Monday, November 30, 2009

It's the most wonderful time of the year

I'm not being ironic. I really do love this time of year. I know it's an incredible luxury, that I love people and I feel that they love me back. And I know that a lot of people don't have that. There's postmodern isolation, there's bad timing, there's a growing inability to create real connections. And that's just here in the western world. There's also war, and extreme, deadly poverty, and just evil manifest.

I get all those things. And I know that amid all of that, I have these luxuries: the love, and the friendship, and the mindfulness of all that at this time of year.

Wow, this post has taken a turn I didn't expect. I was just driving home from Michael's, and I was musing about how, although I love this time of year, it brings so many of my deficits into stark relief. Like the fact that I'm terrible at stocking stuffers, and that I can't shop for ribbon without wondering who the f* I've become. I mean, I *think* I can't shop for ribbon without wondering who the f* I've become; I've only ever shopped for ribbon this once, so I don't really have the data to back that assertion up. Check back with me in another 34 years, when I will perhaps have shopped for ribbon again.

So I planned to come home and write a little self-deprecating story about how every year I disappoint Jeffrey with his stocking gifts because the first ones we did as a couple were the first ones I'd ever done. (And also because I'm staunchly anti-trinket.) Also I might have included in this story the fact that we have wildly divergent views on Santa Claus, and I'm not looking forward to having that argument in stage whispers while the children are, you know, nestled all snug in their beds and the like. And maybe I'd sneak in the fact that I think that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer sends a terrible, terrible message about differences and borderline Stockholm syndrome.

Instead I am suddenly and unexpectedly thinking of people who have the worst type of poverty: loneliness. And I'm grateful for the argument about Santa Claus I may one day have with Jeffrey, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to figure out what the heck those stockings are for, and I'm thankful for the people who are so. fricking. tired. of me preaching about Rudolph.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Poultry in Motion

OK that doesn't really mean anything. But it is Thanksgiving Eve, and I'm thinking back on some of my favorite adulthood turkey-related memories.

Ever since I read the aforementioned "Omnivore's Dilemma," (thanks, Mary!) we've been trying to eat as locally and farmishly as possible. Last year, that meant driving out to a local farm to get a pasture-raised turkey. This place is run by a wholesome couple and their 9 freakishly adorable kids from the Opie Taylor mold. When the dad was trying to convey to me how good the gravy made from their fresh hams was, he gently exclaimed, "Oh my land, that is good!" You see what I'm saying.

So I waited in line for about an hour for the turkey -- complete with the neck attached -- and then a sweet-faced boy of about 7 offered to carry it out to my car. The thing was about half his size. As we walked, I said to him, "Now, what do you do on the farm?" And in a high-pitched boy voice he said, "Oh, I feed the chickens! And ... I used to feed the turkeys."

I could feel my eyes widen and the rest of my face fall. Heartbreak.

This year when I returned I was a bit nervous that I'd somehow get my heart broken again, but no one offered to carry out my turkey. Thank goodness. However, a cow did get loose and a few kids ran after it for four very exciting minutes. Those free-rangers run fast!

The other memory I love is the year my friend Julie and I co-hosted Thanksgiving together. We planned for weeks in advance, getting the menu perfectly balanced, making sure we had enough plates, forks, chairs. She hadn't cooked a turkey before, so we did a ton of research. To figure out how long to defrost, first she counted on her fingers: "OK, Monday-Tuesday, Tuesday-Wednesday, Wednesday-Thursday." And then I counted on mine, to check her math. 1-2-3. Yes. It all checked out.

So on Monday, she ceremoniously moved the turkey from its home in the freezer to the refrigerator way station. She e-mailed me. That week we talked every day, laughing, planning, smiling.

And Thursday morning, she called me at 7.
"Hi Judy, you up?"
"Um, yes!" (a lie is softened by um, don't you think?)
"I think there's a problem. I can't get my hand in there."
"I'll be right there."

I zoomed through the neighborhood, which was mostly asleep, to find that the bird was frozen rock solid. I mean, you could totally brain someone with it. I felt a burning indignation; she did everything right! She doesn't deserve this! So I called around and found another bird a few blocks away -- a fresh one. No defrosting. And you know, those things are pretty cheap when you buy them right on Thanksgiving morning. I got it back to Julie, who honest to goodness cooked it into the most beautiful turkey I'd ever seen. And after that little turkey-shaped speed bump, the party went off beautifully. No one could know that, just hours before, we were assaulting a bird with a hair dryer.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Scenes from a marriage

It's noon. I get an e-mail from Jeffrey, from his lunch break. Just one line:
A couple minutes later, I'm washing my lunch container and it hits me. I text him from the office sink:
And then him:
And a few minutes later:
And on and on. We've been playing this iTouch game called Word Warp. And by "we," I mean that he is obsessed with it and periodically calls me in for back-up. You get 6 letters, and you have to figure out the word it spells out in a certain amount of time, though he's figured out a cheaty trick to pause the game. Right now we're in a high-score situation; He's calling out letters from the other room, in sets of three, like at a spelling bee. They're getting harder.
T-K-A! A-R-S!
Honestly, could I have found anyone more perfect for me?

