Saturday, October 31, 2009


posted Wed, 03 Nov 2004

Everyone asks what I learned in the cooking school in Italy. Here is the big secret: For things to taste good, they have to contain fat. Butter, olive oil, bacon grease, lard. The form doesn’t matter, it just has to be fat. Throw away all that fake ice cream and light junk and get the real thing – and eat smaller portions. Better to have a little bit of something really good than a bunch of something yucky. A little bit of fat won’t make you fat.

The Crysal Sugar Company has not figured this out. At the grocery store last night, I saw a four-pound bag of Crystal Sugar that was “fat free!” The company’s website proclaims, “Our naturally fat-free CRYSTAL SUGAR has been a flavorful part of a healthy diet and active lifestyle since 1899.” I guess they missed that part of chemistry class where you learn that by definition, sugar does not contain fat. If it did, it would not be sugar.

How sharper than a serpent`s tooth

posted Tue, 02 Nov 2004

Here is my dilemma. I have been given two free tickets to the Norah Jones concert in the new basketball arena.

The new arena into which I swore I would never set foot.

The $250 million basketball arena my city just built with my money. The one they built without asking me if I wanted a basketball arena. The one they built without a referendum.

The arena they built because we had to have it to get a major league basketball team here. We had to have the team so that big companies would move here to improve the quality of life for everyone. As if pro sports is the one thing that everyone cares about. As if the really bad schools here – still under federal mandate, I believe (i.e., forced crosstown bussing) – aren’t what keep big business away. As if bad schools and a poorly-educated workforce aren’t issues to any potential employer.

But I digress. I swore I would never set foot into this arena, which had its grand opening a few weeks ago.

It was not going to be hard for me to stick to my guns on this issue. I don’t care about pro sports. I don’t care about Square Bob Sponge Pants on Ice, or whatever that kids’ show is. If I want to hear live music, there is Harpo’s band or other excellent local bands. There is no reason for me to attend a concert in a basketball arena (which probably has lousy acoustics anyhow).

But then my boss was allotted two tickets to the Norah Jones concert. My company has a luxury box at the new arena. (Don’t even get me started on using shareholder money this way.) The company wants to use their Norah Jones tickets for employee recognition, which is very nice of them, and I am indeed flattered that my boss and his boss chose me from a team of about 15 persons to receive their allotment of tickets.

But I swore I would never set foot in the arena.

This morning, my boss bounded into my office. “I wanted to tell you before you got the email! They asked who should get the tickets for our team and we told them you! You’ve been doing such a great job and I thought you should get some recognition for it. I love Norah Jones! I wish I could go! Have you ever been in a luxury box at a sports arena? It’s really nice!”

I’m listening to him, thinking, Omigosh. After I read the email (which I did get before my boss arrived in my office), I had fully intended to decline the tickets. Not only am I not a big Norah Jones fan – she’s good, but it’s not like she’s Eric Clapton or Dire Straits – but the concert is on a work night. It won’t even start until 8:00 and that’s the warm-up band. Who knows when Norah will start? All this really means for me is a late night and a really crappy day the next day at work because I will be completely wiped out.

He continues to talk happily. “If Harpo can’t go with you, may I have the other ticket? I really like Norah Jones. I love her music. I’d really like to see the concert.” I wonder how I could graciously give him both tickets – “Take both, Boss – take your wife. Really. Make an evening of it.”

But he is so pleased that he has given me this gift. I don’t dare turn it down. I would be an ingrate. It would not be a good career move. It’s really easy to stand on principle when nothing is at stake.

Pop quiz

posted Tue, 02 Nov 2004

"Mammogram" is to "uncomfortable" as "World War Two" is to

a. Skirmish
b. Brawl
c. Scrimmage
d. Tea party

Friday, October 30, 2009


posted Mon, 01 Nov 2004

My cousin Becky, the one at the optometry school here, had a great idea: she wants to compile my grandmother’s recipes into a family cookbook. Her sister Robbie (also my cousin, of course) is an editor, so Robbie is putting everything together. Becky and Robbie put out the call for the family recipes last week. To no one’s surprise, almost everything received so far has been desserts.

I went online to see what traditional Slovak recipes looked like. I’ve always been grateful that it was my grandmother who was Slovak and my grandfather who was Norwegian and not the other way around just so I wouldn’t have to eat lutefisk. I have never had it but I have had the Portuguese version of salt cod, bacalao, and it was so awful that about a nanosecond after the first bite hit my tongue, I spit it out. Unfortunately, I was in a restaurant in Lisboa at the time, so the other patrons probably got a bad impression of Americans, but as much as I love my country, I was not willing to suffer bacalao. We all have our limits.

My grandmother makes things like apple strudel and poopaki and kolaches and rhubarb bars. These might not all be traditional Slovak foods, but they are good. The traditional Slovak recipes I saw on the web included delicacies like creamed gizzards (I promise I am not making up any of these), liver dumplings, and bacon fat and pickle juice (bacon fat and pickle juice together, that is). These recipes, along with a treatise I saw called “getting the most of your deer” made me realize I come from an ethnic group that is not used to having extra. My people Do Not Waste Food.

Becky and I had talked about apple strudel last week. She didn’t know how to make it. I have been practicing the art of strudel for the past twelve years, trying to learn my grandmother’s tricks. Yesterday, Becky came over so I could show her what I had figured out. I warned her that this would not be easy and that she should be prepared to practice, practice, practice until she got it right, darnit. There is a lot of blood, sweat and tears that goes into becoming a good baker and you have to be willing to make the sacrifice.

The finished product.

I had already made the dough. One of the tricks that even The Joy of Cooking doesn’t tell you is that you need to let the dough sit for several (my grandmother says three) hours to let the glutens relax. It stretches better if they are relaxed. You don’t want tense glutens.

Another thing the books don’t tell you is that putting the flour on a board and then making a well in the middle for the liquid is a bunch of baloney. The liquid always runs out! So even if they tell you to put the flour on a counter or a board (which Joy does not, but that is how my grandmother does it), ignore them and put it in a bowl, or else you will be scraping up egg and water from all over your kitchen counter.

We put a clean sheet on the table and anchored it with clothespins (Joy doesn’t tell you that, either.) You guys need to print this out for when you make apple strudel because I am giving you the straight skinny right here. We sprinkled flour on the sheet, then rolled out the dough, then stretched it. You are supposed to do it over your knuckles, but I am just not that patient. I pull with my fingers and patch the holes later.

We threw the apples and sugar (remember! If you are using the Splenda blend, you use only half the amount of sugar called for in the recipe!) and other stuff on the dough. Yes, you really need to use bread crumbs. If you don’t, all the juice from the apples runs out of the strudel and onto the pan and burns. Trust me.

The reason I use the Joy of Cooking recipe is that my grandmother has been making apple strudel for so many years that she doesn’t know how much flour or butter or salt she puts in it. She just knows when it’s right. I go with Joy for the measurements and with Grandma for technique.

Our strudel was delicious, although we decided we didn’t have enough apples for the dough, so we will have to do this again and get it right next time. Practice, practice, practice.

The Big Factotum (my mother) defends her reputation

posted Sun, 31 Oct 2004

From my mom:

"First of all, while it is true I met your father in a bar, I did not "pick him up." We were introduced by his cousin, a friend of mine. I happened to be in the bar, because that was where people (who were old enough--18--and some who weren't, no doubt) went to "hang out" after the high school basketball game. It was downstairs--along with the bowling alley--beneath the gym. I was home from college for the weekend; and since it was my younger sister's birthday (13th), I had taken her and my twin brothers (8) to the game.

Your father had asked me if I'd like to go get something to eat, so after I took my siblings home, that's what we did. Well, he did; seems to me I didn't eat anything. By that time probably (10:00 P.M.) the Dairy Bar in Abbotsford--6 miles away--was closed, so we drove to Marshfield--30 miles away(!)--for a steak sandwich. Gas was cheaper then...

While it is true that there was a time when your father got stuck in the snow backing out of the driveway (this was Wisconsin in February), and yes, it was late but not that late, it was NOT that night. Okay, it was the next night...

Your father (we'll call him "Tex", his high school nickname) had just graduated from college, so his mom and dad were throwing a combination graduation/bon voyage party for him at their home with all the local relatives attending. Tex invited me to come. Since I already knew most of his relatives, I accepted. It was fun, and Tex's mom and dad made me feel very welcome.

As to the late-night part, Tex was to leave for the East Coast the following day for several months, and it was a matter of neither one of us wanting to say goodbye."

(NB The version I gave in my earlier post is the one my father always told me. Vote now on which is the better version: that my mom picked my dad up in a bar or that it was an innocent introduction by a mutual friend after a high school basketball game. )

Moral equivalency idiocy

posted Sun, 31 Oct 2004

Interesting that the local movie critic takes the producers of “Ray” to task for glossing over that Ray Charles had 12 children by seven mothers but doesn’t mention in his review of “The Motorcyle Diaries” that Che Guevara was one of the chief architects of the brutal Communist regime in Cuba.

All he says about Che is, “‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ may not please those who know Che as more than the proud, scruffy face in the Red beret that decorates a million posters, T-shirts and collectible wristwatches.”

Yet he notes in his review of “Ray” that “[t]he movie doesn't whitewash Ray's womanizing, but it does neglect to point out that Charles fathered 12 children by seven women.”

Even an article by Paul Berman in Slate, not known as a conservative journal, attacks “The Motorcycle Diaries” for its adoration of Che.

