am at home most of the day "resting," while he has had to go off to work. This means that I find myself feeling guilty--not overly so, but guilty enough to brew some tea and empathy for him from time to time. 

Wish us luck in getting better. 

Friday, January 2, 2009

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is

I'd like to think that I stand up for what I believe in. But I also admit that there are times when I just let things slide because I just don't see what my voice will do to help change the situation. In other words, I go and vote when it's time to do that, but it's been a long time since I marched on anything. 

Don't worry, though. This isn't going to be a political posting. On the contrary--this posting is going to be about Customer Service.

You see, I've spent a lot of time in Customer Service. I've worked in Retail and in "In-bound" (that means I've never been a telemarketer) Phone Customer service, and in the world of ticket sales, I've spent a lot of time serving various versions of the public.

I think I'm pretty good at the whole Customer Service (CS) deal, but I know I'm not the best person to be on the front lines. Unfortunately, there are days when I know that my emotions are going to take over and it takes me a few deep breaths to get my composure back. I'm not good at letting things slide when a customer insinuates that I'm an idiot. And I'm even harder to be around if that customer belittles someone on my staff. But give me a chance to walk away (or--when working on phones--a moment or two with a mute button), and I can get right back to it with a smile.

These days, I'm much more likely to contact a supervisor to compliment someone than to complain. When I'm on the phone with someone who gives me great service, I'll hang on the line for another five minutes if it means I can commend them to someone in a supervisory position. I've filled out those "get a free burger" surveys on fast-food restaurant receipts just so I could say how great service was. And I love how surprised and happy both the Customer Service worker and his/her supervisor is when they get the compliments. That's a good feeling.

All of which is simply my way of saying that I'm about to complain about some CS issues I've dealt with this week, and I want you to know that I'm aware of how hard it can be. 

I was in the Mac store this week (New Year's Eve, in fact) to purchase a new power adaptor cord (apparently this is a frequent thing to replace, if you look at the reviews on Mac's own pages). I had called in advance to make sure they had them in stock, and then headed over to the store. 

I'm used to our local Mac store being a chaotic mess. I've been there enough times when it was like that that I now get anxious before going in and my stomach almost hurts. When I was approaching the store, I thought I was going to break into cold sweats. As I walked in, people in pale blue t-shirts were whizzing past me, but no one even glanced my direction. I couldn't find anyone to ask about the cord they were holding for me, so I searched the shelves and found one on my own. 

I stood in the middle of the store, product in hand, for a good 2 or 3 minutes, with people in blue shirts crissing and crossing all around me, but not a single one stopping when I tried to flag them down. Finally I found a "concierge" who glanced at me and said "You want to buy that?" and kind of waved me along to follow him. Over the next 5 minutes, we walked to the front of the store and he proceeded to scan my purchase, then answer questions for a few people. He took my card, then went to help someone, and came back asking me for my card--which I pointed out he was already holding. Overall, I think I had his attention for about 10 seconds--and that was while he was asking me if I wanted a receipt printed or emailed to me. 

I left the store with my purchase but I was so frustrated that I couldn't see straight. I absolutely love my Mac products. I have a Mac Classic from the late 80s, an iMac from around 2000, and my current MacBook Pro. I wouldn't trade them for anything, but I'd consider giving them up if it meant I could get decent service when I go into a Mac store. 

I came home and Christopher wanted to know why I was so agitated. I explained my experience, and he suggested I look for the cord at Best Buy, instead. Now, I'm not a huge proponent of Best Buy and the whole "big box" movement, but on non-chaotic sales days, they do tend to have good CS--if you can find someone in the right department. I spent yesterday pondering my dilemma and debating what to do, and then I realized that the answer was right in front of me: I needed to put my money where my mouth is.

Which brings us to today. I went to Best Buy and bought a power cord for my computer. Then I drove to the mall and headed for the Mac store. The concierge at the door asked what I needed and sent me to "that area over there by the guy in the red shirt--he's not going to help you, but someone else will meet you there who will." About 5 minutes later, when I had been joined by 4 other people obviously sent by the front door concierge, that "someone else" did show up and processed my return. He was very nice. He listened to me when I explained why I was returning the cord. He apologized for the situation. Honestly, if I had gotten that much service when I bought the cord, I probably wouldn't have returned it. But it was too little and too late.

I know that the folks at Apple will still be getting my money. And that the Mac stores are probably never going to figure out that an actual FINDABLE Customer Service desk would solve so much of their customers' frustration. 

In the meantime, I've decided that if I'm going to spend money, I'm going to do it somewhere where it seems to be appreciated. And... well... who knows...?