Saturday, December 31, 2011

Outlook Hazy, Try Again Later

As the Magic 8-ball would suggest, I've decided that a cloudy, damp, dreary day is not a good day to look at the past year - or the coming year - and try to be witty and pithy.

It seems, instead, that cloudy, damp, dreary days simply result in cloudy and dreary (though not necessarily damp) outlooks. And as you've probably figured out I'm not really an "it's always dreary" kind of guy.

The past year, I would have to say, was not bad. And, yes, I think I'm ending the year ahead of where I was at this time last year. Do I think that life is perfect? No. Do I think it's pretty darned okay? Yes.

The coming year, well, that's a whole strange cloudy area of its own. Of course, predicting the coming 365 days (or 366, since 2012 is a leap year) on February 1st, or June 17th, would be just as cloudy. (Have I mentioned, recently, that I'm not really sure what the big fuss is over New Year's Eve?)

I guess that, for now, I'm going to simply hope for a mostly-sunny outlook in the coming months. Whether that includes snow or rain or more clouds is beyond my predictions.

But, in the meantime, here's to starting 2012 with hope, good health, and positive thoughts for what lies ahead.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

When the Spirit Fades

There comes a time each Christmas season when it kind of just all wraps up. A point when the Holiday spirit has come and gone and you're ready to move on.

For some people, Christmas goes out the door with the wrapping paper on Christmas morning. For some, the spirit moves out immediately after Christmas dinner, when the tree gets stripped and tossed out onto the curb. For lots of people, the spirit goes away when the alarm goes off on the next workday. For a bunch of folks, it extends through New Year's and all of the countdown parties. For the Three Wise Men, it most likely made it all the way to Epiphany.

For me, it kind of changes from year to year. There are some years when I want to leave the tree up until late January. There are some years when I'm ready to take it down as soon as we wrap up the final event where we want people to see our house looking festive (so far, that has never happened before December 25th, at least). I'm never really sure what triggers it in me, or why it changes depending on the year, but there definitely is a point where I'm ready to have everything back in boxes and done.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all - if it was Christmas every day, then it wouldn't be special. (Just ask the gang on Sesame Street - they had a problem with this a few years back.)

But, no matter who you are, you probably have a point where you're ready for the house to no longer be red and green (and gold and silver and covered in sparkly lights).

For me, this year, I experienced it at about 11am this morning.

My parents (who live in South Dakota) had been in town for a while prior to Christmas, then they had flown from Minneapolis to LA for Christmas with my siblings and their families. They got back in town late yesterday, and spent one more night with us. Christopher barely saw them (he stayed up and welcomed them last night, but his alarm goes off at 5am so there was no sitting up and chatting), but I got to see them for a while this morning. We looked at their Christmas pictures and talked about the great time they had in LA. And we discussed what Christopher and I have been up to in the past couple of weeks.

The house looks great - decorated, and with Christmas cards all over the living room - and we've got leftover Christmas cookies (and candy... and ham...) which will take us a while to get through all of. We've got fresh flowers that are still gorgeous from last week, and there's egg nog in the fridge. And we have something holiday-related going on every night through Saturday. And getting to sit back and enjoy it all again last night and this morning was great.

But as I stood in the kitchen eating a Christmas cookie, washing a couple of dishes, and watching Mom and Dad drive away toward South Dakota this morning, I kind of felt the urge to take down the tree and box it all up for next year.

Maybe I'd feel differently if we had snow so that it felt like December instead of March. Or maybe this is just one of the "early take-down" years. Or maybe I just need to finish the egg nog and watch another movie.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

'Tis A Christmas Tiz List

(Don't know what a "Tiz List" is? It's a list of random stuff that people may not know about me. Check the left-hand margin and read back through some of my earlier ones...)

Since it's Christmas, I thought it might be time for a Holiday Tiz List. Let's see what we end up with...

1) Although Christopher and I aren't travelling this year, I'm perfectly okay with the fact that it's a brown Christmas and it's been warm the past couple of days.

2) I do miss the snow, though, because going for a quiet walk on Christmas Eve to look at the lights and see them sparkle off the snow doesn't really work without snow.

3) I enjoy buying just the right presents for people.

4) I really enjoy wrapping presents and thinking about what the recipients will think when they open them.

5) I sometimes worry about unwrapping gifts in front of people, for fear that I will have inadvertent "Present Face."

6) Sometimes I accidentally get Present Face even when I like the gift.

7) I have been told that I am a fun person to watch open gifts.

8) If you're not sure what "Present Face" is, it's a song by Garfunkel and Oates, found here:

9) When Christopher and I plan vacations, we have to debate between visiting places and visiting people.

10) Usually I prefer to visit people.

11) Sometimes I'd prefer to visit places.

12) I hate that I don't have enough vacation time to choose both.

13) I mean I *really* hate that I don't have enough time to choose both, even around the Holidays.

14) I sometimes think it would be fun to live in a period piece with all the cool costumes.

15) Yes, I realize that most period piece people have to wear the peasant garb.

16) I'd really rather get to dress like the nobility.

17) I think I'd look rather silly if I dressed like period nobility in day-to-day life.

18) This is the same kind of reason that I could never be the person who *starts* a flash mob. (Like the sax guy, here: )

19) I think experiencing a flash mob would be cool.

20) I tend to be a good audience.

21) Sometimes I laugh too loudly when I'm in an audience in the hopes that other people will also laugh.

22) I can only laugh - even in an audience - if I think what I'm laughing at is funny.

23) When I courtesy laugh, pretty much everyone can tell.

24) I'm totally okay if I can tell when someone courtesy laughs at things I say. (Like you may be doing right now.)

25) Sometimes common courtesy is the best gift you can give and/or receive - especially around the Holidays.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Friday Food - The "One Last Thing" Trip

I was feeling terribly well-organized, yesterday, when I made a shopping list for the grocery store before going to bed. I figured this was the best way to get up in the morning, run one other errand, go to the grocery store, and be home before the chaos began.

My plan hit a minor hiccup (for me, at least) when I noticed, while passing the grocery store on the way to the other errand, that a car had just had a run-in with a utility pole (things weren't looking good for either of them, really), and emergency vehicles were pulling up at the intersection. This meant that, if I wanted to re-trace my path and go back to my usual grocery store, I'd have had to go through the by-that-time-closed intersection.

No big deal (again, for me - and hopefully for the occupants of the car, as well), since there are actually three grocery stores all within a very small radius from the house. I simply chose the next closest store and did my shopping. The parking lot was pleasantly mostly empty (after all, it was barely 9am), and even though I was in a fairly unfamiliar store I was still able to get in and out and home pretty darned quickly.

But then I did the stupid thing and starting thinking about the dinner we're having on Sunday. And I was trying to figure out whether we had enough of everything to have a Holiday dinner. Christopher and I frequently have different opinions on "enough" when it comes to entertaining guests, but I had to agree with him this time that we were good to go.

Until I started thinking about olives. Because I really like olives, and they tend to be at "fancy" family meals in my family. And since the people we're hosting are being invited for pre-dinner hanging out, we need to have something to much on, so olives seemed to fit the bill. The more I thought about olives, the more I knew we needed to have them.

Which led me to 1:45pm on the Friday before Christmas and a trip to the grocery store. This time I went to the closest store (they have an "olive bar"), and the parking lot was pretty much packed. Got my space and headed inside, where every checkout lane was open with at least 3 or 4 people in line. Remarkably, though, I didn't get stuck in any crunches. (This morning, I got stuck twice in aisles where people were debating things and just standing with their carts blocking everything - but not this afternoon.)

When I got to the checkout, I hopped in an express lane and it was the first time in... well... maybe ever... that I've heard Minnesota shoppers tell other people that they need to move out of the express lane because they have more than 10 items. It was that kind of strange urgency in the store. But, even so, the cashier was still cheery and I was out the door (past the completely empty cart storage area) in what seemed like less time than my morning trip.

Even so, as much as I enjoy grocery stores (and I really really do - I even like going to Fairway in Manhattan), I really don't plan to go back tomorrow. If we need anything else, we're either going to have to find it at the local gas station convenience store, or Santa is going to have to bring it.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Karma Claus

Believe what you will about Santa's Naughty and Nice lists, I have to think that there is something kind of karmically appealing about them this year.

I'm not sure if you watch commercials, but I frequently do. (Christopher can attest to that.) And this holiday season, it seems that many of the Christmas-themed commercials have been really snarky and kind of nasty.

While we have the traditionally tear-jerking Folger's ad (and it's newer version from a year or so ago), we also have an ad where a grown son comes home in a nice car, and his parents - instead of greeting him - disappear from the house and take off in his car. "Grand theft auto" as Christmas message. Charming. The irony of that, though? I couldn't even tell you what company it's for. It took me multiple watchings before I even realized it was a car ad - I thought maybe it was for an erectile dysfunction medicine, considering how quickly the parents left...

