Monday, December 31, 2012

What I learned today

Heights Casino in Brooklyn
I don't know if I learn something new every day, but today I did. I follow two blogs about architecture. One is called Old Long Island and it's about all the grand estates in the area where I grew up. The person also does a blog called Beyond the Gilded Age about buildings of that era (1877-1893). I am definitely the dummy in the group. Most of the commenters are architects and historical preservationists so I learn as much from the commenters as I do from the blog. Reading the comments has educated my eye (a bit) when looking at buildings.

Today, on Beyond the Gilded Age, he featured a building called The Heights Casino on Montague Street in Brooklyn. I thought Casino? Brooklyn? This building was a social hall/athletic club and the description made no mention of gambling.

So I posted a comment:

December 31, 2012 11:18 AM

Patricia said...

Does "casino" have an original meaning that goes beyond gambling? I've never seen it used this way to mean a social or athletic facility.

Then I looked at and posted a second comment:

December 31, 2012 11:48 AM

Patricia said...

Ok, I just answered my own question by using The meaning of casino is any building which is a social gathering point, but especially if there is gambling. The word comes from the Italian for house (casa) and the diminutive ending (ino). Never knew this, but it is so obvious now.

Just now checked to see if there were more comments. OK, I'll admit: I looked at both blogs again in order to procrastinate and not do what I'm supposed to be doing. But here's a comment from one of the learned commenters:

December 31, 2012 11:53 AM

The Down East Dilettante said...

Patricia---just to add a little---'Casino' was a word used for many sporting and gathering facilities in the gilded age summer resorts---the most famous of which is the wonderful Newport Casino. Definitely the definition of a hundred or more years ago was less specifically geared toward gambling

So that's what I've learned. It surprises me that I typically have an eye out for word derivation, but never put the casa into casino... Never occurred to me!


I had an insight tonight when I realized my elbow wore through my flannel nightgown much to my disappointment. Here's the insight:  if I remember buying something, it's still "new" or "nearly new" in my brain. This nighgown is probably between five and ten years old.

Yes, I'll dump it, but I was thinking that I have such good feelings about this particular nightgown. It's dark blue/dark green plaid you often see in flannel and I equate this nightgown with feelings of coziness, comfort, safety, big down comforters, being warm on winter nights etc. I remember reading once that the hardest clothes to get rid of are clothes you've had a good time in. I can't say I had a good time as in Ya-Ha in this nightgown, but I do feel good about it.

On other fronts, Mary sends along this photo of an appetizer she made to bring to her neighbor's get-together tonight:

Mary explains:  I made a delicious appetizer of crostini (the slices of toasted bread brushed with olive oil, topped with feta cheese mixed with cream cheese, topped with chopped tomatoes that have been marinated with shallots, garlic, red wine vinegar, salt pepper and basil, then sprinkled with basil and toasted pine nuts.  I'm so proud that for once I actually toasted nuts without burning them. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Scattered Thoughts

Least Glamorous Purchase: Is there anything more boring than buying a new mattress pad? When I washed mine this past week, I noticed it's getting a bit raggety. Gee, it's only a dozen or so years old. I've just  bought a new one on eBay. Prices ranged from $19 on up to $150. I ended up with one for $39.95, but I got free shipping.

Daily Annoyance:  Christian Mingle TV ads which try to convince the Christian singles that God himself (or herself) is picking your date for you. Their tagline is "Discover God's match for you." Seems really seedy and predatory.

Daily Annoyance #2: Local media teasing with dire headlines so that you are sure to tune in at 6 or 11. "This everyday object in your kitchen could be killing you -- find out what it is at 6" or "Winter storm headed our way -- we'll tell you how much of the white stuff we'll get at 11" Christmas foods that kill you. How your pet could get injured by a vacuum cleaner -- all sort of trumped up tragedies.

Cheap thrill: Is there anything better than getting up to go to the bathroom in the early, early morning and knowing you can crawl back under the covers? I always give a mental shoutout to those people who have to take the early bus to work or cook breakfast for their families when they're exhausted.

I am officially addicted to a computer Mahjong puzzle game. Really. No, really. I'm not kidding. Really.

