Friday, December 26, 2008

A Tale of Two Snowmen

Behold! Ice Cream Snowmen meant for dessert! Each one of us gets our own ice cream snowman in our favorite flavor. Last year’s Christmas snowman looks healthy and quite appetizing. This year’s snowman… is pretty pathetic looking. I still ate him – and he still tasted very good – but he clearly had had a tough go of it - like the rest of us in the past year. Guess the fate of the snowmen is just a sign of the times. This year, my mother has had a lot on her mind besides the holidays. She neglected to move the snowmen inside the house and into her freezer in a timely manner. We all had quite a good laugh at the poor snowmen’s expense.

She’s not the only person whose mind was somewhere else though. Even though our dinner was exceptionally good, I failed to photograph any of it before the family had parceled it all out. I have photos of half-full platters of food (or less in many cases). I didn’t even get a good photo of the standing rib roast. I am happy to report though, that everyone enjoyed the meal and that my entire family was able to make it. In the end, that’s all that really matters. Hoping for better looking snowmen in our future!

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and a great 2009!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Wandering Aimlessly

This week, I find myself in New York City again. My aunt (who lives in Chicago) had surgery here before Thanksgiving and has been in the hospital or has been staying here as an outpatient since then with my uncle. With the exception of a few days last week, I’ve been here with them. Her situation isn’t the greatest and I find myself here to provide distractions for her.

We’ve kept to a strange schedule since she was released from the hospital. She needs her rest and I’ve instructed them to just call me when they are up and ready for the day. Usually, they’re not ready to face the day until after 10 am. For the last three mornings here in Manhattan, I have found myself wandering the city aimlessly until I have to meet them. I’ve left my hotel room at around 7 am each morning and have just let my feet lead the way. I’ve ducked into shops and restaurants and watched the people and places that just happened to be along my path. There’s been no planning involved – no goal – just movement. For as loud as it can sometimes be in this city, I’ve found these morning outings to be strangely peaceful. When my cell phone rang, I would head in their direction and meet them wherever they needed me to be. Then, my real day would begin. These morning wanderings by myself have been somewhat surreal.

One morning, I found myself in the lower level of 30 Rockefeller Plaza standing in the Starbuck’s line behind Dan Abrams – who’s much smaller and strangely more handsome in person than on tv. The girl who was passing out the beverages asked him what his name was so she could locate his drink and I wondered if he found it comforting that she didn’t recognize him. I had breakfast watching people ice skating on the Rockefeller Center ice rink and felt joy for a white-haired man who was taking beginner figure skating lessons. I’ve found myself as far North as 62nd Street and Lexington and as far South as 31st Street and 7th Avenue during one walk. The interesting sight of the morning was of three large camels walking down West 51st Street with their handlers. I also happened to be walking by the “Today Show” set during the segment with Carrie Fisher and wondered where her legs had gone when I glanced through the window (they’re still there – she was just sitting oddly). I walked through stores that opened early for holiday shopping and was glad to see huge crowds browsing the goods. I walked out in the rain and watched everyone rush around with their umbrellas. It’s interesting to watch people walking through a steady rain. It seems to amplify what’s going on in their heads and hearts.

I never feel like a tourist here in Manhattan – and for that, I am grateful. I don’t think my morning walks would have been as therapeutic as they seem to have been if I felt at all like a tourist. I’ve spent a lot of time in this city over the years. My first visit here was before my first birthday. In my early 20’s, I met my husband here. I love it here. It was comforting to get lost amongst the rest of humanity but to never feel lost at all. During these hours that seem to have been stolen away for myself, the world around me didn’t need me and I was operating on autopilot. I’m grateful to the city for enabling me to wander without a physical destination in mind and for helping me to get my mind to a good place so that I could be more helpful to my family. I guess I wasn’t truly wandering aimlessly.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

What's Up With the Food Pics?

Anyone who's browsed my flickr stream has probably noticed that I tend to take a lot of pictures of food. No, I'm not a food critic - nor am I involved in any profession involving the production or consumption of food. So what's up with the food pics?

I started to wonder that myself the other day when a friend posted a photo of her meal on Facebook and in the caption wrote that the photo was an homage to me. Me? Oh dear God, do I really take that many food photos? Sadly, yes. Yes I do.

I traced the food photo thing back to September 2007 when I took part in the "10 for 30" group on flickr organized by @banannie and @AnnOhio. We posted ten photos a day for 30 days. It was a nice way for the members to see what our friends saw in their daily lives. That block of 30 days was a nice lull in my year and I was home for most of it. On day 1, one of my photos was of my dinner at the Temple Bar in Porter Square. That's the first "food picture" that I ever posted for public consumption. Previous to that, the only instances of food in my stream were a couple of wine bottles and empty dinner plates in the background of a photo from Napa.

Apparently, folks like food photos. They comment on them and ask for them. Certain people (*ahem*) become more than a tad unhappy with me when I don't take or post food photos. Apparently, I like food photos too since I take so many. I don't take photos of the great majority of my meals at restaurants or at home. It's clearly not a good thing to whip out my camera in certain places or with certain dining companions. My husband, in particular, isn't fond of the practice in public, so I don't do it much when we are dining together as a courtesy to him. As he is my primary dining companion, there are some really gorgeous meals that have gone unphotographed. The one that really sticks out in my mind was dinner at Nobu in Hong Kong because every single course was really, really gorgeous... but that's another story. Most of the time though, it doesn't even occur to me to take a picture until after the meal has been consumed.

That all being said, when I look back on my flickr stream of photos from the year it's clear that I mark time with people, places and food. I think we all do. I can always ask my sister and cousin if they remember the Christmas that my aunt served cold mashed potatoes and the answer is always "yes." Food takes me to memories of specific places. Awesome Prawn Sandwich? London. Coney Dogs? Detroit. Killer Shrimp Katsu Curry? Tokyo. Pringles and bottled soda at midnight? Cancun. Where did I order room service just so I could have more butter? Paris. Fried Twinkies? Santa Cruz. Sadly, I don't have photos of those foods. I kind of wish I did.

Food presentation is an art - but once you've consumed it, it's just gone. This year, we spent Thanksgiving at a hospital in New York City with my aunt, who was recovering from surgery. I have a photo of my sad looking cafeteria tray with a cheeseburger, french fries and a slice of pecan pie on it. I went back a year in my photos and found Thanksgiving 2007 at my aunt's house when she prepared a huge Standing Rib Roast, Stuffed Salmon, Chicken Vesuvio, Fingerling Potatoes with Parmesan and Dill, Green Beans and Kale and Pasta. She had great appetizers too and for dessert, we had Pumpkin Pie, Banana Cream Pie and Ice Cream. I'm glad that I took those photos last year because they were strangely comforting. They reminded me of a better time when we were all happy, healthier and together and helped me to look forward to a time when we can have a nice holiday meal like that one at her house again.

Even though at times I have thought that I might discontinue the practice of snapping photos of food, I don't think I will. In fact, I may do it more often ;)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Be Careful What You Wish For...

We were seriously craving Coney Dogs last night before the Red Sox game and went out in search of them. We found a Chili Cheese Dog at the Halfway Cafe in Marlborough, MA... they call it a Safari Dog with Chili and Cheese. It's a One Pound all-beef Pearl hot dog. It normally comes with a serving of Halfway Fries... but since we had Halfway fries with chili and cheese for our appetizer, I opted for Mac & Cheese. Half of that Safari Dog and 2 beers later, I rolled home. Not exactly the kind of Coney Dog I had in mind, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008


Six weeks without a blog post... and only a few sparse photos posted to my flickr account... what gives? I was wondering the same thing yesterday. Considering what a crazy six weeks it has been in the world, I'm a tad surprised. But then again, I'm not. During the last six weeks, I've been disappointed several times over... and I don't usually feel compelled to write when I have negative energy. The other reason I have stayed quiet is that when there are big things that weigh on my mind, the smaller items that I may find myself writing about seem even smaller and ridiculously insignificant. Then, the act of writing about them seems a petty exercise.