On the way-over-the-top snarkability scale, though, have been the Best Buy ads. They feature women (yes, they've all been women) buying all of the gifts on their lists, then mocking Santa when he doesn't have room to put things in stockings. Or, in the latest one, there is a woman standing on the rooftop when Santa arrives and not only challenging him to get around her to do his job, but also kicking a lighted Santa off the roof. They have sweet little tag lines like "Game on, Santa." Such a lovely yuletide message.

You know... Santa is a good guy. He spends the entire Christmas season trying to spread joy and peace and goodwill. He goes out of his way to try to make wishes come true on Christmas Eve. He's not trying to compete with anyone. He just wants the kids in the houses to have a good year.

Why couldn't Best Buy have used the same basic ads, but run a campaign focusing on "Take a break, Santa, we've got this one covered?" Target (another local mega-store company) has been running ads where they are helping Santa with last-minute gifts. Why couldn't Best Buy have done that?

For whatever reason, Best Buy decided that being snarky, bitchy, competitive, and kinda nasty, was the way to celebrate the Holiday. And you know what that got them?

A great big news spread, three days before Christmas, saying that they are unable to fulfill a whole bunch of orders which were placed online beginning the day after Thanksgiving. That's right - all of Best Buy's snark and sarcasm are now resulting in them having to offer apologies (some with gift cards attached), and leaving nasty tastes in a whole lot of shoppers' mouths.

Makes you wonder what the result might have been if just one of their commercials had included a thankful family leaving out a few cookies and a glass of milk for the big guy in the red suit, doesn't it?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holiday Gifting

We all know that this is the time of year for excess. After all, if Gluttony had a season, it would fall around the Holidays. There is a good reason that people make resolutions just after New Year's, after all.

We spend so much time shopping this time of year. We shop for presents to give to friends and family. We shop for groceries for meals we only eat once each year (and, frankly, we can only afford to eat once each year - both due to money and calories).

We all stress over getting the right gift for each person - and we stress over whether we're going to get the right gift FROM each person, as well.

And I completely and totally admit that I do all of the above. And - based on what I'm hearing from a lot of people - so do you.

So here is my basic reminder that we all need to chill out, take a breath, and take a page from the Thanksgiving holiday. I think we all need to consider what we have, and what we share - not just what we can get.

Which is not to say that we shouldn't look at what we can GIVE.

The Salvation Army has been in the news (well, the internet news at least) this season for the fact that they, as an overall "corporate" entity, are fairly homophobic in their hiring practices and their beliefs. But, at the same time, they specifically state that they do NOT discriminate when it comes to helping those in need. Which, for me, means that I'll still drop my pocket change in the kettle outside the stores - even though I won't be writing them any checks any time soon. (Why? Because sometimes that instant donation is the only one I make in a day, and that's better than nothing.)

Of course, this means that the donor part of me is still looking for another outlet, even though I don't have a five-pound box of money to dole out. If your inner donor is in the same position, maybe try one of these options:

1) Donate to a food bank. You can buy pre-packaged bags at a lot of grocery stores, or you can take money or non-perishables to a lot of places. (And, sadly, there are a LOT of them because we need them.) Look at it this way: If the only reason you're buying canned sweet potatoes and jellied cranberries is because you feel like you're supposed to, maybe spending the money on someone else would be a better idea.

2) Donate clothing to a charity. Before you start putting new clothes into your closet as you unwrap presents (or shop the sales on the 26th), go ahead and make some space by donating some clothes to people who actually might want and need them.

3) Donate a toy (or toys or money) to a charity toy drive. Yes, I know it's getting late for that, but most places will still take them. And, really, how many kids in your life would miss not getting one more toy?

4) Donate to a pet shelter. Do you have any idea how many pets are given as Christmas presents and then abandoned in the month of January? Sure, the smart thing to do would be to make sure that people simply don't do that in the first place, but since we can't stop the stupidity, we can at least try to help with the aftermath. Consider donations of money, or contact a shelter and ask them specifically what is needed - possibly sponsor a special needs pet, if you can.

And, finally,

5) Give yourself a break. There's a good possibility that in among all of the holiday preparations and parties and shopping and donating (hint, hint), you might forget to give yourself a little time to breathe. Have a cookie (not a batch's worth of cookie dough, just *a* cookie - because eating the whole batch will just add more stress. Trust me on that), drink some eggnog (spiked or not), and relax a little. Talk - actually talk and listen, too - to your family members. Smile at your neighbors. Say "please" and "thank you" when you're in the stores and the people helping you look harried and ragged. Maybe even take some time to reflect on whatever it is you truly believe in this time of year (which is probably not rampant consumerism).

Above all, take the time to be thankful for all the gifts you already have. For the friends in your life. And for the little things that make this twinkle-light, jingle-bell, Christmas card time of year special.


ps. If you're still looking for a way to spend a little money before the end of the year, you could also donate to this cause, spearheaded by the daughter of a good friend of mine from Baltimore. She's a first-year teacher in a poverty-stricken school, and is simply trying to get some books - normal, everyday, good old-fashioned books - for her students:

Monday, December 19, 2011

Movie Monday - The Muppets

It took us a while, but Christopher and I finally got around to seeing the new movie "The Muppets."

I'd say a lot about it, but I'm guessing that you probably already know about it. The plot is, basically, that the Muppets are trying to get everyone back together to save their old theater from a bad guy.

It has singing. It has dancing. It has a whole bunch of cameos. It's... well... it's a Muppet movie.

I had a good time. There are a lot of touches that hark back to the old TV show, and some touches that bridge the gaps. And the music was fun. Although there are also some kind of touching moments - which I really did not expect.

Was it a perfect movie? No. Christopher commented that he liked the beginning and the end, but the middle was a little slow.

Was it pretty much what we expected it would be? Yes.

And - as you'd expect - it reminds us that with some good moral support and someone to sing with, you'll be okay in life. And how can any movie with that at its center be bad?

Overall rating: B+. I had a really good time, I'm happy to see the Muppets back on the big screen, but the movie itself had some holes in it that they probably could have filled with a little more attention.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Viewing

I've been feeling a little under the weather, today. (Anyone know why my tongue would feel just slightly tingly?)

Of course, what does one do in the winter when one is feeling under the weather? One curls up on the couch with an afghan, a puppy, and the TV remote. And, yes, that is exactly what I've been doing, today.

But here's the thing about TV in December. It seems to either be Christmas movies and cartoons (of varying levels of watchability), or movies where a lot of things get blown up. I'm not sure why that is, but it's pretty much all I've been finding on TV today.

I started the day with a really bad 80s version of some vaguely Snow White-related cartoon. I watched "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" (the version with the Winter Warlock), and a sequel to "Frosty the Snowman" (don't worry - it was one of the good sequels, where the animation and voices actually matched the original).

About the time that I was feeling good and cheery, I switched over to some bad Science Fiction movies. So far, I've watched one where a major earthquake almost destroys Denver, and one where a madman controlling the weather strikes Washington, DC, with a tornado.

Sadly, I haven't come across any good explosions, aliens, or gun fights. But maybe I'll find Rudolph or the mice who fix the Christmas clock yet this evening. That would pretty much make the day a total Holiday win.

Well... That and feeling better.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Boo-boos, Owies, Aches, and Pains

A few days ago, I got a mystery cut on the side of my thumb. No idea how I did it. I just looked down at one point and realized that on the outside of my knuckle I had a red spot, which was actually a dark line. It started to itch, yesterday, so I'm happy that my boo-boo is healing.

Tuesday, after pulling into the garage at home, I got out of the car and went to put my bag over my shoulder (in cool-ish "messenger bag" style), and whacked my finger against one of the garage door's metal hinges. By the time I was in the house, I had a bright red spot of blood on the side of my middle finger. I put some antibiotic cream on it, and ignored it. Until yesterday, when the flap of skin started to get caught on my ring finger while typing. So I went down to our main office and searched out a small band-aid for my new owie. I've been wearing a band-aid on it as much as possible for the past 36 hours or so. And since it's my middle finger, I've been offering to show it to as many people as I can.

Last night, while trying to clean up some stuff in the basement, my right knee decided to lock in place, and then fuss at me a little when I stood up. I've been trying to take the stairs at work, lately (to the 4th floor), and my knee didn't really like that this morning.

Then, at work today, I must have done something wrong, because my right lower back started to hurt. This would be the same side of my back that is closest to the achy knee. Ibuprofen is helping. But I'm still not happy with the fact that I'm having to consider my age as the temperature moderates to the "normal" temps which now seem rather chilly.

Considering the ouch-inducers have gotten progressively more painful, I've got to admit that I'm a little worried about what the next few days might bring...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Travel Tuesday - On Vacation

When I was in college and studying French, I learned about how some businesses in Europe (and France, specifically) close down for a full month in the summer so that their owners can go on vacation.

