Sunday, December 31, 2006

Ringing It In

This time of year prompts summaries of the milestones and memories from the past twelve months. But I am leaving all of that to news anchors and snarky commentators because I am so excited about our plans for tonight!

A whole gang of friends is coming over for New Year’s Eve and the occasion is especially exciting because we hardly ever get hang out all together. We all worked at a camp in the Pocono Mountains within the past five years where we forged amazing friendships. Nowadays, we’re scattered all over the place so it’s hard to make schedules coincide and we grab any chance we can, even to help each other move. Tonight is just one of those chances and I am looking forward to it so much.

Because I need to continue the trend of stuffing my face during my time off, there will be a ton of food. Thanks to JG, the fridge is full of dips (taco, spinach and artichoke, and seven-layer) ready to be baked and the new chocolate fountain is ready for its debut with marshmallows, pretzels, and graham crackers playing supporting roles. Towers of Tupperware are packed with jumbo chocolate chip cookies, sour cream cookies, brownies, and a batch of surprise birthday cupcakes for one of our friends. Everyone is staying the night to watch the Penn State bowl game tomorrow and I’ve prepped two crock pots full of yummy chili. It’ll stew slowly after we crash for the night, making the house smell amazing, so that we can devour it over baked potatoes during halftime. I love any excuse to make chili! I mean, I love seeing my friends and making chili for them…

We’ll play games (including The Best Game Ever, hopefully), catch up on our lives, watch the ball drop, and then cheer on Penn State to a victory against Tennessee. It will be a blast and I can’t wait.

May your celebration be as bright! See you in 2007!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Wishful Pictures

Sure, we took the normal Christmas photos of the dinner table all laid out, the whole family in front of the tree and various “ooh, look what I got!” poses during present-opening. I don’t know about you, but there are times when I wish I could create a print of whatever was going on. Sometimes it’s a camera in my eye; I would say, “click”, in my head and the resulting photo would be as sharp and spontaneous as it appeared to me regardless of things like lighting or talent. At other times, it would be some third-person photographer who just happened to be around to capture, say, JG and me bustling around to make Christmas dinner. Unfortunately, these are all figments of my imagination and the following great moments do not exist on film or in digital form, but it would be so great if they did.

  • The spread of appetizers provided by my non-cooking sister that included seven-layer dip and crabcakes. We were all duly impressed.
  • Me falling on the kitchen floor, gasping with silent laughter, thankfully out of sight, while my dad parsed out the details of the new Bond flick with my exasperated sister:
    Dad: You know how the girl told James Bond that the tuxedo was “custom”? What does that mean? How did she get his measurements?
    Sister: I don’t know, Dad, it’s just part of the movie.
    Dad: What is she, a psychologist?
    Sister: …
  • JG’s face when he thought we had received a third slow cooker.
  • JG’s face when it turned out to be a chocolate fountain!
  • My sister in each of her three outfits for Christmas Day. No exaggeration.
  • The amoebic pancakes – due to a strangely runny batter – that graced our Brunch Extravaganza. We also had eggs, sausage, fruit, coffee, juice, and an enormous coffeecake that I had to ration out to the rest of the family just so it would be eaten.
  • The hundreds of poinsettias we saw in the conservatory while taking in the holiday display at Longwood Gardens. Also, the gorgeous all-white tree in the topiary garden.
  • My dad scraping out the last bits of JG’s jambalaya out of a giant bowl. It was that good.
  • My mom throwing her hands up and whooping with delight that she beat all of us in Apples to Apples.
  • Me during Catch Phrase, with an intense, incredulous expression, while describing incomplete pass to my sister and mom: “This is when, in football, the quarterback’s throw is not caught by the receiver. … It’s not caught! What is that called?! Okay, what’s the throw called? Pass, yes! So, when it is not caught… it’s unfinished! Not done yet!” If they hadn’t figured it out after all that, I would have had to bust some heads.
  • My dad’s look of ecstasy when JG demonstrated the glory that is surround sound and my mom’s shifty, worried expression when she entered the living room and asked, “What’s all this ruckus?”
  • “The most awkward hug ever” as described by JG after he misinterpreted my grandmother’s indication to shake hands and went in for the embrace.
  • A quiet, clicking scene that should have qualified us for Electronics Anonymous: immediately after waving off my parents and grandmother, JG turned on the football game, I checked e-mail, and my sister and her boyfriend tapped intently on their Blackberrys. I am not sure that we could have stopped any time we wanted to.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

In the Quiet Afterward

We did it! We successfully hosted Christmas! My parents and grandmother left after breakfast, I just waved off my sister, and JG and I finally had the house to ourselves. Of course, the first thing we did was fire up the computer and check e-mail.

We surveyed the wreckage and, thankfully, it’s not that bad. We have a big plastic container of leftover London broil (we’ll have cheese steaks and fried rice aplenty), a pile of presents, and linens waiting to be washed. All in all, it was a good experience to host a family event and I would much rather do this than travel all over the place, but it is tiring. It’s a relief not to have to ask people if they need a drink or if they’re too warm or cool. I’ll be glad to wash all of the towels and replenish our dangerously-low supply. Running (and emptying) the dishwasher twice a day was not so fun, but it certainly helped our sanity level during the past few days.

Despite my tired feet and tendency toward yawning, it was a great Christmas. There was something about opening up the house, telling stories about the ornaments, and sharing baked goods that triggered a dormant hostess hormone in me. JG and I buzzed around the house, whipping up dinners, setting out cookies, distributing towels, and placing gifts under the tree. We worked well together and chuckled softly when my family made funny-without-knowing-it comments. I’m glad that we both emerged relatively unscathed from the holiday, not dreading the thought of seeing my family again but still enjoying the quiet respite of an empty house.

For now, I plan on lapsing into a nap while the laundry cycles through. We confirmed earlier in the day that JG’s mom and siblings are arriving tomorrow morning to visit us for a short while, so we’ve got to re-make up those beds tonight. I might be kicking myself for committing to so much later on, but for now, it’s just right.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Belated

When I was a senior in high school, I auditioned for and got a solo in the annual Christmas show presented by the chorus. I sang “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and did a tap dance number with Rudolph, or as much as a tap number as can be faked in sneakers or a reindeer suit. That year, one of my best friends, Kip, played Rudolph and we had so much fun with the song. He and I had always been in the same classes since fourth grade and even though we were polarized in terms of interests and temperament, we spoke the same language. I reminded him of when our assignments were due and he got me to loosen up, but most of all, we made each other laugh. Being friends since the fourth grade gave us plenty of fun times and being Rudolph & Girl was another one for the books. Somewhere, there’s a picture of the two of us from that performance, and I really wish I had a copy.

Kip’s birthday fell on Christmas Eve and one of our rituals was that he would tease me about how I’d never given him a gift for his birthday or Christmas. He knew that on the day before we got out of school for winter break, I’d hand him a candy cane taped to a Christmas card and say with a healthy dose of attitude, “Happy Birthday. Merry Christmas. Happy, now?” Kip would punch me, I would roll my eyes, and everything was how it should have been.