Listen up, y’all. I know this isn’t nuanced, but really, there is no need for nuance here. Che bad. Communism bad. OK? End of story.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Art theory

posted Sun, 31 Oct 2004

Now that I have repaired the plaster on the dining room wall and repainted it with the paint I found in the basement, it is time to re-hang the Panamanian molas floated in glass. I measure, mark and drill with my lovely cordless Ryobi, being sure to keep my eye on the level instead of the bit. I drill two holes, as the frame has hooks on both sides instead of one conveniently in the middle. When I hammer in the nails, I try very hard to make sure they are both level and extending the same distance from the wall. I hang mola #1 and it looks OK.

I measure for #2. I congratulate myself on my cleverness for this one: I have created plumb lines from # 1 (#2 is to be directly below #1) with string and two forks. I tie a string to each #1 nail and tie a fork to the end of each string. Then I hand mola #1 again and measure two inches from the bottom of it, marking at the intersection of the two inches and the string.

Then I drill at that point, hammer in the nails, and hang mola #2. Uh oh. Number two isn’t fitting. Remove #2. Measure. Rats. It’s not the same size as #1. Looks like it, but it’s actually ¼ inch narrower. Curses. I plaster the holes and drill new ones slightly lower, but this time, when I hammer the nails in, one goes in at a slight angle, so the picture hangs a little crooked. You can get away with that if there is just one picture, but when one is one top of the other, you can’t. (There is a third, larger mola to the side, so I can’t just put #1 and #2 next to each other in an apparently casual random pattern.)

I plaster those holes. By now, I have given up drilling. I am just going to hammer straight in. (Some of you have already figured out what I am doing wrong here, I know. My only excuse is that it was 4:20 in the morning. I couldn’t sleep so I thought I might as well do something and the paper wasn’t here yet. But to be honest, I am not sure I would have thought of the solution any earlier at another time of day. I have had these molas in frames since I lived in Miami and have had to hang them four times. Not once has the OBVIOUS occurred to me. In my defense, though, the place I had the molas framed could have included all the materials.)

I find a new space. Again, the picture is crooked. I mutter a few choice words (yes, with the same mouth I use to kiss my mother) and wonder how the arrangement would look with just big mola and mola #1.

It would not look good.

How on earth do other people DO this, I wonder? What is the big secret to getting the nails in at just the right angle, at exactly the right distance from the wall, at exactly the same height? Wouldn’t it be so much easier if there were just one hanging point instead of two? Why did the framing shop have to complicate my life so much?

And then it hits me: I am not supposed to hang the picture with two nails. I am supposed to tie a wire to the two hooks and hang the picture from one nail and the wire.

It’s a really good thing that sort of question was not on the college boards or I never would have been admitted.

First jobs and worst jobs

posted Sat, 30 Oct 2004

When I was eight, a friend and I went door to door selling our services sweeping doorsteps for a dime. I don’t remember if we had any takers. My next business venture was making doll clothes and selling them door to door. Again, I don’t remember if I sold anything.

My dad used to pay me half a penny for every dandelion I dug up from our yard with the entire root intact. If I washed the car and cleaned the interior, I could keep any loose change I found. My mother would pay me a dime for polishing the big brass candlesticks and copper kettles Dad had bought in Turkey. You had to use a toothbrush on the copper kettles to get them clean because the surface wasn’t smooth. I polished one of those candlesticks a few years ago – they are four feet high – and told my mother I wanted more money.

When I was eleven, I started to babysit. I charged only 50 cents an hour, 25 cents less than the going rate, which was really stupid, because it’s not like there is usually an oversupply of good babysitters.

When I was 14, my best friend Julie and I would earn $5 each to clean up after her parents’ parties. Her dad was wing commander and had to entertain a lot. We would do all the dishes and sip at the leftover drinks. Rum and Tab does not taste good, in case any of you were wondering.

I got my first W-4 job when I was 15 – I was a lifeguard. When I was 16, I got a job as a cashier at Woolworth’s. I worked three hours after school every day and all day Saturday. Friday night I would get sick to my stomach thinking of spending all day there, having to face all the rude customers. We were paid every week in cash at the back of the store. I would walk past the record section with my sixty dollars and buy a Neil Diamond record every week. (I told you I was a total nerd.)

When I was in college, I worked during the school year as a lifeguard my freshman year. After that, I worked as a waitress at the faculty club.

I was a cocktail waitress at a divey bar over Christmas break my sophomore year. I don’t even think I was old enough to drink. This must have been illegal. The owner of the bar lived down the street from my parents. I think I worked for tips.

Waiting tables is very easy if you can do math in your head and remember what people are drinking. I can do both. I learned very quickly always to ask women for ID – not for legal reasons but for flattery reasons. I also learned that my tips were higher the nights I wore skirts.

One night, a man grabbed my butt. I was not – am not – accustomed to having my butt grabbed. I was so startled that I didn’t react at first, but after a few minutes, I marched up to him and said something about how inappropriate his behavior had been. He laughed and responded that it had just been so cute. I asked, “How would you feel if someone treated your daughter like that?” He told me he didn’t have a daughter. “Well, if you did have a daughter, how would you feel?” I sputtered, then walked away.

Before he left, he found me and gave me a $20 tip. I took it.

I worked summers teaching swimming in the morning and as a lifeguard in the afternoons. I worked every single day, 12 hours a day, for the entire summer, for minimum wage. Teaching swimming was really fun, except when the kids threw up on me.

One summer, I worked at a city pool. Part of the lifeguard duties included cleaning the bathrooms. (And you thought it was all glamour.) A group of boys thought it would be really funny to poop on the floor instead of in the toilets. We tried locking the bathroom and requiring users to get the keys from the lifeguard at the front desk, but the city told us we couldn’t do that. So for the whole summer, for $3.25 an hour, at least once a week, I had to clean shit off the floor.

I’m very grateful that now I get to work inside an air-conditioned office at a desk.

Spoiled rotten

posted Sat, 30 Oct 2004

One of the favorite activities of those of us with no children is to talk about how children should be raised. Usually, it is not the way that those who have children are actually doing it.

The topic came up yesterday with a like-minded colleague who actually is raising her daughter in a way I find acceptable. “She turns part of that paycheck over to me every week for her health insurance,” Savannah said. “I told her, ‘Ain’t nothin’ free, honey. Get used to it. I have to pay for mine, you have to pay for yours.'”

Maybe if Marie Antoinette had been raised with a better work ethic, she might not have been sent to the guillotine.

Back when it used to cost money to make long-distance phone calls (youngsters! Ask your parents about when you used to wait until after 11:00 to call long distance!), it would startle me to hear parents complain about their children running up expensive long-distance bills. “I can’t believe how high my bill is this month!” they would moan. It wasn’t even a question at my house. If I made a long-distance call, I paid for it. My mom audited the bill. The caller paid the charges. Mom and Dad were not the long-distance phone bank.

When I got to college, I was surprised to find that there were students whose parents sent them allowances. That was in addition to paying their tuition. I was a scholarship/loan/part-time job student. It wasn’t that my parents weren’t willing to pay for my education; it was that that money just wasn’t there. One summer, I got a letter (an ancient form of communication) from a friend (who lived in Beverly Hills) telling me her mother was taking her to Europe for the summer but not telling her which countries because “she wanted it to be a surprise.” Another college friend didn’t fill out his first W-4 until his law school internship.

It is especially surprising to me to find parents whose current professional success is due to their work ethic and educational success raising their children to be everything they are not. One former boss – “Steve” – was the first one in his family to go to college. His dad was a used car salesman. Steve went to college on a scholarship, had a nasty summer job (he sold encyclopedias door to door), and has been quite successful by working very hard.

A group of us were at lunch a few days before Christmas. Steve had just gotten a phone call that his son, who was in college a few hours from here, had wrecked his car. The son was OK, but the car repairs were going to be very expensive. To add insult to injury, Steve suspected that the son had not been going to the library to study as he had told Steve – the library was only two blocks from the son’s apartment.

Steve was fuming: “Do you know how much a plane ticket is going to cost me this close to Christmas? And the car repairs?” I concentrated very hard on keeping my mouth shut because the thought that had jumped into my head was “Greyhound.” A colleague who had already put two daughters through college – and who did not report to Steve – had no such compunction. “Why is this your problem?” he asked. “Make him hitch a ride with a friend. Make him figure this out.”

Another woman I know, who went to an Ivy league school on a scholarship and who has worked her way up in a man’s world to be a vice president, is turning her daughters into princesses. One morning she mentioned she had spent the weekend cleaning the house. She had let the cleaning lady go.

This woman – “Ramona” – had two teenage girls. Her husband stays at home. Why wasn’t one of them in charge of housecleaning?

Another time, she mentioned that she had told the girls they were supposed to spend the week clearing the weeds from the back section of the yard. Once they were done, Ramona would take them shopping. “They won’t do it,” she said. “But I’ll take them shopping anyhow. They’re so spoiled!”

She jokes that her husband spoils her and the girls so much that the girls better marry rich men. I think they better marry rich men because they are never going to be able to keep a job – they don’t know how to work. These are the kids I really don’t want working at my company.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Story at 11

posted Fri, 29 Oct 2004

I don’t drink. It’s not for moral reasons. It’s not for health reasons. It’s because I don’t like the way most alcohol tastes.

But other people seem to become uncomfortable around me if they are drinking and I am not. I don’t care if they drink. They can do what they want. I don’t think I act in a way that should bother others – I mean, I don’t think I act judgmentally. Why would I? I don’t care. I’m not judging anyone else for drinking. I just don’t like the way it tastes! (Except for Bailey’s and you’d have to be insane not to like that. With extra cream, of course.)

I admit I was slightly judgmental in college – or that’s what my friends tell me. But I think it was more indifference to the liquor and fascination with their reaction to it than judgment of them. Alcohol was not a big deal in my house when I was a kid. My dad had a beer when he got home from work. My parents had parties and served liquor. When we lived in Spain, my parents drank wine and had sangria.