So this post is dedicated to disappointment. I'm not angry - I'm just disappointed. Dear reader, please forgive me for this interruption in my usually pretty darn happy blog. If I get the disappointment off of my chest, perhaps I can get back to posting pictures of mundane things and writing about happy ordinary life.

The biggest disappointment for the period is the status of my aunt's cancer. Some may remember that I took a year-long blogging hiatus the first time my aunt had breast cancer. After a lumpectomy, aggressive chemotherapy, radiation and drug therapy, she was told her prospects were very, very high for a cancer-free life. Well, it's a year later and her cancer is back, has moved and may cause the amputation of her right arm. The family is currently exploring other treatment options while she undergoes radiation twice daily in the meantime.

Another disappointment is in people in general. No, not everyone is disappointing... but in the last few weeks, it's been pretty bad.

The current economic crisis facing the global economy didn't create itself and people can't correctly point to one political figure and blame the entire situation on him or her. There were a lot of people who had a hand in what happened. A whole heck of a lot of people! And this situation took several years to develop... and spanned several presidential terms. I find myself disappointed at the finger-pointers among us - because they clearly don't have enough fingers to point at all of the culpable parties. Economies don't turn on a dime - it takes time for things to make their way through the system. I'm also disappointed in the U.S. Congress who took an emergency bill meant to stabilize the credit markets and had to wrap it in all sorts of additional inducements to get it passed. That wasn't exactly the time for politicking, but who's to tell them that? I'm disappointed in the banks that bastardized the relaxed lending guidelines and loaned money to high-risk borrowers... and in the many people responsible for the relaxation of the lending guidelines in the first place.

Most of my disappointment as it relates to the economic crisis, however, is in the borrowers themselves. Everyone likes to point their finger at "Wall Street" and the banks. They're easy targets but they're only half of the story. Loan documents are very straight-forward and everyone is told from a very young age to be careful and read any legal document that you sign. Mortgages clearly state the initial interest rate and payment. If they have adjustable rates, the escalation in the rate is clearly stated as is the date when the new interest rate is to start. There aren't any secrets between a lender and borrower - it's all in black and white. I know that there are thousands of cases where people run into adverse circumstances which may cause them to fall short of their obligations. These people have my sympathy. However, I have a problem with those among us who have been financing a lifestyle well above their means with credit. So I have a hard time finding much compassion for the guy who suddenly can't afford the huge house he purchased five years ago because of the new interest rate... or for the landlord who's defaulted on the loan for his apartment building even though his renters are all current on their rent. Rather, I'd like to take my turn at kicking them in the nuts. It's not popular to want to take your turn kicking the guy that defaulted on his mortgage down the street. But then again, personal responsibility isn't something that we as a country have done a good job of beating into the heads of our children - and around that corner lies more of the same disappointment. The people who never got themselves in an over-leveraged position have to pay the price just as the irresponsible borrowers do in the end - the economic machine doesn't discriminate between them. Thanks for nothing! There are many people who have lived responsibly and within their means who will suffer tremendously because of the irresponsibility that has transpired across the globe. Jobs have been lost and many, many more will be lost... and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

I'm also disappointed in the way that the U.S. election is playing out in the minds and out of the mouths of many people in all forms of media. Mind you, my voter registration card reads "Unenrolled" for a reason - neither party represents my views entirely. The spin that's been floating around the airwaves and Internet during these weeks leading up to the U.S. election has been sickening... from both sides of the political spectrum. Frankly, I've found both of the mainline party tickets to be disappointing in their own ways... but the vitriol that I witness daily on Twitter and Friendfeed in particular, is just ridiculous. There's actual hatred for the other party - and, with a few exceptions, respect for the differing views of others seems non-existent. Personally, I find a person's political affiliation to be akin to their religion - a person believes in certain political principles just as they believe in their religious principles. With religion, we try to co-exist and respect the fact that the guy sitting next to you may not hold the same beliefs that you do. With politics, if the guy sitting next to you doesn't hold the same political beliefs as you, somehow he or she is not as enlightened or as educated and is probably not informed enough to deserve to vote? Puh-lease. The immense amount of negative energy circulating is really disturbing. I have consciously minimized my time on social media sites in the last few weeks because of this and because I happen to like the people that I follow as people and really don't want their bad behavior during the election season to taint that. If I un-followed every person that has said or spread something disrespectful in the last month, it would be sad.

What's also disappointing about the way people are behaving pre-election is that many don't seem to be able to see the forest for the trees. When I ask people why they are voting for one ticket or the other, their reasons seem to rarely have anything to do with political doctrine. Even the things being tossed around online by people to sway the undecideds in the group are sideshows to the meat of the matter. That's fine - it's their right to vote for whomever they want for whatever reason they want. I just find it disappointing that some people base their voting decisions on ancillary items - like general likability, number of marriages or gender. I'd prefer to hear answers to questions like the following: Do you favor a big federal government that has a hand in many things, or a smaller federal government that does not? How do you feel about the redistribution of wealth? How do you think the U.S. involvement in Iraq should be concluded? - or should it be? Do you favor Capitalism or Socialism? - and how much weight are you assigning to the answers to each of these items? I could go on - but I'm sure you get the idea.

Another disappointing item that I am going to mention is the amount of un-American talk that has been circulating. It's not just the people who actually have the nerve to publicly say that they are embarrassed to be Americans. Those people really don't deserve the freedoms and protections of this country if they are so embarrassed by it. They are wearing their ignorance and ungratefulness on their foreheads for the rest of us to see. But it's not just them. I find it disturbing that people actually hold financial success against candidates for office. Frankly, I don't care if the McCains own seven homes and a fleet of cars - more power to them. Whatever happened to the American dream? People are actually implying that because a family has wealth they cannot possibly relate to the issues of the common man? That's absurd. Nobody has brought this up as it relates to the Kennedy's or the Kerry's. This is a country of great opportunity and freedom. Some grasp the opportunities and some do not; everyone makes their own choices in life and we're free to make them in the United States of America. I'm not going to fault someone for their legitimate financial success - that would be un-American.

Lastly, the Chicago Cubs have disappointed me and the rest of their loyal fans yet again. That is a disappointment that I have, sadly, come to expect. To some extent, a lot of the non-medical disappointment that I have experienced over the last few weeks was somewhat expected. It's just been so in my face all at once that the letdown has been greatly magnified.

Now that all of that is off of my chest, I return you to my regularly scheduled blog. How 'bout those Red Sox?!

Monday, September 01, 2008

Eating My Way Through August (For Good Luck, Rub My Tummy)

In regards to diet and exercise, my behavior in the month of August bordered on sinful gluttony. I can fully admit that in those respects, I acted somewhat recklessly. I did not deny myself any morsel that I wanted to consume on the grounds of something being unhealthy or “too much.” Clearly, as I look back on the month, the extra pounds which have appeared on my scale at home are fully explained. I’m not even a little surprised. I knew exactly what I was doing.

We weren’t home for the great majority of the month. I never seem to work out when I’m away from home. Clearly, this is sub-optimal, but it’s just the way it’s been.

I started the month by flying to Chicago to drop off our dog with my in-laws for the month. I spent time with the family while there and had the opportunity to eat some of my favorite foods that I can’t replicate in Boston (unless I have it shipped from Chicago).