Just a few days after my twentieth birthday, I got a phone call at college with news that Kip had committed suicide. I boarded a train to go back home, where I wept silently during the funeral, and his parents cried when they hugged me. All I could think of was that however badly I was feeling, it must be so much worse for them. I ached with the knowledge that they were trying to comfort me. The anniversary of that week is still raw for me.

This morning, after reading a particularly poignant blog post, I sighed to myself, eyebrows furrowed. In response to my husband’s questioning eyes, I said slowly, “Yesterday was the first Christmas Eve that I didn’t remember that it was Kip’s birthday. In maybe fifteen years. And that makes me a little sad.” I hope I’m not on the path to forgetting, that the anniversary will go by and it’ll be just a regular day. I’m grasping at the memory, kicking myself for not remembering last night and having a quiet moment to reflect on it.

But the memory stings today when it's clear that not all of the tears are spent.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Night Before

I can hardly believe it, but everything is done. After I woke up at 6am and was unable to go back to sleep – very unlike me – I spent most of the day in the kitchen, wearing slippers and my new pajamas (thanks, JG’s mom!), while I measured ingredients and whipped mint icing and dipped finished products in chocolate. But I’m finished! Boxes of cookies are stacked up and a cheesecake is quivering in the fridge.

Tonight, per my request, JG and I will watch A Charlie Brown Christmas. It cracks me up to watch Lucy insist on being the Christmas Queen and that Schroeder should buy “pretty things for pretty girls.” I also laugh out loud when all of the kids sing “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” and they tilt their heads backward and open their mouths really wide – in unison! The best part, though, is when Linus takes the stage and says, “Lights, please.” Oh, I can’t wait.

Aside from the excitement of hosting Christmas (like a real adult or something) I’m savoring the time alone with JG most of all. Christmas brings out the contemplative in me, what can I say? It all reminds me of a certain strip from Calvin and Hobbes, my favorite comic. In 1989, Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday, so cartoonist Bill Watterson wrote a poem for the occasion, framed by a single-panel, color illustration of Calvin leaning up against Hobbes in front of a toasty fire. I may not have a fireplace or a stuffed tiger, but I have a comfy couch and a wonderful husband, and the lines are pretty close to what I’m feeling now. From our quiet, cozy living room, I leave you this poem and the warmest wishes for a great Christmas.

On window panes, the icy frost
Leaves feathered patterns, crissed & crossed,
But in our house the Christmas tree
Is decorated festively
With tiny dots of colored light
That cozy up this winter night.
Christmas songs, familiar, slow,
Play softly on the radio.
Pops and hisses from the fire
Whistle with the bells and choir.
My tiger is now fast asleep
On his back and dreaming deep.
When the fire makes him hot,
He turns to warm whatever’s not.
Propped against him on the rug,
I give my friend a gentle hug.
Tomorrow’s what I'm waiting for,
But I can wait a little more.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

It's Crunch Time

There are two dry-erase boards in the kitchen: one is just for grocery store items and a larger one is for working out math problems (JG) or compulsive list-making (me). I derive great satisfaction from swiping my thumb across a task with a ringing “Done!” in my ears and a list of to-do’s that looks that much emptier.

Today calls for a Big List. We’ve jotted down all of the things we need to do before my family descends upon our house on Christmas Day and even though it’s not as bad as it could be, it’s still a little intimidating. It’s the last push, the final cram session! Thankfully, the majority of my list is baking. Between my family’s expectations and my church’s Christmas Eve festivities, I committed to quite a bit. By Sunday afternoon, I will have produced:

  • 8 dozen cookies (3 varieties)
  • 4 dozen brownies
  • A pumpkin cheesecake
  • A loaf of bread

Aside from a clean house and piles of baked goods, I’m looking forward to a prize at the end of it all. JG had the forethought to add “snuggle during a movie” to the list, so that’ll be a nice reward to successfully erasing off things during the day.

Here we go…

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

False Advertising

Last week, while celebrating JG’s birthday, I encountered a ridiculous product that I won’t ever use again. It’s a public service announcement, really.

After we ate our Chinese takeout and JG opened his presents, I set off to frost the cake. I have zero cake-decorating experience, so when I was at the grocery store picking up supplies, I spied something called Easy Squeeze Decorating Icing. Ooh, you just screw on one of their handy decorating tips and off you go! I bought a tube of white and blue (flavors unknown, I guess) and I was all set. I wasn’t worried that I had left the actual decorating to the day of because, really, how long was it going to take? My plan was to write, “Happy Birthday” in white, do a nice thick, scrolly border in blue, and then I’d make random white flecks across the border to satisfy the “lots of frosting” request from JG. Simple enough, I thought:

Okay, so the writing should be narrow. Here’s the smallest tip. Threading it on was easy enough. So, I’ll just squeeze it out and write out the words. Maybe in cursive? That would be fancy. Man, I’m squeezing really hard and nothing is happening. Oh, I see, I have to squeeze hard enough to get the tip to fill up with icing, too. Okay. Good, here’s the icing coming out! Now, I can start my letters!

What the heck?! Why isn’t the icing sticking to the cookie?! I guess I need to apply more pressure, but my hand is already killing me and the cake only says, “Hap”. That’s not even a word! Maybe the narrow tip is the hardest one to squeeze. I’ll try the biggest one for a little bit. … Oops, I can only fit “Bday” in with this one. Argh! It’s still not sticking! Whatever, I’ll just pick up the “y” and put it in place. There.

I’m sure it’ll be easier to do the border, so let me break into the blue. Okay, and I’m using the second biggest tip… Here we go. What is the blue stuff leaking out?! Agh, it’s all over me. No, not on the cookie…! Too late. I’ll dab that off with a paper towel. All right, let’s give this a try. I’ve seen people make those little wavy humps to make a pattern, so maybe I can do that. More leakage! What in the world! And the more I squeeze, the more it leaks! But my hand really hurts. This isn’t working. I hate this stuff!

I ended up flipping the tube of icing over, slashing it open with my kitchen shears, and glopping the icing along the cake’s edge with a butter knife. But then I studded it with extra chocolate chips because I’m classy like that. An hour after I began, I presented the mangled thing with aching hands. JG liked the end result, but I felt like the whole thing was mocking me. Stupid icing. Unless your day job consists of testing those tension dolls with pop-out eyes, those ridiculous tubes are not easy to squeeze. I shake my fist at you, Easy Squeeze Decorating Icing! Never again!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Bubble Burst

It all started when we heard “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” on the radio.

Radio: All of the other reindeer…
JG and RA: Reindeer!
Radio: …used to laugh and call him names.
RA: Like Pinocchio!
JG: Like Funny Face!
Both of us: What did you say?
(Meanwhile: “They never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games”)
RA: Like Monopoly!
JG: Like football!
Both of us: What?!

Those echoes aren’t really something to debate reasonably, even if you are well-informed adults, if we do say so ourselves. We just learned them in different ways, so the logic ended up being really sophisticated, such as, “How would Rudolph play football?!” and “His nose didn’t grow, so Funny Face would make way more sense!” We ultimately agreed to disagree and mused about how some things are simply left up to regional differences.