Friday, December 28, 2012

A Moment of Holiday Peace

I became self-aware of this moment of pure peace tonight. I was sitting in my living room, in a big comfy chair, reading my book. I was sipping a virgin Mary (with horseradish) and nibbling on some triscuits. (I recommend the triscuits with rosemary and olive oil). The washer was chugging. The dryer was whirring. The only other sound was the clock ticking. My dinner was baking in the oven. My apartment is clean. No music. No TV. No radio, just me and my book and I thought these are the moments we have so few of. No pressure, nothing calling to me, just total relaxation.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas Pictures

This is the White Christmas in Pottsville which didn't last long. We had no snow in NY, but lots of rain and heavy wind.

This is Gwenyth on the little bike that Mary gave her. She didn't quite get it; didn't realize she should sit down on it.

This is McKenzie who went with Mary's sister Judy to a nursing home to sing Christmas carols for the residents.

COMING SOON: Maybe tonight even. Meredith is photographing dinner at her mother's house. It's turducken, spinach, corn on the cob, bread and then some sort of Eastern Shore (Maryland) cake of many layers that Michelle ordered on the Internet. 

These are my sister Mary Elizabeth's children. Charolotte is in the center, and Clark and Louisa on either side are twins.

Monday, December 24, 2012

My (Not So) Holly Jolly Christmas Eve

It started Sunday night around 9:30 when I went into my (clean) kitchen and saw that my kitchen sink had a film of grease and black specks in it, as if water had backed up and then drained. I ran a bit of water and it went down at first, then backed up. I tried a plunger (Oh, what an optimist I am!) and at first I thought it worked.

Then when I opened my dishwasher, a cascade of greasy, black flecked water tsunami'd out. What a mess. Water started rising in the sink.

I decided I was not going to screw with a half-hearted fix by the super, and was going to bite the bullet (little did I know how BIG that bullet was going to be) so I googled "emergency plumber new york city" and Rotor Rooter came up. The site said they don't charge extra for weekends and holidays and my reasoning went that Rotor Rooter may have systems in place, more so than Joe the Average Guy Plumber.

I called Rotor Rooter about 9:30 and they were very nice, said they were "operating on a two-hour window" and would have someone there by 11:30. Wow, I am impressed.

But not for long.

Around 10:30, they tell me that they don't have anyone to send after all, but they will reschedule me for today from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. So much for sleeping in and relaxing. I said OK. I never know in these cases whether it's better to cut your losses and find someone else or stick with them. I stuck with them.

I bailed out a bunch of water. Luckily, no other drains/toilets were affected -- just my kitchen sink and dishwasher. So I was bailing this disgusting grease water into a bucket and then dumping the bucket. Oh yes, I definitely started feeling sorry for myself.

I had a fitful night's sleep, afraid that the sink would back up again, and got up around 7:30 because I didn't want to miss the phone call or have them arrived and not be dressed. I went upstairs, feeling the steps for water on my way up, thinking "well, at least it hasn't leaked this far." No water on the living room floor or the kitchen floor and the sink was empty.

So far so good.

I was about to call RR again to make sure I was on the list, when the phone rang. It's RR -- now about 8:15 saying they'd be there in an hour. Fair enough.

About an hour and a half later, the phone rings and Oh whoops, we thought we had dispatched someone but we hadn't. Now you'll get someone in an hour. About an hour later, the phone rings again and I hear a cheery "We're on our way!!"

Ninety minutes later -- and by now, it's 12:40, I call back. I am told about the terrible Manhattan traffic and how the guy is "working his way toward" me -- really utter BS. She told me 30 minutes. Forty minutes later, I was calling when the buzzer sounded.

In comes Danny, who I thought was Russian, but turns out to be from Transylvania and he's Romanian and I learned that Romanian is a language, very similar, he says to Italian. Go figure.

I forgot a detail. When I opened the door for Danny, he indicates to me that he is going to put these blue booties over his shoes. I said, "Are they for you or for me?" He said "for you" and I said they weren't necessary.

He goes to work and work and work and work. He says this is a major clog. Of course it is. It's not my sink (which I knew, or thought I knew) but something called the stackline which goes from the building to the street. I had already been thinking that I was going to present this bill to building management -- the bill?


Before he could start work, however, I had to sign the estimate. Then he noticed I have two cracked ceramic floor tiles and I had to sign a waiver since I guess people blame RR for broken tiles and other damage. That's pretty low (the people who do that).

He really was working hard, and I could tell my his grunts and the sound of the snake it wasn't going well. The snake would make a noise like the largest dentist drill you could imagine, but then there would be these sounds like a gun going off, or a car backfiring. Oh yes, very relaxing.