If my siblings and I wanted a sip of beer or wine, it was OK. One time Jenny – she must have been about four or five – tasted my dad’s brandy. Maybe it was scotch. But instead of a sip, she slammed it like a shot. Her eyes flew open and she gasped for breath. She didn’t ask for a taste for a good long while after that.

When I got to college, alcohol was not the forbidden fruit that was suddenly available. Other students were drinking beer like it was going out of style, but I was puzzled. It was just beer. What was the big deal? It didn’t even taste good! I became the designated handler, more or less, and eventually, because really, it’s not much fun having a sober person around if everyone else is drinking, stopped going to the parties that existed solely for drinking.

As an adult, I have faced more pressure to drink at work dinners than I ever did at college. When offered wine, I decline it. I don’t like wine. Why would I waste calories on wine when there is a perfectly good dessert to be had? But they pester me. Have some wine, they urge. Usually they stop after I decline once or twice with a smile. But one time, two colleagues persisted. And persisted. Why wouldn’t I drink, they wanted to know. I finally had had enough. I was livid.

You guys are being horribly rude, I said. It is none of your business why I don’t drink. It is rude of you to ask why. For all you know, I am an alcoholic, this far from being pushed over the edge.

That shut them up.

I get a similar reaction when people learn I don’t have a TV. They get uncomfortable. Am I judging them for having one? No. Not really. I just choose not to have one. We didn’t have one for most of my childhood. It started by chance. We moved to Spain when I was six and we didn’t take the old black and white with us.

When we returned to the States, my parents decided they would rather have us read and play than watch TV. Neighbors offered to give us their extra TVs. Kids at school asked if we were poor.

It bothered me a bit to be different in that way, but I was already weird in so many other ways – smart, ugly glasses, clothes that I made myself, played violin, rode my bike to school with a violin strapped across the handlebars – that one more thing to set me apart wasn’t going to break me.

I did get a TV when I got my first job out of college, and I discovered that I spent all my free time watching TV, which was the main reason I got rid of it – although not until after thirtysomething had gone off the air. I wouldn’t even answer the phone Tuesday nights from 9:00 to 10:00.

When I lived in Miami, people asked me in horror, “What do you do?” I explained that I took a Portuguese class, that I tutored algebra, that I took violin lessons, that I was involved in the Miami Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Association, that I was a mentor to an at-risk high-school girl, that I swam, that I took salsa classes and that I read. “And what do you do?” I would ask politely in return.

My boss doesn’t mention it so much anymore, but he is still puzzled and appalled that I don’t have a TV and defensive that he does. I have tried to explain to him that I do not have a TV in my house for the same reason I do not keep ice cream or chocolate in my house: that I am incapable of enjoying things in moderation. The same obsessiveness that channeled properly gets me up at 5:15 every work morning to swim is the flip side of the obsession that would have me watching every episode of every reality show made. And of every other show. I’d never get anything else done.

I think, though, that I am really a giant Rorschach test for how people feel about their own drinking and TV watching. And that makes it really fun to watch how they react to me.

Eternal rest

posted Fri, 29 Oct 2004

Harpo’s mother died yesterday morning. It was a good death as far as these things go. If you never have watched someone you love die, you might think this is an odd thing to say, but really, to die in your own bed after being bedridden for only a week without much pain with your family around you is a really good way to go.

I am reading a novel in which the protagonist is dying of cancer. He is crashing funerals and wakes to talk to the family members to learn which treatments to avoid and which painkillers work. One of his friends is also dying of cancer and is in the hospital. The friend has tied a cardboard sign around his neck: “DNR” (for “do not resuscitate.”) At night, he keeps a flashlight focused on the sign just to make sure.

[A wake story: For the longest time, I thought "Finnegan's Wake" was a book about water skiing.]

My dad said that one of the few bad things about raising kids on military bases was that my siblings and I didn’t learn that death was a part of life. All we saw were young, healthy people. There are no old, sick people on military bases. When you grow up in a small town like my parents did, though, you see the whole life cycle. Funerals are a normal thing.

Apparently, Mom of Harpo had known this was coming for quite a while, although it was a great surprise to Harpo and his brother. She had spent the past year getting her affairs in order, including getting bids on her funeral! I love that part. Who would have thought to put a funeral out to bid? I’m going to remember that.

Everything is already paid for, even the death certificates. She had already deeded her car to Harpo and had put bank accounts in his name and his brother’s name.

Harpo has also inherited a television (neither of us has a TV) and a DVD player, so he will at last be able to see “Spinal Tap.” When I say, “It goes to eleven,” he knows what it means because I have explained it to him, but he doesn’t really know how funny it is.

I asked Marsha, Harpo’s wonderful sister in law, what they had done with the leftover morphine. “They took it this morning,” she told me. “That was the first thing they asked for.” Rats! That is a really nice drug. I have heard.

Buy me a drink, sailor?

posted Thu, 28 Oct 2004

Miss Manners says, “A generation ago, a lady would not have gone to a pub alone (unless she intended to be picked up, in which case she would not have been a lady).”

I write this as support for my case that reading a book while Harpo and the Snake Docs play is not a horrible thing.


I have tried to explain to Harpo that to me, the idea of sitting alone at a bar is beyond appalling. I was not raised that way! Yes, yes, yes, my parents met at a bar and my mom picked up my dad and he drove her home and they necked in the driveway until 4:00 a.m. and then his car got stuck in the snow and rather than wake my grandfather (who was rather grouchy before he had grandchildren) to pull him out, my dad called his brothers to get him, but that was different. My parents were from a very small town (like 400) and this was the bar in the bowling alley and everyone knew everyone else. This was the early ‘60s, for pete’s sake, in central Wisconsin. This was Happy Days. Richie. Potsie. Not even a Fonzie.

So I might have been raised a little bit that way but not really. Not enough that I feel comfortable sitting alone in a bar, especially when I do not drink. And cigarette smoke gives me a headache. What am I supposed to do? Just sit? I’ve invited friends to go with me, but my friends here are all married with children or with child, neither of which are combinations that make for spending a Friday or Saturday evening at a bar, even if the music is absolutely fabulous, which it is.

Leigh is taking a class from Professor Tom, the leader of the Snake Docs. She mentioned me to him. He responded dryly that I would be OK at their gigs because I always had a book. Apparently, Tom was raised to believe that women sitting alone in a bar are not strumpets, sluts, whores, or loose. (Or maybe not -- and he thinks I am one of those.)

Harpo also gets upset that I read. Just don’t come if you are going to read while we play, he huffs. I have tried to explain that I can hear and read at the same time and that the book serves as a defense shield – not that I worry so much about shooing the men away but that I feel so exposed sitting there alone.

Men must not ever get that feeling – of being exposed and vulnerable. Men will go into a bar alone on purpose. For fun. To drink alone. On purpose. Did I mention the on purpose part?

I cannot imagine the circumstances that would drive me to go to a bar alone for fun. I don’t even like going with other people. But alone? Going to a bar alone is not something a woman with any class or culture does. It is something trashy, inelegant, slutty, trampy, sleazy, whorish – I am running out of adjectives here but you get the idea. It is not something Nice Girls do.

Maybe I’m wrong. But Miss Manners is on my side on this

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lies, damn lies and statistics

posted Thu, 28 Oct 2004

Oh, those wacky mathematicians at Muscle and Fitness Hers. Here’s what they have to say in the November/December issue:

“8%: the amount of increased activity that workers experienced when they wore business casual compared to more buttoned-up attire.”

Why, the way this is written, you would almost think that wearing business casual clothing to work means that you will be more active at work, i.e., that the wearing of business casual clothing leads to increased activity.

My favorite line from the Simpsons: “Sick on a Saturday! What are the odds? Like one in a thousand?”

It certainly couldn’t be that one would deliberately wear less formal clothing when one knows one is more likely to be more active, could it? It couldn’t be that, say, the day you are going to be installing a new computer and crawling around on the floor would not be the day you would wear heels, hose and a suit?

Are reporters that stupid?


Some of them, anyhow. (Not you, David, 28 ACT.)

When I lived in Austin, the American Statesman ran a story about HIV and blood samples at the University of Texas student health center. X% of the blood samples were HIV positive, therefore, the reporter concluded, x% of the students were HIV positive as well.

I know all of you see the flaw in the reasoning.

Students who go to the student health center are not representative of the entire student population. They are -- sick. And students who have blood samples taken are really sick.

Don’t ever believe anything you read in the paper about any sort of statistics or accounting. Or any sort of numbers, actually. Reporters have no numbers ability at all and apparently no common sense.

Decorating Hint

posted Tue, 26 Oct 2004

Even if you KNOW you will remember, if you have leftover paint, write on the paint can what part of the house you painted with that paint.

If the person who lived in the house before you left paint in the basement and you are not sure which paint is for which part, it is better to test on a small patch of your dining room wall -- just trust me on this one -- with the white semi-gloss paint than a large patch.

When you finally do find the right white semi-gloss latex, write the room name on the can IMMEDIATELY. Do not even stop to make an entry in your journal as I am doing.

Write "Dining room" on the paint that matches the dining room wall. Write "NOT dining room" on the paint that doesn't. Noting the wrong paint is just as important as noting the right paint.

Another important thing. Just because paint is latex does not mean it is water base.

The fourth circle, between the adulterers and the userers

posted Tue, 26 Oct 2004

Is it just me or does anyone else find long, detailed voicemails incredibly annoying? After lunch, I had a voicemail from a colleague – “Suzy Q” – I otherwise just love, but in this particular thing, she makes me nuts. It’s odd, because Suzy is pretty much perfect in every other way. You definitely want her on your team. I have even shared my bonus with her—twice. Yes. I have given her money from my own pocket. That is how great she is.