The day after flying back to Boston, I flew out to Orlando, Florida for a short vacation at Disney World. My husband and I don’t have any children but we run around that resort like a couple of little kids with their allowance in their pockets. Though we did get a lot of walking under our belts there, we consumed more than enough to offset any benefit from the exercise. We ate and drank our way through the countries at Epcot’s World Showcase. We snacked on all things snackable. I’d never had a cream cheese-filled pretzel before that week when I snagged one at the Magic Kingdom (I don’t really recommend them – they’re a tad sweet). We went to Fulton’s Crab House at Downtown Disney twice – once for dinner and once for a late “snack” at the bar (that turned into an unintended additional meal). I also seemed to consume ice cream whenever possible. Thinking it was the heat…

Two days back in the office for my husband, and then we left for our vacation in Maine. I adore Maine and will miss our drives up there greatly when we move away from New England. A day was not spent in Maine on which I did not have lobster and/or fried clams during a meal. We sought out little gourmet shops for wines and cheeses to enjoy on our various balconies. Freeport, Bar Harbor, Camden, the Kennebunks – we worked our way down the coast and managed to find great food everywhere we went. Our last dinner in Maine was at the White Barn Inn, which always makes me very happy – but also very, very full. It was an appropriate end to that vacation. That was the only actual dining reservation I made during the entire month of August.

Two days back in the office for my husband and then we left to close out the month in Chicago to spend time with our family and to pick up our dog. On Friday, we even had a small family wine tasting – four people, six bottles of wine and a lot of meats and cheeses. My mother had a party for our anniversary on Saturday.

We finally returned home yesterday and I’ve decided to start behaving myself in September. No excessive eating or drinking until my body bounces back from the damage inflicted in August – and the rest of the summer, for that matter. My clothes don’t fit properly anymore and I look puffy in the mirror. It’s back to the gym and time for a shift in thinking. I’m starting to resemble the Buddha on one of my favorite t-shirts and though that may work just fine for some people, it doesn’t feel good for me. Do I regret any of the excess from the last few weeks? Not at all. You’ve got to pay to play. Time to pay up. It was worth it.

Some of the Folks Who Fed Me in August:

Starbuck’s - Various locations
Yu’s Mandarin – Schaumburg, IL
Lou Malnati’s – Park Ridge, IL
Giordano’s – Rosemont, IL
McCormick & Schmick’s – Skokie, IL
Winberie’s Restaurant, Oak Park, IL
Moretti’s – Chicago, IL
Portillo’s – Park Ridge, IL
Superdawg – Chicago, IL
YardHouse – Glenview, IL
The Original Pancake House, Park Ridge, IL
Chicken Inn, Niles, IL
Taco Burrito King – Niles, IL
Potbelly Sandwich Works – Park Ridge, IL
Village Creamery – Niles, IL
Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor – Forest Park, IL
Binny’s (Gourmet Counter), Chicago, IL
Bockwinkel’s, Chicago, IL
Tony’s Italian Deli & Subs, Chicago, IL
Lobster Cooker, Freeport, ME
The White Barn Inn, Kennebunk, ME
Mabel’s Lobster Claw, Kennebunkport, ME
Treehouse Café, Kennebunkport, ME
Cappy’s Chowder House, Camden, ME
Bay View Lobster, Camden, ME
Inn at Sunrise Point, Camden, ME
Café This Way, Bar Harbor, ME
Rupununi, Bar Harbor, ME
2 Cats, Bar Harbor, ME
Lompoc Café and Brew Pub, Bar Harbor, ME
Testa’s, Bar Harbor, ME
The Reading Room, Bar Harbor, ME
Stewman’s Lobster Pound, Bar Harbor, ME
Freeport Wine and Cheese, Freeport, ME
Dock Square Coffee House, Kennebunkport, ME
Sage Market, Camden, ME
Joe’s Smoke Shop, Bar Harbor, ME
Bayside Liquors, Bar Harbor, ME
Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium, Bar Harbor, ME
CJ’s Big Dipper, Bar Harbor, ME
The Alternative- A Community Market, Bar Harbor, ME
Fulton’s Crab House, Downtown Disney, WDW, FL
San Angel Inn
, Epcot, WDW, FL
Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant, Disney Hollywood Studios, WDW, FL
Ghirardelli’s, Downtown Disney, WDW, FL
1900 Park Fare, Grand Floridian Hotel, WDW, FL
New Hampshire State Liquor Store, Hampton, NH
Lotus Blossom
, Sudbury, MA
Water Lily, Wayland, MA
Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage, Cambridge, MA
Russo & Sons, Watertown, MA
Gordon’s Fine Wine and Liquor, Watertown, MA
Kappy’s Liquors, Sudbury, MA
Mel’s Commonwealth Café, Wayland, MA
Bruegger’s Bagel Bakery, Weston, MA

Monday, August 11, 2008

Girls and Pirates

My husband and I were at Walt Disney World for a long weekend this past weekend. While there, we decided to get temporary tattoos. It’s totally silly – we know - but we derive enjoyment from the good laugh and running around like 10 year olds with pocketfuls of allowance money. The tattoos only last a week or so.

He selected a nice airbrush of Stitch from “Lilo and Stitch.” I had to laugh because he’s not a small man and Stitch is pretty cute. Ha. I selected a skull and crossbones with squid tentacles – which isn’t really something I would pick out for myself on a permanent basis. I guess I have a tattoo commitment phobia - among other commitment phobias. The idea of permanence is a bit daunting for me.

While the attendant was administering our tattoos, we were talking with one of the vendors from a neighboring cart. He was a very nice man who seemed to be in his late 50’s. He asked which tattoo I had selected and I told him. He shook his head, looked at my husband and said, “What is it with girls and pirates? They all want pirates. Why do girls all go for the bad guys?” Then he asked me, “Whatever happened to Prince Charming?” I looked at him, laughed and said, “Oh, I married Prince Charming!” That elicited quite the laugh – but I meant it.

As we don’t have children, my husband is the only person on the planet to whom I consciously chose to make a lifelong commitment. I chose well.

Happy Anniversary!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Insect Day

Yesterday also happened to be the day I was visited by a few different insects for no apparent reason. Not bad ones, thankfully. Two of them hung around long enough for me to take pictures too.

Unfortunate or Fortunate

Yesterday morning, my husband and I were greeted with the sight of our mailbox lying in the middle of our driveway instead of being atop the nice mailbox post on which is normally rests. Good morning!

Upon inspection, it didn’t look like anyone took a bat to the box. There were no visible marks on any of its sides. The post was leaning at a slight angle, so I figured that someone ran into the mailbox overnight with a car. No note was left. Savages!

The baseboard on which the box rests was split into three pieces so I knew I had to replace that. The mailbox itself was fine and I could have reattached it to the post after replacing the baseboard – but I didn’t.

I’ve never liked that mailbox. It was here with the house when we bought it. Yes, it’s just a boring little black mailbox, what’s not to like? Well, it’s a little smaller than I would like and occasionally, it leaks when it rains. It’s a tad on the flimsy side too (you know how car doors all thud differently? I didn’t like its thud.) Also, ours is the only mailbox for a mile without a house number on it. Sure, I could go and buy a few numbers at the hardware store and stick them on, but I never liked the look of that so I never bothered.

I had already determined that I was going to change the mailbox “when I had the time” – and we all know what happens to those projects. Strangely enough, I had already chosen the mailbox’s successor – and it came with customized lettering for the address. I had just never gotten around to ordering it (in six years.)

So yesterday was the day. Thankfully, I didn’t have anything urgent planned and my day was very flexible. I called Walpole Woodworkers to see if they had the mailbox I wanted at the location near my home and they did. I jumped in my car, bought the mailbox and then went to the hardware store to have a board cut for the base. I came home and removed what was left of the old base and installed the baseboard and the new mailbox. I fixed the lean of the mail post too. The new lettering arrives in a couple of weeks but I’m pretty happy with the new box already.

So was what happened overnight a good thing or a bad thing? My schedule just happened to be flexible yesterday. The mailbox I really wanted just happened to be in stock. I could do everything necessary myself – and now, I really like the mailbox. Sometimes, I think bad things happen to make way for the good things. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Goodbye Catalog Clutter: Six Month Recap

It’s been six months since I posted last about signing up with CatalogChoice and canceling every catalog that I had in the house at the time. Originally, I canceled 28 catalogs. The total number of catalogs that I tried to discontinue to date is 44. How did it go? Exceedingly well, I have to say!

I open my mailbox now and I only have bills, statements and personal notes for the most part. I don't need a huge bin from the Post Office to pick up my mail for the week when I am away. It's somewhat liberating.