I later asked him and he said the banging noises were from when the head of the snake hit a clog so solid it couldn't move.

He then gives up on the normal snake and goes and gets the Daddy snake, twice the size. I just didn't want him to leave.

Imagine my white kitchen, with crappy damp paper towels all over the floor from last night, the doors off the cabinet below the sink, all his tools, gunk and gook and everything else. I sat in my chair, determined to read this book and tried to ignore everything. But it was hard.

He comes back with the Daddy snake and kept hearing the banging noises and then finally -- oh, it was like an angelic symphony -- the sound of a whirring snake with no bangs which went on for about five minutes. Then Danny announced it was fixed.

He ran the water in the sink for about 20 minutes and everything was fine. He put some sort of enzyme treatment in the sink and recommended that I buy a container of it (I said yes because I trusted him) to use two weeks from now.

He wrote out the receipt describing the problem in a way that made it clear this was not my personal sink problem -- at one point he said it was grease and pet hair -- so the building management can pay. I will certainly try to have them pay.

As much as I liked Danny, I just wanted him to leave. He was pecking away at this iPad machine one effing letter at a time. Oh, meanwhile my groceries arrived and it was this old man and I felt bad for him. Danny was doing a nice job cleaning up, but then I tipped him $20, and he was so happy -- he God blessed me and everything and ended up leaving my kitchen cleaner (really) than when he arrived. It still needs work, but at least it's not gross looking. The floor is clean.

Um... let's see.... lessons??

I am grateful that whether the building pays or not, I had the money to fix this.
I am grateful that Danny came to fix it on Christmas Eve.
I am grateful that I don't live in this hotel Danny had just come from which is a residence hotel and seven of the rooms had toilet sewage back up and spew up through their kitchen sinks so there is "feces" (Danny's word) all over the walls, and the hotel couldn't get anyone to come clean it.

Really? You don't feel like spending Christmas Eve cleaning ca-ca off a stranger's wall for minimum wage?

I am grateful that it's my sink that was broken and stopped up and not me or my body. Snaking sounds painful.

Of course, Danny is my man right now but I do feel that in the hands of a lesser plumber (or one NOT from Transylvania) my problem might not have been fixed. He worked on it for three hours.

I am not supposed to use my sink or dishwasher tonight because he put this enzyme treatment in it. I was going to cook a nice dinner, but I am either going to order a pizza or make a Honey baked ham sandwich on this sour dough baguette I got today. Either of those is as good as any fancy meal!

Now I'm going to relax and hopefully have a Holly Jolly rest of my Christmas Eve. Hope you have no need for emergency plumbers. Or emergency anything for that matter.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Treats

Here are some of the things I received this week. Melissa sent me some of her homemade candy, but I didn't photograph that. But thanks for that.

I will soon be a Latina when I eat the Venezuelan Christmas delicacies that Marianella made. First is something called they are:

These look black, but they are actually dark green. It's plaintain leaves with a cornmeal stuffing with bits of meat and other things inside. Then it's tied with string. You don't eat the plantain leaves (I asked!) and I have to boil this is water with some oil in it for 25 minutes. Venezuelans only make these at Christmas and Marianella told me that everyone exchanges Hallacas so you can taste all your friends' offerings.

Here's what Wikipedia says:

In Venezuelan cuisine, an Hallaca (alt. spelling, "hayaca") typically involves a mixture of beef, pork, chicken, raisins, capers, and olives wrapped in cornmeal dough, folded within plantain leaves, tied with strings, and boiled or steamed afterwards. It is typically served during the Christmas holiday.

The other treat she gave me is a little loaf of Torta Negra which translates to Black Cake. This one is really genuine as I could only find one website about it that is written in English. Here's what it says:

The Venezuelan black cake is a variation of the fruit cake. This black cake is a bit more spongy that the Trinidadian version and the amount of spices is also minor. The black cake or Torta Negra cannot miss in a typical Christmas dinner, that we take on the Christmas Eve, usually closer to midnight, in my family, we usually take dinner at 10 pm and leave midnight to open the presents, the children are so excited that they do not go to sleep until they open their presents, and play with them, well we always go to sleep around 2 or 3 pm on Christmas day, it is a day that the family get together to enjoy the company.