But this is Suzy’s fatal flaw. I have watched her leave these messages and I always wonder if other recipients want to tear out their hair.

I know there is a circle in hell for people who leave long, detailed phone messages. Or maybe I am already in hell for something I did to someone in a past life.

She leaves a detailed background of the situation – stuff you don’t want and don’t need to know – and then she launches into the current situation. Something like this:

“Class Factotum, last month, Bobby – you know, that really nice guy in the Fort Smith factory with the beard? – started calling about this problem at the plant and I’ve been trying to get it worked out and I called Tony and he doesn’t think we can fix it and neither does Jimmy Ray and I’ve looked at the databases but I don’t think it’s in our systems now and we need these files for January to September but not July and only for seven factories but remember we have to include all the patent numbers but you know there was that time in June when the server went down and all the invoices had to be loaded by hand in Milwaukee so we’ll have to make sure to footnote that…”

Does this sound like the sort of information you would remember if someone told you in a message?

Remember also that I am a very cranky person. I also read about a gajillion times faster than I hear.

When I got this message today, I lost my patience and hit “delete” in the middle of it. I sent Suzy an email and asked her to email me all the details, as it sounded like a very complicated request. I didn’t want to be mean or rude – I really do want to get her what she wants – I just want it to be right and I want to do it in the most efficient way possible. Am I wrong? Am I so wrong on this?

Suzy forwarded me the request from the guy who wanted the report in the first place! Why didn’t she do that rather than call? I wrote back with some questions. Detailed questions. Questions needing detailed number answers.

What do you think happened?


She left me another long voicemail.

What should I do? Help me.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Golden years

posted Mon, 25 Oct 2004

Last December, I flew to Minneapolis (yes, that is prime tourist season in the upper Midwest) to see my friend Ilene, the bodacious redheaded pediatrician. I spent a day with her, then drove to Wisconsin to see my grandmothers. Helen still lives by herself at home, although she had just been relieved of her car keys.

My mother and her six siblings all agreed it was necessary (that old guy had just driven into the Pike Place market in Seattle and my mom, her brothers and sisters did not want that sort of thing to happen with my grandmother), but my mom was the bad guy in the story. She lives in Colorado, so she volunteered to take the keys, thinking it would be easier on those who live in the same town as my grandmother if they wouldn’t have the taint of being the ones to rob her of her freedom.

My favorite Elvis imitator so far is El Vez, the Mexican Elvis.

Not that my grandmother is really so restricted. Dorchester is small enough that she can walk everywhere she needs to go. There are no stoplights. It is three blocks to church and four to the post office. But I understand my grandmother’s frustration. Psychologically, it must be very difficult to know that you no longer control your own mobility and must depend on the kindness of strangers – or friends and family, in her case.

My other grandmother, Sylvia, had been put into a nursing home several months before. My dad’s two brothers decided that she really couldn’t live by herself any more. The place she is staying is very nice as far as these places go. There are about a dozen residents. Each has her own room (there are almost no men). Sylvia has her own furniture in her room and has her own bathroom. The place is warm and cozy, not sterile and antiseptic. The attendants are cheerful and caring. Visitors are welcome any time, unannounced. My uncles visit every day.

But it’s not home.

I like the old way better – where when you were old, you moved in with your children and they took care of you. That was possible when people lived on farms and there was someone home all day to look after the old people. I guess that doesn’t work now when houses are empty most of the day. Maybe I should hire myself out as the spinster aunt who helps care for the elderly relatives in exchange for room and board. I’ll address that in another post, where I am going to talk about unaddressed market opportunities, like after-hours plumbers (for regular fees) and no-smoking bars and restaurants (market demanded, not by fiat, like in New York).

Back to my grandmother. It was clear to me why she needed to be in the home as soon as I got there. She didn’t know who I was. Her attendant tried to comfort me. “Oh, the only reason she knows me is that she sees me every day!” she said, as she handed me a tissue.

“But she’s known me for 40 years,” I said. But now, she didn’t know my name. She didn’t know I was her granddaughter. She didn’t know who I was, period. “I’m Lloyd’s daughter,” I explained. Then I had to tell her that Lloyd was her son. I pointed to the photo on her dresser. There was no reason to remind her he had died six years ago. Sometimes not remembering isn’t such a bad thing.

She held my arm as we walked to the common area. A man was setting up his sound equipment. “I like this guy,” she confided. He introduced himself, then started singing Christmas carols. A la Elvis. He was an Elvis imitator, singing karaoke Christmas carols in central Wisconsin, dairy country. Of course.

Every time he would finish a song, Sylvia would lean over to me, smile and say, “He’s good, isn’t he?” She was about the only one responding to him. The other women in the audience barely moved. He didn’t bother making eye contact with the audience. It was a grim scene.

I hope I die in my sleep in my own bed.

Miss Language Person

posted Mon, 25 Oct 2004

Please please please. Could we get a few things straight?

1. Plurals are not formed with an apostrophe before the "s" -- even if you were not an English major. The rules are the same for everyone.

2. For mail sent within the company, it's "intra-company" mail, not "inter-company" mail. There is a difference, and you are not going to pacify me by saying "inter/intra" company. For someone who knows the difference between "inter" and "intra," you might as well run your fingernails down the chalkboard.

3. "Compose" and "comprise" are not synonyms. Look them up in the dictionary.

How was I to know there was a party going on?

posted Mon, 25 Oct 2004

Some quick observations about locker rooms:

First. Am I the only woman in the world – or at least at the M’town JCC – who waits for her deodorant to dry before she puts on her shirt? I have seen other women put on their shirts and then put on their deodorant. Doesn’t that stain your clothes? Not to mention feel sticky and icky?

Second. Does this strike anyone else as weird? You leave the pool. You walk back to your locker – splish, splash, puddling water behind you as you go – to get your shampoo, conditioner, and soap. You backtrack to the shower. You finish in the shower and return to the locker – where you get your towel and dry off.

Maybe you could have taken the towel with you into the shower with the shampoo? Just an idea.

Or – radical thought here – maybe you could do as I do – and I am far from perfect but I think I have a pretty good system – you could leave your all your shower needs near the shower before you even go into the pool so you wouldn’t have to return to the locker area soaking wet at all.

The advantage of this system is that it confines the water on the floor to the shower area so that the locker area is dry. That way, the people who are dressing in that area don’t worry about getting wet feet when they are transferring said feet from gym shoes back into work shoes or about getting work clothes wet if they accidentally touch the floor.

More high school lore

posted Sun, 24 Oct 2004

In my Friday Night Lights post, I didn’t mention my Rice friends Jon and Kyle or Jon’s brother Dave, who went to A&M, because I can’t remember if they played high school football. They are all well educated – Jon and Kyle with degrees from Rice, Kyle with a PhD from Cal Tech and Dave with a PhD from Berkeley. But what makes them particularly interesting in this context is that Kyle went to the largest four-year high school in Texas (or in the US – I can’t remember) and Jon graduated with what he thought was the smallest graduated class in Texas in 1981.

Pottsville High School had six students in the class of ‘81, but Bledsoe High School, where my roommate Rene went, had only five. Rene’s class was all girls, so they had a basketball team but no prom. Jon was disappointed to lose that particular claim to fame, but he recovered quickly and with his usual grace.

We all went to Rene and Andrew’s wedding in Bledsoe the summer after our junior year. We drove the quarter mile to the New Mexico border just so we could see the infamous Bloated Goat bar, which was where Rene and her friends had to go to buy liquor, as most of west Texas is dry.

For you non-Texans, “dry” in this sense does not mean “not wet.” It means you cannot buy liquor. A guy in the Peace Corps with me had applied to Texas Tech in Lubbock for graduate school. He was from somewhere back east and liked his beer. “You know Lubbock is dry, don’t you?” I asked him.

“Yeah, I know it doesn’t rain a lot there,” he told me.

I took a deep breath. “Let me explain something to you…”

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Football fantasy

posted Sun, 24 Oct 2004

I really want to see the movie “Friday Night Lights,” but every time I think I might go, something better comes along, like sitting on the front porch swing with a book. The weather here in autumn is stunning. If it were rainy and nasty out, I might be tempted to spend the afternoon at the movies, but today is just too pretty.

It’s not that I am a big football fan, but the book was excellent (not that Hollywood does such a great job of translating the books I like into movies). The writer spent a year living in Midland/Odessa chronicling the rivalry between the two towns. Midland is where the oilfield executives and managers lived, Odessa was where the blue-collar workers lived. The rivalry between the towns played out on the football field.

I attended only one year of high school in Texas – my senior year – but that, along with going to college in Texas and having many college friends who went to Texas high schools and who played high school football helped me understand Texas high school football culture a bit.

People take football seriously there. In some small towns, it’s the only thing there is. People from outside of Texas like to think this passion is something only for the ignorant, the unsophisticated and the uneducated.

My college friend Randy, who grew up in Daingerfield, where his dad worked at the steel mill and his mom was a school aide, got his PhD at Harvard and is now a chemistry professor at the University of Houston. When Daingerfield played in the state 2A championships at Baylor stadium in Waco, we all drove from Houston to the game with him.

My college boyfriend played high school football. He majored in electrical engineering and physics, was Phi Beta Kappa, got his PhD at Cal Tech, and is now a professor at UVA.

Let’s just lay those “ignorant, unsophisticated, and uneducated” myths to rest, shall we?

Even now, Texas high school football comes up in the weirdest places. A consultant I work with grew up in Venezuela and went to college in Miami, but spent some time in Houston – oilfield brat. He played high school football – and played my high school for the Texas 5A football championship in 1984. In case you are not from Texas, this is big stuff. My school, Judson, (which I HATED, BTW – I only went there my senior year), played his, Dulles, at Aggie Stadium.