A few observations on the process:
  • There are a few catalogs that happily confirm the request and you never see another catalog from them in your mailbox again (like Crate and Barrel and Sur la Table).
  • However, in my experience, most of the businesses do not confirm your request immediately. If you continue to receive the catalogs for six weeks after your initial request, you can request to opt out again. Eventually, most of the businesses get the message. There are a few catalogs for which I have had to request an opt-out more than twice. This is easily handled through CatalogChoice and requires only a few mouse clicks.
  • There were a couple of catalogs that we received that would arrive with a new customer number after we opted out of the original customer number. Tricky. I’ve had to opt out of four different customer numbers for more than one catalog. Thankfully, they’ve stopped arriving as well. Persistence was required, however.
  • There were a few catalogs that showed up as “Not participating” in the CatalogChoice program. These businesses are refusing to process opt-out requests through CatalogChoice. In these cases, CatalogChoice provides the phone number to call to verbally request to be taken off of the mailing lists. Of the 44 catalogs that I requested to no longer receive, there were only 4 that fall into this category: Macy’s (and you know I loathe Macy’s), Saks Fifth Avenue, The Country House and Fannie May (though I haven’t received a Fannie May catalog since I made the request).
Honestly, I rarely looked at the catalogs that made it to my mailbox. I never asked for them and I really didn’t have much use for them. If I want to see something, I pull it up online. My mailbox is seriously thankful to me for lightening its load. When I initially wrote about signing up with them, they had over a half-million members and its membership had collectively opted out of over 6 million catalogs. Today, the site boasts more than 963,000 members and reports that their membership has canceled over 12,600,000 catalogs. That’s a lot of resources no longer being wasted for marketing that wasn’t working in the first place.

If you’re even the least bit interested in cutting down your catalog clutter, you should consider giving CatalogChoice a try. No regrets here.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Small Bit on Beijing...

A few people have noticed that I did not post anything about my short visit to Beijing in March that was sandwiched in between Tokyo and Hong Kong. There's a definite reason for that. Sure, I posted some photos to my flickr pages but have been basically mum on the subject other than in person (when you will be sorry that it ever came up – just ask @geokitten78 and @Lora – sorry guys!) However, after hearing that a few people that I know and/or their parents are going to be making the trip there for the first time in order to attend the Olympics in a couple of weeks, I thought a few tips may be helpful.

The Hotel Card - If you are going to be traveling by taxi (and you should because it is usually cheap and quick during non-rush hours) you really need to pick up a business/translation card from your hotel concierge. It will have the hotel name as well as the names of the most visited sites in English and in Chinese as many taxi drivers (very understandably) do not understand English. A good hotel card will also have a small map on it depicting the hotel location as some drivers can’t read Chinese either (as I personally experienced). I also carried a good map of the city with me to point out locations.

Speaking of Taxis… - Taxi meters should be used. Outside some of the more popular tourist spots, you may find that the taxi drivers ALL want to quote you a fixed price to get from point A to point B. I went down an entire queue of waiting taxis outside the Temple of Heaven compound and not one of them would use the meter to get me to Tiananmen Square. They all wanted 90 CNY for a ride that shouldn’t even be 30 CNY on a meter. Similar thing happened outside of the Forbidden City. In both cases, walking a block and waving down a passing taxi got me a ride with a meter in use. (And these weren’t the black cars you’re not supposed to use either. They were legitimate metered taxis). Granted, what’s another $10 for the convenience of a taxi right there? But I really didn’t want to get into a cab with someone who wanted to scam me. Those kinds of folks don’t deserve my business. If everyone demanded the meter be used, they would quit their little operation and just use the meters. Clearly, somebody is paying up.

Lines Can Be Optional & They Push - Don’t be surprised when people rush to the front of what looks to be a queue and talk to the attendant to pay admission, etc. Where in the U.S. the attendant will usually point to the line of other people and not wait on a line-jumper, pushing to the front seems to pay in Beijing. If you notice that this is going on in a line in which you are standing, you probably should do the same, lest you be in that line much longer than you should. Don’t be surprised when you are at the front of what should be a queue and someone rudely pushes you to get to speak to the attendant. This happened to me almost everywhere I went and most notably at Beijing International Airport while the airline representative was holding my passport and checking me in for my flight to Hong Kong. Just be patient.

Yes, They’re Really All Spitting in Public - That sound you will hear constantly? That is indeed what it sounds like. Get used to it. You'd probably do the same if you breathed their air all year long too.

I could go on – but I will stop here and just suggest that you pack your patience and a couple of candy bars for emergencies. Oh - and remember to bring "clean" computers and electronics as your data may be at risk while you are there. Let's not forget, the People's Republic of China is a Communist country. Good luck.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Of All the Spots in the Garage...

We own 2 parking spaces in this garage. Both of them are occupied in this photo. The only problem is that the black car in the photo is not ours. Like they couldn't find another place to park. Gotta love it!

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Best Gift I Ever Gave Mom - Found It!

In 2006, I wrote a post about a mug I gave my mom when I was a kid. It was sexual in nature but neither I nor my mom realized this at first. She had used it at work for a week before anyone said anything to her. Oops. Well, I found the mug while sorting through things at my Mom's house while helping her move to a new place. I can kind of see how a kid may not see the bad stuff - but I'm not sure how an adult missed it. Ha. Here it is for your perusal:

Thursday, June 12, 2008

And I Bared My Teeth…

I’m not a fan of public confrontations – especially over really trivial things. That being said, I don’t cower when someone is an arse to me. I’m not really wound very tightly – and usually let people ahead of me in lines at the grocery store when they have less in their carts than I do or when their child is getting fussy and they seem to need to get out of there faster than I do. If there’s any question as to whether someone else was at the deli counter before me, I usually just let him or her go because I’m not usually in any hurry. Yesterday at the deli counter, I had to bare my teeth.

The only people at the prepared foods counter were an elderly couple and I. There are no numbers to take at the counter but that has seriously never been a problem. The Whole Foods guy acknowledged me and let me know that he’d be right with me as soon as he finished up with the elderly couple. No problem. That’s just more time to peruse the gorgeous food behind the glass. A woman who looked to be in her 60’s walked up to the counter and started looking at the food as well. I didn’t pay much attention to her at all at first. When a new counter attendant appeared, I gave him my order. She gave me a very unfriendly look and sneered, “I was here first.” Needless to say, I was shocked by her nerve. I looked at her and said, “No, I was… but you can go ahead if it makes you feel better.” As the words came out of my mouth, I surprised myself. I really don’t like making people feel bad about themselves, but I didn’t hesitate when I said that to her. Nor did I restrain myself from making a face at her that on its own conveyed the thought, “You are pathetic and I know it.” She looked down and motioned for me to continue placing my order – which I did – one large container of chicken salad.

It makes me a bit sad to be reminded that there are unhappy people out there that just run around being arses to others because they can. Life may seem like a competition to a lot of people and you can tell who those people are by the way that they drive, the way they backstab others to get ahead or the way that they deal with queues. We all end up in the same place in the end, so what’s the freaking rush to get ahead of the guy next to you? How do people get so self-important that they see other people just as obstacles standing between them and their goals? That’s just pathetic.

Oh – and after I got home, I remembered where I had seen her previously. She’s a member at our club. Oh joy! No good can come of this.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Keeper of the Swag: Tiny Dilemma

Like a lot of people in the same line of business as my husband, he gets a lot of swag and promo material. Other than XL t-shirts, most swag ends up in my coffers. Why mine and not his? The only things he has really ever kept for himself are the XL t-shirts that don’t fit me, some software, a couple of really nice backpacks, a wi-fi finder and USB flash drives. (Video games don’t count because technically, they’re shared.) It is my job to either find a use or a final resting place for the rest of it. These days, (thanks to new SEC rules), it’s mostly things like notebooks, bags, hats, mouse pads, key rings, water bottles, pens, etc.