Marianella had told me that everyone stays up all night long on Christmas Eve. I don't think I'll be doing that, but I will be eating some of my Venezuelan black cake for the holidays.

And then, also arriving today, from Mac and Stancie is a honey-baked ham. I was thinking of omelettes, great ham sandwiches, all sorts of things with this. I love this ham. It arrived in a giant styrofoam cooler, with dry ice and was still frozen when I opened it. It's now thawing in the refrigerator. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Thursday Photos

I had this photo left over in my camera. This is a luggage holder in Mary's guestroom which doubles as a nap place for Milo. This thing folds up and I think he likes that it's about 9/10ths open which makes a slightly saggy bed for him that he must like.

Had lunch with Russell today -- an annual Christmas lunch we've had since the 1980s. He is always willing to come to my neighborhood and I am always willing to say OK. The restaurant (Sotto Cinque) looked really pretty decorated. Rusell had a chicken ceasar salad and I had pasta with portobello mushrooms.  Since Russell is a world-class photographer, I didn't want to embarrass myself by asking him if I could photograph his salad.
What's good for me is that I can cut through a parking garage to get to the restaurant which is on the next block. The parking garage has an opening on 87th St (my street) and 86th St (where the restaurant is). I've never seen a garage so decorated for the holidays. Here's the office with all religions covered.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

It's Always Something

This is Mary's half-decorated tree. It's half decorated because the staircase to her attic (one of those pull-down ladder type deals) broke and so the ornaments are still in the attic. As we say, "It's always something." My "always something" today was my manicurist frantically called me to say she lost the check I gave her. She felt terrible about it. I really don't care -- she didn't do it on purpose and so I have stopped payment on it just in case. She told me she'd pay for any bank fees. I don't really mind paying that either -- I never want to be that mean-spirited, but I was thinking she may feel better paying the fee -- I think I would, that I'd somehow done my pennance.

So today I had an embarrassment of help. Marilyn came for her twice-monthly visit and she remains the hardest working and most pleasant person around. She is just a pleasure and we enjoy each other's company. For me, it's an opportunity to not have to do everything myself and that's a treat. Meanwhile, Ray the wayward handyman, turned up after months of absence to say he had today off and wanted to clean my garden for the winter.

I had  bought cushions for that furniture three or four years ago and as much as I still think of it as "nearly new" it was time for it to go. So Ray hauled all those cushions out, made the yard look so clean and barren, but barren in a nice way. He had saved my white painted sticks from last year and they were still good so they're back up for the winter. I'll take some photos over the next few days.

So then he leaves and my manicurist arrives and I had a mani-pedi and waxing. I was contemplating the different types of pain when she has waxed and then is going after the strays with a tweezer. The little tiny hairs hurt in one way, but then there's a sort of pleasant feeling when she's tugging at what feels like a thick one coming out. The pain of it's being pulled out is balanced by knowing that hair is gone. After she finishes hunting and pulling, she puts on the most soothing cool lotion.

Tomorrow it's back to reality, except I do have an annual Christmas lunch with an old friend so it won't be a totally dull day.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Prince Milo

Mary writes: I think cats are always posing.

The Power of Saint Anthony

When I came home from my Christmas lunch with Barbara, I sat on my front steps for a while since it was close to 60 degrees. This woman who lives in the next building came up to talk to me. I had met her a number of years ago on a Saturday night in the summer when I was quietly watching TV in my bedroom. I answered my phone and this woman started tearing me a new one, as they say... going on and on about how this was a quiet neighborhood and I don't have a right to make so much noise etc etc etc. Well, there was a party going on outside, but it wasn't in my garden. And I told her so. She was immediately apologetic, strongly so... told me how she was sure it was me, had come to the building and gotten my name, got my number etc.

She is a senior flight attendant (my age) and also an artist. Today she told me she was very depressed because she lost a bag which contained jewelry and also some thumb drives which had her artwork on it. I told her to pray to Saint Anthony, and she told me I am the second person that day to tell her. She said she is an atheist and won't pray. I told her to do it anyway because Saint Anthony is pretty good at finding things.

She then told me how her mother (who is NOT an atheist) prayed to Saint Anthony and how she, the daughter, had worked behind the scenes to find something her mother lost and when it was found, the mother claimed it was Saint Anthony and my friend said, "It wasn't Saint Anthony, it was me" and so I said, "it was Saint Anthony working through you."