It was surreal – having this conversation about my high school more than 20 years after graduating with someone whom I had met at work. Another guy on the project went to the high school I would have gone to if I had lived four blocks east. We are not even in Texas!

I didn’t particularly care for high school football when I was in high school, although my dislike might have been more be for the high school than the football part. My first three years in high school were spent in the Panama Canal Zone at Balboa High School. Balboa had two football teams; the high school on the Atlantic side of the Canal had one; and the junior college had one team. There were four teams – enough so there could be some games. Football was not a big deal.

But our teachers all had master’s degrees in their subjects and we got new books and there were subjects like marine biology and physiology.

It was a shock to get to Texas and Judson High School, where I was one of two new students in the senior class of 648 students. The math books were over ten years old (not that math changes that much, but still), but we had a brand-new football stadium. A few years after I graduated, the enrollment had grown enough that they needed to build a new school, but rather than build a new high school, they built a new campus for the freshmen and sophomores and kept the juniors and seniors at the old school.

If you haven’t figured it out – to keep the pool of potential football players larger, that’s why. That’s how important it is to some people.

(NB: Sundays are pro games, Saturdays are college games, and Fridays are high school games. Hence, “Friday Night Lights”)

I want to be alone!

posted Sun, 24 Oct 2004

What is it with men and personal space? This morning at church, with about a gajillion empty pews, including four right in front of me, this guy sits right next to me. Right next to me. There is plenty of room in front of me. Plenty of room across the aisle. Plenty of room in the church. But no. He has to sit next to me. Why? Yes, I know my stunning beauty draws men as a flame draws moths, but really, can’t I have a moment’s peace?

When I lived in Miami, I took the train to work, boarding at the airport, which was the first stop. There were very few of us on the train at 6:00 a.m. One morning, I was only person in the coach. This guy got on. First, he sat across the aisle from me. Then he moved to across from me. “Good morning,” he chirped.

I looked up from my newspaper. I was wearing a suit. I had a briefcase. I was clearly on my way to work, not on my way to meet men. I need to nip this in the bud, I thought.

“There are a million empty seats on this train,” I said. “Why do you have to sit in that one?”

His eyes flew open. He stood abruptly and muttered something like “bitch” under his breath as he walked away. I didn’t care. I had a 90-minute ride ahead of me and didn’t want to have to listen to this guy the whole way.

See, I’m from Texas, where we are nice to people. We make eye contact and say “hello.” But these are merely pleasantries to make life nicer for everyone. They are not invitations to bed. In Miami, and in Latin cultures in general, I have discovered that if a gringa – and a blonde one at that – says hello or even makes eye contact or even happens to be in the same general area as a man – it seems to mean that she is seducing him.

When I left Chile, I came back to the States over land. I spent three months traveling by bus and boat through most of Latin America with my backpack. I learned that I had to be rude to get men to leave me alone. I had always thought really beautiful women were lying when they talk about how annoying it is when men won’t leave them alone, but I learned they were telling the truth.

I was an easy target – a blonde gringa by herself. These men had all seen Baywatch. They knew what American women are like. We’ll sleep with anyone. Thank you, Hollywood. I learned that The Code that American men understand did not work with Latin men – that I had to say things like, “Do not sit here. I do not want to talk to you.” Even then, they would ask, “Oh. Are you feeling sick?” No!!! I just don’t want to talk to you! There doesn’t have to be an external reason!

A little Haitian guy sat next to me on the train to work one morning. I was working on my computer, but he still talked to me. He asked for my phone number. I promise I had said or done nothing to indicate I would be interested in seeing him! I told him that my husband didn’t really like it when I dated. “Oh, it’s OK with me,” he assured me.

It must work enough times that they keep doing it. Sheesh.

Queen for a day

posted Sat, 23 Oct 2004

Today turned out to be better than promised by the morning. I went to Stephen and Leigh’s for lunch. I thought we were just going to have cheese and crackers while we worked on this site, but Leigh had made me a special birthday lunch. We had crab cakes, grilled zucchini and summer squash, biscuits, and chocolate cake. AND I got to wear the birthday tiara! How’s that for a nice surprise?

Tiaras are an essential part of all birthday celebrations.

They are about to cancel their satellite TV and tivo. The only thing they really watch now is The Daily Show and they decided it wasn’t worth $65 a month. Leigh and I used to watch Queer Eye, but we got bored with it after about seven episodes. Leigh is taking one class at night and Stephen is taking three. When the baby gets here, there really won’t be any time to watch TV. Leigh doesn’t want the baby to watch TV anyhow. “I didn’t watch it when I was a kid,” she says. “When my sister and I were bored, my mother would give us each a spoon and tell us to go outside and dig to China. And we would.”

My sister took a child development course during her master’s degree program. Watching TV is really, really bad for babies. Really bad. It creates ADD-like behavior in them. “Children shouldn’t watch TV until they are actually old enough to talk about what’s happening on it,” she said.

My friend Lauren noticed behavior differences between her six month old daughter Lily and the 18 month old son – “Zach” – of her friends. The friends came over for dinner one night. Lauren gave Lily a wooden spoon to keep her occupied while Lauren and the girlfriend got dinner ready, but the girlfriend popped a video in the TV for Zach. “He loves that video! He’s been watching it since he was Lily’s age!” the friend said.

Lauren told me she had noticed that Lily was more verbal and more engaged than Zach, despite the age difference, but thought it might just be sex or personality differences. I got my sister involved in the email conversation and Jenny was pretty sure it was the TV. Lauren doesn’t let Lily watch TV. “I get to spend little enough time with her as it is. Why would I put her in front of a TV?” she asks.

I would caution parents from going overboard on the no-TV thing, though. Except for one or two years when I was a kid, we didn’t have a TV at all when I was growing up, and look how my siblings and I turned out. We are all college graduates and two of us have advanced degrees. My brother is an architect and my sister is a nurse practitioner. Be very careful.

Complete digression: How long before my neighbors across the street figure out that the trash guys are not going to pick up the seven cinder blocks that have been on their sidewalk for four months now? Doesn’t it bother them to see them out there?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The charm school

posted Sat, 23 Oct 2004

Harpo is upset because I have been writing about old boyfriends. Harpo – they are nothing but material. That’s it!

He also is a bit upset that I wrote about how good one birthday was in the past. “I was going to do something for your birthday, but then I had to go to my mom’s,” he said.

Women want men who treat them nicely.

Like I am going to complain because my boyfriend visits his sick, maybe dying, mother instead of spending my birthday with me? Besides, as I told him, he can still do whatever it is he was planning. Don’t tell me what you were going to do, I told him. Just do it. I love it when Harpo plans our outings.

The best time I’ve ever had with him was his nephew Adam’s wedding. I didn’t have to do a thing. Everything was completely out of my control. Almost every trip I have ever taken with someone else, I have organized. It’s a lot of work. I have never had the luxury of being the passenger before and let me tell you, it’s nice. I loved it.

The thing that makes a birthday special is that someone you love puts thought into it. Not money. Thought. Harpo always finds wonderful presents for me – things I would never think I wanted but then realize I do, like a belt sander or a hedge clippers or an antique Mexican tapestry. (And two pounds of See’s chocolates for my birthday this year – yummy!)

My brother is equally gifted that way – or maybe it’s just that he takes the time to think about the other person. Last year for my 40th birthday, Greg sent me three pounds of Godiva chocolate. He even arranged for Sunday delivery (as my birthday fell on a Sunday that year). I would have been as thrilled with one Godiva chocolate bar (well, maybe a teensy bit less thrilled than I was with the three pounds). But what really impressed me was that he had put some thought into what I might like.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Greg has always been very good at picking the perfect gift, which makes it so ironic that he pooh-poohs the idea of holding doors open and taking flowers and candy for his dates. I have tried to convince him that women like that stuff, but he says they will think he is a dork.

No, they won’t. And if a woman does think you are dumb for treating her with respect, then she is not the woman for you. Don’t you want a woman who admires you when you treat her like a lady? Don’t you want the mother of your children to teach your son that women should be treated like ladies and to teach your daughter that men should be respected when they treat women well?

Harpo carries bags for me. He pumps gas for me. He holds the doors open for me. I can do these things myself, but it’s nice that Harpo wants to treat me as something special.

In general, that is how things are done here in the South. The men hold the doors open for the women (and we do not need you northern women ruining that for us, thank you very much), men pay for the dates, even the blind ones, which I think is carrying it a bit far (Leigh was shocked when I thought that a woman should pay her own way on a blind date: “But we’re in the South!"), and men carry the heavy things – and the light things. It’s just the way things are.

The CEO was here from New York a few years ago. I was stuck in the elevator with him and his aide, a big guy about 6’4” and 240 pounds. I managed to keep my mouth shut (career strategy) as the three of us rode up, but my jaw dropped when the door opened and not only did the big guy not let me get off first, which I have come to expect by virtue of being a woman but which he should have done by virtue of my being closest to the door!, but he almost knocked me over as he strode past me. I could not conceal my shock from the CEO, who had lived in M’town for many years and has some manners. He gestured that I should precede him, then followed me out. I hope that aide got in big trouble. It might be OK to be rude in New York, but it’s not OK here.

Rainy days and Saturdays

posted Sat, 23 Oct 2004

It is 5:38 on a Saturday morning and I am up. I have been up long enough to get a load of laundry started, send a few emails, weigh myself, eat seven chocolate chips, and open a diet Coke. I awoke at 4:00 a.m., too, but decided that was too early to get up. I don’t know why I couldn’t sleep. Maybe it’s the topamax. I had to increase the dosage again Thursday night – from 50 mg to 100 mg. I thought this drug was supposed to make you sleepy, but maybe that’s only right when you take it. Maybe eight hours later, it makes you wide awake. I don’t know.


