Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Not-So-Frigid Air

Okay, I don’t want to start panic in the hearts of all fridge-using citizens, but… I think we are in the midst of an epidemic. Based on the two actual incidents I am aware of, Frigidaire refrigerators ACROSS THE NATION are not actually cooling air to frigid temperatures any more. I don’t know if it’s an epidemic or an appliance strike, but since my milk has gone sour and my cheese is whiffier than usual, I have decided to take it personally. In fact, I’m taking it to the people:

People, Frigidaire refrigerators are craptastic frauds! They do not refrigerate! Revolt!!

Please excuse my language.

While I myself do not like to be cold, I do like certain things to be cold: milk, drinking water, hummus, leftover chicken, grapes, the pajamas I just tossed in the fridge. They all need to be cold. Regularly, reliably, ALWAYS cold. If it’s in the fridge, it should be cold. No question.

When I got home from vacation I discovered that while Boston – usually the nation’s frozen section – is sweating through visible and vile humidity, my refrigerator is letting its cold heart thaw. Naturally I did not discover this until after I had done my big post-vacation grocery shopping trip, so now I have a lot of fresh groceries that are wilting far more quickly than they should.

And this is happening mere days after my sister’s fridge also started acting all crazy and non-fridge-like. She’s in Texas and I’m in Boston but BOTH OF OUR REFRIGERATORS ARE FRIGIDAIRES. Coincidence? Ha. I think not.

My landlord did mention last night that this will be the second time he’s had to have this refrigerator looked at in 3 years. This was news to me. The most shocking part of that revelation was not that the fridge has a history of bad behavior, but that it’s only 3 years old. Given its old-fashioned appearance (old and dorky, but not enough to be considered ‘retro’ or ‘vintage-inspired’) I thought it was waaaaaaaay older than that.

If you have a Frigidaire and are also suffering non-fridge-like symptoms, please join in the paranoia. The only thing to distract us from our lukewarm beverages will be our conviction that we’ve discovered the latest conspiracy theory: our Frigidaires are out to get us.

Also, if you’re in the market for a new fridge, please avoid Frigidaires. I suspect they have a habit of not living up to their name.

Monday, July 30, 2007

A traveler returns; a cat filibusters

Aloha! I’m back from vacation. I walked into my apartment at 1 am on Saturday morning (felt like Friday night to me) and was greeted by two ecstatic kitties who had definitely missed me. In fact, the chatty one hasn’t stopped talking to me since I got back. She even talks while I’m sleeping. Evidently as long as I’m in the room she’ll talk to me whether or not I’m awake to listen.

Here are some things I saw or learned while away on holiday:

1 – Any vacation that starts with a root canal can only improve. My tooth is fine. Now. It was not fine to begin with. I now know WAY more about root canals than I ever did before and I can only be profoundly grateful that my first (and let’s hope, only) experience with that particular crisis happened when dental technology was so far advanced. It was a surprisingly easy experience. Really.

2 – Dropping one’s camera in the Pacific, even if it’s only for 2 seconds, is a surefire way to end up without a camera for the rest of your vacation.

3 – Teach my mom to hula and she’ll go to town. If you’re ever at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu you’ll discover they have great song and dance demonstrations, and it’s impossible to resist joining in when invited.

4 – Fish tacos taste better in the Pacific than they do in New England. A-yummmmmm. Black beans, fresh lime, and avocado are essential ingredients, but it’s the fresh white fish that really seals the deal.

5 – My aunt has a new crush on Eddie Izzard. Our visit was deep in the heart of the Season of Eddie. It was hilariously very like the years of my own childhood when I would talk about Laura all the time, my pal, Laura Ingalls Wilder. Many Eddie references.

6 – I saw a monk seal – without knowing there are only 1500 left in the world. He was napping on a beach, looking quite a lot like a big round heap of sand. He flipped over now and then to toast different parts of his bulk, but I never saw his eyes open. I was quite taken with his little mossy green face. He was not an athletic-looking seal (the moss on his face was a giveaway there), but he could snooze like a champion.

Other updates – and possibly photos – to follow in the days to come.

Friday, July 13, 2007

'Tis the Holiday Season

Okay, so it’s not THAT holiday season. But everyone’s in the mood for a holiday (cue vintage Madonna song), and I’m going on holiday too! I AM SO EXCITED I can hardly contain myself. I’m telling you – my head is a veritable jukebox of happy-good times-party music. Let the Good Times Roll! Celebrate, Good Times, Come on! Yankee Doodle Dandy (it was recently the 4th, after all).