The other day, he came home with yet another company-branded bag (organic & a nice size for my grocery shopping) and a little square box. It has Huanhuan on it, who is one of the mascots for the 2008 Beijing Olympics – and of the five Fuwa mascots, Huanhuan is clearly my favorite (<---- *snicker*). Most of the rest of the writing on the box is in Chinese. Clearly, my husband had no idea what was inside the box when he gave it to me with the bag. Though he did specifically say, “If it’s a USB drive, it’s mine.”

I looked more closely at the box while he was away. It’s a 2 GB USB drive. (Insert sigh here.) So technically, I should be giving it back to him for his use… but it’s adorable! Not at all manly. (He disagrees.) I haven’t liked a piece of swag so much since the stuffed Google fish keyring! It’s only 2 GB – so what’s that worth? $10? My husband’s response: “It’s made by Lenovo. Nothing Lenovo makes is $10.” He has a point – ha.

Well, a few dozen eyelash bats later and the little Huanhuan USB flash drive is mine. I think my husband tried to give me a hard time just for the fun of it. (The banter was kind of fun.) I’ve never been much for having a lot of stuff lying around, so he probably thought it was amusing that I actually wanted something he brought home for a change. But can you blame me?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Changing Rules Like Changing Your Shirt

As almost everyone in the U.S. knows by now, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) was hospitalized over the last weekend and has been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Understandably, this situation and every angle to the story has been the subject of media scrutiny. It is a horrible situation that you never want to see happen to anyone – let alone someone who has worked for the public for so long. One thing that irritated me a tad was all the talk on the day his diagnosis was made public, of the plans for his succession in the Senate. (I happened to see that on the ABC affiliate in Boston.) The family hadn’t released any information about his plans for the near or long-term and the media was discussing rules for his succession should he have to vacate his office. Clearly, it could be an issue – but it wasn’t an issue yet.

Then the real potential succession issue became very clear. In 2004, when Mitt Romney was the Republican governor of Massachusetts and Senator John Kerry (D- MA) was running for President, the Massachusetts legislature changed the over 100 year-old rule that allows the sitting governor to appoint a replacement for a Senator who leaves office before his or her term expires. Heaven forbid that Mitt Romney have the authority to appoint a replacement to the U.S. Senate for Massachusetts. They claimed a Senate vacancy was alright as long as they could arrange for a special election between 145 and 160 days after the incumbent declares his or her intention to resign. That’s 4-6 months without representation for the state if the incumbent has a sudden death. So the summer before the 2004 Presidential election, the Massachusetts legislature made sure that the sitting Republican governor couldn’t possibly appoint a replacement for Senator Kerry if he won the election. Done. They changed the old law. They were happy.

Now that there’s a Democrat in the Governor’s office, they want to change that rule back. Say what?? For them, it’s OK for a Democrat governor to appoint a replacement. All of the arguments about reaffirming the “power of the people” and cries for special elections from the State Senate President and others in 2004 have seemed to just disappear? In four years?

This makes me ill. Total political bullshit. I am not a registered member of either party. I am just a tax-paying registered voter and I am so sick of the legislature of this state ignoring the voters when it suits them. (Remember when the MA voters voted to roll-back the state income tax? What ever happened to that?) Now it looks like they change the rules when it suits them as well. The Massachusetts voters put these people in their positions – so really, it’s their fault.

I laughed when I saw this video blog post by VB Goudie of our local Fox station on the same matter where he asks, “They can’t be that stupid, can they?” My answer is a resounding, “They most certainly are!”

[As an aside – I have to feel for Mitt Romney as the legislature battled him constantly during his time as governor here. After his departure, certain officials he had tried and failed to replace were replaced. Voila! His administration really tried to make good changes and the old guard fought them at every turn. So far, the only obvious things that the new governor has done in office are redecorate his office, upgrade the cars in which he travels, inappropriately call Robert Rubin on behalf of Ameriquest and ink a $1.35 million book deal (in NYC while missing a key vote in MA on casinos) which will include a book tour during his current (and first) term in office.]

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

When it Rains...

Life seems to throw a lot of bad stuff at us all at once and if we make it through it all, it gives us a break for a good long while as a reward. The last couple of weeks have definitely not been part of any break for us here.

No worries for us – we’re alive and well here. Since my last blog post, we’ve had three surgeries in the family. Two of them occurred on the same day. A little time between them all might have been nice, eh? For a while there, we were waiting for lab results on all three of them. When I say “family” I mean the people with whom we spend our holidays – our closest loved ones. All three surgeries went well, thankfully. Two were breast cancer-related and one was skin cancer-related. The lab results were basically good in two cases. In one case, the pathologists and oncologists know it’s bad but are calling the case “rare” and consulting their peers. They actually presented her case at a breast cancer conference yesterday. This cancer is in someone who has already had a lumpectomy and finished aggressive chemotherapy and radiation a little more than a year ago. (It was her first bout with cancer that was the impetus for my year-long blogging hiatus from 2006-2007.) I am grateful that she has a very good group of doctors who are monitoring her condition and who have been very diligent in her case.

It’s hard to celebrate the good news when the bad news is so frightening. The timing of this all is so surreal but in a strange way, it’s given us all something for which to be thankful when we may be inclined to just be sad and worried. Even weirder for me, there have been three other pieces of family news from the same time frame that are amazing and wonderful – and of course, I am not at liberty to discuss any of it – but I am very happy and grateful for it all. It’s felt like quite the wild ride here these last few days. We’re so very, very happy and so very, very sad and worried all at the same time. Ah, but we’re human after all and every once in a while we are all too well reminded of that fact.

Chins up – we’ll just be glad for our good fortune, gear up to take care of those who need us and be grateful that we can.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Fire Alarm at MicroCenter

Just got tossed out of the MicroCenter in Cambridge, MA as the fire
alarm went off. Of course, I wanted a new toy but had to put it down
for now.

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Friday, May 09, 2008

Dessert for Charity

At Kingfish Hall, the proceeds from the sale of this ridiculously
yummy dessert go to fund breast cancer research at Dana-Farber. I had
one and I have to say, it was really yummy too :) Yeah - I had my arm twisted *snicker*
This is described as a Strawberry Glace: Wild Strawberry Glaze, Cinnamon Pound Cake Croutons & NYC Street Cart Pralines.
(sorry @MaxWeb as I failed to photograph the awesome lobster roll I
had for lunch too.)

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Flowers for Mother's Day?

Every year for Mother’s Day, my husband and I have a minor disagreement as to how to handle the Hallmark holiday for our loved ones. I say “minor” disagreement because, as we’ve been together for over a decade, I have conceded my position for the most part and handle Mother’s Day and Father’s Day the way that my husband wants to handle them. I gently mention the option of just sending greeting cards and then give in almost immediately upon hearing him say that he’d rather send flowers. There are other issues worth debating. If sending flowers to our closest female relatives is what he wants to do, then that works for me. I don’t really see the necessity though, as anyone who knows me well knows that if I get so much as an email from someone with a kind thought, I have received enough… but different strokes for different folks. Flowers he wants – then flowers they will all get.

The problem is that the large flower sites have failed us repeatedly in the past. We send a lot of flowers during a year and have tried different vendors. If we lived in the same state as the recipients of our flowers, it wouldn’t be so difficult. It seriously doesn’t matter what time of year it is, there is a definite chance that there will be a problem with our order. Flowers not delivered on time, flowers not delivered at all, delivery-person failing to ring doorbell and flowers spending the night in the freezing cold as a result, wrong flowers delivered – it’s ridiculous.

Our most recent bad experience was with just the other week. We wanted to send flowers to the wake of a friend’s mother. The wake was taking place on a Sunday afternoon. I placed the order on Saturday morning. On Monday morning, I received an email stating that the florist did not deliver the flowers to the wake. When I called FTD, I was told that the florist didn’t have time to complete our order on Sunday as they close mid-day. Excuse me? I thought FTD was a large group of florists – and if one florist was unavailable, there would be another to fulfill the order. Apparently not. So much for flowers from us being delivered to the funeral home. Nice notice, eh? They just issued me a credit. I was royally irked.

