Monday, March 29, 2010

The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet, by Colleen McCullough

Book 12

There is an incredible number of Pride and Prejudice sequels out there and I understand most of them are garbage.  I picked up this one because:
  1. Its focus was on Mary Bennet, the puritanical middle sister, rather than on the mythical children of the Darcys. And;
  2. It was written by Colleen McCullough.  If anyone could make this particular mini-genre not suck, it was McCullough.
I was correct in my thinking.  Mary was a good subject because from the original novel.  We only knew her as her sisters saw her and she was young enough to have evolved into something interesting by the beginning of this tale - 20 years later.

As the novel opens, the horrid Mrs. Bennet is finally dead.  Mary, who has spent her entire life caring for her, is finally free to have her own adventures.  Darcy and Bingley have settled some money on her.  You know, for keeping the old lady out of their hair for all those years.

Darcy and Elizabeth have been in a rut for most of their marriage.  Charles and Jane are ok, but he cheats on her mercilessly and takes off for months at a time.  Kitty married a rather wealthy man that was sporting enough to die while she was still young.  And Lydia is Lydia.   The action commences.

It did not suck.  I enjoyed most of it, although it did feel like the climax of the book came a bit early and tying it together at the end took too long.  I really could have skipped the Darcys' frank discussion of the failings of their sex life.  But if you find it necessary to revisit Pemberley, this is a good read.

Up in the Air

When Up in the Air came out last year, no one could believe that I wasn’t rushing out to see it. Because:

1. “You dig Clooney, don’t you?”

2. “You travel all the’ll get all the Frequent Flyer jokes!”

3. “You work in HR..and Clooney fires people!”

Yeah. Let’s talk about that. I work in HR. So I want to watch a movie about firing people?  I barely dragged myself out to see Star Trek.

Besides offends me down to my core that someone from outside the organization would be hired to end someone else’s employment. I don’t care how big a company is or how...never mind.

Just add that someone thought it would be a good idea to do it via web conference. Why would I want to see a movie about that?

Then the Oscar nominations came out. Fine. I will look at it.

The travel stuff was funny. Clooney explaining the Frequent Flyer tricks for the airport was awesome. That security line part? I can’t say that I would “get in line behind the Asian guys”, but one certainly knows about the families with small children and those totally new to the security rules. Not six months ago I was stuck behind a lady that could not believe her makeup was being confiscated, and all I could feel was ticked off that she was holding up the rest of us.

Clooney made this movie. Nothing about the plot was particularly surprising, but there were some good pieces. The part that resonated – as it was designed to – was the scene with the lady, extremely calm as she heard the news that she downsized. Then she said that she was going to jump off a bridge. There was also the illustration of the disconnect between the Real World and the On the Road world. That someone would choose to live On the Road all the time was totally alien to me.

However. I did learn something – faux/homey = foamy. Is that a real thing?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Random Sunday Night Blathering

Joker the Bunny has gone home and I am gearing up for a couple of business trips.  The horrid part about that is Alex and Ainslie are expecting their baby sister while I am gone.

I took them to lunch yesterday at Noodles.  I had neglected to pack a toddler spoon, and Ainslie had trouble with the fork.  Every time I tried to help her, she put her fists up in front of her face, shook her head back and forth and made a noise that sounded just exactly like "warning..warning..warning..(I am going to scream!)"  So I had to hurryhurry put three noodles on the fork, put it down and say, "OK, then!"  And she would pick up the fork.

Sixteen months old, that one.

Here's what's funny.  There is a Cold Stone Creamery around the corner and I asked Alex if he wanted to go get some ice cream.  He said, "Nah.  We just went to the grocery store."

When I told this to his mother, she was all impressed and explained that Edy's was Buy 1 Get 2 Free at the Jewel.  So.  Public Service Announcement there.  Oh.  And another:

For a series of uninteresting reasons, I happen to walk into an Old Navy store.  No wait - one of the reasons is important:

It was 10am on a Sunday and many stores do not open until 11.  I will walk into a store where I do not normally shop to kill time until the place I need to go is open.  This happens nearly every Sunday.  Someone should really count up all of the unnecessary purchases I have made at Bed, Bath and Beyond just because they open early.

Oh, and my friend Jodi has had really good luck at Old Navy lately.  Lame commercials aside.

Anyway.  The Ladies of My Acquaintance (read as: my female co-workers) have lamented all winter long about the lack of straight skirts in the stores.  Everything has been flared or ruffled or something otherwise unacceptable.  Old Navy had a straight skirt, machine washable, cut just above the knee and appropriate for the business casual workplace.  For $20.00.