When they do that, they try to coordinate, to some level, with the other businesses in their areas so that the people left behind aren't left without, say, a grocery store for a month.

Yet, somehow, I never really thought about that for over here in the States. Until this week, when I've been trying to look into entertainment options for a trip to Las Vegas that Christopher and I will be taking in January.

We have been looking into seeing one of the Cirque du Soleil shows out there, and had been recommended one or two of them. I tried to pull up online ticketing, but nothing was coming up beyond December. I found out that some of the shows do ticketing through the hotels, so I contacted the hotels to see if I had any better luck.

While I did finally get an answer, it wasn't the one I was hoping for.

It seems that both of the top two shows we were considering are dark (aka not showing) when we're going to be out there. One of them is literally taking a full month off, while the other is simply not running for about two weeks. But that still doesn't help since our visit falls right in the middle of their vacations.

Yes, other shows are still running, but they're not necessarily the ones that were at the top of our list. Kind of like going to Paris in August and having to go to your second-favorite patisserie since your favorite is on vacation. It's still French pastries in France, but it's not quite the same, even so.

Who would have thought that someone would take a vacation in January? Oh. Right. Us.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Weather or Not

Last year on this weekend, Minneapolis had something around 18 inches of snow. Not "on the ground cumulatively" but all at once.

Is 18 inches of snow a real problem in Minneapolis? Not if it's over a week or two. But when it all falls in about 24 hours... well... that was a problem. We were socked in that weekend and for at least a few more days. And, after that, there was snow on the ground all the way to about mid-April.

This weekend, though, has been amazing. Not perfect, but really nice. Yesterday was all about the bright sunny skies, a little melting of our last snow, and a huge clear crisp full moon. Today was warmer (in the mid-30s), but got cloudy and kind of weirdly damp feeling. But this evening I walked the pup without having to put on gloves or a hat - and my fingers didn't even turn red from the cold.

This weekend was also the weekend when Christopher and I were driving back and forth to Stillwater for different Christmas-related events. And could I just say how nice it was for us to *not* have to be worried about the weather?

We didn't have to worry about leaving early before the freezing rain started. We didn't have to white-knuckle the drive home after dark through building snow. And we didn't have to worry about the car freezing up because of the temps.

Yes, I realize that we could move away from this part of the country at any time. And I'm sure that, during the next few months, the topic will come up numerous times. But this weekend... well... this one kind of has me thinking that Minneapolis in December isn't the worst place to be.

And every week of "not *so* bad" is another week closer to spring.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Chilling Out

Have I complained about the weather, lately?

We're having deep-January temps this week (well, not all week, just a few of the days), and I'm already kind of tired of it. I've found out that one of the pairs of gloves I have is just not great for a zero-degree windchill. A fact I figured out while walking the dog the other morning. Even with the gloves on I came back in with red hands. (Time to get out the lotion...)

Apparently, though, we're supposed to be back up to around freezing on Saturday and Sunday. Which to some of you probably still sounds frigid, but for us in this part of the country sounds downright balmy.

And that difference leads me to something I was noticing today on my drive home: The way people dress for the weather.

As I was at a stoplight, I watched two women walk past me. One was bundled up in a coat and scarf and, frankly, looked like she could have survived Antarctica. The other was in a blazer (undone), and looked like she was out for a springtime stroll.

Yesterday, when it was something like 20 degrees out, I saw someone in a hooded sweatshirt and basketball shorts walking out of a Target store, while the person he was with looked like an Eskimo.

Why is it that people can dress so differently for the same weather?

Granted, when I was out this morning with the pup, it was about 23 degrees (no measurable wind), and I didn't have on a hat or gloves. If you didn't know the temperature and saw me out walking you might have thought it was in the 40s or so. For me, that's simply seasonal adaptation. Like when there's a 50-degree day in late January, so I leave my coat inside when I go for a walk, although a 50-degree day in July would have me running for a sweater.

>sigh< It's not even mid-December and I'm already thinking about July weather. This could be a *very* long winter.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Going Nowhere Fast

This has been a tremendously unproductive week at work, even though I've really had the best of intentions.

Both Monday and today I got into the office, had an incredibly energetic hour or so, and then got completely sidetracked by about 82 other things. For the record, only about 12 of those 82 things were personal in nature. The rest were all weird non-work-related work things.

Things like one of my freelancers copying me on a totally snarky/snide email about me which she sent to a coworker. And, yes, I think she meant to send it to me. Do I think it was wise? No. But I do think it was intentional. At the same time, another freelancer spent about 5 emails telling me she couldn't log in to the site - because she was using an old log-in...

Then there was the fact that we've just started using a whole new system for tracking all of our clients' progress, and it... well... it has some bugs. Granted, there's a ton of stuff that it does really well, but there's also a bunch of stuff that it's kind of not working for. Like today when I spent half an hour trying to explain to our IT department that if I need to credit someone - and the system has a little box where I can enter the credit amount - it's not good for me to get an error message that says "total amount charged cannot be less than zero."

There was the client who emailed, yesterday, to say that she desperately needed me to read through her revised 458-page manuscript and call her back about it immediately. Apparently she thinks that we've all taken the Evelyn Wood speed-reading course. (Does that still exist? I've always thought of it as kind of mythical.)

At home, tonight, I did get a decent amount of stuff done. Some presents got wrapped and put under the tree. The Christmas cards are a step closer to done. I did some laundry. And I completely and totally forgot to do about four other things.

I suspect that, at this rate, I'll be caught up to today by around Thursday. And here I thought things were supposed to slow down as the temperatures neared absolute zero... (Have I mentioned that it's gotten Januarily cold, this week?)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Late Sunday Follow-up

Alright... Since I'm sure you've all been on pins and needles for the past few days wondering about tonight's dinner, I figured I should fill that blank in before heading for bed.

Christopher made his lemon chicken (mildly spicy tonight, so that we could stay in the middle of that road). We served it with rice and an arugula salad dressed with a mustard and tarragon vinaigrette. All accompanied by white wine - Viogniers, I believe.

Dessert was brownies with ice cream (I found "Pink Peppermint" at the grocery store and had to buy it - and, amazingly, only 1 out of 4 of us chose to have vanilla, instead). That was accompanied by some Bailey's.

Overall, a very nice almost four-hour dinner, especially considering that we hadn't ever had real conversations with our guests before.

And, after only about half an hour of clean-up (not many pans, just lots of dishes/glasses), we're pretty well set to start the week. Which means that I'm off to bed.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Friday Food - Indecision

Christopher and I have some new neighbors whom we met a few months ago, and whom we have invited over for dinner this weekend. It's all very basic - we've each met one of the two guys at least once and, since we're simply being neighborly, it's not like anything hangs on this meal.

But, that said, it's making our menu planning kind of strange.

Usually, when you're inviting someone to dinner, you know what they're like. And, more importantly, you know what they like. But we're kind of cooking blind this time around. This means we're looking into middle-of-the-road ingredients, with middle-of-the-road flavors and - you guessed it - middle-of-the-road appeal.

As far as we know (Christopher did ask), they don't have any food allergies and neither of them is vegetarian. The latter of those two things is actually probably more important for our meal planning, since we tend to lean toward meat for a main course when entertaining. But beyond the meat factor, we're kind of stumped.

Although we've decided on chicken as our protein, we still haven't made a definite decision as to what kind of chicken it will be. And - more surprising for those who know us - we haven't figured out what dessert will be.

With all of our cookbooks and our bizarrely wide-ranging favorite foods, we seem to have a culinary embarrasment of riches. And no idea where to start.


Maybe we should just order pizza. But would it be better to get it by itself, or with cheese bread...?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Quotable Finding

I've shared some of the strange things that I've found at work.

Quotes that made no sense - even after they were cleaned up for grammar and punctuation. Plots with no plot. Today, I stopped doing some editing to go to a meeting right in the middle of a sex scene because it was both too boring and too graphic - all at the same time.

It may come as no surprise that we sometimes find that the best pieces of writing in the manuscripts we receive are either quotations from other sources or... well... plagiarized (so "unquotations" from other sources). And, frankly, a lot of the time I don't even enjoy those because they're so poorly used.

Today, however, I came across something that I really liked - so I decided to share it.

Now, I fully admit that it may not work out of the context in which I read it. I was listening to some music at the time and was enjoying some kind of "early winter" reminiscing. And that's when I came across this quote, which is being used as an epigram at the beginning of a book I was proofreading:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,there is a field. I'll meet you there.

It's by a Persian author from the 13th century most commonly referred to as Rumi. And the quote goes on, but I kind of like just that piece. Especially as we're nearing the most reflective part of the year.

Wouldn't it be great if - at least around the Holidays, to start - we could all simply spend time together in that field beyond wrongdoing and rightdoing?

If anyone finds a map to it, promise you'll let me know.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Movie Monday - Immortals 3D

There are times you go to a movie because it looks like a great movie to go to. And there are times when you go to a movie because it looks like a good movie to look at. Tonight's movie was the latter.