Last year, we entrusted with our Mother’s Day order. In general, they had been pretty decent and had handled all of our previous service issues well enough. Six flower arrangements were going to six women in three states. We even asked that they be delivered either on Saturday or on Sunday – we truly had no preference. Only two of the bouquets were delivered without a problem (our aunts – yay for them). The other four were a mess. I was on the phone with 1-800-FLOWERS at five times with five different representatives over an order that I placed over the Internet and never wanted to have to discuss again with another human. Grrrr.

My mother-in-law was living in Plymouth, MA at the time and received a milk glass with some wilted-looking tulips and other greens in it. She knew we wouldn’t send anything like that to her and told the delivery man that there must be some mistake. I called 1-800-FLOWERS and they seriously wouldn’t make it right - instead of having their local florist deliver what we actually ordered (which was a large mixed bouquet of spring flowers) – they sent their delivery man back to my mother-in-law’s house to pick up the milk glass of wilted short-stemmed tulips and issued me a credit for the flowers. No matter. We didn’t want that florist to make anything for her ever again anyway. We were just amazed that instead of just apologizing and issuing the credit for the whole fiasco, they actually sent their delivery guy back to the house to pick up the milk glass and flowers. That blew.

My mother and sister hadn’t received their flowers in Chicago for Mother’s Day by 4 pm on Sunday – Mother’s Day. My sister called to tell me that my mom hadn’t received anything and I called 1-800-FLOWERS again. They said the flowers were on the delivery truck and apologized for the delay. The flowers were to have been delivered before 4 pm on Sunday and they were clearly late. Even worse, my mother was leaving for the airport to go to Dallas at 5 pm for a last minute business trip. SO – my sister ended up going back to my mother’s house that night to find the flowers sitting on her front porch, tipped over on their side. They actually re-delivered flowers two days later to my mother as a result.

My husband’s grandmother in Michigan hadn’t received her flowers either – and as it turned out, the flower delivery person delivered her flowers to a neighbor’s house instead of hers even though she was home all day long. The neighbor showed up with them late on Sunday.

Even goofier was the way they inform you that delivery has taken place. I received emails telling me that flowers were delivered when they clearly were not and I did not receive emails for deliveries that took place successfully. Clearly, I wasn’t in the mood to send flowers again for a long time… but it seems that flower-sending is somewhat of a necessity throughout the year for us. Usually, we don’t have issues – sometimes we do. For a business as simple as floral arrangement and delivery, the number of issues we’ve personally encountered is surprisingly high.

So here we are at Mother’s Day again and my husband doesn’t think a Hallmark card does it as well as flowers. Since I’m newly irked at FTD but am generally forgiving, we thought we’d try 1-800-FLOWERS again. I’ve used them three times since last Mother’s Day without incident, so though I’m still not thrilled with them, we’re willing to give them a go again. This year we’ve made it even easier and sent out five arrangements of two-dozen yellow roses each and sent my sister a nice mixed spring bouquet. We even asked that they all be delivered today, Thursday, instead of Friday or over the weekend. Luckily, my mother-in-law no longer lives in Massachusetts and we have a new florist to try out near her new home. We shall see what happens.

If I have to call and speak to another customer service person about a floral delivery, I think I’ll have an even stronger case to do it my way next year and send out cards.

Friday Update: We have heard from all six floral recipients that they received their flowers on Thursday and their descriptions of the flowers match what we ordered, so we're happy with that. However, I only received delivery confirmations for four of the deliveries, so if nobody called us to thank us, we'd still be wondering about two of the arrangements. Go figure. My lesson learned: If I'm compelled to send flowers for Mother's Day, have them delivered early. The florists must be a disaster zone from Friday to Sunday.

Photo by tanakawho

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

"The Daily Show" on Pandering

This kept me chuckling for more than a little while. It'd be funnier if it wasn't all so true.

(...and what IS up with the accent? She was raised in my old neighborhood. There's no twang in Park Ridge, IL.) LOL

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cap of the Day: GTA4 Release Day

It rained buckets here today so I just threw on a hat. Of course, as today was *Grand Theft Auto IV* launch day, I chose appropriately. My husband brought this nice swag home a long, long time ago and it's been mine since he unpacked it. As he is traveling this week, I picked up our copy of GTA4 but have left it unopened on our coffee table. It's going to sit there until he gets home. It won't be any fun firing it up without him - so I won't. Really. I really won't. Can't do it. Seriously.

This IGN review of the game was interesting. Best game he's played in the last 10 years? Really? Feel free to taunt me and tell me how much you are enjoying the game. It won't bother me at all. I'd be happy to know you guys are enjoying yourselves! :)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Dismantling the Shrine

One of the things that I need to get done before June is to dismantle the shrine to me in Chicago - otherwise known as my old bedroom at Mom's house. My mother is moving to a nice condominium that is about a mile from her current home at the end of the summer. My sister and her family are buying my mother's house and need to start moving things into Mom's house in order to get their current home ready to be put on the market. I started this process the other week while I was in Chicago. It's a bigger project than I originally thought it would be. These days, I stay in that room whenever I visit my mother but I never really took the time to look around my old room. I basically sleep in the room and watch a little TV before falling asleep. There's a lot of stuff in there though!

I always wondered how long my old bedroom would stay in a time warp. It looks like a younger version of me still lives in that room. On a regular basis, the sheets are changed and the room is cleaned by the maids - regardless of whether I will be visiting or not. I don't even live in the same state anymore. I moved down there when I was in Junior High School. When I say “down there” I mean into the basement bedroom. I don't know what my parents were thinking by agreeing to let me have the bedroom in the basement. It is two floors beneath everybody else's sleeping quarters and has a door to the outside in the utility room next door. I could come and go undetected as I pleased, if I were so inclined. Lucky for them, I wasn't inclined in that manner - most of the time.

The room is full of old stuff - I'm closer to being 40 than to 30. It's got two walk-in closets and they were still full of my clothes when I got there last week. There's a double desk along the wall and it still has my Apple IIc and an Apple dot matrix printer on it (It still works & I still have all of the original software) as well as a huge old IBM PC from God-knows-when. There are trophies, medals, ribbons, paddles, tassels and certificates that are going to be homeless soon. The bookshelves are full of books . There's a teddy bear that my grandmother bought me when I was 7 and a ton of office supplies. (Anyone that knows me well knows that I am weak for office supplies). There are documents from every period of my life in that room - and I guess I should go through all of it before I just chuck it all. The TV in that bedroom is so old that it isn't cable ready even though it is a Sony color TV (a tank) and has a remote control. My signed Blackhawks hockey stick from the last year Chelios & Roenick played for them together is in there. My old autographed Cubs baseballs are still there. My yearbooks and facebooks are all in there. What's not down there?

I tackled my closets that week. My sister and I filled an entire Honda Pilot up with bags of barely worn clothes and accessories and drove them to the Salvation Army location in Des Plaines, Illinois. There was absolutely no space in that SUV for anything else after we filled it with my clothes. I filled my mother's garbage bin as well with things that nobody should be caught wearing. I filled a box with purses, wallets, hair accessories, jewelry and other cool things for my cousin's little daughters in Virginia to play dress up. I didn't keep anything in my closets except for the clothes that my husband and I wear now and just have been keeping there so I don't have to pack anything when I fly between Boston and Chicago. I really don't think I would have had so much stuff in there if I had managed to keep wearing clothes that were sizes 0, 2 or 4. Live and learn. Heh.