I am mostly satisfied with the Final Four.  I'd have been happier if Duke was out (Butler put up a good fight), but I promised to shut up and be happy if Notre Dame was bumped early.  And so I shall.  My mother made a similar vow, (except for the shutting up part) that she has already violated in her raucous support for the Big Ten. 

So.  Another week. 

Friday, March 26, 2010

Custom Trail Mix

A few weeks ago, at my neighborhood Fresh Market, I was in the bulk food section and saw an interesting trail mix. It involved dried cherries, pistachios and cashews. I bought a container.

I loved it so much that the next day I went back and bought another container. And then my mother discovered it, too. This was going to get expensive. Then I remembered, the website from which I order almonds and pine nuts for Kiwi the Grey. I wondered if they had something comparable.

Boy, did they. It’s called Custom Trail Mix.

Basically, you can take your pick of all of the stuff they sell and have them mix it together in a five pound bag. How much stuff is that? Example:

There are 11 kinds of nuts listed, plus a “mixed nuts” option. I clicked on “Almonds”. There are more than 45 options listed just under almonds. Prices vary depending on the items you choose.  I picked:

2 parts dried bing cherries

1 part dried cranberries

1 part roasted, salted pistachios

1 part roasted, salted cashews

1 part mixed nuts

As always, the order processed quickly. Once it arrived, we filled an airtight container, then put the rest of the bag in the freezer. So far, I am very pleased.

It should be noted that in the end (meaning, after I paid shipping), this was more expensive than buying five pounds of the original trail mix in the store. But seriously. Custom trail mix.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I am a Convert

I may have told you that I do most of my banking online.  I was actually a pretty early adopter, because I fell all in love with the way you could schedule when payments are going to be received.  And the bank sends the funds in time to meet the deadline.  In however many years I have used this service, I have only had two problems.  The one that was Chase's fault, they told me about immediately and offered to pay any fees that I may have incurred due to the delay.  The second problem was on the receiving end - and Bank of America was just wrong.

However.  I have held out on using the ATM to deposit funds.  For some bizarre reason, I have felt like I need an actual person to deposit my money.  Because people, you know, never make mistakes.

Well, Chase did some good marketing with those commercials, so I went over to Dominick's to give it a try.  I figured that at the Dominick's ATM, if something bad happened, like my check was shredded instead of scanned, there would be people right there.  People.

I endorsed the check with a "for deposit only".  Then I started the transaction.  The ATM offers to print a scan of the receipt, with the scanned check on it.

It was beautiful.  It took less time than a teller, who has to type in your account information.  I just logged in to check my account, and there it is.

I may never set foot in my bank again.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ridiculous Creature of Habit

The "Get a Grip on the Starbucks Factor" experiment lasted five or six weeks.  It failed for two reasons:

  1. I had to remember both to buy more coffee and to bring it to work; and
  2. I was right in thinking that the protein of the hot chocolate in the morning made me less hungry
So it was back to the coffee cart run by the deli in our building.  Francisco didn't miss a beat, even my first day back.  Grande hot chocolate, skim milk, no whipped cream.  With peppermint syrup instead of the vanilla when it is in season.  Even on the first day back I didn't have to tell him what I wanted.  Even the peppermint part.  We exchanged "good morning"s, he made the drink for me, I said "thank you" and left.

So.  Every morning we do this.

This morning, I headed downstairs early because I had a meeting at 9am.  Francisco wasn't there yet.  There was a new girl at the coffee cart.  Well - not new, because she has worked at the deli for awhile.  And not a girl.  A lady.  She asked me what I would like.

I was totally dumbfounded for several seconds.  Francisco happened to walk through the door that second, and I nearly said, "He knows!"  But instead: 

"Uhhhh.  Grande.  Hot chocolate, please.  With.  Ummm.  Skim milk.  And..."

I knew there was another high-maintenance thing I always say, but she was halfway through steaming the milk before I remembered.  "And no whipped cream!  Um.  Please."

I had somehow forgotten the words "grande skim no whip hot chocolate".  Technically, Starbucks says "nonfat" instead of "skim", but I haven't adopted that last piece of the lingo.  So rebellious, I am.

(rolls eyes and posts)

Monday, March 22, 2010

In Case You Needed to Go "Awwwwwww!"

Both of the newspapers I "read" regularly - the Chicago Tribune and USA Today - have added sections on pets.  No, I do not call it news.  But I think we can agree that sometimes the news just sucks, anyway.  USA Today posted a story from a reader about her Newfoundland named Rosie.  Isn't she the cutest thing?  It is a "did you ever wonder what your dog does all day while you are at work?" story.

It will make my mother cry because it sounds like something my late, great dog Dallas would have done.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin

Book 11

I was a bit cranky about this spring's One Book One Chicago pick because it was just published last year.  Meaning the used book stores didn't have it around.  But seriously, this particular book club never fails. 