More thanks

Today I give thanks for forgiveness, and in its absence, selective memory.


I keep everything. It's in my blood; my dad always kept everything, too. He'd go to second-hand shops, buy up what they had, and stow it around the house. He loved utility; he kept everything that might one day be useful. He had great faith in that future use. He never threw anything away.

I'm trying to break myself of that habit. Tonight I cleared out our flatware drawer of all the junk that was in there. Goodbye, college forks with cracked plastic parts. So long, knives that only cut our fingers as we reach for the good ones. Adios grimy flatware organizer. Why did I keep you so long?

There was just one thing in all my life that my dad didn't keep. In college I bought a black studded leather wallet with a chain attached to a black leather loop. It had Northwestern's seal on it, and I always thought that was incongruous and funny. And you know, it was college. And all that. So anyway, I wore it in my back pocket, with the chain hooked up to my front belt loop. When I got up to my first job, in the Pacific Northwest, it went with the ensemble.

And then I got this job at The Pilot. And for some reason, I decided that maybe I should not wear a wallet with a chain hooked to my front pocket here. And as I mused that aloud one evening, my dad ran to the kitchen, got pliers, and unchained the thing. And then he ran back, and threw the chain right into the garbage. Just like that. I was shocked. It went against almost everything I knew about him. I mean, it could have been really useful one day! I think he was just afraid I'd change my mind.

I thought of this last week when, for the second time since I started my new job, I had to call V., our office manager, and ask her to look around my desk to see if my wallet was there. And for the second time, it wasn't. I was in my car, heading to lunch with a friend. My wallet, it turns out, was chilling at the restaurant equipment shop where I'd picked up flatware for the office (no more plasticware for work functions! Yes!) that morning. 

So when I got back to the office, all sheepish, V. said, "You really should get a chain on that thing."

If only she knew.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Friends and influences

Editor's note: This posting used to be called "Frenemies," until I realized that that did not accurately reflect its content. OK, then.

So I've been catching up with This American Life lately. It's an amazing collection of stories told each week around a theme. And sometimes, as with other awesome things, I lose sight of it. Like sweet potatoes. Every time I eat sweet potatoes, I think, my god, these are the best things ON EARTH. And then I eat dozens of them, relishing my delicious recommended daily allowance of beta carotene and vitamin A. And then one day I just forget about them and the last batch I bought languishes in the place in our kitchen where root vegetables go to die. There's no reason. It's not like I ate a bad one or anything. I just move on.

And so it is with This American Life. But now I'm back to it, in the crest of the sinusoid, listening to all the ones I've missed. Today I listened to "Frenemies." I'm sure I don't need to explain the concept here; it's obvious and I'm sure we can all point out the frenemies we've had in our lives. And I have definitely been a frenemy to others, I'm ashamed to say. I don't need to get into that here, either. Because what can I do about that? There's only learning and moving forward.

But the show also made me think about the positive roles my friends play in my life, and the role I play in theirs. This is a common theme for me. I thought about my friend Adam, whom I absolutely adore. Adam has your back in a bar fight, even if you were the asshole, because he's your friend. We interned together a lifetime ago, and we share a sense of humor and an obsessive and analytical memory. But we live very different lives. When I was home and quietly single during our internship, he was out having a good time, meeting many, many women. I mean, he's not a jerk. He's pretty, and funny, and women like him. And we would talk about those women. And then his long-term girlfriend. And the breakup. We talked about it all.

I don't know how it happened, but somehow we lost touch. Anyway, I'd been thinking about him recently and found him on Facebook. He had been married and divorced, and moved to a foreign land with no job. And now he's out having fun again. He chatted me the other day, telling me about a bit of drama he was having with a woman. And I told him he needed to be honest with her and break it off -- the hard thing. It was exactly what he knew I would say.

And I thought to myself, Adam comes to me because he knows I'll kick his ass. This hard part of me, which I try to soften and hide, is something he actually likes and trusts. I mean, I'm sure he has a lot of female friends he talks to. And maybe we all tell him variations of the same thing. And maybe he doesn't even take the advice I give him. But still, he asks. And that makes me feel wonderful.