In all seriousness, this exercise has taught me a few things.
  • Nothing lasts forever. I never thought my mom would move out of that house. Oh well.
  • Other than sentimental items, no things that I kept in that room add to my current happiness. If anything, the things that I held onto (or - more accurately - failed to dispose of previously) feel like a weight on my back and are really more of a burden than anything else as now I have to deal with them.
  • If I buy it now, I'm using it now. I'm not saving anything for later use anymore. I seem to be a hoarder by nature - that has to stop. I have lots of unused 5 1/4” floppy disks, 3 1/2” floppy disks, pencil leads, pads of paper, staples, markers, audio cassettes, everything - totally unopened and unused. That's bad.
  • If something is two sizes too small to wear already, get rid of it. You'll more than deserve a new wardrobe if you make it back down there again.
I think that short time in Chicago has helped get my mind in the right place for this weekend here in Massachusetts. This weekend is our big purging weekend and my husband promises that we will go through all of the stuff in the house that we've been holding onto for no apparent good reason (boxes of business school case studies come to mind - ha ha). I'll be back in Chicago to finish up cleaning out my old room next month. I'll also have to help my mother find new furniture for her new place. I think by the time June rolls around, I'll be ready for a vacation.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Cleaning Up by Cleaning Up

Spring has definitely sprung around here, as the thermometer and blooming daffodils will happily report. As I am feeling much better these days, I decided that I should start my spring-cleaning effort. One of my goals for this year is to de-clutter our house.

Yesterday, I figured I would start out slowly. If I set my goals too high right away, I may just get discouraged by the size of the project. So I determined to just tackle the refundable can and bottle situation and the piles of loose change.

Massachusetts is one of the few states with a bottle deposit (along with VT, ME, NY, OR, IA, CT HI, CA, DE and MI). It’s been in place here since 1982 and requires a $0.05 deposit on beverage cans and bottles. I vaguely remember having to return bottles in Illinois when I was very young but I don’t remember having to do that there since my parents started letting me see PG movies.* Over the winter, our cans and bottles piled up in containers in the garage and so I took them to the grocery store and fed them individually to a refundable can-eating machine. I stood there and fed almost 300 cans into this machine one-by-one. There seriously has to be a better way – because for all of that effort – the storing, the hauling and the feeding to the machine, I got a lousy credit of $14.90. The only difference between taking those cans to that machine for my money back and taking those cans to the town landfill and throwing them in the aluminum bin is the cash – they would end up in the same place in the end. Whatever – I was just glad to get them out of the garage and used the credit for some groceries.

The piles of loose change were a trip to collect and haul. I keep a jar behind a framed photo on the kitchen desk. If my husband or I have loose change that we throw down somewhere, I’m apt to throw it in that jar. Well, the jar was looking full so I went hunting for more change in the house so I would only have to make the one trip for a long while. I found quite a bit, actually. Who knew? I hauled a big canvas bag full of plastic bags of change to the Coinstar machine (sitting next to the refundable can-eating machine). When I was a kid, we used to haul change to the local bank and the bank would happily dump it all out in a coin counter and deposit the money to your account. Since that doesn’t happen anymore, Coinstar is my preferred choice for converting piles of coins into a more useful form. If you want cash back for your coins, they charge an 8.9% fee for their service. However, if you convert your coins to gift cards or eCertificates, there is no additional fee for you. I never convert my coins to cash as I think the 8.9% is pretty steep and as any gift card to Starbucks or e-certificate to isn’t going to last long in my house anyway. There are several other stores participating with Coinstar, but I usually only convert to those two. I walked out with a Starbuck’s gift card for $50.03 and an eCertificate for for $187.52. I’d say that the Coinstar exercise was much more rewarding than the refundable can exercise was.

In the end, I’d say I cleaned up all the way around.

*[There’s a new proposal in Illinois to add a bottle deposit there as well now. I really hope it doesn’t pass as, in my opinion, it’s a bigger pain than it’s worth. I take my garbage and recyclables to the town landfill, where they are separated and recycled properly already. Having a can and bottle deposit just adds a trip for me to a store where I can get a credit for my cans and bottles and necessitates the stores to have the dumb (always in need of maintenance) machines to accept the refundable containers and dole out the credits. It’s not like it’s a ton of cash either – so a person with more money than time will just skip the step of returning their refundables and toss the stuff in the trash. Anyone who says these bills are a wide-spread conservation effort doesn’t see the reality of the situation. These bills do, however, reduce litter, as collecting refundable containers has become a small industry for some people. It makes me wonder if the powers that be actually want you to go back for your deposits.]

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

My Back and Valium: Friend and Foe

A few weeks ago, as I was disembarking the Cathay Pacific airplane that safely delivered us to Los Angeles from Hong Kong, I took a misstep. I didn't fall. I almost did though - and on several levels, I'm beginning to think that it would have been better if I had just fallen in the jetway instead of catching myself in the way that I did.

Apparently, when I did this - after the 14 hour flight - I strained some muscles in my lower back. Supposedly, I could have pulled some out of their normal place. Mind you, I didn't have any back pain at all during our next flight from Los Angeles to Boston - nor did I have any back pain for the next four days. It hit me all of a sudden as I was sitting at my desk typing and it hit like an electrical storm in my lower back. I slumped over onto the floor in pain - that was nasty. There wasn't one position that felt comfortable. I couldn't sit. I couldn't stand. I couldn't lie on my back, my side, my stomach - nothing. It just hurt. I downed Advil. It got better as the day progressed and by the next day, the pain was pretty dull. It was there, but it was dull - so I didn't go to a doctor. The pain was gone for four whole days and then it returned for two. Then it left again for a few days - but when it came back, it was seriously ticked off and refused to leave.

I saw a doctor in my primary care physician's practice. After examining me, she determined that she didn't think my problem was neurological (whew) but she thought I could benefit from monster doses of Ibuprofen and either physical therapy or a chiropractor. I took the monster doses of Advil and left for Chicago the next day. Any physical therapy or chiropractor visits were going to have to wait until after I got back from Chicago.

The pain got way worse while I was in Chicago and when I got back to Boston, I went back to the doctors' offices. I saw a different physician and she also agreed that she didn't think my problem was neurological but she had XRays taken anyway just to make sure. She said that I should not see a chiropractor ever and thought that the combination of Valium and frequent back massages would help me. She didn't think the Ibuprofen was strong enough. My back muscles were stiffening and had been strained. If the problem persisted, physical therapy is the route she was suggesting. Seeing two doctors in the same practice and hearing two different points of view on my back situation kind of reminds me of the differing vet opinions for our dog's back. Ugh.

So I have been taking Diazepam (Valium) for the last 10 days. I don't like to medicate - ever. The doctors think that I may have autoimmune hepatitis - so I like to baby my liver a bit. Tylenol is a definite no-no so I stay away from Acetaminophen. I'll take Advil if I have to but I'll put up with aches and pains if it's not too bad just so I don't have to medicate. I've even stopped taking my allergy medications - except in the cases when I have a bad reaction. I can put up with sniffles and sneezes as long as it's not too severe. I did, however, take the Diazepam - I didn't think I had a choice. My back ached constantly and I was willing to give it a go. Thankfully, with the daily massages and the medication, my back has gotten better. It isn't 100% better yet but it has improved enough that I only take the Diazepam at night and not during the day anymore - thank God!

If I can avoid it at all, I will always avoid taking Diazepam. For me, personally, though it helped my back immensely, it didn't do good things for my mood. I'm usually pretty hopeful, in general and I usually have a decent amount of energy to get a lot done in a day. Even though I knew that I truly was one of the last people on the planet who had any right to complain about anything or be sad about anything, I was sad. I was sad and unmotivated. Add to that somewhat uncoordinated, tired and not capable of operating my car while on medication and I was downright miserable. I'm not a mopey person and I was mopey. I don't think it affects everyone like it affected me. That medication was great and yet it sucked. I loved it and I hated it.