Brooklyn is about a young lady in post-war Ireland whose elder sister rather steamrolls her into taking an opportunity to emigrate to the states.  Eilis lands in Brooklyn with a perfectly respectable job, in a perfectly respectable boarding house, going to night school and building a life for herself.  Even though she is dumbfounded as to why she was chosen to go and is homesick like crazy.

She meets Mr. Wonderful, who is actually wonderful.  There is a moment when it becomes clear that he wants to marry her and she can't commit to it.  On one hand, I think she is a damn fool.  But really, the unspoken dilemma that she has is that if she makes a commitment to this American (Italian, if it matters), she is also deciding not to go home.  For real.  I was feeling that.

Many things about the immigrant experience are addressed here - the church as the center of the community, the ethnic enclaves.  At one point, her department store employer determines to cater to the new African American families moving in to the community.  Eilis is chosen to staff the lingerie counter when the nylons are sold and serves the first African American customers.  She notes the tension, and how everyone is trying to ignore it.  She notes that the customers don't look at her and don't speak to her and she handles their purchases.  And she has to fight about it at home in the boarding house.  I thought it was very well done - I rather forgot the fact that Toibin is from Dublin.


That I had guessed before I got to it..but the sister dies suddenly and unexpectedly.  Before Eilis makes the trip back to Ireland, Mr. Wonderful talks her into a secret wedding.  Just to make sure she doesn't decide to stay home with her mother.  It seems like a heavy handed weasel thing to do, but it showed that he knew her pretty damn well.

So three quarters of the book is about building a life in America and the last part is racing toward answering the question: does she throw it all away out of guilt?

I was a little disappointed that some less dramatic compromises were not considered.  Like, say..why didn't Mr. Wonderful go to Ireland with her?  And why did Eilis not consider sending for her mother to come to America?  Or even going home for the purpose of settling business and taking her mother back to America?  The Choose Mom or Choose the Guy was a bit stark, but I suppose that is how you build the drama.

That said, I really loved this book.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Civil War, Ken Burns

I borrowed my mother's DVDs of The Civil War when I went on vacation and just now finished it.  Of course, I had seen most of it before, but always in bits and pieces.  Not full episodes in order.

The episodes are broken out by year, so it is mostly chronological.  There are some exceptions.  For example, I was rather rankled that 1864 ended without mention of the Battle of Franklin, but that turned up in the 1865 piece.

Burns pulls together artists to read the first person narratives   Morgan Freeman reads for Frederick Douglass, and a few other African Americans of the time.  Julie Harris reads for Mary Chestnut (I really have to pick up her diaries) and some other southern ladies.  It was distracting when their rather distinctive voices were reading for more than one person. I got over it.  Oh, and Jason Robards read for General Grant, which was awesome.

The visuals are photographs, panning in and out and from one side to another, which was fine.  And there was also video footage - some was modern landscape of the battlefields and landscape and some was footage of the aged soldiers from early in the last century.

Finally, we have the historians, like the famous Shelby Foote, give some perspective.  David McCullough narrates the entire thing. 

As a pretend student of history, I found it all very effective and entertaining.  Although it probably took me so long to get through because I still get emotionally involved in the stories.  If my perspective changed on anyone, it was General Sherman.  I never liked him much, which I imagine is primarily due to too much Gone with the Wind in my youth.  But two things about him stand out:

First, when the rest of the Union was...well, mean to General him or about him, Sherman always had his back.  When Grant was benched for no good reason, when the rumors about the booze ran rampant, when people called him a butcher.  Sherman was always his friend.  I like that.  Also, Sherman was the first guy to say out loud and in public that this was going to be a long and ugly war.  People gave him such a hard time for speaking what he knew to be true and he fell into a deep depression.  But Dude was right, and I have some sympathy.

I was hoping for some more on General Longstreet, but no dice.

I couldn't watch this over and over like a TV show, but to revisit every few years might be interesting.  But seriously, I have books to read.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Aunt Anne Wins

You might recall my telling you that my nephew Alex was unimpressed when I gifted him with a hardcover copy of Ramona the Pest for his 5th birthday last month.  I spoke with my brother today, and now it seems the kid can't get enough of it.  They rode their bikes to the library to check out Beezus and Ramona and Ramona the Brave

Scott was floored at the number of Beverly Cleary books.  "You know there is one just about Ribsy?"

Um.  Yeah.  Wait until they get to Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.  I outgrew Judy Blume before she was done writing about Peter and Fudge.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sandbag Day

A year ago in Fargo, North Dakota, the snow melted as the rains came and the Red River threatened to drown the whole city. Volunteers came out in droves to help sandbag.