I do know it’s doing me no good being up this early. On work days, I long to stay in bed at this hour. Right now, I am longing to long to be in bed. The newspaper isn’t even here yet. It is raining, which means I can’t go running. I guess I could, but I don’t like to run in the rain because I get cold and wet (duh) and my glasses get fogged and my shoes get soggy and it’s just a big mess. It didn’t even start raining until about an hour ago. Why couldn’t it have started at midnight and been done by now?

At least the rain explains the headache I’ve had all week. We’ve had bits of rain all week, which means the barometric pressure has been unstable all week, which means I’ve had a headache all week, despite the new drug. Apparently, 50 mg of topamax daily is not enough to prevent headaches. And 100 mg of imitrex daily is not enough to get rid of them. I left work early yesterday and took half a tablet of the two remaining precious codeine tablets I bought in France three years ago – France, where you can get codeine OTC – and the headache was gone. It was of the someone-is-squeezing-my-eyeballs variety.

I have been keeping track of my headaches in my new little migraine diary my doctor gave me and it’s a little disconcerting to see how much of my life I spend in pain. It’s not excruciating, unbearable pain. It’s the kind that keeps you on edge and makes life unpleasant and makes meetings annoying, especially when you have something you are trying to accomplish and your colleagues veer off the subject and you try to gently reign them in without being rude but find yourself getting snappish because dammit you have things to do and can’t they stick to the subject just once? Pain does not make one a patient person.

The codeine, mercifully, did the trick. It felt so good to not be in pain! I feel so sorry for people who have chronic pain – back pain or other chronic conditions. Their lives must be hell. I have a lot of sympathy for people who get addicted to pain-killing drugs. I can see how that would happen – although apparently the way the body’s chemistry works, you don’t get addicted when the drug is being used for pain relief, or so I have read.

Harpo came over to get me to show me his new, improved apartment. I felt better but didn’t want to drive post-codeine and was too lazy to walk the mile to his place. It is indeed looking better.

His mom not doing well. She is not in pain, but her kidneys are not working. The docs are saying she needs dialysis and she is saying no way. Harpo is worried she might not survive the week. But she is 82 years old and this is her life and if she does not want to spend the remainder of it in a hospital with all sorts of treatments that are not going to improve the quality of it or cure her, that is her decision.

I think this is something that is easier to understand once you have watched someone you love suffer through a long and painful (and terminal) illness. My cousin Becky, who is about 22, cooked supper for me the other night (it was delicious!). We were talking about our grandmother, Helen, who is about to be 93. She still lives alone at home, but there is talk of moving her into a home.

My aunts and uncles put my paternal grandmother, Sylvia, into a home 18 months ago. Sylvia, who is 97, is still furious about it and I don’t blame her. Who wants to spend the last years of her life in a nursing home? There is nothing physically wrong with her, but she doesn’t know people any more. I think my aunts and uncles made the right decision, but that doesn’t make it any easier for my grandma to take.

I told Becky that I would rather my grandmothers die quickly and painlessly at their homes than drag on for years at a nursing home. As I saw her eyes fill with tears, I realized that she is still just a kid and hasn’t watched the sorts of deaths that I have seen. I slapped myself mentally and thought, “How insensitive can you be! You are talking about her grandmother!”

When it is my time, I want to go quickly. I am not scared of being dead. If there is a heaven, what’s not to like? Who wouldn’t want to be there, with all her friends and family and God and Jesus and Mary and all that love? And if there isn’t a heaven – there is no God – then there is nothing and we just won’t know.

It’s the process of getting to be dead that worries me. I just want to go to sleep one night and not wake up. I think, really, that’s the most any of us can hope for out of life is an easy death. We should all be so lucky.

The fourth big lie

posted Fri, 22 Oct 2004

What to wear to Aimee and Allen’s Halloween party tomorrow night? Last year I wore a bridesmaid dress. It wasn’t a bridesmaid dress I had actually worn as a bridesmaid, so I did not get to actually “wear it again” as you are always promised.

I don’t know anyone who has ever gotten to wear a bridesmaid dress again. Bridesmaid dresses look like what they are: bridesmaid dresses. And the only occasions that call for bridesmaid dresses are weddings.

My friends all tried really hard to find dresses that could be used again. But there is only so much that can be done. Actually, I don’t know that Anita tried that hard. She taught me the bridesmaid theory. The whole idea, she said nonchalantly, is to make the bride look good. And you do that by making the bridesmaids look – not so good. She actually didn’t say it that nicely.

In her defense, she was willing to let us have the red strapless cocktail dresses, but there were none available.

Instead, I have had to wear lavender for every wedding I have been in save one. For Becky’s wedding, we wore very pretty teal brocade gowns. They actually probably could have passed muster at a Christmas party somewhere, but I left for Chile and the Peace Corps two weeks after her wedding, so I didn’t have much opportunity to use the dress.

Back to lavender. I look awful in lavender. But that is what I have had to wear. For Aimee and Allen’s party, I got this Vera Wang lavender gown at the Junior League Thrift Shop for five dollars. The cut was fabulous but the color was putrid. However, someone, for once, actually did get to wear that darn bridesmaid dress again.

A few years ago, I pinned a Q-tip to a blue dress and went as a White House intern.

Tomorrow, I think I might wear a new cocktail dress I got at the League shop along with my great pink shoes. It is more a summer outfit, but technically, it would be a costume. I could be all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Family Affair

posted Thu, 21 Oct 2004

My brother, who has read this site only twice (that is two times, yes, one, two) emailed me to ask, “Ok this update. I was just reviewing your blog with my friend Gregg (yes, another Greg). We searched for Greg and Brother to little avail. Gregg doesn't understand why there is no dirt on me.”

Well, if he – my brother Greg who has read this site only twice – would actually read the blog instead of just searching on a few terms, he would see that I have referred to him many times. But as he has only been to the site twice, I guess he wouldn’t have seen those many references.

At least he has been to the site. My sister Jenny, with whom all of you dear readers are well acquainted, has never been here. Never.

My mother reads the site every day. My cousin Suzanne, whom I have never met (she is actually the daughter of my mother’s cousin, so this is not as weird as it sounds), reads the site almost every day.

But my own brother and sister are not avid readers. If they had blogs, I would read them every day. Maybe even more than once a day. But I am just a better sibling, I guess. It’s always been that way.

Greg wants to know why I don’t write about him. So I will tell you about my brother.

Greg is 39 years old. He will be 40 in four weeks. He is 13 months younger than I. That’s why I am the way I am, my mother hypothesized once. The way I am? I asked. Oh, you know – that you probably didn’t get enough attention as a baby.

My mother was barely 20 when she had me. She had horrible morning sickness her entire pregnancy, then got pregnant again right away with my brother and had morning sickness with him. She was living far from home and family and friends and all of a sudden found herself with two little babies with no one to help her.

I would have felt like crap, too.

A few years ago, my brother (who has only read this site twice) and sister (who has never read this site) were visiting me. Greg announced, with horror, “Do you realize that mom and dad had been married only eight and a half months when you were born?” (meaning me).

Jenny and I shrugged. “So?”

He sputtered. “Well, you know what that means!”


His face turned red. “You know! That mom was pregnant before they got married!”

“Big deal.” Jenny and I both returned to our books.

“But – but – that means they had to get married!”

My brother was quite upset about this. Jenny and I had to explain to him that full-blown weddings with dresses, bridesmaids, and churches are usually not thrown together in two weeks. And then we reminded him that dad had proposed to mom in June – they had married in February – at the Tombstone Tavern after their third date.

“Well, then,” he said darkly, “that still means they – you know – did it before they were married.”

My sister, a neo-natal nurse practitioner, put down her book. “First of all, no it doesn’t. Gestation times aren’t precise. Second, even if they did, so what? Why do you care? It’s none of your business. Sheesh.”

Greg is an architect. He has his own business in Austin that is doing quite well. He just bought a house and is very excited about it. He is going to have his interior design friends help him decorate. I am curious to see photos. Greg is very creative and artistic – he can make the house gorgeous if he wants. It will be interesting to see if he is different as an owner than as a renter.

He is single, never married, although he has had some nice girlfriends. He has also had some not so nice girlfriends. OK, some sleazy ones. He is smart and funny and always thinks of the best presents to get people. He can be a bit of a grouch. In recent years, he seems to have made an effort to improve, although he has backslid some. But then, don’t we all? If you know any nice single women, he’s looking…

He is about 6’ tall, cuter than he thinks he is, with brown (graying) hair and hazel eyes. He used to be a lean triathlete machine, but hasn’t done that in a while. He learned to play piano several years ago and now he rocks. Not too bad for a guy who can’t carry a tune. (He hates when I say that. Get your own blog, dude!)

There. Satisfied?

Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over

posted Thu, 21 Oct 2004

I can’t believe I had forgotten the rest of the Foreign Boyfriend (FB) birthday story! Remember that episode of Cheers where Diane knit Sam a sweater for Christmas? Not just knit him a sweater, but carded the wool, spun it into yarn, dyed it to a color good for Sam, then designed and knit the sweater?

And then Sam got her steak knives.

Here is what happened with FB’s birthday a few months before mine. If you are just joining us, the punch line is that for my birthday, FB sent me an e-card that he had programmed three weeks beforehand.

Shortly after I met him, FB and a colleague had a business trip to the US. They stayed a few days extra so they could travel through Kentucky and tour some bourbon distilleries. Apparently, FB is a bourbon fan. I filed that information for future reference.

His birthday approached. I remembered the bourbon fact. I don’t drink, except for Bailey’s, and that’s because I like the cream more than anything else, so I was starting from scratch on knowing what bourbon to get him. I got on the net and did a lot of research. I learned what bourbon was (I have already forgotten – it’s been six years now, I think, so don’t ask me for details) and found out the differences between single malt and I guess multi-malt bourbons.