A few days later, JG said out of the blue, “So, I surveyed the other teachers in my lunch at school about the whole Rudolph thing. (Oh great, I thought, everyone thinks football is a reindeer game.) Half of the people had never sung the echoes before and half of them agreed with you!”

Oh, wow. I win?

He continued, “I still can’t believe no one had even heard of calling Rudolph Funny Face.”

JG seemed so disappointed at this recent disillusionment that I didn’t have the heart to rub it in. I didn’t even launch into the “I Told You So” dance from Will and Grace, even though I do love any excuse to break that one out. But that would not be in line with the Christmas spirit, huh?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Tree Nostalgia

It’s a little bit strange to have a Christmas tree that’s not my parents’ artificial one, sitting in the back of the living room by the piano. It’s odd not to unwrap the old funky ornaments that I made in grade school or the ones with zigzaggy trim that my mom made when my parents were first married. I felt a little disoriented last year without my familiar Christmas surroundings. Now that it’s our second married Christmas, though, I enjoy the feeling that JG and I have started to establish our own little traditions, and it all started with the ornaments.

In the summers between semesters at college, JG and I worked at a summer camp as lifeguards and counselors, where one of the traditions is to have a staff reunion at the annual New Year’s Eve party. Every year, any engaged couples from the course of the year receive an ornament shower to furnish their first Christmas tree, and two years ago, JG and I were the recipients. I appreciated it so much because our tree features the ornaments we received that night and we may not have had many ornaments otherwise. Some of them are pretty generic, but that’s okay – not everyone knew us well. We really like the snowman made up of ice cubes and the Noah’s ark, but we don’t remember who gave them to us. Others are amazingly personal and I have loved unwrapping and hanging them on the tree.

  • A miniature, scaled lifeguard chair that one of JG’s eventual groomsmen created just for us
  • A chubby moose on skis, based on a joke that JG is a “fat moose”, when he is super-skinny in reality
  • A bejeweled glass ornament crafted by a former camper who happens to be an art major
  • A handmade collage of scenes from The Emperor’s New Groove, our favorite movie, which we forced our fellow staffers to watch several times
  • An “Our First Christmas” picture frame ornament from the other engaged couple that year; we attended their wedding almost exactly a year after our own

With help from our parents, JG and I have supplemented our initial collection with sentimental ornaments from our childhood like JG’s “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament and my building block with my initials. We both love the patchwork tree where it’s all mixing and not really matching – not like those pre-planned trees that you see in catalogues. I like to think that it’s like a photo album that spans all of the years, and it’s always nice to flip through the pictures and recall the fun times.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

An Unreliable Narrator

I realized this week that I was in the middle of a memoir streak – three in a row. In my running loop of a reading list, I usually try to alternate fiction and non-, but this trend caught me by surprise. In two weeks’ time, I’ve gone through Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris; ’Tis, by Frank McCourt; and Running with Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs, with varying levels of affection. That is, I liked them all except the last one, which I read in the past twelve hours with the compulsion that comes from watching a train wreck and wanting it to end. I’m interested in how others may have felt about these books, but that’s not this is about; I don’t pretend to be a literary critic.

As I read both Me Talk Pretty One Day and ’Tis, I thought, “This is what my professors meant by showing, rather than telling.” I could picture David Sedaris’s strange performance pieces and shuddered at the awkwardness when his parents attended. I was next to Frank McCourt when he swept floors at the Biltmore and shared his sadness when he returned to Ireland for a less-than-joyful family reunion. Their stories were captivating because they were true and, sometimes, that very fact made their sadness and pain much more acute. I wanted to absorb the authors’ fluidity of language that made the words actually convey what happened, instead of producing a dim shadow that leaves the storyteller muttering, “I guess you had to be there.”

I’ve been struck by the idea that perhaps this phase of reading has been spurred by my entrance into the blogosphere. What are bloggers doing, if not creating a memoir of sorts? I’m interested, even invested, in the blogs I read because I know there is a real person typing out that story with any bias, background information, and baggage that might come along. I know memoirs have gotten the shaft lately because they may or may not be true and that makes me a little bit sad. It might be na├»ve, but I would like to take memoirs for what they’re worth and believe that they’re true accounts. What can you do? Even with the best of intentions, we all write from a point of view and unfortunately, none of us can assume the third-person omniscient one. I’m one of countless unreliable narrators, like Nick from The Great Gatsby.

My recent reading has challenged me to think of this little blog as a modern memoir. I don’t have delusions of publication or even slightly widespread renown – it’s just a collection of memories where I try my hardest to show and not just tell.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Party Time!

What do Nostradamus and Patty Duke have in common with my husband? They were all born on December 14! Which is today!

After I race home from work, it’s an evening featuring some of JG’s favorite things for his birthday celebration:

  • Eating Chinese takeout
  • Opening presents
  • Having chocolate chip cookie cake, with “lots of frosting”, per his request
  • Watching Survivor and CSI

It’s a school night, so it won’t be too wild, but it’s all about him, and that’s what really matters, right?

Happy Birthday, JG!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Butterdoodles

“Try this,” I commanded, sticking a cookie in front of JG’s nose. I had detected an error in my execution and wanted to see if the batch was salvageable. It was Sunday and fairly late in the evening for making cookies.

He took a bite. “Um, I think it’s fine. What’s wrong?”
“An extra stick of butter! I forgot that a stick was a half cup, and I used an extra stick of butter!”
“Well, it’s moist, all right.”

My office has an annual cookie swap for the holidays and I thought it would be nice to send a batch of snickerdoodles, my swapping cookie of choice, to our headquarters in San Francisco. This crepe-like batch was supposed to be for my co-workers out west and I could not send them the fat-laden cookies with a clear conscience. I tipped the unbaked balls of dough into the trash, along with the cookies that had spread from their own continental drift. I had baked Pangaea on my hands, extra-fatty.

“I am such a baking failure this weekend,” I complained dramatically.
“That is so not true. Two out of the three things you baked this weekend came out right.”

Okay, fine. It had been a highly domesticated weekend for me and it wasn’t all bad. I made another loaf of no-knead bread (now informally dubbed “weekend bread” at our house) that came out all crusty and wonderful; it sacrificed itself to give us top-notch grilled cheese sandwiches yesterday. I also experimented with miniature pumpkin cheesecakes intended for my family at Christmas. I’m pretty good at regular-sized cheesecake and individual portions of anything can be so darn cute, so I couldn’t resist. They ended up quite tasty, but I just don’t think cheesecake is a finger food. JG and I peeled off the cupcake wrappers and weren’t sure what to do with it. Just shove it in your mouth? It seemed rather coarse for what I had thought would have been a dainty finger food. What was the point of mini cheesecake if you have to get a fork to eat it? I may as well just make the normal big cheesecake since I know what I’m doing.

Then the buttery snickerdoodles. I was irritated primarily because I’ve made those cookies since nursery school, rolling the balls of dough with my mom at the kitchen island. Shouldn’t I know how to make them by now? I love watching the cookies rise up into little cinnamony hemispheres and then crumple back up later on, giving the impression of a perpetually furrowed brow. Baking is a mysterious alchemy to me; you start with humble ingredients and end up with something totally different and delicious from the properties of gluten and protein. JG chuckles at me crouching, entranced, in front of the oven door. But this time, I had to wash a sinkful of dishes, an additional source of annoyance, for cookies that ended up unbaked and in the trash can.