"Immortals" is sort of about ancient Greece and gods and men and injustice and revenge. But, frankly, I got the feeling that the movie was put together by someone who wanted to have a four-hour movie and was told that two hours was the max.

Consequently, instead of having two two-hour movies, that might eventually make sense, you get one tow-hour movie which you have to spend some time putting together in your head and kind of guessing what they might have meant.

Don't get me wrong - there's not a lot you have to think about, here. The pretty people are the good guys. The ugly people are the bad guys. The pretty ones who kind of glow are the gods. Everyone bleeds.

And, yes, pretty much everyone in the movie does bleed at one time or another. It's a really gory movie. (I covered my eyes a few times - especially since we were seeing it in 3-D.)

Is it fun? Not as much as you'd hope. Is it good? Oh, gods no.

Overall rating: C. Really. It's incredibly mediocre. Yes, some of the people are pretty. Yes, some of the action shots are cool. Yes, it was better than, say, an evening of editing some of the crap I work with. But the script is pretty awful. The characters don't all make sense. And I'm still not sure whether it ended, or whether they're already filming the sequel - which would explain the final scene.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Traditional Post-Thanksgiving Weekend

I'm celebrating, for the most part, my traditional post-Thanksgiving weekend.

I've been attempting to sleep in (today I made it to 8am).

I did no Black Friday shopping, only going to the store for some windshield wipers, a tail-light-bulb, and a few quick groceries (I love how empty grocery stores are the day after Thanksgiving!).

I put up a few decorations while listening to appropriate music.

And I started making Christmas cookies. So far, I think I'm up to about 18 dozen confirmed cookies.

Unfortunately, I'm also carrying on another of my standard - but less-well-liked - traditions on the cookie front.

I've got a type of "cookie" which you actually don't bake. You boil up sugar and corn syrup and butter and evaporated milk, then you pour that over marshmallows and chocolate chips and oatmeal and (as my mother says) "stir like hell" hoping that everything melts. Then, after you put them out on a bunch of waxed paper, they nicely set up into these great slightly-chewy chocolate "cookies." So far, so good, right?

Well... As I've been known to do, I underestimated how much the sugar mixture "boils up" when you bring it to a boil. This happens about every second year. And I find myself, mid-boil, frantically trying to find a larger pan to transfer the sugar lava into so that I can continue. Which is what I did, today.

The catch is that this sometimes - not always, but sometimes - causes the cookies to decide they don't want to set up after all is said and done. Which means that I may actually have about 30 dozen cookies by the time I go to bed - although right now I just have the 18 dozen that are confirmed.

But, of course, there's really no way to know whether they're going to set up except to wait.

It's a little like practicing for Santa. You put your wishes in a bowl, stir, spread them out, and then hope for a good outcome.

Or maybe that's what New Year's Resolutions are all about.

Either way, for me, it's all about the traditions.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Blame the Tryptophan

I had every intention of blogging, today.

I got up early (for a holiday), and after letting the dog out and feeding her, I got around to making the Toll House pie that was my contribution to Thanksgiving dinner with Christopher's family.

Somewhere in the middle of watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, I turned off the computer and got ready to head out. (Well... after watching the beginning of "The Music Man" on TCM...)

Now, about 7 hours later, I'm home and - having watched "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" on the couch with Christopher and a very pooped pup - I realized that I owe a blog post.

And, well, this is as good as it's going to get. I blame the Tryptophan.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Travel Tuesday - Thanksgiving Week

As we're all planning varying amounts of Thanksgiving travel (whether across the country, across town, or just to and from the grocery store), I'm always reminded of how great this holiday is.

I love that it's about coming together with family and friends (and friends who are like family and - if you're lucky - family who are friends). It's about traditions - both on the table and around it. And it's about being thankful for what we have.

It's not a holiday with a wishlist. It's not a holiday which requires a lot of shopping. Heck, these days it's not even a holiday that requires a lot of cooking - although that could raise the shopping level.

There's a parade. There's a wishbone. Consequently there are bands and floats and wishes. How can that be bad?

But, mostly, it's that coming together around a table to be thankful for making it through the year that has gone by.

This year, as I've done almost every year, I'll be watching the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and I'll be eating way too many carbs along with my protein and veg. I'll probably watch a little football, and spend a decent amount of time in the car going over some rivers and through some woods.

But, in my mind, I'll be celebrating every Thanksgiving that's come before for me. The years with a big table and the years with a table for one. And, in a very "Dickensianly wrong holiday" sort of way, I'll be thankful for all of them from the past, while also looking forward to the ones that are yet to be.

I know it's a little early, but since some of you may be travelling this week, I just wanted to say Happy Thanksgiving.

(And thanks for reading.)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Chickens vs. People at Target

I was out shopping, today, and one of the things on my list while at SuperTarget (the kind of Target store which also has a full grocery store) was eggs.

I had seen an article on the news this morning about Target pulling some of their eggs they had because of possible bad chicken-raising techniques from the main corporate farm where they come from.

When I got to the store, there were some "high-end" eggs on the bottom shelf of the case, but a stock clerk was hurriedly filling the rest of the shelves with other chilled items - mainly lots and lots of butter (which, obviously, could stack easily in any space).

I didn't think much about it, really. I mean it's kind of funny that one video shot by a biased videographer (someone who, admittedly, went into the report already planning/hoping to say that the chicken farm was doing unthinkable things to its chickens) has prompted Target - and McDonald's - to stop using these eggs. After all, the farm - Sparboe Farms out of Iowa - has NEVER had a confirmed case of salmonella, and - up until these charges came out in the news - had never had a single federal inspection which raised major red flags.

So, what we've got is one video - shot by someone biased - which has resulted in Target pulling them as a supplier within just DAYS of the report coming out.

On my way home from Target - which I admit I stopped shopping at for a time prior to the 2010 MN gubernatorial election due to their iffy political standings (that's written up, here) - I started thinking about this.

It seems that, when you've got one video of a bunch of chickens which may or may not be getting mistreated, Target is quick to pull all support from the supplier, demand they change their practices, and go somewhere else.

But, if you've got a political candidate who actively opposes granting basic human rights to large segments of society, you simply apologize it away, say you'll look into it, and then gradually back out of your promises to make things right.

Yes. It's partially my fault. After all, once the election was over (and the money they had spent was negated), I went back to doing a large chunk of my shopping there. And I can see how a viral video would scare customers and make a company wary.

But - forgive me if I repeat myself - why is it that one video about mistreatment of chickens is more important to a company's policy than thousands of emails over the course of months about someone's blatant mistreatment of people?

I don't think I'll ever really understand that.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Food Shopping

I fully admit that I enjoy grocery shopping. I really do. I can even go wander around the grocery store when I don't need to buy anything.

I guess I kind of like the possibility of all the stuff that's there. Kind of like getting travel catalogs in the mail just so that I can look at all the places to go. (Yes, I still like getting physical catalogs. But that shouldn't surprise most of you.)

The one thing that has always bugged me, though, about grocery shopping is the check-out. There never seem to be enough open registers, and the Express Lane always seems to be on a break. So you can imagine how happy I was a few years ago when they started having self-check-out in the grocery stores.

I started using those when I lived in Baltimore, and I loved them. No waiting in line for someone who might be having a bad day and decide to read every package before scanning it. No standing behind the person who wants to chat. Just walk up, scan my stuff, and leave.

They rolled out self-check-out lanes in the Twin Cities two or three years ago. And I was one of the first people always in those lines. When no one else was using them, I was there - always being offered help by someone, and never needing it. Quick, easy, done.

Then there are times like tonight. I was in my local Cub store (one of two which are "local" to me, but the more blue-collar of the two), and there was a line for the self-check-out. Well, it started out as a line, but then some people decided to line up behind specific registers. So there were kind of two-point-five lines. And no one seemed to know how to use the lanes.

One woman was trying to scan things but wasn't putting them on the scale-thing, so it wouldn't let her ring anything else (I suspect the two screaming kids with her may have played into that). Another woman walked past the "20 items or less" sign with a cart that was full to the top and started scanning and chatting with the "monitor" - who said nothing about the item limit. The guy behind me was on a blue-tooth cellphone call the entire time - by the time we were done I knew exactly where he kept his files in his office, because he'd been explaining how to get them to the person on the other end of the phone.

I walked into the store for three things. I walked in in a great "it's the end of the workweek" mood. I walked around and picked everything up within about 3 minutes, and then stood in line for about 10 listening to screaming kids and the loud cellphone guy. I probably could have gone through a "regular" line in that time - and I wouldn't have ended up walking out frustrated.

I suspect there's a life metaphor in there, somewhere, about potential versus reality - but we might have to wait until the clean-up on aisle seven is done, to find out.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Workaday Wednesday

In the middle of the day, today, I got an instant message from the person who took over my old position. That position is - in my estimation - one of the hardest in the company (and *so* much more difficult than my current one) because it is all about customer service.