She told me she had just come back from Florida and I suggested she really stick her hand down into the zippered pockets of her luggage because things really can hide in there. Something I said rang some bell in her head, and she just turned silent, and I watched her face light up and the wheels spin in her head, and she said, "I have to go" -- took off without saying goodbye, but it was clear she remembered something about this bag... I called out "See, just talking about Saint Anthony works" and she said, "Saint Anthony was working through you as you." I lingered outside for a bit hoping she'd come back and tell me she's found the stuff, but no such luck. I am sure Saint Anthony is working his wonders on her bag.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Another Day, Another Complaint

I think I have an extra level of frustration when I am blindsided by something that on the surface appears to be an easy task.

Today I had to FedEx something to a client. I had been thinking last night that it had been a long time since I overnighted something, but didn't think anything beyond that. When you call FedEx to arrange a pick up, you say your account number and talk to an automated voice. It's always been easy to do.

I got the envelope ready, placed the call, only to be told that I have no account. The perky voice suggested we try by using my phone number. Again, no luck. Then I was told if I said "Representative" I could talk to a person.

Ok, "Representative."

I was told my account was "purged" and this woman arranged for a pick up. Being older and wiser, I went that extra step and said, "OK, is my account reinstated?" and she said yes. And I said "And this will be billed to my American Express?"

All of a sudden Miss Representative takes on this quasi-nasty tone, informing me in this superior voice that "there is no credit card attached to this account."

So how would billing work? I asked, and got as a reply, "Would you like to attach a credit card to this account?"

Uh, yeah.

I have to press PAUSE here and say I am so glad I asked that question. I could see no pickup, or the package floating around somewhere, or making the client/recipient pay or holding the package or something.

I'm transferred to another representative who I have to say is nice -- I even complained about the previous representative and she apologized half a dozen times. I told her all information is the same except I probably had to update the expiration date on my credit card, but no, that was current. I feel as if FedEx was a bit quick to purge me, having had this account for 20 years.

This is the frustration -- what should have been a 45-second phone call turns into this 10-minute ordeal.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

What I'm Reading

I'm making a bit of a switch from novels to true crime. I've always enjoyed Ann Rule. If you're not familiar with her, she's written a few dozen true crime books. She got involved in the genre back when she was working/studying at a university and in the area where she worked, Ted Bundy was a coworker. This was when he was actively killing women. Her first book was about how she came to believe he was the killer -- and they had been close friends. The book is called "The Stranger Beside Me."

So this is her latest -- a compliation of a bunch of shorter pieces on various crimes. I think this is good for now with a shorter attention span of the holidays.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

My Big Bargain

I am not really a shopper -- would never go shopping just "for fun" -- but I do like a good bargain. Today, I got an email from the Book of the Month Club that in honor of today's 12-12-12 date, all books were $12 with free shipping.

There was a book I had given as a gift that, once I saw it, I was tempted to keep so I had planned to buy that one. Then I found one more, now up to $24 for two books. The first one was something like $40 with a Book of the Month Club price of $32. I don't remember the original price of the other.

Then I saw this coffee table book which I'd been eyeing for a few months -- a $50 book which I didn't want fifty dollars worth, but I sure do want $12 worth so I bought that and then thought of someone who would enjoy this coffee table book as a gift so I bought two.

So I got four books, totaling about $165 for $48. No shipping and handling, but I did have to pay tax which pushed it over $50 total and that disappointed me a bit.

I feel like I got the most I possibly could out of that offer and know I will enjoy the books.

I also need a new mattress cover, some new sheets, but I'm waiting until after Christmas for that so I can get an equally good bargain.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A New Level of Chutzpah

I get fairly engrossed --- or rather I *can* get fairly engrossed in the work I'm doing -- not always, of course, but this morning I was and so when the phone rang, it took me out of that concentration. I answer the phone and there's no one there, which I never know it it's someone on a cellphone or a telemarketer so I don't instantly hang up.

But I should have.

It was a recorded announcement from Wyndham Vacations telling me I am to speak to an operator, but all the operators are busy so just hold on a minute.

Are you effing kidding me?