That’s how, today, I ended up making my third batch of cookies in three days. I shipped out yesterday’s batch out to San Francisco and tonight’s four dozen are packed up for the cookie swap on Thursday. Tomorrow holds yet another workout for my mixer, but making JG’s chocolate chip cookie birthday cake should be fun. If nothing else, I look forward to an adventure with frosting...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Metal and Carbon

I look at my engagement and wedding rings a lot ... three times in an hour is probably a low estimate. I imagine that someone seeing the frequent gazes at my finger – maybe passing by my desk at work or standing behind me at the pharmacy – might think that I'm a brand-newlywed, but I'm okay with that.

The rings lure my eyes so easily but they're very simple. My wedding band is a plain, white-gold band and it sits snugly behind my engagement ring, which is a thin, white-gold band with a round-cut diamond. My sister commented that I had “gone way traditional” when she first saw it, but that’s what I think engagement rings look like. I don’t have a rock that will blind someone across the room, but I’m a small person, and I wanted something in proportion to me. When I look at it, I remember the first time I realized how amazingly reflective diamonds are. I was sitting at my computer and my hand drifted into the sunbeam that fell across my desk. Tiny points of light danced on my wall, and I moved my hand slightly, transfixed at the spots’ movements. I was stunned that the ring on my very own finger could create that much light and play. I still like to see how lamplight is reflected within and outside of the stone, but that’s a bit of the inner geek talking.

Sometimes, for just a few minutes, I take off my rings and wear one at a time. I feel like they embody different stages of my life. The engagement ring is anticipation: wearing it alone brings back the excitement of wedding planning, showers, and the pleasure of telling how JG proposed. The wedding ring is contentment; the solitary band is modest and symbolizes a long, strong commitment. It’s uncluttered and quiet, the way I’d like to be in the future. My rings give me aspirations of optimism and serenity and I like them together because of it.

Pragmatically, I know that these pieces of jewelry are just metal and carbon and these cold, hard materials do not intrinsically inspire affection and awe. What is it, then?

Ah, it’s the giver. Yes, I think of anticipation and contentment when I see them, but most of all, I think of JG. I remember him down on one knee and at the altar. I remember saying yes and saying vows. That’s a lot to handle, and somehow, all of it is compressed into these two rings. No wonder I look at them so often. Maybe I’ll be able to wrap my head around it one of these days.

Until then, I’m satisfied to look my rings periodically, and occasionally flutter them in front of JG and say, “Look how pretty!” as he shakes his head. He knows I love them and him, but not in that order.

Friday, December 8, 2006

The Nerdiest Gift (So Far)

Because my husband is a math teacher who loves his subject like most people love chocolate, I tend to give rather nerdy gifts. A good example might be The Colossal Book of Mathematics, a collection of Scientific American articles, which JG has called "the best book ever" without even a hint of sarcasm. But this year, I may have outdone myself.

One of JG’s birthday gifts this year was a year’s membership to the National Scrabble Association (NSA). That’s right, there’s an association. With it, the lucky recipient gets eight issues of the NSA newsletter, a nifty membership card, and best of all, lists of handy words for slaughtering opponents. These lists contain categories like “2-letter words that start with J” and “3-letter words that can become 4-letter words”. I’m afraid that I have made my Scrabble-playing life much, much harder.

I was going to present this token of geekhood next week in a neatly-wrapped box containing a correspondingly-nerdy tree ornament and the list of membership perks. But no, the darn newsletter had to come in the mail today and JG found out about it prematurely. Curses! So I scrambled around to grab the list and the ornament – neither wrapped, grr – and give them to JG so that he could break into the newsletter. Happy early birthday, I guess.

Well, any worries about this gift being too over the edge were clearly unnecessary. While I watched Barefoot Contessa, he sat on the couch, contently reading the newsletter, taking note of tournaments in the Philly area, and skimming the word lists, all the while making thoughtful hmm noises. I leaned over and asked, “Do you like it?”

He smiled and said, “Yeah. After I get my master’s, I might consider studying for real so that I can compete in the tournaments.”

Oh, my. This may be more than I bargained for.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Practice Christmas

On Saturday, we had a practice Christmas dinner. I try to practice whatever I’m about to do whenever possible. I walked through my route around campus the day before my freshman classes started. I had a wedding rehearsal, and thank goodness for that. This particular dry run was motivated by the fact that I am paranoid about trying new recipes with company, and even more so when that company includes a mother who cooks everything from scratch and a grandmother who has high expectations of a Christmas celebration that has the gall to located somewhere other than her house. Oh, boy.

Together, JG and I made an approximately two-person-sized version of Christmas dinner and I was pleasantly surprised that we did it with very little slamming into each other or usurping kitchen equipment that the other wanted. We ended up very full of yummy London broil, garlic mashed potatoes, and green beans with pancetta. Half of my satisfaction was derived from simply reporting to my mother that my practice run went well, so ha! Let’s hear it for no disasters!

Oh, wait. There was a disaster, but not with the food. Saturday also included the ritual of Cutting Down the Tree and I don’t think it can be Christmas without an amusing tree story. This one balances out the wild success of the dinner dry run, I’m afraid.

Around mid-morning, JG and I went to a local Christmas tree farm to find The One with the trusty bow saw in hand. JG got it for his birthday last year for this express purpose. At least we weren’t the weirdos wearing Santa hats or the psychos with the chainsaw.

We eventually found the tree, and after JG posed for the mandatory picture of him brandishing the saw at it, he cut it down and we made our way to the parking lot. I was carrying the little end of the tree in the back of the operation, so I couldn’t see where I was going at all. Suddenly, in front of Mr. Santa Hat and Son, I felt my ankle give way in a little hollow in the ground, and I thought, “Oh, no! The tree! Who cares about the tree?! Am I falling in mud here?” And down I went. Fortunately, the tree and I made it home in one piece, and JG proceeded to put it in the stand with very little trouble. We gloried in our good fortune and proceeded to lace it up with lights and ornaments galore.

Just before heading to bed, we heard a soft whooshing sound. JG and I turned to watch the tree crash down and hear that faint burble of the tree stand pouring itself onto the carpet. I stood paralyzed while JG ran over and yelled, “Grab the presents!” I rescued the boxes wrapped solely for the purpose of having something under the tree once we got it decorated and we began the sad process of recovering the tree. Ornaments were scattered around the living room – amazingly, none broke in the fall – the tree had to be re-positioned in its stand, and we tried to soak up the big water spot on the floor. After spending however many hours putting the whole thing together, it was very demoralizing to start over, especially since we had no idea what made the tree fall down after six hours of successful standing. I only just recovered and finished redecorating the tree tonight and I think it looks pretty good. It’s a little crooked, but it hasn’t fallen down in three days, so I think we’ll take what we can get at this point.