It is happening again this year, but the timing is even worse – the college kids who did so much good a year ago are on Spring Break this week. So Fargo has recruited high school and even grade school kids. I read an AP report earlier in the day that talked about a three year old with his little plastic shovel out there with his big brothers.

This report on MSNBC talks about schools shutting down classes so kids can help sandbag. If there is one funny thing about this, it is the idea that a town that never calls a snow day has called a sandbag day.

One Lost to Live

I sat down in front of the family room television last night and turned on the pop up video of last week's Lost.  Because it is time for my mother to step awaaaaay from Madness.  She watched the first two seasons and then quit.  I forget what made her mad, but it may have involved Shannon losing Vincent.  Again.  After explaining the pop up concept to her, we both realized it wasn't doing enough to catch her up.  And it also didn't explain where exactly Vincent was.

As I was talking her through it, I was reminded of those weeks when we first discovered the soap opera channel on cable.  On Sunday, they would run a marathon of the entire week of General Hospital and we turned it on a couple of times.  Because Luke and Laura were back!  And Robert! And Anna!  So I tried to catch her up on what LukeandLauraandRobertandAnna had been doing for all these years.  Or anyway, what they were doing when I was in college.  And it was all so convoluted.

Explaining the last three years of Lost was like trying to catch up with General Hospital.  Except with phrases like "the space/time continuum".  But it turns out that YouTube has plenty of videos for just that purpose.  But it's funnier if you actually know who Dr. Chang is:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


This is Joker, a bunny that I am babysitting for a friend on vacation.  He is a charming bunny and has a favorite game. 

At night, when I open his cage door, he comes out and gets right in Shadow's face for as long as he can stand it...then runs back into his cage.  Shadow also likes it, because he gets to feel like a big, bad herding dog.

He also runs back into his cage every time he sees the flash, so I had to turn it off.  As far as I can tell, Spooky hasn't introduced himself.  But the rest of us are having a good time.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Old Settler

Writers’ Theatre won a million points with me for making such a hassle-free exchange of my tickets, when I decided on two weeks’ notice to go on vacation. Then, they won a few more points for sending me an e-mail reminder for Sunday that included a reminder about Daylight Savings.

That’s customer service.

The Old Settler is a story about two sisters of a certain age living in war time Harlem that take in a boarder – a nice Southern boy looking for his fiancée. The fiancée turns up, is a big pill and drama ensues.

The playbill made a big deal about how this is African American material. was set in Harlem, and the actors were African American, but it otherwise seemed to be a pretty standard drama about the American Experience. You know what made it an African American thing to me? The audience.

Writers’ Theatre, bless their hearts, try very hard to produce material that broaden our little literary horizons. But the reality is that the audience is extremely white and extremely suburban. That’s what happens when you set up shop in Glencoe. But for this production, I think a fourth..maybe even a third of the audience was African American. And it was awesome.

The theatre is really intimate – a hundred seats. I know I have told you that legend has it in one show, when a fight broke out in the action of the play, a member of the audience actually got up out of his seat to break it up. Because he’d forgotten. This show had near that kind of audience participation. A couple of audience shout outs when there was an argument between characters. Some big “Woooooo!”s when there was smooching. And – I kid you not – a collective Marge Simpson noise of displeasure when the leading lady declared, “I would have made him love me!” I have never seen this happen before.

The acting was fabulous. I saw the show with the understudy playing the lead role of Miss Elizabeth and she was wonderful. This clip seems a bit more forced than I remember it on stage, but I imagine this was taken during the dress rehearsals so I forgive them. The lady playing Lou Bessie reminded me a bit much of Jackee Harry's character on 227, except without any heart at all. I have pondered it for a day now, and rather think that was deliberate.

I don’t remember the last time I had so much fun at a show.

Two E-mails From My Brother

9:50 a.m.


So do you happen to know what episode the film breaks and so they all decide to do impressions of each other and so Colonel Potter does Father Mulkahey and says "Jocularity, Jocularity"? Do you have that on DVD? Could I borrow it? That, for some reason, has become the MASH quote in the office... well for when ever we get, uh.huh huh huh huh , uh huh huh huh huh. "Jocular".

11:11 a.m.

Re: Re: Re: MASH

So I went to a Barrington Tea Party meeting yesterday. Stood up at question time and said I was a registered republican, leaning left of center, and am mad that this organization that is claiming a base of fiscal responsability wasn't around 8-10 years ago when we invaded iraq, passed prescription drug legislation, pushed through tax breaks, and bailed out wall street. Wasn't booed, but I don't think people were too happy with me. One of the committee chairs said I should not give in to the dark side.

I was telling these things to my mother in the car this afternoon.  Her response?