Actually, that's not true. It is definitely customer-service-centric, but it's also very detail-oriented and takes a lot of focused multi-tasking. So for the past couple of months while my replacement has been adjusting to the position, I've been her back-up - both for the job and, when needed, for her mental health.

Today, she sent me an instant message saying that she was forwarding a call to me because the caller was demanding to speak to me. As soon as her name popped up on the screen, I knew the call would be a challenge.

The call basically started with me being told that the caller was in a hurry because she is 84 and wants her books right away. Even though the last time I worked with her was almost a year ago, the spiel seemed very familiar.

We were on the phone for about five minutes. At one point, the people within earshot of me both audibly inhaled as I spoke. I think, at that point, I had said to her "Is there a reason why you decide to yell and scream when you're on the phone?" (Her response was "Because it's how I get you people to understand what I want." To which I replied "And how is that working for you, today?")

The call eventually ended when I reiterated (for the umpteenth time) that the person she had been speaking to before was the person who could place the order. She simply got quiet. After about 15 to 30 seconds of no speaking (although she'd obviously not hung up), I transferred the call. Apparently she did not speak again when the other person picked up - so the call was ended.

At times it's nice to be reminded what your job used to be. Especially when you're only in it for a few minutes and then you get to go back to your "real" life.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Movie Monday - In Time

I think I might have mentioned in the past that I find that I most enjoy movies when I go to them with very low expectations. That would be the case of this week's Movie Monday movie: "In Time."

The movie has a pretty basic premise. It's the not-so-distant future, and people stop aging at age 25 - at which point they are given one more year to live. They can earn more time through work, and time is also the currency through which items are bought and sold.

Our main character (played by Justin Timberlake, who is actually a not bad actor, it seems) loses his mother due to some nefarious dealings, and he decides that he wants to avenge her death. At which point we insert political underpinnings where time = money, and we learn that it is being hoarded by an elite group of greedy people.

So he goes in search of more time, and stumbles across Amanda Seyfried, whose father has lots and lots of time. And who - kind of surprisingly - adds a great amount of humor to the movie.

Realizing that all the characters in the movie have stopped aging (at least physically) at the age of 25, you realize that everyone in the movie is fairly young and attractive. Yes, there are different levels of cragginess - as well as layers of wealth - but for the most part, it's a fairly pretty movie to watch, as well.

I feel like I should have more to say about it. That it was pithy or thought-provoking, or something. But, really, it was just a fun movie. A chase film of sorts, with Los Angeles as the backdrop and a reminder that we all have a finite amount of time together.

Overall rating: B+. It wasn't the best action flick of the year, but it was definitely better than average and not something I'm embarrassed to admit that I went to.

Oh. And, in the same way that when leaving "Contagion" I jumped when I heard someone sneeze in the restroom, when I got into my car in the parking lot after "In Time" the song "Time After Time" was on the radio. I found myself asking the radio "But what if there isn't any time after this time?" So maybe the movie was pithy, after all.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Bunny Steeplechase!

I fully realize that the title of this blog posting will mean nothing to most of you. But, to me, it was pretty much a perfect way to wrap up my weekend.

Christopher and I had a really great Saturday. We took the pup to the spa, then ran a bunch of errands - including spending about 45 minutes at a frame store working on getting three pieces of art framed (or re-framed, in one case).

When we first started dating (can you believe it's been more than six years?), we were both pretty busy, so we often only got to spend time together on weekends. And, since that's the part of the week when errand-running happens, we'd spend our time doing just that. This weekend, errands included a pet food store and some gift shopping, as well as lunch. And, yes, it was good. (Much more fun than the yardwork and garage cleaning that followed.)

Today, well, we didn't really do much of anything. We read the newspaper. We watched TV. We napped. We had dinner. Then we went our separate ways so that I could watch "The Amazing Race" and he wouldn't have to deal with me pacing. (I keep telling him that I seldom pace or yell at the TV, these days. But he says I just don't notice it.)

Anyway... There was, in fact, some Bunny Steeplechase running on the episode tonight. And I have to say that it was one of the few athletic events on the show that I think I'd do well with. After all, running down a short course trying to get a bunny (which naturally enjoys hopping) to jump over some obstacles... well... that's about my speed.

If you want to check it out, within the next day or so the folks at CBS will probably be posting the show online. You can find the show's page, here, and the episode is called "Super Shady."

Or, if not, just try saying, aloud, the phrase "Bunny Steeplechase" and see if it doesn't make you smile.

Friday, November 11, 2011


I'm not sure why, exactly, "11-11-11" has such a huge fascination for all of us. After all, the calendar has been juggled so many times that it could just as easily be 11-12-11, or 7-13-15. And, yet, today people definitely seem fixated on the date.

I kind of get it. I mean... I like looking at random numbers from time to time and finding them interesting. I like when my clock says "12:34." I like when math problems end up with sequential numbers or numbers that have patterns. I pay attention each time my car rolls to a new "big" number (like when it hit 100,000 miles last summer).

I'm kind of surprised that none of the doomsday predictors chose this as a final day - after all, you add those three sets of numbers and you end up with a dreaded 6.

For me, although I haven't made any resolutions or anything, I kind of feel like today is supposed to be a reset day. After all, when you start counting, you always start with one.

Not that I know what I'm resetting, of course. And since tomorrow will be 11-12-11, it's not like we're really counting up, anyway...

Perhaps it would be better to say that today is for remembering the past (after all, it is Armistice/Veteran's Day), being thankful for the present, and looking toward the future - each with two hand up to make a wish.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Full, but Un-Fulfilled

Christopher and I just got home from dinner out with friends for someone's birthday. It was, overall, a very nice evening. We always have a good time when we go out with these folks, and we constantly say it doesn't happen enough. So, on a Wednesday, we had a chance to do it.

The waiter seemed a bit overwhelmed, though, and it took a while for basics like water and bread to show up. And our drinks took a little while, too.

But we kept moving forward, and everything seemed fine - if a little slow. Until the food came out and only three of our four entrees were correct. Instead of a Potato Pizza, mine came out as a Pork Tenderloin.

Apparently the waiter mis-keyed my order when putting it into the system. Giving the waiter (and the restaurant) credit for what they did right, I was offered the Pork for free, and told that the pizza would be out momentarily.

So three of us (those of us who aren't vegetarians) shared the Pork, and everyone at the table pretty much finished their entrees. And, eventually, the pizza I'd ordered did show up. I ate a couple of slices, but - frankly - had already filled up on the salad that Christopher and I had shared, and the bread, and the bit of Pork. I asked to have the pizza packed up to take home.

It came to me in a small plastic to-go container, with the four remaining slices stacked on top of each other - kind of like a "pizza lasagna." (They have a bunch of pizzas on the menu, so I'm not sure why they don't have pizza take-out boxes.)

But, again, overall the meal was good - and the company was, as usual, outstanding. And our waiter seemed to be just *that* far away from being good. Which is why I'm not naming the restaurant, here.

All told, though, it was still an unfulfilling evening, foodwise.

Kind of like when you've got your mouth all set for chocolate mousse and you find yourself with a mouthful of pate.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Movie Monday - How to Steal a Million

Sometimes, if you're really lucky, you stumble across a good movie while scrolling through the channels. It's rare to find something that you weren't expecting. The serendipity moments tend to be few and far between. (Unless, of course, you really do want to watch something from the past 5 years. And you want to watch it over and over and over and over...)

Well, yesterday afternoon, I came across a gem of a movie I had never seen before. It was a "caper" film (which was, really, more of a romantic comedy in today's definitions), starring Audrey Hepburn and Peter O'Toole, called "How to Steal a Million."

Really, beyond the cast and the "caper" description, what more do you need?

There's a bit of mistaken identity. There's gorgeous Parisian scenery. There's Audrey Hepburn in stunning Givenchy gowns. And there's some really great banter.

Okay, so it's about a forger who is about to be caught so he has to steal one of the works of art he's created from a high-tech museum. And... yeah... that's kind of most of the plot of the 2-hour movie. But it's TOTALLY worth it.

Overall rating: A. Find it on Netflix. Stumble across it on TV. Use a boomerang to steal it from a museum. Then just sit back and revel in it.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Time Change

I know that we're all (at least in most of the US) dealing with the change from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time this weekend. (At least I think that's right. Honestly, I can never remember which part of the year is "CST" and which is "CDT.")

But since when did changing the clocks at the beginning of November also mean changing of the seasons from Halloween to Christmas?

I've heard people talking about it, lately, but I hadn't seen it for myself. Today, though, our newspaper came with Holiday Toy Guides. And, when I went to run errands, there were Christmas decorations all over the place. (Oh, come on, red and green trees? And they want to tell me it's for "Holidays"? Stop trying to be so politically correct and admit to what you're marketing already.)