I remember when my sister and I were very little girls we lived in a small town in central Texas. We were going on a family holiday to visit relatives in Denver. That is a looooong drive, fyi. Even longer when you’re 6 years old and sitting in the back seat with your sister means she MIGHT ACTUALLY BE TOUCHING YOU. Sheesh. Fortunately for us (at least on this occasion) the family car was a 1973 Delta ’88 chocolate brown Oldsmobile. The backseat was a bench seat so long and wide that our mom made us up a pallet to sleep on and it was so large that Kelsey and I could each sleep stretched out full length without touching each other. Ah the early 70s – when brown was everywhere and cars were ginormous. Seriously. It was a road yacht.

Another time I went on a ‘summer vacation’ with my mother and sister to Sydney – of course, going to Sydney in our summer means it’s winter there. But it was a nice mild winter, nothing like New England, so it was all right. That was the vacation Kelsey and I remember as the time our mother learned the word ‘wedgie’. Until that time Mom had usually only used the word to describe the little plastic pie pieces you win in Trivial Pursuit (upon answering the question correctly she’d yell, “Give me a green wedgie!” and we’d all fall apart). So Kelsey and I were getting out of the rental car in Sydney and we were talking about wedgies (I may actually have been doing so deliberately in an attempt to embarrass my sister, ahem) and Mom overheard us. She asked what we were talking about and Kelsey and I did our best to explain what the word really means. Just at that moment a Sydney Barbie Doll went by on her roller blades, blonde mane flying in the wind, wearing shiny blue spandex shorts and a shiny purple spandex leotard/thong thing over them. Mom noticed her, got a delighted look on her face, pointed at the Barbie’s butt (actually stuck her finger out at the end of her arm and did a full body point) and yelled, “Hey, that’s a WEDGIE! Like that, right?!” to confirm that she really did get the concept. Kelsey and I nearly melted away in mortification, but did nod wordlessly. She had clearly learned the word all right.

This year my vacation begins with a gigantic flea market – actually it’s an antiques market but since we’ll be shopping with flea-market budgets, it’s best to stick to that terminology. I have been shown Mom’s collection of tote bags – we may bring more than one. It’s a really big flea market.

Let the good times roll!!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

How to Spice up Spam

Warning: This is not a recipe. I'm not talking canned meat, I'm talking floods of nonsensical/offensive/uninvited emails. And just so we're clear, I'm NOT a fan!

Let’s all say it together: Spam is BAD! We all agree.

But I have to admit that lately I’ve developed an ever-so-faint flicker of admiration for some of the signs of creativity I have seen in the spam delivered to my inboxes.

First, the names. I have received spam from senders with some pretty weird names. These are a few of my favorites:

Marvel Ludwig

Odette Stamper

Fereidoon Bumpus

Myrtice Piper

These are the sorts of names I would give the characters in my fictional small town of Little Big Pig, Alabama. They are very good made-up names. This indicates to me that at least a few of the authors of spam may have an unsuspected streak of whimsy.

The ultimate confirmation of that whimsical streak, though, is the found in the subject lines of some of the spam I’ve received lately. Now I know it’s probably just some program somewhere churning out words – kind of like the idea that if you leave a monkey alone with a typewriter eventually he’d produce Hamlet. I always thought that was an incredibly stupid idea. But now that my whimsical spammers are sending me messages with these titles, I begin to think …. well, not that the monkey would ever write Shakespeare, but that he might be able to come up with a good headline or maybe a haiku after a while. Maybe.

Some of the recent subject lines I’ve seen:

hairy hockey player

crispy judge

gingerly globule

gratifying pork chop

maudlin duel

Dream like tape recorder

I woke up, gagged, coughed and picked it up. (Disgusting, but does display a firm grasp of narrative.)

fashionable light bulb

Likeable mating ritual

Willful clump controller

You not ugly (Somehow I found its ungrammatical presentation oddly convincing.)

Get a bigger flute (I thought this was a refreshingly prim and Freudian new take on the usual “Enlarge your penis!” drivel.)

You’ve got to give the evil techno-bandits props for creativity. Although really these lines remind me more than anything of the old Mad-Libs we used to play when I was a kid. “Name a color. Give me an adjective. Now name someone’s job.” Etc.

Anyway. Now that my mom’s here I’m apparently in the mood to spot the silver lining in practically anything, even spam, and I'm sharing the joy. I'll share more updates on J-Mom's visit in the near future.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Enter Mom, stage left

My mom is coming tonight for one of her rare visits. I’m very excited. She only comes up from Australia once (sometimes twice) a year. She’s been in Texas this past month visiting my sister and her family. Now it’s almost time for the New England leg of her American tour. Wohoo!!