You know that their advanced space age automatic telephone dialer machine got ahead of their operators. Would anyone in their right mind hold on to talk to a telemarketer? About a time share?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Home 'Again

Safe and sound.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Super Saturday

We really did have a great time today with good food (and lots of it) and good laughs (and lots of it). So on with the show:

I can see why cat people get obsessed with getting a good photo of their cats. This is the best of a dozen shots I took of Milo. He doesn't seem to respond when I call his name and ask him to look my way. In fact, he stubbornly keeps his head turned.
This is the leftover carrot cake waiting for Round 2.

I broke the eggs and beat them for the scrambled eggs. Mary adds milk and I add water. I used to add milk until I read somewhere on the Internet that water makes them fluffier, but I respected Mary's kitchen and added milk. Any opinions on water vs milk for scrambled eggs?

BEFORE: This is the scrambled egg and bacon serving dish. Mary and I do agree on moist eggs and crisp bacon. Meredith taught us how to bake bacon in the overn which is 10X easier than frying it. No work, just shove it in the oven and you don't even have to turn it over.

AFTER: We did everything but lick the spoon. However in our enthusiasm we did unveil Mary's favorite Christmas dish from Meredith's mother showing old-time Santa Claus.

Fran at brunch in front of the bagels which Meredith and Dave brought. Note that Fran wore her Oshkosh finery which she says has held up remarkably well.

Games were scheduled for after brunch. For those who cringe at the thought, you would enjoy playing games with us as we barely follow the rules, we don't do boring board games and we generally make fun of each other. The game must be played without having to expend any physical energy. We decided onTelestrations which is a combination of old-fashioned Telephone game and Illustrations, where you start with one drawing, the next person writes down their guess, the next person draws what the previous one guessed and so on. Very easy. Very little thought. Lots of room to ridicule your loved ones.

I brought Milo a Christmas present. This is a little cat, stuffed with buckwheat which you put in the microwave. It was like trying to get a kid to play with a toy. Milo showed less than moderate interest in his present.

This is Matt looking for something on the Internet.

This is the most ridiculted guess of the day -- the word was actually cheese cake. Matt had drawn a piece of swiss cheese with a little mouse by it and a piece of cake... cheese... cake...Easy, no? Mary mistook the mouse for a bug, and pie for the cake and guessed Cheese Bug Pie. Sure, Mary. That makes sense. Bear in mind these are all supposed to be real things -- there is nothing like cheese bug pie... but that's how Mary rolls.

Fran and Dave during the game. Fran, who can actually draw, unlike the rest of us, would draw these elaborate scenarios, pass it to Dave who, as a PhD candidate would overthink the entire process, thus holding up the game.

So we had no other choice, after three rounds of exhausting doodling and guessing, to stop for a carrot cake break.

Mary during the carrot cake break.

And just like a kid, Milo loved the empty cardboard box which he turned into his bed and slept through our squealing and screaming. Mary put his new toy in the box with him. At one point, he got up, looked at the toy and changed position so that he went back to sleep looking at it.

Matt went home; Dave had to go do his PhD work which left me, Fran, Mary and Meredith for the lobster macaroni and cheese which I have to say was one of the best things I've ever eaten. It's a recipe from the Barefoot Contessa of Food Network.
Which we enjoyed with sliced apples (Meredith's suggestion) which was so perfect. These are the Honey Crisp apples which I've been hearing about but had never tried. I love apples and these were delicious. And really a perfect complement to the mac&cheese.

As were the peas.

Put them all together and you have the perfect dinner plate. I really can't describe how good this meal was. The mac&cheese was creamy with just a taste of lobster and every so often you'd get a bite of the crusty topping. You could get a few peas to stick to the macaroni and top it off with a piece of apple. Repeat process until full.

Finally, this is by Mary's door and I found peace here when I arrived and when I leave tomorrow it will be with grace. It has been my great good fortune to have the world's best family of choice. One of my favorite authors, Louise Hay, talks about how we need to create spaces where it is safe to be ourselves, and that's what Mary's house is to me.

Friday's Festivities

Late night, lying on the guest room bed... Mary and I stayed up after people left talking and now we've moved upstairs and continue to talk as she gets ready for bed. Tonight we had dinner, presents, dessert, talk. Everyone will be back tomorrow for brunch.

On with the slide show:

This is Emily who is staying with Mary as she looks for a job and she left to spend the weekend with a friend late this afternoon. She had run out to the deli to get us lunch and here we are at lunch.