I heard someone say on TV, today, that we - as Americans - should be proud of Thanksgiving. We're one of only two countries in the world who have a fall celebration like it (the other is Canada - they celebrate it in October). It's a holiday about perseverance and pluck (well... at least if you ignore the fact that pretty much all anyone learns about it is probably a lie).

Thanksgiving is also the one holiday of the year that isn't all about commercialism. There's no push to buy candy or toys. There aren't massive marketing blitzes. The stores don't open at midnight the day after Halloween for the sales.

Instead, Thanksgiving is about getting together with family and friends and celebrating what we have - not what we want. It's the joy of simply being together. Muddling through. Wishing on a wishbone that we'll all be together and happy again in a year.

I can deal with changing the clocks (all 15 of them, if I counted correctly). I can deal with the dog not understanding that I'm supposed to be getting an extra hour of sleep. What I can't deal with is missing out on the one holiday that still seems to truly mean something.

That's a changing of the times up with which I will not put.

(Sorry for they hyper-grammatization of that last line. But it makes me laugh that way. And I needed some levity in my own posting.)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Friday Food - Take-out

A few days ago, one of Christopher's sisters started a new blog. It's a food blog, and will be featuring posts from at least 5 different people (friends and family have been recruited, so far).

The focus, mainly, is simply - and mostly simple - food. But the plan is for a broad range of foods - from main dishes to desserts and every other course you can think of. If all goes well, there will be recipes and photographs, and witty banter, as well.

I'm working on my first post to send over to Colloquial Cuisine: Food for Folks in the next day or so, but - in the meantime - I suggest you check out what's already there. Possibly add the blog to your list of daily online check-ins.

Bon Appetit! Or, more colloquially: Go. Read. Eat. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Whiney-Song Wednesday

Let me start by saying that I fully understand the need for a good cathartic make-me-wanna-cry song from time to time. I think it's good for the soul to let out your emotions on occasion.

If that can happen in the car, when you're driving and no one is around, who will argue with that?

But here's the deal: Most of the songs that elicit that kind of reaction from me are NOT whiney songs. They are not the songs wherein the singer is moaning about being left behind. Or being wronged. Or going on and on and on about some perceived badness.

When I hear one of those songs - you know the kind, where the singer only has about three lines to sing about losing someone and sings those same lines over and over for four minutes - all I want to do is yell at the radio. Why do those people not just get over themselves, write a new freakin' lyric, and move on?

For me, it's the songs that are out of the blue that make my emotions churn. The songs with the intelligent turns of phrase that surprise you with their heart. They are the ones that make me want to sing along - on both happy and sad times. Sure, they could be from Broadway, but they could also be country, or pop, or almost any other genre.

Perhaps it's the difference between poetry and simply rhyming words on a page. Anyone can make sad rhyme with mad, had, sad, mad, sad, add, and bad. But not everyone can take "orange" and blend it with the right amounts of emotion to make it suddenly rhyme with the entire dictionary.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Travel Tuesday - Home Again

Christopher and I spent the past three nights away from home at a "condo resort" up on the North Shore of Lake Superior. We've gone for at least four years, and we've mostly stayed at the same resort. This year, we even got a unit which allowed us to take the pup up with us.

It's a very relaxing time of year to go up there. The resort is in a slow point, so we get a "3-for-2" deal on the room (pay for two nights, get the third for free), and since these are fully furnished condos, we take food with us and then we don't spend a ton of money on dining out. And it's not like we spend our time shopping or going to shows. I mean... In the past few days we did some hiking, some driving, a tiny bit of shopping (mainly looking) at a gallery, and a whole bunch of sitting in front of the fire.

We watched a few movies. We ate some s'mores. We walked the dog. And we had windows open pretty much the whole time so that we could hear the waves crashing against the shore. Last night we spent about half an hour in the outdoor hot tub under a mostly-cloudy sky, but with a sliver of moon and some stars visible from time-to-time.

I think I turned my computer on once, for about an hour. And that was mainly to winnow down my inboxes so that the re-entry into "real" life wouldn't be too bad. Driving home, today, was nice, even. The sun was out and it was actually warm enough to walk around in shirtsleeves when we stopped for gas.

So we got home, we sorted through everything - putting away leftover groceries and starting laundry - and we started settling back in.

It's amazing how comforting it is to be back home after having been away. I mean... It was a great weekend. We really enjoyed ourselves. We had great breakfasts at this little place that no one believes would be good. We had good conversation with some folks around the hot tub. And we got some good sleep listening to the waves.

But... you know... there's a reason why, when Dorothy clicked those ruby slippers, she didn't request a trip to Vegas.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Food - Fun-Sized

I'm not a fan of Hallowe'en. Pretty much at all.

Sure, like most people I kind of like the idea of costumes, but I tend to prefer things to be a bit more genteel - not all blood and gore and such. So I'd prefer a masquerade ball over Hallowe'en.

And I'm not a big "go out partying and drinking" kind of person, so the whole big Hallowe'en bash thing also isn't a big deal for me. I'm not a fan of having to drive around on a night when people have been drinking heavily.

But... well... I really like the fun-sized candy. There's something about being able to have just a little candy without having to have a full-sized bar. Just enough to take care of any chocolate/sugar craving, without totally killing a diet. Fun-sized, indeed.

Of course, that works best if you don't eat a handful of them. But where would be the "fun" in that?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Caramel Dappled

The management of the building I work in has this strange habit of passing out food when any holiday comes around. Of course, it's hard to really nail down which holidays to celebrate without offending anyone.

Around Christmas, they usually just give out an "end of the year" thing - maybe tins of popcorn to each office. In the spring, they might wait until before Memorial Day and give out something spring-y (although I don't think they did that one this year.

For the past 3 Hallowe'ens, they've given out caramel apples. Even better, they get them from a place in town that is known for its caramels. So not only are you getting a caramel apple, but you're getting an Abdallah caramel apple. (Yes, the picture below is from their website.)

My question, though, is what to call the confection. Obviously they are not candy apples, because those are usually glazed with something that makes them look scary and red like the one in "Snow White." But are they caramel apples or carameled apples?

I must admit that I usually use the "-ed" version when I talk about them. Possibly because the words slide together so well. But when I'm writing about them (see above), I usually go with just "caramel."

Either way, I brought my caramel-coated apple home with me tonight after work, cut it so that I wouldn't bite into it and have to spend an hour cleaning out my beard, and enjoyed every last morsel of it.

Of course, the whole "caramel vs carameled" thing is even stranger when I admit that I usually spell - and pronounce - the word "carmel." But that's a completely different sticky situation.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A New York Monday

I had one of those moments, this morning, that typically only happen in places like New York City. (And, yes, any of my friends out there will laugh at me - not necessarily with me - when they read this.)

As I was driving to work (okay - that would *not* happen in New York), I stopped at an intersection and waited as some guy who seemed just a little out of his element walked across the street. He had the look of someone who is checking his surroundings as he goes - like either a tourist or someone who is prone to getting lost and so he pays close attention as he goes.

It took me a couple of moments before I realized it was Christopher Sieber. Yep. The guy I was raving about from "La Cage" last week. Not sure where they were staying - or where he was going - but I know where he was at about 8:50 this morning.

I drove into the garage, and figured that was that. Until I was walking into my building a few minutes later. I was with someone else from my office, and I pointed across the street and said "Remember how I said I had seen 'La Cage Aux Folles' last week? That's one of the leads." She kind of gasped, and said "You liked him in the show, right? You should go say something."

I'll admit that I contemplated it. But I opted for the fact that someone who might be used to getting mobbed in some parts of the country might actually have been really happy to have some alone time while walking around this morning.

It's weird, though. You know, seeing someone on the street like that. For a moment or two it felt less like Minneapolis and more like New York.

And then I went to work.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Afghan Weather

Having had days in the 80s just a few weeks ago, it was kind of a surprise this week when we actually had "seasonal" weather show up. On the down side, it means that we've gone from the 80s (and summer clothing) to the 40s and 50s (and late fall clothing). We missed the part of the fall when I get to wear my fun mid-weight clothing.

So, no wearing my black leather jacket that is just a little too light for the 40-degree mornings. No wearing a blazer over a light shirt on those 40-degree mornings, either. Instead we've jumped straight to grabbing the heavier coats and digging out scarves and gloves.

On the up side, though - since even when we turn the heat on we tend to keep the house fairly cool - this means that it's time to pull out the afghans when we're sitting and watching TV. We've got one which "lives" on the chair in the living room, and we've got one big one (we're talking 6 feet by 5 feet, maybe?) which is perfect for snuggling on the couch. (If we do it right, Christopher and I can sit perpendicular to each other on the couch and both of us can be mostly covered by it - at least from the torsos down.) (Really... it makes sense... I can draw a diagram of us, the couch, and the coffee table if you need. Just let me know.)