Monday, December 4, 2006

I Guess I'm It

Here we go – I've been tagged by Janet to identify six weird things about myself. It was a little bit of a challenge to separate the many, many geeky things about me from the almost as many weird things, but here we are:

  1. I love to dance in my kitchen, which is a small isthmus of hardwood in a sea of carpet. Turning pirouettes in my socks is one of my great joys in life. When JG gives me the inevitable eye roll, I always respond matter-of-factly, “Kitchens were made for dancing.” Okay, and maybe cooking and other stuff, but definitely dancing!
  2. My favorite movie is The Emperor's New Groove (not the straight-to-video sequel or the superlame television series) and I have seen it over 35 times. I probably say, "This is my favorite part!" twenty times throughout the whole thing. What, you haven't seen it? C'mon, you'll love David Spade in llama form. But I’ll warn you that it takes about three viewings to appreciate the quirkiness.
  3. I subconsciously anagram words in my head, producing gems like:
    - "You know what Madden anagrams to? Damned." – while watching football
    - "Mutiny plus I-M equals immunity, you know." – while watching Survivor
  4. If I'm writing with a pen, I only use blue ink if I can help it. My logic tells me that I'll be able to tell that my version is the original because blue photocopies to black. Because forgers and counterfeiters only use photocopiers, or something.
  5. Foods people usually eat by the handful I eat one at a time. Chips, Goldfish crackers, Smarties, and even Nerds. The one time I tried to tip the Nerds box backward into my mouth, I started to choke on one of the little buggers – that'll teach me! Since then, I've eaten them one at a time out of my hand. By size. Littlest first.
  6. I can lie on my stomach and arch my back so that my feet go over my head and are flat on the floor. And then I can stand up. This little ditty usually trumps all of the ear-wiggling, tongue-nose-touching human tricks in the room and it came in really handy during a game of Cranium when I had to act out "contortionist".

And…what do I do now? Eh, I tag whoever reads this, if you haven’t already done it…

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Bread Failure No More

I’d read all about Jim Lahey's famed No-Knead Bread and ogled pictures of a recipe said to be fool-proof – the answer to everyone’s bread woes! Say goodbye to finicky yeast and that rising and punching down business, they said. I love to bake, but bread kind of scared me. This seemed like a nice challenge, so I ran out to get myself some rapid-rise yeast and set to work.

Not once, but twice, I managed to make myself some no-knead bread…soup. When I got to Step 2 and tried to fold my dough, it was like trying to fold oatmeal. It spilled all over my board and brief, panicked images of The Blob ran through my head. I sadly poured my so-called dough down the drain and then I felt a little sadder because I was able to pour it. It doesn’t feel good to be the fool against whom a recipe should be proof.

Downcast, I wrote an e-mail to Deb and Luisa in case they had time to troubleshoot my bread-making woes. Because they are lovely people (or perhaps because my plight was that pitiful), they both commiserated with me sympathetically and had two collective suggestions: try incorporating bread flour and add water gradually, even if I didn’t add the full listed amount.

I got myself some bread flour and waited until this weekend to try out the suggestions. I used half all-purpose flour and half bread flour, tentatively added water to the dry goods, and lo and behold! Dough! Shaggy and sticky, just like the recipe said! I gave a little whoop and stopped myself from compulsively adding the rest of the water, even though it makes my eye twitch a little bit to mess with baking recipes. I think it’s the chemistry person in me.

Twenty hours later, I pulled out my hand-me-down Corningware casserole dish from the oven containing a squat, square-ish loaf of bread. The bread made pleasant but unnerving popping noises as it cooled and when tapped, the crust echoed with a nice hollow sound. After letting it cool for a while (“I can hold it now; can I cut it?”), JG busted into it with the bread knife. He slathered his chunk with butter and pronounced it good. The request came quickly for two, no, three loaves to be baked for Christmas. I raised an eyebrow and crunched into my own piece of yummy bread. I did a little victory dance in the kitchen – success!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Off the To-Do List

I am that much-maligned person who sheepishly raises her hand when people sarcastically ask, “Who the heck is finished with Christmas shopping by December 10?!” I usually shrug and mutter that I hate dealing with crowds, which is true, but that excuse doesn’t hold much water. I confess that this year has topped all others; this is the first time I’ve finished before December even darkened my doorstep. Ow, stop throwing things!

The truth is that I like to cross things off my list and be done with them. With the wonder that is e-commerce, the “Christmas shopping” bullet can have a big fat check mark next to it in a short time. It doesn’t have to include circling through parking lots and wandering through malls with aching feet and bulging shopping bags with the wish and hope and prayer that the really perfect gift is just…at…the…next…store… Maybe it’s just me, but finding a perfect gift at a mall is not nearly as satisfying as seeing “Out for delivery” on a delivery tracking website.

I’m also motivated by the fact that, this year, JG and I are hosting Christmas with my family and it is a momentous occasion on a few levels. Most immediately is the oh my goodness I’m hosting Christmas freakout wherein I hope everything is good enough for my mom (and even more so, my grandmother). It’ll be the first time in at least 25 years that Christmas has not been celebrated at my grandmother’s house in New York. The pressure is on, and as a result, I don’t want to have to think about what everyone has under the tree when I have more pressing issues like what everyone is eating to worry about. Plus, JG’s birthday is in mid-December, so it’s really like multi-tasking. Two occasions with one click!

Anyway, this type of behavior is not solitary; I’m not buying presents for myself here. I need lists from my gift recipients, but my family is reluctant to dive into this winter ritual. They say to lead by example, so in early November, I sent out the following e-mail (with my list attached) to my parents and sister:

Hi Everyone – I don't know if this is jumping the gun, but since I'm starting to figure out what you all are getting for Jesus' birthday, I figured it might be helpful to distribute The List. So, it would be great if you could return the favor and let me know what you're in the mood for this year, too. Or if you've heard what other people want, too. Thanks!

The timestamp on the e-mail was November 7, which I know is ridiculously early. But hey – I needed to get my gifting spreadsheet in order. How do people shop when they don’t know what they’re looking for? Presently, I received responses from my sister and dad:

Sister: You did not just use the phrase "Jesus' birthday". You did not! Why don't you calm your happy butt down about these Christmas list things? You're starting to stress me out. I will consider this list in my shopping excursions.

Dad: I am working on my list. ETA is 27 Nov 06.

That’s right. My engineer father gave me an estimated time of arrival for a freaking Christmas list. Ah, the family.

Despite grumblings and groanings about “jumping the gun” and being “out of whack”, I clicked my final Submit Order button on Monday. And it felt great.

When all of those lovely packages arrive from various warehouses around the country, I’ll be waiting with boxes, paper, and ribbon in hand because I love wrapping presents. While I’m thinking about that, it might be accurate to add that to my list of reasons why I shop so early…

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Good Way to Kill Time

I looked at my watch. I had 20 minutes before my meeting, which should have been plenty of time to order a cake to celebrate a recent promotion in the office. I called the nearby supermarket and said that I’d like to order a cake to pick up on Thursday. The operator politely replied that she’d transfer me to the bakery, and thanks for holding.

The line went dead. I know that this is some companies’ way of putting you on hold, but I never know if that means they “accidentally” hung up on me. I had to order this cake, so I stayed on the line, hoping to hear a voice presently.