These are my favorite mushrooms, the recipe for which comes from Cristina Worden who some of you know. They are so easy and so good. You melt butter in a pan. You brush (not wet) the mushrooms until they are clean and then cut them. You dust the mushrooms with flour -- we stuck them in a plastic grocery bag and shook the flower on them. Then you cook them until they are golden brown, have a slight coating. Then you add heavy cream -- I think I added about -- oh, just under a cup... you add a splash of soy sauce and salt and pepper to taste. They really are good.

Meredith made a carrot cake which was wonderful, and she put the cream cheese frosting on here.
This is the gathering for the cookie exchange. The packaging varies from plastic wrap to the fancy Christmas Chinese food cartons (FRAN). So we each get about six cookies times five people. I am not ashamed, but should be, that I'm the only one who bought my cookies. Everyone else made theirs. In years past, Mary's nephew Matt came over to the dark side with me, but this year one of his students was selling cookie dough as a fundraiser so he bought the dough and baked it, which I believe does qualify as home made. Me? I sent Marilyn, my helper, to the bakery when she was at my place on Wednesday. I did put them in individual little packets by myself... does that count?

We had shrimp cocktail as an appetizer and I forgot to take a picture until I only had three shrimp left. But Mary finds this good frozen shrimp and then bakes it with olive oil salt and pepper... and then made the sauce, or rather doctored the commercial sauce with hot sauce and horseradish. They were really good.
This is my plate with meat loaf, mushrooms, corn and mashed potatoes.

And this is Matt's plate... Mary also made a pork tenderloin (hey, no one should go home hungry) and Matt preferred that. Plus he had salad, which I had later, and Meredith had brought bread.

I'm not quite sure what this is, but this is a Vera Bradley bag that Meredith's mother had sent to Mary (along with the basket that Michelle had bought in Africa on vacation). We were passing all the presents around for closer examination, and I think Fran was modeling the Vera Bradley bag.
I gave Meredith two maps to South Africa since she and Dave are headed there for Meredith's job for four years right after New Year's. They will live in Pretoria.
Fran bought this apple pie for dessert, and Dave did the manly thing with the too-hard ice cream so we each got a taste of ice cream with our pie.

And here's Meredith's carrot cake --- one of my favorites -- and it was so moist and so good.


Friday, December 7, 2012

Thursday in DC

I'm writing from Mary's guestroom where I'll be sleeping for the next few nights as we have our annual Christmas celebration. I decided to come down today rather than tomorrow just to not have stress. Of course, there was no traffic -- it was an easy trip -- got upgraded to a premium car -- a Crown Victoria no less, my favorite!

Tonight we ordered Italian food and Mary and Emily and I feasted and then we all watched Trains andn Planes and Automobiles that Mary had ordered from Netflix.

Tomorrow (Friday), I'll do some work-work in the morning and then help Mary prepare dinner. We're having meatloaf, mashed potatoes, some kind of corn dish, tomatoes and mozzerella (from Fran), ceasar salad and other things. No one will go hungry. We will exchange gifts and do a cookie exchange. I'll see Meredith, back from Afghanistan who I haven't seen in a year, her husband Dave, and Mary's nephew Matt.

On Saturday, the same group meets again; we have one new guest and we'll do a brunch. I think that's the end of the formal celebration and then whoever hangs around for dinner will get Mary's Lobster Macaroni and Cheese which I've never had. Mary and I might take a drive Saturday night to see the National Christmas tree and other Christmas lights. I'll come home, leaving early Sunday morning and then it's back to the grind. 

I have my camera so I'll photograph the delicacies. I will say as a scrabled egg aficionado, Mary's scrambled eggs are the best.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Saving Deposit Slips

Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am a woman of a certain age and that how business is conducted is way different than for most of my life... like having done business without email, without cellphones, etc.

One huge change is banking. Of course, I remember running to get to the bank by 3, standing in line to make a deposit on payday and using your whole lunch hour; heck, even dealing with tellers. Can't remember the last time I used a teller. When I was at my client a few weeks back, I asked if any of the guys I work with remember life without ATMs and they didn't. Yikes.

Citibank recently changed so that if you make a deposit, a photocopy of the check appears on the deposit slip. I have to say I love that feature.

But now, Citibank has complicated it one step more. Rather than getting a paper receipt for whatever you do at the ATM, you can now have one emailed to you. They are positioning this as a "green" solution.