He can do that, but he can't call his mother for ten days.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Overheard at Barnes and Noble

Teenaged Girl:  Does "Fiction" mean Real or Not Real?
Mother:            (........)
Mother:              Not Real.
Teenaged Girl:  Well, you know I never go to the library!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Wind Farms

The Chicago Tribune just ran a rather good article about the pros and cons of wind farms out in DeKalb County. DeKalb is about an hour and a half from Chicago, so not exactly the middle of nowhere.

So. The pros: Clean energy and a lot of people stand to make a lot of money from the projects. The investors, the counties and the farmers that are leasing their land to the energy companies. Here is the statistic that struck me:

“Each turbine, which takes up about 3 acres total, pays Halverson about $9,000 per year, he said. That compares with the going rate of about $180 per acre per year to lease farmland in DeKalb County, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

The first arguments I heard against wind farms were “eye sore” (which I don’t buy because I think they are rather pretty) and “noise pollution”. The article goes on to say that there are reports of vertigo and migraines, not to mention some really stressed out farm animals. It seems the vertigo comes from the low frequency sound that can mess up your sense of balance, like motion sickness. And the migraines can be caused by the “shadow flicker” of the sunshine on the turbine blades.

I would be prone to both of those things.

One of the local residents took this video to show what the “shadow flicker” looks like. It doesn’t seem that bad until you think that it is happening every single day all over the house.


I couldn’t live with this.

I am not sure what the answer is, except perhaps to find less populated areas for the turbines and better methods of distribution to support the necessary distance. I wouldn’t want to give up on the concept, though.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Amsterdam, by Ian McEwan

Book 10

This one is particularly spoiler-y. You have been warned.

I had extremely high hopes for Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam. Atonement was great, Saturday was even better. And Amsterdam’s press said things like “darkly comic”.

Molly Lane was a fabulous photographer-type that had lived this great life of art and love and lovers and blahblahblah. At some point in middle age, she is diagnosed with a disease that is never properly identified (although it sounds rather like Huntington’s), but her decline is rapid and she is mentally and physically helpless until she dies. The story opens with her funeral. In attendance are two of her former lovers, Clive and Vernon, that happen to be friends. And another lover. And her husband, George.

Is the husband’s name always George?

Early in the piece, Clive approaches Vernon with a request that basically amounts to, “If I ever end up like Molly, please put me out of my misery.” So they make a pact. The action continues as we follow these two men through their lives over the next weeks. And we wait for one of them to get sick, but knowing that is too easy a device for McEwan.

I also waited for the character of Molly to be fleshed out. How did she come to know and love these men? And then marry such a weasel? And maintain these friendships? While I was enjoying the build up, I was also woefully disappointed that this never materialized.

Then I hit it. The point in the story where you see where it is going and it is all about the plot and not about the characters or the language and it goes at a dead run.

Warning-warning-here is the spoiler!

George and Vernon have a couple of rows, each decides the other is crazy and they determined to “put him out of his misery”. Because that was the pact.


In the end, they are dead. It didn’t seem “darkly comic”, it seemed crazy. And sort of mean.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Fine. I'll Write Something Nice.

But it starts with:

I am so old that I have started reading "The Glenview Report".  The newsletter from my village board.  Because I care.  Or something.  There were two pieces of news:

Most of the newsletter was taken up with an explanation of the new contract with the garbage collection company.  Three things happened:

  1. We lost the option of having twice weekly service.  That was fine with me since we dropped to once weekly service over a year ago and have been perfectly happy with it.
  2. We are all required to use the garbage collection company's special garbage cans that are designed so that a contraption on the truck can lift and empty them.  The Village is going to pay for us to get them.  That is doubly fine with me since we already have said special garbage cans and will no longer have to pay the fee to rent them. 
  3. After these changes the monthly cost of the service is...wait for it...going down.
So we get the same service and pay less for it.  Go Glenview.

Also, in a small corner of the newsletter was a piece about Lockheed Martin renting space in our big, fancy police station for training and stuff.  Inasmuch as I think the big, fancy police station is a monstrosity (that I resent even further since the library has had to fight tooth and nail for every dollar) I have to say I am pleased to see that some revenue is being generated through it.  $75,000 was the number reported, I believe.

So thank you, Village Board.  You seem to have done some good work here.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The End of the TV Season

USA Today is reporting that this season is it for Kiefer Sutherland and 24.  I'm good with that.  I have been watching the entire season on double-speed DVR. 

And maybe, if 24 is done and Lost is done, I can get back to Academic Earth.  Because right now I can't even get through my Ken Burns DVDs.

And all the books I want to read! 