I grew up in an old house, so afghans were a part of our lives from fall until spring - and sometimes even in warmer weather when we just needed something to curl up in. Right now, in fact, my feet are tucked into an afghan as I'm typing this.

Yeah. I may not be looking forward to winter, but I do enjoy afghan weather.

(Although... really... would it have been so bad if I'd have gotten to wear my early fall clothes more than two days?)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Is Karma Enough?

I did one of those things I am usually loathe to do, yesterday. I entered into a discussion of morals and ethics with someone I don't know on an internet social media site.

Typically, I don't do this because... well... you really never know who's on the other end of the conversation. You don't know what point is going to be over the line. You don't know whether they're going to really really really piss you off in a way that you have no recourse.

What was it that got me going? Well, the person we have in common was asking for advice on what to do because he knows someone who has been using the veil of anonymity to voice - what he called - hateful comments. He didn't say what, exactly, her forum was or what she was talking about, but simply said that he knew who she was, and he felt someone needed to speak out.

With the recent focus on bullying and cyber-bullying and hate crimes in the country, I suggested that he might anonymously contact her, stating that he knows she is the one spreading the hate speech and that - if she doesn't stop doing it (or at least didn't start taking responsibility for it), then he will let others know. I said that, in my opinion, if you know someone is spreading hate, and you don't speak up, you become - in essence - an accomplice.

One of the other commenters had suggested - prior to my comment - that our friend stay quiet, and let karma sort it out. She said she felt he should stay out of it and the person would, eventually, get what was coming to her.

My reference to becoming an accomplice apparently didn't go over well with her. She said that "accomplice" would apply if you knew someone was robbing casinos, but not in a situation like this - reiterating that karma should be enough. Which made me ask why bigotry and hate speech, which often lead to hate crimes, were less criminal in her mind than robbery. And I found myself reaffirming that - while karma is great in theory, sometimes in the real world you have to speak up to stop things from happening. Well, she didn't like that. Insisting that I was taking her comments out of context, and that she still believes that karma should be enough.

Which, honestly, has had me thinking for the past couple days. I fully admit that I sometimes open my mouth when I shouldn't. And that sometimes when I close it there's a foot in it. But I also think that I'd rather have to give an apology later than to let something that offends me go by un-contested.

Don't get me wrong. I'd love it if karma came along and solved all of our problems, but if that was the case then there wouldn't need to be anyone in jails, because the courts could simply let karma take care of it. And people who spew rhetoric and bigotry when running for offices would never win.

But, sadly, I don't think that's going to happen any time soon. So, for now, I'm opting for all of us to give karma a helping hand when we can. And if that includes pointing out blatant bigotry or threatening to make public the person using anonymity to spread hatred, maybe that's a good place to start.

Who knows? Doing that kind of good deed might even boost our own karma along the way.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

They Are What They Are - La Cage Aux Folles

Just got back from seeing the national tour of "La Cage Aux Folles" at the State Theater. It was a rare event for me - going out "on the town" on a school night - but when you get the chance to live your life a little outside the box, why not do it. Right? (Which, really, is kind of the point of the show - isn't it?)

(poster image borrowed from
Civic Center of Greater Des Moines website)

By now, most people know the basics of the plot of the show, since it's been around for almost 30 years (or, if you don't know the musical, then you probably at least know the movie "The Birdcage"). It's a show about a gay male couple (Georges and Albin) who run a nightclub where one of them is the master of ceremonies and the other is the star attraction - in drag. They've been together for 20 years, and their son (there was a dalliance with a woman 4 years before the two met and Georges got custody) shows up wanting to introduce them to his fiance and her highly conservative parents. Of course, hilarity ensues.

But the thing is that - while in the movie you mainly get the glitz and glam of it all - in the musical you also get the nuances of the non-hilarious moments. The times when the relationships all come to the foreground while the camp fades away. When Jean-Michel (the son) speaks and sings of falling in love with Anne, you believe it. When Georges reminisces with Albin about their time together, you really understand how they feel about each other. The first act, especially, is loaded with emotion which doesn't need to be spangled and glittered because it's beautiful just the way it is. (Hint: That's a good reason to go see the musical.)

I think, unfortunately, that's a little bit of where the production lost me - when the second act rolls in and the camp (of the "farce") takes over from the beauty of songs like "Song on the Sand" or even "The Best of Times."

Don't get me wrong - I *love* the show. I think the songs are incredible. And the romances - young and old - truly do tug at your heart. And - holy crap - the "Cagelles" have got to be six of the most athletic dancers you'll ever see. But there comes a time when the camp factor can get to be just a little too much.

Here's the thing: Christopher Sieber is absolutely show-stoppingly blow-you-out-of-the-theater amazing as Albin and his alter-ego Zaza (the larger-than-life performer who has to try to hide who he is for the sake of his son). When you see him on stage - whether in drag or as "himself" (for lack of a better phrase) - you are drawn to him. From his first number ("A Little More Mascara") you want to hear him sing more. You want to see him do more. You want the spotlight to stay on him (as does he in one funny little throw-away moment in the second act). And, yep, you really come to care about him and all his eccentricities. When he belts out "I Am What I Am" at the end of Act I, you can't help cheering and applauding.

On the other hand, George Hamilton... well... he's George Hamilton. He's tan. He's distinguished looking. He's not the best singer, and he seemed to lose a few lines along the way. He was great in scenes where he was truly acting with someone else, but on his own... well... I wasn't blown away. And the "maid," Jacob, was played so broadly that I couldn't figure out whether the director was trying to cover all of the bases of every possible aspect of gay life, or whether he threw in an extra over-the-top stereotype so that the homophobes in the audience (who most likely got dragged there by their wives) could walk away from the show saying "See? I told you so."

Even so, the production made for a great night out. Beautiful sets. Beautiful people. Beautiful music. And, yes, aspects of both darkness (any nightclub called "The Cage of the Crazies" has to have a dark side), and light (after all, it's an old-fashioned Broadway musical, so there has to be a happy ending, right?). A heck of a lot better than an evening in frong of the TV.

So... Where does that leave us? Let's tally it up: for Christopher Sieber - A+; for un-needed Campiness - C; for a great supporting cast (especially Billy Harrigan Tighe and Allison Blair McDowell as the young lovers; and, again, those Cagelles) - A; for relying on George Hamilton just a bit too much in promotion and on stage - C-.

Overall score, then: B+, although if you want to go to it simply to see George Hamilton in all his tan-ness, then I'd probably bump it up to an A-.

Would I recommend you go see it? Definitely. (Although I'd leave any youngsters at home.) Christopher Sieber alone is worth it, but I suspect that you'll find plenty of other good reasons to like it. And, heck, it's going to be a chilly week in Minnesota - so why not get in a little warm-up before the weather really turns?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Movie Monday - Ides of March

I'd like to start by saying that I really hope Ryan Gosling gets a good light-hearted comedy, or even a light-hearted action movie, or something just not quite so intense, sometime soon.

Remember how I said that I thought "Drive" was a really good movie in large part because of him? (I said it here, in September.) And remember how I said that "Blue Valentine" was just heart-wrenchingly emotional, again because of him? (That was back in January, here.) Well, I'm about to say the same thing about "Ides of March."

The movie, overall, isn't really a political thriller. And it's not espionage, because there aren't any real spies. It is kind of a suspense movie, because you're never quite sure what's going on. But, mainly, it's a movie about the public and not-so-public sides of running a major political campaign.

The candidate whose campaign Gosling's character is on is played by George Clooney, in some of his most charming and creepy style. There are opposing - yet equally slimy - campaign managers played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti (two actors I genuinely don't enjoy watching on screen - and didn't care to watch in this, either). And, there is Marisa Tomei as a veteran political reporter who, frankly, is looking as stunning as ever - even though her character isn't really supposed to be "pretty."

I wish I had more to say about the plot. But... well... the movie is so much about the characters that there isn't really any reason to get into much of it. It's about the machinations of trying to win a presidential election. That's really about it. And, in the same way that "Contagion" would freak out any germophobe, "Ides of March" will set off warning signs with anyone who feels that politics is a corrupt business.

One extra bonus in the movie (aside from the fact that it was pretty darned good): the campaigning is centered around Cincinnati. And they filmed on a bunch of college campuses in Ohio. So you kind of get a virtual campus tour of Miami University, Kent State, and Xavier, as well as some interesting (read "not so pleasant") views of Cincy, itself.

Overall rating: A. I think it pretty much delivered what it promised and, although it didn't leave me feeling good about myself, I did leave feeling good about the choice of movie we'd gone to.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Productive, with Reservations

It was a really productive day for me, today. Without really meaning to I actually got a bunch of stuff done. And I'm kind of surprised, really.

You see, after being exhausted at work all day, yesterday, I went out to dinner last night for a friend's birthday. I didn't have any wine with dinner, because I figured I was already too tired. Which, of course, means that when I got home I was way too wide awake to go to bed.