Here’s what anticipation looks like at my house:

Last night at 8 pm I got home from water aerobics, rinsed out my suit and surveyed my domain. Not to put too fine a point on it, my domain was looking a little fuzzy. Two cats + two girls with a lot of hair = apartment with many hairballs. So. That was the first step. It’s amazing what a little dusting and vacuuming can do. (The Ella Fitzgerald version of that old tune was about what a little moonlight can do… I have no idea why I brought that up. It just popped into my head. I must be giddy with excitement and such.)

Groceries and cooking. I bought Irish Breakfast Tea because Mom went all tea-drinky when she moved to Australia. I don’t drink tea, but I like to provide. I also bought the sort of things you eat while you’re drinking tea – namely, cookies and crackers, or, in proper tea-drinking lingo, ‘biscuits’. For meals we have the fixings for chicken burritos and if so moved I might even make a quiche. I made a double batch of piecrust a few weeks back and the second crust is in the freezer, awaiting its destiny.

Birthday Pie. This gets its own listing, separate from ‘Groceries and Cooking’ because it’s an important part of family tradition. When my sister and I were little we were allergic to practically everything – beef, milk, sugar, wheat, corn. All that good stuff. Since birthday cakes tend to contain most of that stuff (except for the beef of course – even in Texas we don’t put beef in birthday cakes), they were not exactly a good option. So we compromised on Birthday Pie – still has some of the good/bad ingredients, just not as much as cakes. We still make it for birthdays, and I tend to make it whenever family comes to visit, since we so rarely see each other on our actual birthdays.

Here’s the recipe, in case you’re inspired. (This recipe is also still found on the underside of many Cool Whip containers, although the fine makers of that product don’t use the proper name for it.)

Birthday Pie

4 oz German Sweet Chocolate (or any other tasty chocolate)

1/3 cup milk

2 Tbsp sugar

3 oz. cream cheese, softened to room temperature

1 container Cool Whip, defrosted (for those of you who live in non-Cool Whip countries, whip up a batch of slightly sweetened whipping cream till it’s good and fluffy – your pie will be enormously rich but along the same lines as the usual version)

1 graham cracker pie crust

Melt the chocolate in the microwave (I check every 30 seconds to see that it doesn’t over-cook). When it’s melted and smooth, stir in the milk. In a separate bowl cream the sugar and cream cheese together. Add the chocolate mixture. When smooth fold in the Cool Whip. Pour filling into pie crust and pop it in the freezer for at least 3 hours.

The nice thing about this recipe is you can ‘slim it down’ – ie, no sugar, light or fat-free cream cheese, light Cool Whip, etc – and it still tastes good. The only thing you must be sure to do is use really good chocolate. I like the Baker’s German Sweet Chocolate for tradition’s sake, but using Scharfenberger makes a tasty version. Yum!

Other preparations: I have hung a little bag of stuff on my closet door. This is the traditional ‘Mom bag.’ My mother and sister and I all set aside little bags (or sometimes really big bags, boxes even) of stuff we’ve saved in preparation for a visit. Usually stuff we know the others will like. This bag also usually contains – anyone who knows my mom will not be surprised by this – various ebay purchases she had shipped to herself at my address.

Speaking of Mom and ebay, I was simultaneous delighted and a little apprehensive to realize, sometime last month, that my mother’s visit to Boston coincides with a MAJOR antiques/flea market that occurs in western Mass. 3 times a year. I am taking my Mom, the Trash n Treasure Queen, to Brimfield. I’m looking forward to it, and also am a little quaky inside at the very thought. She’s been talking for a week now about the pros and cons of her various shopping bags – which tote bag will be best for Brimfield? The largest one? The strongest one? The waterproof one? I have no idea what the ultimate choice will be. Also, no idea what she thinks she’s going to purchase there. Am quite intrigued.

So. To sum up: Mom’s on her way. I’m excited. My house is de-fuzzed. My fridge is stocked. Fresh tea bags and cookies in store. Giant flea-market excursion planned for the weekend.

The next installment in this series should be a good one!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Five Second Rule... or Three Days?

You know that ‘rule’ that says if you drop something on a clean-looking surface you can still eat it as long as it doesn’t stay dropped for more than 5 seconds? I live by this rule. I think it’s logical.

And thinking along those same logical lines, I decided I’d like a similar rule for haircuts. (Unlike toddlers or pets the world over, I will never drop something, leave it and then eat it 3 days later.)