Monday, November 16, 2009

And speaking of things that are ridiculous,

I saw this at BJ's today. It's a Chocolate Milk Maker by Hershey. Let me say that again: A chocolate milk. MAKER. By Hershey. It's a little plastic low-powered mini-blender that runs on batteries to "mix the perfect glass of chocolate milk every time." Luis would call this a dust-attracter. I call it pre-garbage. And I know that it's pre-garbage because I have bought plenty of things like this in my time. I mean, not this ridiculous, but things that were ridiculous in their own right. I'm staring at a stack of them right now. Things that I thought were funny that I could have just taken a picture of or made a note about instead of actually owning them. A Gargamel figurine (not even posable). A Northwestern University Barbie doll. The entire collection of The Monkees TV series on VHS. See, now these things are cluttering up my home. But at least they're teaching me not to buy sh*t like a chocolate milk maker.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sure, when it rains it pours

And I am not talking about the nor'easter that came through here. I am talking about Morton's Salt products. Specifically, Morton's Popcorn Salt. It's regular old non-iodized salt that is ground super-fine to stick to the popcorn. Now I know that probably seems ridiculous, buying a salt that is essentially the same as any other salt (and doesn't even protect against goiters!). And believe me, I'm the first to call something like that ridiculous.

But you must understand the role of popcorn in our household. It's not a food item so much as it is a way of life. We eat it maybe once a week or more. It's as simple as can be, and it's really really good. I use organic kernels and peanut oil (a higher smoke point than other oils and also delicious), and pop it in a dedicated cast iron dutch oven. Like, put it on the heat, shake shake shake, put it back on the heat, shake shake shake. Then I pour it into the biggest metal mixing bowl we have, and salt it while it's hot. I even have a special method for tossing it to distribute the salt.

I had never made it on the stovetop until a few years ago; it wasn't something my parents did when I was growing up or anything. But microwave popcorn was just one of the many processed-food casualties in our household after I read "The Omnivore's Dilemma." And I do not miss it at all. This popcorn actually tastes like corn. And you know, coming from Iowa, that means a lot. So the flavor's better, the texture of the kernels is better, and it's not any harder to make, once you get the hang of it. Jeffrey sometimes goes rogue and makes air-pop popcorn, but it's just not as good. He usually does it when I'm not in the mood to make it my way or I'm not home. Then I'll come in the house and say, "I smell that!" and he'll look sheepish about the cheater's popcorn. But that doesn't happen very often, and I'm quick to make a batch of the good stuff.

So OK, back to the salt. It does what it's supposed to, therefore I believe it is somewhat not ridiculous. But it seems to have disappeared from the shelves in our local stores. I went to 3 of them today and couldn't find it. Unh!

I learned about product lifespans in college. Before that I didn't know why things like Jell-O Pudding Pops disappeared; Maybe the gods were angry? And I understand that the demand for popcorn salt must be minimal since most people eat microwave popcorn, and if you salt that, you must shrivel up like a slug.

But I still want it. Sure, I can grind my own salt finer, but then I'd have to somehow modify our salt shakers. And if they discontinue it entirely, I will likely resort to that. I even went online this afternoon to order it from Morton's, but the shipping is ridiculous. Luckily, I discovered that there is one store in the next town over that carries it. So that is where I am headed. And I will buy up their entire stock.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Jeffrey and I were talking today about the nature of research, and how the internet has changed it so much. I mean, that's nothing profound or anything. And I have to say that for me, the internet has stolen away a tiny bit of joy.

I love to do research. I love taking circuitous routes and finding information from different and obscure sources. I love to dig, and dig, and wash my hands and dig some more. I think it fits my personality exactly.

So at first, having all of this information readily available was great. I could learn anything about everything, answer any obscure question, order anything and have it at my door. But lately I've realized that the internet has eliminated for me the satisfaction of the medium-long search. Not like Call me Ishmael-type stuff or anything. It used to be that I would look for an answer for days, or weeks. But now, if I don't find the answer within a couple minutes (hour, tops) of dedicated searching, I hit a wall. There's nowhere else for me to look, and I know it's unlikely I'll ever find it on the internet.

The crazy thing is even having that expectation that you can answer any question so quickly. It almost gives the impression that the internet is infinite somehow, when it is really finite.

And you know, even those questions to which I CAN find the answer don't give me the same satisfaction they used to. I mean, a couple minutes searching is nothing. Monkey's work.

So now I go low-tech when I really must solve something. I actually will pick up the phone and call someone if I have a question that I can't answer. And there is a little satisfaction in that. Until everyone starts putting all their collective knowledge into a database. Then where will I be?