Then I read bourbon reviews and found the best boutique bourbons of the year. I emailed FB’s colleague and asked him to find out if any of these boutique bourbons were even available in that French-speaking country where FB lives.

Then I went to four different liquor stores in Miami before I found one that had one of the recommended bourbons. Yes, I tried calling beforehand, but if you’ve ever lived in Miami, you’ll understand why that didn’t work.

I bought a bottle of the special bourbon (which was not cheap, BTW, and I was still in my post-Peace Corps/grad school poverty stage) and carried it on the plane with me to Marseille, where I was to meet FB for a vacation.

You see why I might have felt a bit let down that he felt that my birthday warranted no more effort than an e-card.

All the credit and none of the work!

posted Wed, 20 Oct 2004

Did I totally luck out or what? Leigh, I love you. You know that. You know I’d do anything for you. I meant it when I said I wanted to give you a baby shower. But man – how lucky is that that Margie is already organizing one for you?

I mean – I get credit for wanting to give you a shower but don’t actually have to do it!

You know I would. I helped with your bridal shower. You remember your bridal shower – when Mace’s stupid obnoxious dogs peed on your presents and she still didn’t put them in another room away from the guests. Mace, the psychologist? Mace, who obviously needs help herself?

Tell Margie I will be happy to bake or cook anything at all for the shower.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

That would be Noah, man. Rock on!

posted Wed, 20 Oct 2004

You just gotta love a place where the radio stations -- the mainstream radio stations -- have bible trivia contests on the morning shows.

"For four tickets to the Fitzgerald's buffet, who had the first vineyard in the bible?"

"Uh. Was it Adam?"

"Nope. But thanks for calling KIKKS 96!"

"Hey y'all! Was it Daniel?"

"Nope. But thanks for calling KIKKS 96!"

"Mornin'! That would be Noah, right?"

"We got a winner! Yes, that is Noah in Genesis 9:20. He is found drunk by Ham, Shem and Japheth."

I am not making this up. (PS I am not verifying the accuracy of this information -- just that I heard it on the radio this morning.)

The best birthday that turned into the worst relationship

posted Wed, 20 Oct 2004

I promised the story about the Big Jerk (aka BJ).

Here’s what happened. I met this guy. For reasons I would rather not divulge, I trusted him. It was the “Omigosh! We’re both in Paraguay but we’re both American so you must be OK!” syndrome. You know – because of some real commonality, you imagine a reason to trust immediately and suspend the normal processes.

Anyhow. I’m not going to write the whole sordid tale (although with that sort of intro, I know you are dying to know more). I am only going to tell you the good part.

BJ and I had met. BJ had also met my friend Leigh, the tiny, charming, blonde from Alabama. If you have never met a woman from Alabama before, you need to rent the movie “Steel Magnolias” to achieve full understanding of this tale.

BJ and I had spoken only a few times. I thought he was interested in Leigh because all men who meet Leigh are interested in Leigh. Who wouldn’t be? She is cute and flirty and vivacious. My role has always been to be the sidekick friend, starting with Julie in high school (another southern belle, this time from Georgia), then with Anita in college, moving to Terri when I lived in Austin, and so on.

So when BJ called me the day before a group of us had arranged to meet at the weekly wine tasting at a neighborhood bar, I was not surprised when he asked more than once, “Will Leigh be there?” Yes, I assured him, Leigh will be there. Or at least that’s what she told me.

I wanted to ask, Why don’t you just call Leigh? Why are you making me be the go between? Aren’t we a little beyond this second grade stuff?

But I didn’t because I never say rude things on purpose, just accidentally and unawares and in situations where it could torpedo my career.

At the wine tasting the next night – which happened to be my birthday eve, BJ was there, along with Leigh and Megan and some other friends. Leigh was her usual flirty, fun self. I resigned myself to the back seat. I don’t flirt competitively. Why bother to play a game you are not going to win? Not only that, but I also think that men know when they are interested in someone and when they are not. If BJ was interested in me, it wouldn’t matter if Leigh was flirting with him. And actually, she was flirting with Jay, the guy she was dating.

But nothing was happening with BJ. It was time for me to go home – work night and all – and so I made to leave. “No!” Leigh cried. “You can’t go.” She looked at BJ and pointed her chin toward the restaurant kitchen – the Chilean chin point, we call it. (Leigh and I were both Peace Corps Volunteers in Chile, which is how we know each other.)

BJ disappeared while Leigh held me at the table. He returned in a few minutes, carrying a chocolate raspberry cake – the kind with just butter, sugar, cream and chocolate that you have to keep in the fridge. The raspberry sauce was separate.

He smiled, put it in front of me and started to sing “Happy Birthday.”

BJ had heard me mention my birthday. He had remembered the date. He had made this cake for me and had arranged with Leigh to get me to the wine tasting. To keep the cake cold, he had designed a special holding pen in a huge ice chest in his car.

He might have turned out to be a big jerk in the end, but for that evening, it was one of the best birthdays of my life.

Chocolate -- I mean birthday -- update

posted Wed, 20 Oct 2004

Harpo called me last night to sing Happy Birthday. He has been in Florida, trying to take care of his mother. She has been ailing, but he managed to get her to a doctor and on the road to wellness. His brother Tom and sister in law Marsha arrived at Harpo’s mom’s home last night, so Harpo left her in good hands.

He was quite upset that his special order package had not arrived on my doorstep yet. “But I ordered plenty of time in advance,” he moaned. When I left my house at 5:30 this morning, there was a box next to the door – a box from See’s candies. I guess Harpo reads this blog.

It must have arrived last night. The UPS man must have rung my doorbell, but I disconnected it a few months ago because it is so shrill and jarring and the only people who ever ring the bell are beggars and kids selling magazine subscriptions so they can win a trip to Europe! (Save your money like I did, I growl at them.) Harpo has a key and my friends know to knock or to come to the back door. It’s not like I miss calls.

Anyhow. I sent Harpo an email page to let him know his surprise had arrived and he denied all knowledge. “It must be from some secret admirer,” he said.

I got a card from my grandmother, who never forgets. Never. She has 26 grandchildren – something like that – and maybe a dozen great grandchildren. My cousin Becky, who is a student at the optometry school here in M’town, and I tried to count all our first cousins once removed or whatever that relationship is – the children of our cousins – and we gave up.

But my grandmother always sends a birthday card to me and always sends a check for $25. I haven’t cashed that check since I got out of college. I know it messes up her checkbook balancing, but I would rather she have that money for herself. I appreciate the gesture, but when I think about how much money she gives to just me and my cousins, it hurts. She is a widow on a small income. She and my grandfather had a small dairy farm. There was never any extra money. She doesn’t have a lot to give away. I suspect my older cousins probably don’t cash their checks, either. I hope not.

When I got to work this morning, I had phone messages from Lenore in Chicago and my mom and my best friend Julie from high school, whom I got to see a few years ago in Atlanta for my happy birthday to me present, and from Cuban Laura in Austin.

I have had some weird birthdays in the past. One boyfriend – we shall call him FB, for Foreign Boyfriend, from a country I shall not identify, but they speak French there, so you would have thought he would have had a better idea of romance – was giddy in anticipation of my birthday weeks before.

“I have such a surprise for you!” he would exclaim. “I already have it arranged!” Well, he exclaimed by email, as this was an intercontinental romance. He lived in some country in Europe; I was in CONUS.

He just couldn’t wait! As this was the man who had shown up for our first date with a one-pound box of Godiva chocolates, my expectations were high.

But when my birthday came, all I heard from him was – an e-card.

That’s right.

An e-card.

This from a man who later told me he wanted me to marry him (note: did not ask me to marry him) because he “needed an heir.”

Actually, I guess the behaviors were not inconsistent.

An e-card that he had programmed three weeks before my birthday. He couldn’t even be bothered to buy a card, put it in an envelope and drop it in the mail. That’s romantic.

I’ll tell you the story about the Big Jerk birthday in another post. The birthday itself was great, but the memory is marred by what a jerk the guy involved (not FB) turned out to be.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Que los compla feliz

posted Tue, 19 Oct 2004

It’s time for my annual year in review. Yes, today is my birthday. I am 41. I have found that birthdays are just not as exciting now as they were when I was five or six. Back then, my mom would make me a beautiful Barbie doll cake. I got to pick the menu for supper. One year, I even got to go out to eat with my mom and dad. Going out to eat was a rare event in my family when I was a child – it happened at most maybe once a year – and to go out with my parents without my brother and sister was – well, even now, I cannot think of the words to describe it.

I was going to indulge in a complete pity party of a post. Oh, woe is me. My life hasn’t turned out the way I planned.

Well, damn. Whose has, really? Like anyone promised me anything special?

Yes, I would like to have something big and dramatic happen in my life. I would like to have a Big Adventure, like moving to Nepal or ending up living in London and getting a PhD and teaching college or meeting a really cool guy on a blind date after friends have been trying to set us up for two years and then getting married and finding myself living on an Air Force base in South Dakota with three kids.

Not that I necessarily want those particular adventures, but I want something on that scale.

All those adventures, by the way, are things that have happened to friends of mine. Megan met Steve at a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer party (the group she and Leigh and I started in M’town specifically to meet men). They married 18 months ago, moved to Nepal a month after the wedding, had Henry this spring, and are moving to Uzbekistan in November because the Nepal Peace Corps program is closing, thanks to the kinder, gentler political system proposed by the Maoist revolutionaries in Nepal.

This is Megan with her baby, Henry, at his rice-feeding party. She did not explain what a rice-feeding party was in her email, so we are left to our imaginations. Some Nepalese tradition, apparently.