I was basically stuck at home for a week and a half in a sucky mood. I didn't tweet much - because who really wants to tweet when you're in a bad mood? I wrote a blog post on the day that I started taking the Diazepam and then couldn't find it in me to write any more. I couldn't find it in me to just read my friends' RSS feeds (sorry guys). I didn't call my friends or family - who wants to talk with someone who seems to sigh every ten minutes? Really, I was afraid I'd start crying on the phone or something. I went on like everything was fine though because that's all I could think to do. When I think I might be getting sick, I act like I'm not and usually, I don't. I thought that if I acted like I was fine, I would be. My poor husband would come home to me, usually looking like I got run over by something and seriously try to make me feel better. As if he didn't have enough going on during his day. The man is practically a saint and knowing that actually made me feel even worse - he made me feel better - but then that made me feel worse. How the heck does that make any sense at all?

As my back progressed, I determined yesterday that I wouldn't take the Diazepam during the day anymore. I got so much done yesterday that I kind of surprised myself. Today, I'm in a much better mood - finally. Though I can have a refill of the medication, I think I'll throw it in the medicine cabinet for extreme back pain only. I think the next time I step off of an airplane onto a wet jetway, I'll be a lot more careful.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Looking for a Third Opinion

Sooner than later, my husband and I will be looking for the opinion of a veterinary orthopedist regarding our dog's back and knees. That will be opinion #3 as our vets in Chicago and Boston don't seem to agree on the next course of action for her. One would think her treatment path would be close to black and white, but somehow it's really not. Poor pup's probably sick of seeing vets so much lately, but I'm hoping opinion #3 will shed some more light on her situation.

Sam had X-Rays of her spine taken while she was at our vet in Chicago last week having her procedure. Our Chicago vet thinks she should have a prophylactic surgery on her spine that would make a future spinal problem unlikely. It's called a fenestration. He has identified calcification in two of the spaces between her vertebrae. Our vet in Boston, who did her post-op follow-up yesterday, only sees calcification in one of the spaces on that same X-Ray and sees where there might be a case for some narrowing in the other - but not really. He doesn't recommend any prophylactic surgery on her back at all. Basically, he says that even if a dog has calcification between her vertebrae, that does not mean she will ever have a problem with her back. In fact, the absence of calcification or narrowing in a dog's X-Ray doesn't mean that the dog won't have a back problem. So - one vet thinks she should have preventive surgery for her back and the other doesn't think there is enough basis for any surgery at this time. In fact, he doesn't think a surgery should be done unless she has major symptoms of spinal issues. Could they be any further from one another in their opinion? They both have reasonable points of view and are both very good vets. It makes it hard for us to know what to do next.

When it comes to her rear knees, it's the same situation. Sam has luxating patellas. Basically, her kneecaps float and sometimes, they stay out of place & off to one side. When this happens, her leg seems to lock up and she kicks it out and the kneecap snaps back into place. We've known about this condition since she was a puppy. Our vet here in Boston doesn't think that she needs surgery on them until they bother her regularly. If she's pulling up lame frequently as a result of her knee condition, then he thinks we should revisit the idea of knee surgery for her. He feels that there are always risks involved in surgeries and that if surgery can wait, it should. Our vet in Chicago says that her knees aren't going to get better - just worse. So, if they're not getting better, she should have them fixed sooner than later. So, no agreement there either.

If you're wondering why our dog has two vets, it's because we split our time between Boston and Chicago. Her primary vet is in Boston, as it's our primary residence - but she has required the care of a vet when she's been in Chicago more than a few times, and thankfully, my family is well-acquainted with a very good vet there as well.

So - I guess we're going to find a veterinary orthopedist for yet another opinion. We'll be reading up on her situation and our options and see what yet another vet has to say on the matter before we do or not do something about her back and knees.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

What What in Her Butt?

Disclaimer : Way more information than anyone needs to know - but I feel compelled to write about this anyway. Read at your own risk.

Tomorrow morning, our dog, Sam, is going to be taken to our family veterinarian in Chicago and will undergo a procedure that requires full sedation. Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have already gathered that she has somehow grown an abscess that is a little smaller than a golf ball but was totally undetected by us, my in-laws, our vet in Massachusetts and our vet in Illinois until yesterday. As Sam is a 9.5 pound miniature dachshund and gets carried around a lot, it seems inconceivable that she could grow an abscess that size and nobody would detect it. What I didn't mention on Twitter is what kind of an abscess Samantha has: She has an abscess of her anal gland.

Yes, I know - ew. Dogs have two anal glands and they are located at about 4 and 8 o'clock around their anus. They are scent glands and some animals, like skunks, can empty these glands at will. Domesticated dogs cannot do this and the glands are usually emptied when the dog defecates. Some dogs have a problem emptying these glands. Some believe that dogs that eat cheaper food that does not have much fiber and causes soft stools are more prone to issues with these glands as their stools are not hard enough to push the liquid out of the glands during defecation. This isn't Sam's issue - She eats Prescription Diet w/d, which is a high fiber dog food. We're not really sure why she had an issue emptying this gland in the first place. What we do know is that somewhere along the way, she was unable to empty one of these glands and it got infected. Then it became abscessed to the point where she did not want to walk. How nobody noticed this while it was forming is baffling.

A lot of friends joke that if they were to die, they'd want to come back as our dog. To say she has a pretty good life relative to most dogs is a bit of an understatement. She gets a lot of attention and is usually glued to a member of the family on the couch or in bed. She gets bathed regularly, sees her vet for the smallest of things and even gets her butt wiped off with an unscented baby wipe after every single one of her walks. So how did nobody notice that she was forming an abscess on her bottom?

I guess we missed a sign along the way. The signs that a dog could be having issues with their anal gland include the dog trying to lick their rear or tail (not Sam), the dog showing signs of pain while passing stool (not Sam until this weekend) and the dog scooting their butt along the carpet or grass. Now, Sam has scooted a couple of times and we didn't think anything of it, really. We always thought that Sam was just a really neat and tidy dog. She's never shown interest in her rear end but if she was sick and had a messy experience outside, I'd have to rush her into the house to wipe her properly or she'd drag her rear on the grass to get herself clean. When we saw her drag her rear indoors, I ignorantly assumed she must have passed gas or something and didn't like the way it felt. It never crossed my mind that she may have a problem with an anal gland. Shame on me.

She was at her vet in Massachusetts as recently as February and had a full physical in January. She saw the vet in Chicago a couple of weeks ago to have her paw checked for a possible sprain. Maybe if I had thought to mention her scooting on the carpet a couple of times to the vet, she wouldn't have an abscess now and the vet could have drained the gland before anything too horrible happened. Ugh.

So tomorrow, Sam will have this abscess removed. Hopefully, all will go well and she won't experience any side-effects or have any complications from the surgery. Some dogs lose bowel control for a bit after the surgery - doesn't sound like a good time for those dogs. Poor pup is going to have a sore rear for a while.

My husband and I get to worry about her from Massachusetts, sadly. I'm scheduled to bring her back home to Massachusetts from her vacation at my in-laws' new place in Chicago next week. When she gets back here, we'll have to sort out the logistics for the knee and preventive back surgeries that she's going to be needing soon as well.

On a lighter note, I guess it's only appropriate that this bit from the April 2 “South Park” is still stuck in my head and has replaced "I'm Still Alive" as my current source of earworm torture:

MONDAY UPDATE: Sam's procedure went very well today. She handled the general anesthesia well and the vet said that everything went as planned. The procedure didn't even require a single stitch - so that's a really good thing. When she saw my in-laws in the vet's waiting room in the afternoon, she got really excited, greeted them with her usual face licks and wagged her tail quite a bit. She's been sleeping a lot since they got her home. She's clearly still a tad loopy from the drugs, but she's looking much more comfortable than she did before the procedure. The vet said her rear will be sore for a few days. Thanks to all of you who gave us your support and good wishes. We really appreciate it all and are very glad to be able to say that Sam is resting well tonight.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Portal Earworm

As I know that there are some of you reading this now who are closet masochists, I will share my latest earworm with you. If you've finished the videogame Portal, you will have seen this. The credits at the end of this game are some of the best game credits that I have ever encountered. I thought the team did an amazing job with these - and now, I have the song stuck in my head. Mind you, I first saw these credits a couple of weeks ago - and now after two weeks of peace, - BAM - the song's in my head. Enjoy!