“Hi, are you holding for Mark?”
“Um, I’m trying to get to the bakery to order a cake?”
“Oh, okay, hold please.”
“But – ”

And the silence again. Okay, I thought, I know they don’t have hold music, so this is fine. But then I heard a phone ringing, like I had just dialed. What the heck?

“Who are you holding for?”
“I’m trying to reach the bakery about a cake.”
“Hold, please.”

Argh! More silence! Then, the blasted question:

“Hi, who are you holding for?”
“I’ve been on hold for fifteen minutes, trying to reach the bakery about a cake.”
“Oh, hang on.”

For the love! What does it take to order a freaking cake around here?

“Bakery, how may I help you?”

Finally!

“I’d like to order a cake to pick up on Thursday, for about 8 people.”
“Could you hold, please?”

Are you kidding me?

Two minutes later, I got a hold of a bakery person who, while taking my order, intermittently hollered to her cohorts about where random bakery equipment was located. Now, that’s what I call customer service.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Best Game Ever

I should probably write about how I ate so much at Thanksgiving dinner that I was uncomfortably full for several hours - as in, I couldn't inhale without grimacing - then just regularly full when I woke up the next morning. It might make sense to know that my after-Thanksgiving shopping was so productive as to check off two whole family members for their gifts.

But who says that I make sense?

Instead, I am bragging about how JG and I rocked the house at a newly-introduced game and I would like to share it with you. I plan to whip it out at our New Year's Eve party and I am sure that hilarity will ensue.

The game is called The Best Game Ever (TBGE), and JG's cousin taught us this game because her friends invented it. Here is what you do:

Materials Needed:
  • People (6-10)
  • Paper and pen for each person
  • Big bowl or something like that
  • Stopwatch, or a watch with a second hand
Setup:
  1. Split up into teams of two and sit in a circle so that partners are sitting across from each other. For example, if you have three teams (A, B, and C), the partners should sit in the order of ABCABC around the circle.
  2. Distribute 2-3 pieces of paper and a pencil to each person. On each piece of paper, each person should write down and number five people, places, things, titles, or phrases that do not exceed five words each.
    - For example: 1) going sledding, 2) "Cheeseburger in Paradise", 3) my neighbor's dog, 4) milk, and 5) An Officer and a Gentleman
  3. Fold the slips of paper and put them into the bowl or whatever you have on hand. Give it a toss to mix it up.
  4. Designate someone who will man the watch and someone who will substitute in when that person is in play.
How to Play:
  1. Choose a team to go first. Roll a die, figure out whose birthday is next - whatever.
  2. A partner from the first team chooses a slip of paper from the bowl and time begins.
  3. The object of the partner with the paper is to help his teammate say the five items listed exactly as they are listed with verbal hints and/or gestures. The partner needs to start over with a new slip of paper if he:
    - Says a word or part of a word in the phrase
    - Says "sounds like ... "
    - Tries to spell it out
  4. Once the teammate has successfully identified the five items, the next goal is for that teammate to repeat them all in order and word-perfect. Unlike in the first part, the partner with the paper may not offer verbal hints during this stage.
  5. The teammate trying to repeat the items must start over if he:
    - Goes out of order
    - Repeats an item incorrectly, even by one tiny word
  6. The time limit is 60 seconds and is regulated by the person with the stopwatch.
  7. If the team successfully identifies and repeats the five items before time is up, the first partner keeps that slip of paper and can choose another one from the bowl to try.
  8. If the team does not successfully identify and repeat the five items, the paper goes back in the bowl for another turn.
  9. Once a team's turn is over, the bowl rotates clockwise and another team attempts to identify and repeat the items on another piece of paper.
  10. Play continues for a designated number of cycles around the circle (say, 2-3) or whenever the paper runs out. You decide.
  11. The winning team is determined by the highest number of slips of paper at the end of the game.
Good to Know:
  • The person with the stopwatch may not tell the players how much time remains in their turn.
  • Partners must alternate who guesses and gives clues. Whoever receives the bowl of paper will give clues; the same person on a team should not be guessing the whole entire time.
Okay, I know it sounds confusing, but it's sort of like Taboo and Catch Phrase with a little bit of Charades thrown in there. The real wildcard is that the players make up the items; you could end up with a list of craziness that you've never heard of or the list you made up yourself. Plus, if someone gets partially or even the whole way through a list but doesn't finish the repetition, you could draw it on your next turn and be familiar with it already.

So, JG and I were a team and if I can be so humble, we were freaking amazing at TBGE. In our first game, we were the only team to get two lists done in one turn, and since the second list was one I had seen briefly before, I was able to shriek the first three items ("Refrigerator! Keg! Microwave!") in swift succession before bringing it on home. And let me tell you, I'm no pansy game-player. I may not be an athlete by any stretch of the imagination, but I've got game. Lots of it.

In an added bonus, TBGE brought out priceless miscues when people were flustered or just plain didn't know what the things were:
  • "It's a band! 'Back in Black'! (seeing a blank stare) Ummm, this is two kinds of electricity!" - JG, describing AC/DC to me; I definitely needed that electricity clue...
  • "Sweat potato fries!" - JG's uncle, compensating for a misspelling
  • "Sleep sofa? Sleepaway sofa? Sleeping sofa?" - me, trying to say sleeper sofa
  • "What on earth are knocking boots?" - JG's grandma
Sure, family gatherings can be about catching up, bonding, and even eating a whole lot of food, but what does that mean when you can't talk some smack and do a victory dance once a while?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Both Sides of the Coin

On a gray and rainy Thanksgiving morning, I offer two sets of things for which I am thankful this year.

The first list is a product of the Thanksgiving potluck at work, when I impulsively restricted our "what we're thankful for" exercise to exclude friends, family, and health. Upon further reflection, here are my top five in this silly category:
  1. My KitchenAid mixer, which I will bust out as soon as possible after Thanksgiving to start making cookies for various events.
  2. My almost-complete spreadsheet that shows my entire gifting list: what each person is receiving, where I'm getting it, how much it costs, and the date of purchase.
  3. That the first season of one of my favorite shows ever is coming out on DVD!
  4. That Penn State made it to the Outback Bowl and I have an excuse to make yet another batch of chili.
  5. That I did not have to do anything for Thanksgiving. Seriously. I just showed up.
On a more traditional note, here are the top five things for which I am thankful when everything is fair game:
  1. My husband, especially when I realize that we have more fun everyday. He is totally my BFF. We should get half-heart necklaces.
  2. A relatively quiet year of settling in (in comparison to the previous year of crazy).
  3. Our house, and that it actually feels like it's ours; we're not house-sitting indefinitely.
  4. The comfort of old friends and the excitement of making new ones.
  5. The luxury of taking time for myself this year.
I'm taking the first hour or so of wakefulness this morning to be on my own and quiet. It occurs to me this year, more than any other so far, that I'm thankful for so much more than can be summarized in one sentence in a circle of holding hands. I will simply go through it all in my mind as I'm curled up in a blanket, looking out into the thick November clouds.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

My 2nd Family

Today, JG and I are heading up to his grandmother's house for the annual Thanksgiving shindig. It's the same crew as the 4th of July beach trip and I'm looking forward to seeing everyone. For now, though, I've accompanied JG to work for the school's half day of in-service and it's odd to be typing this from a geometry classroom.