Debbie met Dominic, an Englishman, when he spent a semester on exchange from London Business School at the University of Texas Graduate School of Business. She moved to London, they married, she got her PhD at LBS (starting her first class three days after giving birth – the woman has tons of energy and doesn’t even take any drugs), and now teaches college marketing and has three boys.

Heidi met Bruce in San Francisco. She was working in Texas; he was in law school. He had gotten out of the Air Force, where he had been a pilot, to attend law school. They had mutual friends who had been telling them for years they needed to meet. She had a business trip in SF, so agreed to meet Bruce. He proposed on their third date (while she had a bad cold and looked terrible, so she knew it was true love). They just had their third baby. He is a JAG in the Air Force, stationed in South Dakota. She is quite happy not to be in the telecommunications industry any more.

But I digress. The point is that I want a Big Adventure. A Big Change. And I was all set to whine about it.

But then this morning (I took the day off from work – I always take off on my birthday, just on principle), when I was driving to the Junior League Thrift Shop just in case they had some good winter coats so I could return the full-price one I had gotten at TJMaxx, I realized that the car ahead of me looked familiar. It was Leigh’s. I honked and waved. She recognized me. I had my cellphone with me – my work phone, actually – so called her. “I didn’t know you had a cell phone!” she said accusingly.

“It’s my work phone,” I explained. “I only have it with me because I haven’t been able to reach Toni. We’re supposed to have lunch together. Where are you going?” She was going to work – at 10:15 in the morning! Although I guess if your employer laid you off in January and rehired you as a contractor just to avoid paying benefits and is now paying you by the hour, there is no reason to show up at the crack of dawn.

I told her I was going to the thrift shop and she agreed to meet me there. We got there and gabbed and she found a really cute dress for me and told me the houndstooth coat I wanted didn’t look good on me. Only a really good friend will do that for you.

Then I went to the good little hardware store by my house – the one I can’t usually get to because they are open only when I am at work. The new Home Depot that will be only three blocks from there is supposed to open in a few weeks, but I don’t think they will hurt Stewart Brothers. The Stewart Brothers guy talked to me about the shovels, then told me what I needed to do to hang pictures on plaster walls (hint: not what I did when I moved into my house three years ago). Then he sold me the plastic anchors and the screws for hanging the pictures at half price. “Because you said nice things about us against Home Depot,” he joked.

I met my friend Toni downtown for lunch. Toni had moved with her four children to Pensacola last spring because the schools are so much better there than they are in M’town, but the hurricane destroyed the schools. So now they are back here. I am happy to have her back and so is her husband. Her youngest child, Dominic, is not in school yet, so he joined us. We had a great lunch. Toni is Mexican, from Puebla. She is a lawyer. We have the best conversations – we share many of the same interests and always have fun.

I came back home and thought, how can I whine about my life? I can, I know, but really, can I reasonably expect much more than to spend time with good friends? I am lucky to have a job I enjoy and that pays me well. I am lucky to be healthy. I am lucky that my family and friends are healthy. I am lucky to be an American (oh, so lucky). I am lucky to own a cute little house in a nice neighborhood.

I am not thrilled with the external signs of aging: I notice the saggy eyelids and the droopy jawline and of course, the all-time favorite, the ability to retain about five pounds of water for every grain of salt or MSG consumed, but everything still works. Could be worse.

I am thinking of nice birthday celebrations in years past. Harpo grew up in a family where birthdays were not a big deal. (I have had several boyfriends like this.) But despite that, he has always managed to find really cool presents for me – things I didn’t even know I wanted until he got them for me, like pruning shears and limb cutters and a belt sander.

But I think the nicest birthday I had with him was a few years ago when we were in Florida visiting Tom and Marsha, his brother and sister in law, who live in the Keys. It was actually a few weeks past my birthday and I thought Harpo had forgotten, but one evening, after supper, Marsha pulled an ice cream cake out of the freezer and she, Harpo and Tom started singing. Harpo had arranged the whole thing.

I’m going to leave it there. It’s pretty outside. I am going to take my book outside and sit on the porch swing and read.

Spare the rod

posted Mon, 18 Oct 2004

I stopped at TJMaxx on the way home tonight. It’s time for a new winter coat. Yes, the one I bought ten years ago for ten dollars at a used clothes store in Chile is still perfectly good. It is made of a heavy wool and has nice hand stitching detail. It is an exceptionally well-made coat with lovely tailoring, but it is a man’s coat and it just doesn’t look that good on me. And my purse always slides off my shoulder, which is a problem.

Today was not the ideal day for coat shopping. It is humid and 80 degrees, but I have discovered that if you actually wait until you need a piece of seasonal clothing, it will no longer be in the stores. The time to buy bathing suits is at Christmas; the time to buy winter coats is at Fourth of July. I don’t make these rules, so don’t yell at me.

But I’m not going to write about the insanity of retail marketing, although the sight of Christmas merchandise already makes me want to scream. No, I want to write about children’s behavior in public places.

I’m sure there were children who behaved badly when I was I child. I know I even behaved badly upon occasion. (Yes, it is true, even as I hear the gasps of disbelief among you.) But I can promise you that this misbehavior was not tolerated for long. My parents did not believe in back-sassing, obnoxious children.

But in the store tonight were a brother and a sister who were out of control. The boy was screaming – a tantrum scream, not a “my finger is caught in the car door” scream – and his mother was ignoring it. He was old enough to know better, maybe four years or so. Then his older sister was playing peek-a-boo with him, which was fine for a few seconds, but then the game turned into extreme peek-a-boo at an extremely high volume, pitch and word speed.

I muttered to the cashier, “I guess it’s better than screaming.”

But as the “peek-a-boo, peek-a-boo, PEEKABOO, PEEKABOOPEEKABOOPEEEEKABOOOO!!” continued, I said, “But then, maybe not.”

The mother still said nothing to shush her very loud daughter. “My mother would never have tolerated that sort of behavior from me,” I said.

“Mine neither,” the cashier replied as the woman behind me in line nodded in agreement.

Is this tolerance of behavior from children that would be completely unacceptable in an adult part of this ridiculous “self esteem” movement? (True self esteem comes from conquering obstacles, not from being told you are great.)

Or is it just lazy parenting? You know – the “I am my child’s friend” school of raising children. (No, you’re not. You are your child’s parent and as such have the responsibility to set boundaries and raise a human being fit to inhabit society with the rest of us.)

I’m not saying that children were perfect when I was a kid. I am saying that when we acted up, there were consequences. There were many Sundays when my siblings and I spent a half hour after mass kneeling in the corner. None of this slouching stuff, either – we knelt straight with our noses touching the wall.

Parents: even if you have learned to tune out your children’s obnoxiousness, the rest of us are not deaf. Discipline your children. It is your responsibility. If you do not, someone will do it for you. And the rest of us aren’t related to your kids, so we don’t have a reason to like them or be nice to them. They have to earn our affection. Don’t make it hard for them.

I want a lazy Sunday

posted Sun, 17 Oct 2004

I had such great plans for today but I ended up being too tired to do much. I think Friday night and Saturday wore me out. I did finish moving the crape myrtle this morning using the new junk shop shovel, but I learned an important thing about shovel shopping. Not only do you need to make sure that the shovel handle is connected to the blade (although in this case, the handle was wedged in well enough that that was not an issue), but you need to make sure that the top of the handle has been treated to be kind to your lead hand.

What do I mean by that? I mean that if the top of the handle has just been cut across straight with no smoothing or rounding, it is going to feel very harsh against your hand when you brace it there for digging. Sometimes it is better to go straight to Sears and pay the extra. Buy nice or buy twice.

My secret shame. I like the entire genre -- People, Us, Star.

Then I tried this polenta/prosciutto/garlic/cheese recipe in the latest edition of Martha Stewart Living magazine. I didn’t have any prosciutto, but I did have some turkey bacon, so used that. I didn’t have the cheese they wanted, but threw in what I had. It turned out really tasty anyhow. While I was stirring the cornmeal, I read another recipe in the magazine for sweet potato–persimmon dressing.

I love persimmons. They are one of those rare things you get only when they are in season in the US. We are so lucky here – we can get almost anything any time if we are willing to pay for it. In Chile, I got only what was in season. Did you know that celery is in season only six months of the year? The rest of the year, you can’t have it. Doesn’t matter how much you want it; you can’t have it.

Anyhow, persimmons are in season. The little Vietnamese grocery near my house, which reeks of fish sauce, so I always have to run in and get what I want really fast so I don’t have to breathe that nasty smell, has a huge bin of persimmons for 69 cents a pound. My regular grocery store charges about a dollar apiece. It’s worth smelling some fish sauce to save that kind of money.

I already had the persimmons and the sweet potatoes, but I lacked the “dried plums.” “Dried plums” is the fancy new name for prunes. The California Prune Board (yes, they actually exist) decided that the prune’s image needed an upgrade. They had to go through all sorts of maneuvering to get the name changed. I watched this in the produce and grocery trade magazines. This was all happening when I was still in my division’s marketing group (a vendor to the produce industry).

I had to go to the grocery store for the prunes and for an orange for the orange zest. My usual strategy at the grocery store is to pick the longest line so I can read People magazine, but I had already spent an hour at the frame shop picking out frames for some watercolors I got in Rome. The artist who works there had done the real work, but I still had to figure out what I might like. That’s a lot of work, especially when you’re trying to figure out what you might like that is going to cost a couple of hundred dollars.

Back to People. Am I the only one who does this? Am I the only one who is ashamed of being so fascinated with this magazine? And despite my shame, I find myself asking the same question the rest of America is asking, “Just how stupid is Britney Spears to become involved with a man who abandoned the mother of his child while he was pregnant with their second baby? Is this a man of integrity? No! Does she think they really have a future together?”

The magazine does make me really grateful that I don’t have a TV, though.