Update on this Crazy Experiment

I was talking about the nail technician who told me to take care of my dry cuticles by rubbing baby oil into them and covering them with latex gloves.  So I tried it.  Knock on something, but it seems to have been working.

I don't do it every day, and can't stand wearing the gloves for a full hour, but I would make an honest effort when it was convenient to do so.  While my hands still don't look great, my nails appear to be done peeling.

The other thing I learned is that I wasn't doing myself any favors by wearing nail polish all the time.  While I thought using the strengthener and whatever was...strengthening was also keeping the moisturizers from getting through. 

So maybe it is all less crazy than I thought.

The Spring Ugly

Spring in Chicago always starts with the ugly melting remnants of winter. 

But then.  Driving with the windows open again.  Finally.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Clapton: The Autobiography, by Eric Clapton

Book 9

I’ve had Clapton: The Autobiography on my shelf for about a year. I may have mentioned that after reading Pattie Boyd’s memoir, I had no interest in hearing a thing Clapton had to say. My fascination and disdain also stem from my old man, who is in the Clapton is God camp. While the music was always in my house, I most remember Clapton from the famous MTV Unplugged where he played “Tears in Heaven”. I can’t even listen to that song anymore, but that was probably why I picked up the book in the first place.

The early part of the book didn’t quite hold my attention. Too much about guitar technique and the players in the London music scene. But I found my refrain pretty quickly. It was, “Geez, man. Can you commit to anything?”

Seriously, people. Even after the Yardbirds. And Cream. And Derek and the Dominoes. Wait – Blind Faith was before that. I think. Even after he went solo, Clapton was firing his band all the damn time. He made a point of talking about the time that he fired his band himself, as opposed to staffing it out. And how proud he was of that (as a rite of passage in his sobriety).

And I was still thinking, “Can you commit to anything?”

He totally owns the fact that he was horrible to Pattie. And to Alice, with whom he went down the rabbit hole before Pattie left George. Mm. I didn’t mean to make an Alice joke.

The story about Conor is appropriately heartbreaking, and the fact that Clapton didn’t go straight back to the bottle is probably what won me over. But as I think about the book as a whole, it seems to me that his writing is actually cleaner as the book goes can sort of feel the clarity at the end.

More Starbucks Substitutes

My mother bought herself one of those new-fangled coffee machines from Keurig around Christmas.  I imagine you have seen them.  They use little "pods" a bit larger than an old container of creamer and brew one cup of coffee at a time. 

Convenient, if you only want one cup of coffee.  Then one day, she got a really good deal from QVC or HSN or Kohl's or something and picked up a second one.  So that she has one upstairs and one downstairs. 

But only one cup at a time.

So I started to do some analysis.

I believe the machine retails for $90.  (It's on clearance at Bed Bath & Beyond right now, but never mind that.)  Not a huge amount of money for an appliance, but still a commitment.  But you also have to buy those little pods.  BB&B has them.  $10 for a case of 18.  That comes to 56 cents a cup before you figure in taxes and the ubiquitous 20% discount coupons.  Not bad.

However.  I have been informed that you have to use bottled water, as opposed to tap water in the machine.  I presume that means filtered, but in my house, it comes out of my Culligan water cooler.  That is fine.  But assuming my mother isn't making stuff up, there is still some cost associated with filtering your drinking water to use in the machine.

I just saw there is some kind of water filter in the machine that has to be changed every once in awhile.  Perhaps you can call that an incidental cost.  I'm not sure.

So, is it worth it?

First, you have to be sure there is a flavor that you like.  I have seen Caribou coffee, Green Mountain and Gloria Jean's in my house.  No Starbucks.  There are also a few flavors of tea and hot chocolate.  I can confirm that the hot chocolate is acceptable.  Better than Swiss Miss, not as good as Starbucks or McCafe.

Second, understand that "one cup" is eight ounces.  As in half the size of a grande.  So if you are used to that 16 ounces, you will be brewing two cups.  And since only one standard size cup fits under there, you will end up pouring the first brew into your big mug and putting it back under the spout for a second run, with a second pod.  That's getting two dishes dirty.

There is a little filter pod for those that like the machine but want to use their own coffee beans. It costs $15 and can be reused.  I don't know how long it will realistically last.  It is probably more cost effective than the pods, but if you were serious about cost effective, you'd probably be brewing your own coffee for real.

So who is the target market?  Not the coffee snobs, or even mass consumers.  I shouldn't think it would appeal to the commuter crowd - since a travel mug doesn't fit in it.  I have anecdotal evidence that if you take it to work, your co-workers will start scamming your coffee right and left, and who wants that?  So I'm thinking it is mostly the gadget people, and those looking for a trendy alternative to Starbucks.