Ethnic Week, 2K9

Today we went to the Sons of Norway Christmas Bazaar, Part II of the Le-Eldred Celebration of Heritage. Part I was the Lotus Cultural Fest "Where East Meets West," last Saturday. I put that clause in quotes because aside from the three Vietnamese monks throwing the shindig and a few women working the food line, I was about it for the East representation. There was a preponderance of hippies and the hippie-like. And to be honest, aside from the fashions and random misspellings, I could maybe be a hippie.

Anyway, rambling on. The Lotus Fest was pretty fun. I covered it for the paper, which meant I had to interview the monks. They spoke very little English, and I spoke a little Vietnamese to them, inviting mockery. Yup, I got mocked by monks, complete with bald heads and long, flowing robes. It wasn't mean-spirited at all; they were super-nice and it was pretty funny. I would hear one saying behind me in Vietnamese, "She doesn't speak Vietnamese." And I'd turn around, and he'd be grinning, and I'd say in halting Vietnamese, "Well, I do understand that!" This happened maybe three times. And they kept coming up to me and talking to me, all excited, like kids. And they'd argue, "Did you know she was Vietnamese?" "She looks Filipino." "No, I knew right away she was Vietnamese." "Are you sure you're Vietnamese?" Turns out they sponsor a Vietnamese class. I'm thinking of taking it when the holidays are over.

The Christmas Bazaar today didn't offer as much, I'm afraid. And I think I was more excited to go than Jeffrey. He's a quarter Norwegian. There were a couple  food items that made him say, "This is a taste of my childhood." And I know how important those things are to me, so I was really pleased to hear that. I want to make sure we take advantage of these opportunities to celebrate/learn about our cultures. Maybe I'll learn to make some lefse.

We didn't get up and going right away this morning; I was feeling a bit logy from having gone out for Lauren's and Leo's birthday last night. It was a lot of fun; we went to dinner and then did karaoke at a new place, where they're a bit more serious about it. The cast of a musical showed up, and some regulars hogged the mic. Leo tried to teach me how to break dance a bit; I think I really got it! I was feeling pretty goofy because I'd had a drink, which I very rarely do, but it was a cap to a fairly stressful week. We had a bad nor'easter come through that left bad flooding, trees down and 178,000 without power for a while. Some still don't have power. We were fortunate enough to keep electricity, but our water heater was underwater so we didn't have hot showers today. Even after Hurricane Isabel we had hot showers. At any rate, I was helping coordinate coverage of it, which I'd never done before. Still learning, always.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thanks again

Today I am thankful for not knowing what I don't know, and for the opportunity to learn.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thank you kindly

It's the month for giving thanks, so here I am. Today I am thankful for the people who know me very well, and/but love me anyway. I love you back.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

3-2-1 Contact!

I wear my wedding ring on my middle finger. It's not some anti-establishment hippie thing, it just doesn't fit on my ring finger anymore. But I wonder if that confuses strangers.

I mention this because for some reason I've had, by my standards, a ton of contact initiated by random guys lately. First there was that guy at Walgreen's trying to chat me up in different languages, then a guy in the BJ's cheese aisle, and then the next day, a guy at the gym. And they all seemed nice enough, so I was nice enough back. Because I think to myself, what if this was Jeffrey, and it was before we were together, and he was just trying to meet someone? How would I hope someone would treat him? I mean, I don't think it's a crime to try to talk to someone. It's just not going to work out in this instance.

It is particularly awkward for me because it just happens so infrequently that I don't know quite how to navigate it. Also there's my admittedly weird conversational style. I don't ever know the appropriate time to say, hey, I'm married. And not like that's even the entire reason, but it's sufficient. But you know, I don't want to be presumptuous.

Like this guy in the cheese aisle. I was wearing my press badge, which I should always take off but never remember to. So there I was checking out the grana padano (at a really reasonable price!) and the guy asks me what media I work for. So I tell him. And he asks what I do, and I tell him. And then a few more seconds with the cheese, and then he says, "You look very smart." Of course, I don't even know any other response to this, so I say, "What does that mean?" He repeats. So do I.

And then he says that I'm pretty too. And maybe this is the time I should say that I'm married, but in my head that doesn't follow. Like, the two are not related logically, so I have difficulty putting them together. I'm just hoping that he drops it. So I just thank him and go back to the cheeses. At this point it looks like he's left, but when I turn the corner, there he is again. Not in a necessarily creepy way; just in a this-is-where-I'm-shopping-now way. So there's a little more halting small talk and then he says, "Can we talk again sometime?" And then I say I'm married, and he apologizes.

It was all pleasant enough (a little awkward when I run into him again in frozen foods but we both survive), or so I thought, until I had a menacing dream that night about him following me.

So any help? What should I have done? And seriously, do I seem that approachable?