This year will be my third time to join for Thanksgiving and I think I'm finally acclimated to the whole ritual. When JG and I were engaged, I was the first non-blood-related person to invade the festivities, and I was nervous as all get out. In addition to meeting all of the aunts, uncles, and cousins, I knew that Thanksgiving was (and is) one of JG's favorite holidays, and I was terrified that I was going to make it less fun somehow. To prepare, JG quizzed me on all of the cousins' names and gave me the rundown of the traditional events I would encounter:
  • The night before Thanksgiving: dinner out with JG's grandmother
  • Thanksgiving Day: watching the parade in the morning, eating The Meal in mid-afternoon, and leftovers for dinner in the evening - with watching football and playing games throughout the day
  • Black Friday: shopping for the girls while the guys play golf or watch more football
JG also informed me that I would need to figure out something to say in the "what I'm thankful for" circle. I was all aflutter - What do people normally say? How detailed do I have to be? What are you saying? I quickly stopped practicing the cousins' names and started brainstorming what I could be thankful for in such a public arena. The pressure!

Needless to say, I survived. Initially, I was taken aback by the sheer energy exuded by the cousins as a collective, but after they jabbed me good-naturedly, I held my own. I even won a few games and earned some street cred with this insanely competitive bunch. The food was great and shopping was lots of fun with a whole band of savvy sale-shoppers. And the "what I'm thankful for" circle? It's interesting that I vividly remember being so freaked out about it, but I can't recall what I said as I stood there shaking. I'm sure that I stuttered as the words tumbled out of my mouth. Apparently, it was good enough, because no one mocks me about it now.

I'm glad that I don't have to study for Thanksgiving anymore; one of the younger cousins assured me at the beach, "You're in." Well! How about that! I still need to figure out what I'm going to say in that circle, though. I think I'm most thankful for the real family feeling I have now when I'm around JG's relatives. I'm not sure if that's too sappy... I'll have to double check on that...

Anyway, here's to good food, fun times, and great bargains on Black Friday! Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A New Tradition

On the way home from work last night, the radio DJ announced, “Okay, folks, it’s time for the Drive at Five, and we’re going to kick it off with a Thanksgiving classic – ”

I groaned. I sincerely dislike the Adam Sandler’s "The Thanksgiving Song" and I was sure that it was next. I poised my hand over the scan button.

“ – the Cranberries!”

My mouth dropped open. This was too good to be true.

Oh, my life is changing everyday,
In every possible way…

I cranked up the volume and belted out lyrics that I knew and ones I didn’t. I was grateful for my one-lane road that ensured that no one would hear me take part in that strange lalala bit that everyone kind of does differently and still ends up sounding sort of like an animal in pain, in a good way. I forgot how much I enjoyed this song and the sheer corniness of playing a Cranberries song in the week before Thanksgiving made it that much more awesome. They should totally do this every year.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Three-Day Weekend Update

I took a mental health day on Friday, sort of randomly, but it made me realize how much I needed a break from my routine. I was amazed at how much I enjoyed running errands when my time was entirely my own. The extended weekend rocked, including but not limited to these highlights:
  • On Friday, I woke up of my own accord, without the beeping alarm, groaning, and tense muscles that usually mark the workday.
  • I checked off my grandmother on my Christmas shopping list: porcini olive oil and a vegetarian cookbook.
  • We went to a game night with JG’s teacher friends and discovered the wonder that is Turbo Cranium. I still can’t believe that our team collectively managed to spell macadamia backward.
  • It took a lot of cordless screwdriving, but JG successfully hung three different decorative (and functional) elements, while I, ah, supervised: picture ledges over the sofa, a fabulous big clock, and ten coat hooks in the entryway. The house now gives the impression that we could have company and some class!
I have to pack up to go to work tomorrow and I’m realizing – I am not psyched to go in tomorrow. But you know what is almost as fun as a three-day weekend? That would be a two-day week, followed by a five-day weekend with lots of turkey and shopping. Booyah.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Turkey Breast Surgery

Tomorrow is the Thanksgiving pot luck lunch at my office and I’m in charge of the turkey. I don’t pretend to possess any degree of turkey prowess – I’m more of a baker, really – but last year, I managed to cook a turkey breast successfully in my handy dandy crock pot. I offered to make a pumpkin cheesecake this year and let someone else handle the main attraction, but there weren’t any volunteers to take that on, much to no one’s surprise. So I shrugged and added turkey breast to my grocery list this week.

I planned on prepping the whole thing tonight so that I could switch on the crock pot when I got up in the morning. The meat had to cook for 6 hours, so that would work just fine for lunchtime. The recipe I consulted in my Fix It and Forget It cookbook assured me that I didn’t have to thaw out the turkey, so I lugged the stone-like mass out of my freezer and klonked it into the serving dish of my crock pot. However, when I busted through the wrapper, I discovered that there was a blasted gravy packet frozen to the meat. Argh. I grabbed the nearby kitchen shears to chip away at the ice surrounding the gravy packet when I realized that there were three major factors preventing my extraction. The gravy packet was four times larger than I anticipated, its contents were frozen and rigid, and worst of all, due to its curved shape, the frozen-solid turkey breast had a death grip on the stupid thing. As I came to this soggy conclusion, I accidentally punctured the packet with my shears and gravy slush came seeping out.

Lord, what a mess.

I ran the whole thing under the coldest water my faucet could produce in an effort to safely melt the ice surrounding the gravy packet. Unfortunately, this plan didn’t exactly work and rendered me with hands that were frozen stiff and completely numb. I gritted my teeth as I attempted to pry the turkey breast from the gravy – “Come on, you know you want to!” – but to no avail.

JG arrived home to find me practically sobbing into the sink with frozen hands clasped around the rebellious hunk of poultry. Upon quick examination, he said, “I’ll fix it,” and he did! He simply cut open the gravy packet, drained it out, and slipped it out of its prison. Why couldn’t I have thought of that? Maybe because I had crossed the line of logical reasoning when I couldn’t feel my hands and the idea of being beaten into submission by the white meat of a dumb animal was too much for me to handle.

I managed to finish up without a fiasco, thank goodness. It’s one thing to be bamboozled by the meat, but it’s quite another to be outsmarted by onion, celery, and chicken stock. I just hope the turkey turns out well tomorrow.


Edited: November 16
The turkey turned out just fine! It was too bad that I had no idea how to carve the thing and butchered it, but no one knew the difference.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Surrounded

When JG sees or experiences something that is just too happy for words, he makes this noise. Kind of a long, drawn-out “Haghhh” from the back of the throat. It rasps against the roof of the mouth. Think Darth Vader. What has the power to induce this dramatic exhale? Why, it’s ping pong on ESPN! Haghhh. HDTV! Haghhh.

Recently, we’ve welcomed in a new member of the family that brings on the most prolonged of breaths: The Almighty Surround Sound. Say it with me. Haghhh.