My first reaction is one of paranoia -- if I make a deposit of a bunch of checks, I want to walk away from that ATM with a piece of paper in my hand. If I never got the email receipt and the money didn't show up, how would I prove I made the deposit?

Is this a valid fear or is it my 60+ brain thinking that?

I have to say I don't keep deposit slips. I wait for the money to show up in my account and then I shred them. I suppose I could be more organized, but once the money is in there, I sort of lose interest in how it got there.

So what do you guys vote? Paper or email?

Monday, December 3, 2012

What Santa is Bringing

I have a curiosity about what current kids want these days for Christmas -- so unlike the simple things we wanted. I asked my stockbroker who has four kids what they want -- and he really couldn't come up with any particular fad toy of the year -- no Tickle Me Elmo or Cabbage Patch (Ok, I know I'm dating myself) so I said, "The kids probably all want iPads."

He laughed and said he used to complain about paying $50 for "a frigging doll" but now he said with the price of electronic things for kids, he'd be "thrilled to pay $50 for a frigging doll."

When I told that story to a client this morning who has a sixth grader and twin first-graders, he said that when they take the kids to Target, for example, they'll look in the toy aisle and then he takes a photo of what they want with his phone so he gets it right.

Wow, that really struck me as modern times. Well, in my day, back when the surface of the earth was cooling, I remember my mother letting my sister and me mark things in the Sears Roebuck catalog that we wanted for Christmas. Really. That seems ancient now. But really back then, there were no Targets and Walmarts -- we had Woolworth's (which I still miss), but just the toy department of a department store.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Life Lessons

I've watched my own development in this life and thought about what lessons I'm supposed to be learning. More than 30 years ago, this psychic told me that one of my life lessons was to "get it together on the material plane." In my early 20s, my life was somewhat chaotic -- and maybe every 20-somethings are. I remember my phone being shut off once not because I didn't have money to pay the bill, but because I didn't have a stamp to put on the bill which I carried around in my purse.

Having your phone shut off once is a fairly jarring lesson, and I learned to buy a supply of stamps. Same with pantyhose (in those days) as I was constantly running to the deli or drug store late at night to buy a pair of L'Eggs (whatever happened to them anyway?) So I learned the pleasure of buying pantyhose a dozen pairs at a time. Same with paying all bills, having laundry detergent, soap, deodorant, etc. I learned that I can have backups without maintaining a warehouse.

Of course, some of that growth came with more financial stability. You can't buy a back up deodorant when you're really strapped, or a dozen pairs of pantyhose when you're broke. I would say, to this day, it still gives me a little bing of pleasure when I look on the shelves in my vanity and see that back up tube of toothpaste or bottle of shampoo.

I've also learned the lesson of allowing enough time so that I'm not late. I used to think that I could leave work, get a manicure, go to the grocery store, stop to get a bottle of wine, and be ready for a dinner guest at 7 pm. I was totally unrealistic about how much time something takes. These days, I am usually early rather than late but I enjoy the non-stress of it. I like being the one who is not stressed out in the back of a cab or breathlessly hoping the light doesn't change.

One I'm still working on -- and it came to focus today -- is asking for help. There's part of me that still sees it as weakness, and even though as I type that, it sounds and looks crazy to me, I have to face that fact. This past week, just out of semi-desperation, I asked for help twice. Once was for a quiz I had to create about the Wright Brothers flight on December 17th. I asked a friend, an expert on the Wrights for some suggestions -- it's not that I couldn't do it; I just couldn't bear facing it. Almost by return email, he had sent me an entire quiz.

Then I had to write an article about a topic I'm about 75% knowledgeable about. I reached out to someone else last Monday -- asked for help -- said I needed it by Friday and didn't get anything. Then this morning, she emailed me an outline for the entire article which just made my day. It gave me a handle on this story.

The point is that I need to reach out for help more often. I'm getting better, but I need to keep in mind that, just like I like to help people and it's often easy for me to do so, others like to help as well.

One last anecdote which is me being the butt of my own joke today. I had put dishes in the dishwasher and bent over to get the dishwasher soap from under the sink. My mind was 100 miles away and I saw something under the sink that made me scream. It took me a second to realize that what made me scream was my cleaning woman's rubber gloves which she had thrown under there -- they are blue rubber, but they have these funny animal print cuffs -- so all I saw in the dim light under the sink are these two small animal looking shapes. Oh, it's good to live alone so people don't see what a fool I can be.