The 3-Day Haircut Rule would go something like this: you get a hair cut. You wait 3 days. You go back to the scene of the haircut and review its success with the person who gave it to you. Revisions can be made at that time. At no extra charge. No hard feelings on either side.

Now I know that (according to urban myth) some people have the sort of relationship with their hair-cutter-person that allows them to go back and smilingly say, “Lordy, Monsier Louie, but you really messed up my hair this time! It’s shorter on this side than the other and altogether I look like a menacing poodle!” And Monsieur Louie smilingly does his level best to resolve your hair issues at no extra charge and there’s no further conflict between you. I do not have such a relationship with my hair-cutter-person. I never have. To be honest, I doubt anyone does. My reaction to the discovery that the somewhat chic haircut I got at the salon has turned, one day later, into something resembling a hair-colored fez is to swear a lot, buy a hat, and never go back to that hair-cutter-person. Avoidance, not conversation, is the key strategy here.

So I think the 3-Day Haircut Rule should become an industry standard. If it’s standard practice for hair-cutter-people to sculpt your newly cut hair into some sort of bizarre ‘do you’ll never want or be able to reproduce in your own home, then shouldn’t there be a grace period that allows you to go home, treat your hair like you always do, and discover if the new cut has hidden sinister qualities?

I think so.

Hence, the 3-Day Haircut Rule is born. Let your hair-cutter-person know, let them all know. In particular, could you notify the hair-cutter-people I’ve been avoiding for years? I’d appreciate it.

Monday, July 9, 2007

A Face Only a Mother Could Love...

Or so you might think. But you'd be wrong.

I recently took this little critter for a walk through the museum, changing his storage location. Visitors reacted as if he were Elvis, Big Bird or the long-lost Anastasia. Crowds formed around us, cooing and aahing. I was obviously just his personal assistant, the pesky one who was coming between the star and his fans.

I guess some people really LOVE turtles.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Cue Theme Song

In my early 20s I went backpacking around Australia. I went alone although originally I was supposed to go with a friend from college. She had some sort of personal crisis on a camel ranch outside of Alice Springs during the first week so I spent the rest of the trip traveling solo. I don’t think I’d ever have had the nerve to do it on my own unless I was forced to do so, but I was surprised to discover by the end of the trip that I’d had a marvelous time. I met lots of interesting backpackers from around the world. I trekked through a rainforest and saw a platypus swimming in the wild. I watched the opening ceremonies of the Lillehammer Olympics with a group of international backpackers in Queensland, and participated in an on-the-floor demonstration/analysis of how camels walk compared to other four-legged animals (both left legs, then both right – it’s very awkward).

I also discovered that being from Texas means people have already assigned you your own personal theme song. Many people would start humming the “Dallas” theme song as soon as they learned where I was from. One happy lady started clapping loudly about 2 inches from my nose – nearly scared me into a fit – and only after she started singing did I realize this was my cue to start in with “Deep in the Heart of Texas”.

While I was on the Queensland Coast near the Great Barrier Reef I decided to take a 2-day sailboat cruise out to see the Reef. This was sheer madness in a number of ways, the most obvious being that I’m no sailor. I’m a land-lubbin’ girl from the prairies, and I get seasick even sitting on a dock. But traveling alone must have buoyed my confidence to levels of insanity because I signed up for the trip and found myself on a sailboat with 8 other tourists, plus the captain and his crew of 2. There was the hairy lonesome Frenchman who was pathetically grateful for my attempts to revive high school French for conversation. The two Swedish girls who didn’t need the rest of us. A couple of people from Ireland and England and Germany. Me. And the Australian crew. We got the initial introductions – and my denial of being a cowgirl or related to any cowboys – out of the way, set sail, and then I turned green. Never had Kermit the Frog’s theme song been more true – it is seriously difficult being green. Trying not to throw up on that nice clean boat – or over the side onto one of the world’s natural treasures – was a major effort. I’m not sure how I managed, but eventually I came out of my haze enough to realize I was sitting at the back next to the captain. Everyone else was up front with lunch. (Shudder.)

The captain did some fiddly professional thing with the wheel, squinted at the horizon in convincing way and said, gruffly, “Does it bother you?” Now, this was completely out of left field. I hadn’t spoken or been able to process others speaking for a couple of hours.

Me: “Does what bother me?”

Captain: “Being that size.”

(Digression: Being all of 21 at that time, I was a svelte little nymph compared to my current size and shape. Nonetheless I was probably about 5’4” and definitely cleared 110 pounds.)