That's my take.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Planning a Vacation with Alex

My nephew, Alex, is five years old. He likes football, television, video games and camping in the basement with his dad. The last time he was at my house, he actually whined that he didn’t want to go home. They had to remind him that he was going to pitch the tent in the basement with Daddy that night. He also likes hotels.

I believe I wrote about the night, just over a year ago, when I took Alex to the Marriott Lincolnshire. We spent the night at the hotel and went to (five minutes) of the children’s theatre production of Aladdin the next morning. He hated the theatre, but still talks about “going on vacation” with Aunt Anne.

So I spoke with his mother, Becky, about taking another trip with him this summer. I wondered if he could do more than one night away from home. She was convinced that he could, but suggested that he was old enough to decide for himself. So she asked him:

Becky: Alex, would you like to go on vacation with Aunt Anne and stay at a hotel?

Alex: Yes!

Becky: Would you like to go for one night or two nights? How many?

Alex: (thinking for a second) Five nights!

Alrighty then.

The next weekend, I was at their house, before the Chicago Slaughter game. I had him take out his atlas and we sat down to decide where we might go. I’d been thinking Indianapolis, but was kind of jazzed about negotiating with the boy.

We found Chicago on the map. I used his grandparents’ home, near Galena, as the benchmark. I pointed to it and said:

“That is where Grandma and Grandpa live. That is three hours in the car.”

We talked about St. Louis, Milwaukee and Indianapolis. I even asked if he wanted to take a train and spend the weekend in Chicago. He said:

“But I’ve already been to Chicago.”

We were leaning toward Indy. Then he asked about Michigan. I pointed to Ann Arbor:

Me: OK, Alex. Here is Ann Arbor. That is where the Wolverines play. Aunt Bev lives there, so we could see her, too. But Ann Arbor is five hours in the car. That’s pretty far. Indianapolis is only three hours, like going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

Alex: But it would make Aunt Bev so happy.

By the end of the conversation, we hadn’t made a decision. But I’m thinking I’d better call Aunt Bev, just in case.

Friday, March 5, 2010


It seems I haven’t told you about Sigmund yet. New foster bird. He came in with another grey and I brought him home because no one had really been able to handle him yet.

For the whole three weeks I have had him, he hasn’t given me a problem once. He steps up very nicely. I am thinking he just prefers the left-handed approach. I am still trying to get a handle on his vocabulary, but he is a very good eater.

Obviously, he has been a pretty bad feather plucker. But I am encouraged by some new feather growth and he does not seem to be picking at it.

So, my first Sigmund story starts with the note that last Sunday my mother fell in the garage and broke her foot. When I was awakened in the middle of the night by something crashing, I was sure it was her. I burst into her room and all was quiet. She’s looking at me like I’m a lunatic.

If it wasn’t her, it had to be the birds. I remembered that the morning of the earthquake, Kiwi had fallen on her face and gotten all bruised. I went downstairs and found blood all over Sigmund’s cage. He was sitting in the water dish, all shaken up. I had to towel him to get him to the bathroom and assess the damage.

He was all frantic and wouldn’t let me check him out, but the bleeding had stopped. I figured that he had fallen off his high perch and banged a blood feather that was growing in on his wing. There didn’t appear to be anything broken.

So, feeling all sick and light-headed, I put him back to bed, figuring I would ask our director to take a look at him the next day, just in case. He was not at all surprised. Apparently, Sigmund is a rather clumsy bird.

So here’s the funny part. My mother was saying that while a crashing noise made me first think “Mom fell” and second think “Birds fell”, her brain went to “someone is in the house”. Right at that moment I realized that our front door had been unlocked the entire night. She thought a second and said, “Well, I knew that no one was in the house because you had gone downstairs and would have screamed if someone was there.”

“Mom. I couldn’t scream. I’d lost my voice.”

She said, “I couldn’t have helped you anyway. My foot is broken.”


Since I am home sick, sitting in bed and unable to talk, I finally have time to tell this story of the very, very stupid thing I did on vacation and how I fixed it:

The parking lot of the hotel had one of those gates that guests use their room keys to activate when they come and go.  As I was heading out one morning, there was a couple in front of me, in a convertible, having trouble getting out the gate.  I backed up, thinking they would back up and let me go by while they figured it out.

They did not.  The wife hopped out of the car and ran back to the front entrance to get help.  She came back alone, told her husband to back up and try again, like there was a sensor or something that has to be triggered.  Didn't work.  Long story short, they couldn't get the thing to work and wouldn't get out of my way.  It went on for at least 10 minutes.

Finally, the lady came back and asked if they could use my room key on the gate.  In my impatience, I gave it to her.

I gave her my room key.  Of all the paranoid travel safety rules, I broke that one.