The surround sound was JG’s gift to himself when he received his paycheck for coaching volleyball over the fall and I admit that I wasn’t totally opposed to it. He chose a Consumer Reports' Best Buy and it was quite reasonable. And silver. And shiny. It matched our TV!

There were two conditions to JG’s purchase: 1) He couldn’t set up the back speakers with any visible wires and 2) He had to believe me when I thought the volume is too high. I was not looking forward to a perpetual game of “it’s too loud”/“no, it’s not”. JG agreed to the conditions, took the plunge and a nice FedEx man lurched to our door, grunting, with a 50-pound box in his grasp.

The installation process was a blur of Styrofoam, unplugging, and testing – oh, the testing. I watched as JG scurried around the living room, listening to every speaker. “Oh, we’re in business,” he muttered, “This bad boy’s good to go.” He tested the TV audio, a CD of Indian-inspired music – “That’ll sound awesome!” – and, of course, a movie. It had to be a movie that would take advantage of the full range of the surround system and the progressive scan DVD player (whatever that means) that came with it; the movie that immediately sprang to JG’s mind was none other than The Matrix 2, complete with whizzing bullets and motorcycles. I was not a fan, to say the least. I didn’t think it was impressive at all that the sound of a motorcycle zoomed from back to front to follow its path and I was all creeped out because I felt like there were, well, bullets flying past my head. I winced as JG sat next to me and whispered, “Oh, this is awesome. Haghhh.” Uh, right.

This past weekend, I took the system for a whirl with Finding Nemo, the least macho movie ever. When I got the full experience of hearing the fish splash all around with that swelling music and seeing it through crystal-clear progressive-scan-induced picture – well, I was won over. What can I say? Haghhh.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Still Shaking My Head

Because I am incredibly particular about how I look in pictures, what I’m about to say may not have been all that apparent thus far. If I deem a picture good enough to put up here, then it can be verified. Please just take my word for it and trust that it is simply a preface for what I’m about to say afterward.

So, I’m Asian.

My grandparents all immigrated from China to New York City, where my parents were born. I can’t speak Chinese and I grew up in suburban, southeastern Connecticut. To any of my elementary school classmates out there, no, I still don’t know karate or Bruce Lee and I’m not related to that other Asian kid in our class.

There’s that. Now to the episode at hand.

I came across a woman this afternoon with whom I have spoken before, but not extensively. After inquiring after JG and expressing appropriate sympathy for his ailment, she suggested a fail-proof remedy:

She: Have you heard of the brat diet?
I: Sorry?
She: B-R-A-T. Bananas, rice, apple juice, and toast. It never fails. Been using it for kids and adults for years.
I: Okay, thanks. That sounds like a good idea.
She: Well, judging from your eyes, I’m sure you know a lot about rice.

Um, what?!

I bumbled around gathering my jaw up from the floor and thinking of a coherent response to this insane display of ignorance. I managed to choke out, “Oh, well, I’ve had a lot of rice in my time,” nervously chuckle, and walk away/flee. But I was actually fighting the urge to snap, “Yeah, I know a lot about rice… from when I worked in the freaking rice paddies.”

I drove home with that phrase echoing in my brain. “Judging from your eyes”?! It trumps the previous record-holder for Most Ignorant Thing I’ve Ever Heard Regarding Race (once proudly earned by the gem, “Do you speak English?”) by, oh, I don’t know – a whole darn lot. I don’t live in the most diverse of communities, but still, I was appalled. What if I had said to this overweight, middle-aged, white woman, “Judging from your build, I’m sure you know a lot about trans-fatty acids, white bread, and apple pie”? I would have felt like a total jerk, that’s what! And that feeling would have been totally deserved.

Upon relaying this exchange to JG, I asked if I had missed out on an opportunity to educate this woman amid my verbal clumsiness. He shook his head and asked, “What could you have said?” I can’t imagine that it would have been much more comfortable if I said, “I did have a lot of rice in my childhood, but what you said just now was pretty offensive to me.” Maybe it would have made a difference to the next person she encountered whose eyes indicated rice expertise. I don’t know.

Hours later, I am still dumbfounded.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Hello, Nurse

At 2am this morning, JG woke up shivering and shortly thereafter, he sprinted to the bathroom and was violently ill. I sat halfway up as he staggered back and cranked up the heat. It was a wakeful night for both of us: JG had a routine of being sick every 35 minutes – eerily regular – and I snapped to attention whenever a chill ran through him or he got out of bed. Bile rose in my throat whenever I heard the proceedings and queasiness soon followed. Upon JG’s feeble requests, I fetched a thermometer (slight fever), water, and ice pops, to no avail.

That’s how we ended up, instead of grilling bratwurst in this amazingly warm weather in preparation for the UD vs. William and Mary game, sitting on the couch with College Gameday on TV. JG is huddled up in a blanket with a stainless steel bowl by his side. I ran out to get a fluorescent bottle of Gatorade because we’re both afraid that he’s becoming or already is dehydrated. The sight of food makes JG’s stomach turn and I’m watching him warily, waiting for the next onslaught. His pallor and weakness startle me.

The glossary of symptoms on WebMD unhelpfully turned up everything from the stomach flu to radiation treatment side effects. We make an educated guess that it’s food poisoning; according to the all-knowing Alton Brown, that’s usually the case with a so-called 24-hour bug. A quick search reveals symptoms that are close enough to what JG has, but after I read off the questions, he affirms that he does not have to go to the emergency room. And then I remember that I don’t know what the closest hospital is, and I make a panicked, mental note to figure that out. I think the plan is to try and keep him hydrated and wait out the 48 hours that food poisoning typically takes to clear out.

I feel uneasily useless in this situation. My weak stomach flips and flops at the hint of anything unsightly and I’ve warned JG that it will be very hard for me to clean up after him if he, uh, misses. He’s very understanding, but I’m terribly insufficient for this wife-turned-nurse phase. I’ve found yet another way in which I am too weak of heart to nurse a child; how do parents do it? I can’t even handle this gracefully when my patient is mobile, self-aware, and adept at expressing his symptoms. Gah.

JG’s asleep now. I’ll fix myself some lunch and keep an eye on him.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Closing Up Shop

“It’s a circle of hell in here,” I e-mailed to JG. “I want to be anywhere else.” Send.

I was referring to my workplace, which has made getting up in the morning much harder than it normally is for me. Today held a morning spent fighting with a fidgety, shady web interface and mysterious formatting coming out of nowhere. I looked hopelessly at a desk covered in manila folders and white paper, broken up with glasses from bygone beverages. I glanced twitchingly at my to-do list with items that rebelliously refused to be crossed off.

My weekend was dragging me by the hair through a muddy Friday and it hurt. A lot.

But now, the folders are closed up, hiding all of the overwhelming paper. My list is magically checked off. My desk has returned to its normal state of calm and as a result, so have I. I take a deep breath and stretch out my arms to knock out the kinks from my body. It’s time to shut down the computer and zip on home in a day that is screaming for a walk around the neighborhood with its unseasonable warmth.

Hallelujah, it’s the weekend!