Me: “Um, no.”

Captain: “It’s just, I’d heard everyone in Texas is really big. And you’re not big.”

Me: unspoken signs of disbelief

Me: “We’re not GIANTS! We’re Texans!”

Captain: embarrassed silence and more professional squinting

So that was how I discovered first-hand that being from Texas means all sorts of things to people overseas, and that sometimes it’s best not to ask or assume what they might be. Let them think I’m a lassoing, steer-branding, JR-shooting, NASA-tech, cheerleading, boot-wearing, high-kicking, hair-spray addicted, rhinestone encrusted oil tycoon with my own personal corral full of plaid-wearin' fellas named Slim or Hank and a theme song that orchestras love. I’m fine with that. They'd be wrong about everything but the rhinestones, but hey, let them have their dreams.

Do any of you out there have your own personal theme song – either self-chosen or assigned to you by the general public? I’d love to hear about it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Random Play

You know, like songs on an iPod but with thoughts in my head rather than tunes.

First, apologies. I went AWOL there for a while. It’s CRAZY here and I suspect my usual daily/weekly updates will continue to be somewhat haphazard. I have less than 2 weeks to move a collection of 3500 objects – with NO staff. Mm. Should be fun. Any bets on when the magic wand will appear? I’m hoping for the third act. I’m luring volunteers with fresh baked goods so… fingers crossed!

- My friend Miss Amazing told me the best story yesterday. She has an elderly relative, we’ll call her ‘Aunt Mabel,’ who lives in Kentucky. Mabel had a hearing aid that wasn’t always perfectly ‘tuned’ and whenever it hummed or whistled Mabel was convinced she was being haunted by a ghost named Spit. (This is about the point in the story when I fell in love with Mabel. Anyone whose personal ghost is named Spit is good people.) Mabel’s neighbors eventually complained against her because Mabel’s form of exorcism was to blow a loud coach’s whistle whenever she felt Spit was being bothersome, day or night. She apologized to the neighbors but really couldn’t be expected to put up with a ghost in her apartment. She was sure they’d understand. Eventually Mabel was moved to a new residence – and coincidentally got a new hearing aid – where she lives Spit- and whistle- free. I understand that Mabel is a pretty good clogger.

- Those of you who have never been to my office don’t know that I have a Trigger Fish on my wall. Former staff members in the Collections Department named him Mr. Chompers because he has a prim little fish-mouth full of the meanest looking teeth. I’m quite fond of him.

- I’m a 3rd generation CBS soaps fan. Both of my grandmothers watched The Young & The Restless and As the World Turns. As did my mom, my sister, my cousin and I. I still tune in now and then, although not nearly as often as I did when I was younger. Some things never change: the Brooke+Ridge+Other Guy love triangles on Bold & the Beautiful, the 4th of July barbecue on Guiding Light, the endless Snyder clan on ATWT, and also the perennial one-actress-two-roles gambit. Once upon a time it was Julianne Moore playing twins Sabrina and Franny, or Martha Byrne playing Lily and Rose. Now it’s the Landon girl playing the ‘pretty singer’ and ‘weird frumpy girl’ versions of her character. It’s nice to count on a few constants.

- I’m going on vacation in two weeks. To Hawaii. To visit with conveniently located family members. I’m so excited about having a holiday that I’m dreaming of Hawaiian shirts and macadamia nuts. I haven’t taken a real break since December 2005 and I can feel a giant tidal wave of anticipation building up. Well, Aloooooooo-HA!

- Last night I had to climb across two cars to get to my laundry. Seriously. My landlord owns the house across the street as well as the one I live in, and the laundry facilities are in the basement across the street. I put a load in the washing machine. When I went back to move it to the dryer the entrance to the back yard was completely blocked by two cars parked on the driveway. I couldn’t slip past either car – they were too close to each other and to trees and fences for me to fit through IN THE DARK. So I scooted over the hood of one car, while stepping on the bumper of the other, and prayed neither had a touch-sensitive car alarm. That would have given me a heart attack. Fortunately one of the cars had been moved by the time the dryer cycle finished.

- Book recommendation: Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. Best novel I’ve read this summer. It’s about a year in the life of a 13 year old boy in Britain in 1982. He’s mystified by boys, girls, his parents, himself. He’s a poet, he’s a teenager, he’s a brilliant protagonist. Highly recommend it.

- Going to a Red Sox game tonight! Wohoo! Brought my B cap and will polish up my Neil Diamond lyrics on the way to Fenway.