Somehow, in my brain, she was going to walk up to the gate, swipe my card and walk it back to me.  All where I could see her.  Instead, she got back into the car and handed it to her guy.  After a few seconds, he swiped the card and the gate opened.  He drove threw.  Only then did she get out of the car and walk the key back to me.  I drove up, swiped it again and drove out myself.

I headed out to the main road behind them and saw leave.  But then I start debating with myself.

  1. We are all on vacation.  They probably just demagnetized their room key with the cell phones.  Happens all the time.
  2. My room key was out of my sight, in the hands of a stranger.  They could have swapped keys.  They could have my room key.
  3. Please.  Someone staged that whole thing to get a room key?
  4. Kate and Sawyer would do that.
  5. Seriously.  The room key doesn't have a room number on it.  They would have had to stake me out to find out what room I am in.
  6. Kate and Sawyer would do that.
  7. My computer, iPod, Kindle, and wallet are in that room.
I turned around, went to the front desk, and had my keys reset.  Problem solved.  But still:

What should I have done in this situation?

In hindsight, I thought about taking my key to swipe it for them much earlier in the drama, but I decided it would appear impatient and presumptuous.  However, when the lady came back and asked, I probably should have taken my key, gotten out of my car and walked it up at that time. 

But never, never give someone else the room key.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

About the Credit Cards

When I read about the new credit card rules, my first thought was, "Huh.  I'd better use my safety card once or twice."

Because the credit card companies now have the right to charge fees on cards that haven't been used.  I still have my college Mastercard from Citibank.  It was good to me, but the rewards weren't there.  So I stopped using it actively and kept in in the house for emergencies.  I hadn't gotten to using it yet, and now I won't have the chance.  I received a letter from Citibank today saying they had cancelled the card due to its non-use.

Hm.  I guess that's their prerogative.  But if they had asked nicely, or even just charged the fee before closing the account, they would have kept my business.  Perhaps even increased it.  Because I had a stupid sentimental attachment to that card.  Still have the number memorized.

I understand the credit card companies need to shift the paradigm on the business model or whatever, so I don't have a problem waiting it out while the feds and the banks arm wrestle over the questions of profit and stability and fairness and service.  I realize that is a luxury.  I realize that I have been milking the rewards program. And Eric Zorn at the Chicago Tribune says in this article that I have been rewarded at the expense of the poor, so I felt bad for about five minutes.  Because what am I supposed to do, not work the programs?

My primary need for credit cards is convenience.  The rewards are nice, but secondary.  I don't want anyone to go bankrupt over them, though.

So goodbye, Citibank.  No hard feelings.  Thank you for giving me my very first credit card.  I hope you find what you are looking for in the next girl.

(But somehow I doubt it.)

Being Sick and Other Randomness

My voice is still gone.  And I actually had to leave our department planning meeting today because I couldn't stop coughing.  So I went to the doctor, who put me on an anti-biotic and told me to stay home.  And really.  Rest the vocal chords.

When I woke up this morning, I knew it would be a struggle to get through the day.  So I did my hair and make up for reals and put on a skirt.  And you know what happened? 

I was walking through the grocery store to pick up the prescription when I ran into one of the young ladies that bags groceries.  I am ashamed to say that I don't know her name, but I see her once or twice a month. She said, "You look really pretty today."  I barely managed to whisper a "thank you" so she must think I am very rude.  But here is what you should know:  Bare Escentuals.  Foundation as concealer.

And the other randomness:

First, Costco just won a thousand points with me.  I went to get gas at the Costco gas station.  Because it is Members Only, we are required to swipe our member cards and then our credit cards.  My membership had expired.  It let me get gas anyway.  It looks like they will only let you get away with it once, but when the weather is bad, that means a lot.  So thank you, Costco.

Second, a colleague was selling girl scout cookies for his daughter.  I bought a box of the new ones with cranberry in them so that I wouldn't buy two boxes of Thin Mints.  And they were really good.  Such that I bought another box, which is what I was trying to avoid in the first place!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Lost My Voice

Literally.  As in I Cannot Speak Out Loud.  I can only whisper.  I was on vacation and barely spoke to a single person for six days and was just fine, but in my real life?

I can't do my job.

I had an allergy attack almost two weeks ago that I never got under control.  Starting coughing Saturday and had a pretty sore throat on Sunday.  I was in meetings all day yesterday.  When I woke up this morning unable to speak, I had to have my mommy call the doctor and get me an appointment.  The diagnosis?

"I think your (self) diagnosis was spot on.  Rest your vocal chords for three days, but there isn't much else to be done."

Rest my vocal chords?

I have a department planning meeting on Thursday.  Maybe we can make an icebreaker out of Anne Charades.