I finally headed for bed around 12:30 - and the pup (who is missing Christopher this weekend) (not that I'm not missing him, but I know he's coming back tomorrow, and it's hard to convince her of that) decided to snuggle way up next to me on the bed. Well, not actually next to me. Instead, she plopped down right between my knees, so that she could stay warm. (The house temp has changed a lot in the past week, and she's not used to it, yet.)

I tried to sleep with her right... there... but couldn't get really comfortable. And she didn't move - which means that I didn't move - until about 6 this morning. Of course, since it was 6 (about her normal mealtime), I ended up letting her out and feeding her. By which time I was once again wide awake. So I found myself watching an action movie from Netflix at 6:30 in the morning.

That wrapped up at around 8, and I did the basic Saturday morning thing for the next 3 hours: Absolutely nothing. I watched TV (which I don't remember), and ate some definitely not good for me breakfast. And then finally got moving.

But, once I did get moving... wow. Post office, bank, flower shop (the house now has mums outside), Target (yes, I stuck to my list), Barnes & Noble (coupon!), Crate & Barrel (another coupon), and a cross between lunch and dinner at McDonald's on the way home at 3:30.

I then made the mistake of thinking I'd just put out the mums (not even re-potting them - just setting them out) and be done. But the peonies needed to be cut back. And the tomatoes that were left needed to be brought in to ripen inside (where I know they won't freeze). And... well... I got a lot done in about 90 minutes (including rubbing up against one of the ornamental grasses which I'm allergic to and getting a small rash), then took the pup for a walk and came back in to tackle some in-the-house tasks. The last of those was finished about 25 minutes ago.

I've been watching the dog sleep for most of the evening. I think that running around the yard trying to make sure she approved of what I was doing really tired her out. I suspect I'll sleep well, tonight, too.

I hope so. Because tomorrow I actually need to do the stuff I was *supposed* to do today.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Weather Wednesday

It seems to be raining out, today. This is worth mentioning, because it has been a really long time since we've had a rainy day. Apparently September in the Twin Cities was the driest on record - and those records go back into the 1800s.

Which kind of brings me to a soapbox.

I understand how some people don't really believe in "Global Warming," pointing to the fact that some of our winters have been more brutal than in the past. Of course, in so doing, they ignore the fact that - worldwide - the overall temperatures have gone up over the past few years.

But - assuming this is an argument of semantics - I don't understand how people can disagree that "Global Climate Change" is occurring. After all, along with the lack of rain, we had temps in the 80s for more than a week of October. In Minneapolis. In October. I realize I just said that twice, but it seems to be important to stress it. I'm all for a little Indian Summer - but that usually means a two- or three-day stretch of 60- or 70-degree days when we're supposed to be in the 50s and 60s. Not 80s for eight days.

And it's obviously not just us. If you look at weather maps globally (or even just nationally), it's kind of blatant that things are changing. Decades-long droughts in areas of the world which used to be thriving. Hurricanes that cause more damage in New England than the Southeastern states. There are even trees dying in the northern tier of the U.S. because the bugs which used to be killed by cold winters aren't dying any more.

Yet there are people who say that nothing's changing and we're just in a strange spell which will right itself at any moment? Really?

Okay... Of the soapbox...

In the meantime, the watering of our yard last weekend while it was so warm out has paid off this week. The yard has greened up and looks great - at least where we can see it under the multi-colored leaves which have fallen. Here's hoping today's rain helps that, too.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Movie Monday - What's Your Number?

There are times when you just need to go to a fluffy movie. Something that is funny, maybe a little raunchy in places, has attractive people, and never gets too serious.

I was having one of those weeks last week, so when we were debating between movies and had to choose between the spy thriller, the cancer comedy, or the fluffy “chick flick,” well… I voted for the chick flick: “What’s Your Number?”

The premise of the movie is pretty basic: A woman who reads the advice columns in magazines to make decisions about her life comes across one that says that women aren’t supposed to have more than 20 partners in their lifetimes. Since she’s recently become unemployed, and since her across-the-hall neighbor just happens to be the son of a police detective, she decides to stop right where she is and go back through her reject pile to see if she can find anyone she should take a second look at.

Okay. Wow. That sounds like either a really boring, really contrived, or really flat-out bad movie. But, I swear, it kind of worked.

You’ve got Anna Faris as the unemployed sister of a bride-to-be, and Chris Evans (known for being a comic book superhero in “Captain America” and the Fantastic Four movies) as the slutty – and, yes, hunky – neighbor with the heart of gold. Throw in Blythe Danner as the mother who wants perfect grandkids, and you’ve actually got an interesting movie.

Better yet, since a whole section of the movie revolves around the main character going back and finding (or reliving) moments with her exes, it’s kind of like a series of short films. They’ve got their own time periods. They’ve got their own stories. They’ve got their own accents (yes, accents). And, as such, they also have a great supporting cast.

So, yes, the plot is kind of obvious. And you sort of know what is probably going to happen for much of the movie. But, well, sometimes when a movie does just what you want it to, it’s a good thing. And there are unexpected moments, too, when you find out layers of each of the characters that you didn’t know would be there in a movie like this.

Overall rating: A. I was going to go with an A-, but the movie gets a few extra points for the fact that it didn’t waste any funny scenes in the Trailers. In fact, one of the prominent scenes in most of the trailers isn’t even in the movie. Love that.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Counting Down

Having asked around, I've been told that the average incubation time for this year's flu is between one and four days.

Since the flu made itself known in the house on Friday evening, I figure that we should be in full bloom by Tuesday.

Do we know how to have fun, or what?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Home Sick

There is something kind of comforting about being home when you're sick. Being able to just curl up on the bed... or the couch... or the floor, if that's the kind of day it is... to hunker down and hope for the sick to go away.

One of us in the house (we won't say who) came down with what we are "best guessing" is the flu. After a few days of not feeling at peak - and with a boss whose kids have apparently been sick - yesterday was a turning point. In the wrong direction.

For about 3 hours last night after dinner, life was... icky.

Today, life has been on the couch. With tea and saltines. And apple juice and green Jell-o in the fridge as back-up.

Well, truly, the back-up in situations like this for me is my parents. Which I guess means that being home sick also kind of indicates that I might be slightly homesick.

You see, my dad is a retired pharmacist (he officially retired this year by not renewing his license for the first time since he graduated from college), and he tends to be my first call whenever I've got health questions. So last night was a question about this year's flu symptoms. No surprise, they were exactly what we were seeing, here.

So we've been working with that, today. Hoping that the flu is a fickle visitor and leaves soon - preferably without any plans for a return visit.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Hand Signals

Almost every day after work I drive through downtown Minneapolis on my way home. I've started to notice some of the same people walking down the streets past me, which makes sense since we probably all leave our jobs at pretty much the same time each day.

There's this one guy who sort of seems to be missing an upper lip (not, like, due to a horrible accident or anything - I think he just kind of bites his upper lip while he's walking), and I usually pass him in about the same block every day. Except today, because I got out of the garage a couple minutes early, so I passed him farther down the street than usual.

But, anyway, that's the kind of thing you notice while you're sitting in traffic, going either low speeds or being stopped at lights. Or at least it's the kind of thing I notice.

Today, though, I noticed something different. An older couple were walking along the street at a pretty brisk pace. At first, I didn't see anything out of the ordinary as they were passing my car, but then I noticed that people coming toward them were stepping out of the way.

The man was walking while holding a white cane out in front of him in his right hand, obviously checking to make sure he wasn't going to run into anything. And, with his left hand, he was reaching out and touching the woman's arm. All-in-all, it seemed pretty normal for the situation - someone with low vision being guided by someone else.

Then I noticed that, instead of holding her by the elbow, or the shoulder (as you often see in these situations), he was reaching out with his left hand and she was holding it in her right. It was a light touch - they weren't clasping each other tightly, his hand was merely resting in her palm - but it was enough for the two of them to speed past me on the sidewalk, then turn and cross the street in front of me all before the light changed.

As they stopped on the other side of the street to cross the next side of the intersection, I noticed that the woman took the moment to slide a little closer and take a slightly more firm grip of the man's hand. Then, after a quick glance was exchanged, she checked the traffic and they were off again - his hand resting ever-so-gently in her palm.

I get kind of excited when I see people walking hand-in-hand down the street. I love that visible, tactile representation of a connection, a relationship, a kinship of some kind. I fully admit that I get a little mushy when Christopher and I are walking together and he takes my hand - and I can still remember the exact first time he ever did it. That moment of "We're in this together" is pretty cool.

But what I saw today was kind of incredible. The gentle way that the two of them connected without grasping or clinging, and yet being so obviously connected. There was something in it that made it clear that they had been together for many years, and that they would be together for many more. It was both "I'm here" and "I'm not going anywhere without you."

Yeah. Sometimes you see pretty cool stuff while driving through downtown on the way home after work.