Bananas

Saturday, May 23, 2020

I have a couple of friends who frequently end up with large quantities of slightly past-its-prime food — food that is still usable for certain purposes but can’t be distributed because it fell outside the window of acceptable food safety (e.g., it was held at the wrong temperature for too long) or for some other reason. Sometimes the problem is just too much of one thing all at the same time that they don’t have the capacity to distribute while it will still be edible.

Knowing that I both (a) hate food waste and (b) love a food bargain, these friends will contact me when they have some excess food item they need to get off their hands. Which is how I recently ended up with a case of ripe bananas in my kitchen. (I actually took two cases, but was able to give half of them away to friends and neighbors.)

I said I would take them because I know that you can peel bananas and freeze them and they will keep indefinitely. You can use them straight out of the freezer for smoothies or you can take them out and thaw them to use in pancakes or muffins, or to make banana bread.

I have a friend who would freeze bananas in the peel and then take them out and thaw them in a bowl and take the peel off when they were thawed and mash them and make banana bread. This is fine if the only thing you are going to do with the bananas is make banana bread, and if you are willing to wait for the bananas to thaw before you use them. It won’t work if you want to use them frozen in a smoothie. This I learned when I tried to peel a frozen banana and I thought my fingers were going to fall off, they were so cold. You cannot imagine how cold your fingers can get until you try to peel a frozen banana. OMG so cold.

So now my strategy is to peel the bananas and wrap each banana individually in little piece of plastic wrap. I put the wrapped bananas in a plastic bag, and then I put the plastic bag in a zip-top freezer bag. (I usually insist on putting a label with anything I put in the freezer so that later I can figure out what it is, but I’ve found bananas to be sufficiently visually identifiable that I can skip that step.)

I know that seems like a lot of plastic but you can reuse it for the next round of bananas, so it’s not as bad as it sounds.

Then you can just pull out of the freezer however many bananas as you need.

If you have just a few bananas, not a case of them, you can skip the freezing step and just wait until they get ripe enough to made banana bread. For banana bread, you want your bananas to be really ripe — almost uniformly brown.

I had a good whole-wheat banana bread recipe that I liked a lot that I hadn’t made in a while so I was going to make that but then when I looked at it I was reminded that it calls for maple syrup, which I don’t have at the moment. So I went in search of a new recipe, and because I had so many bananas to use up, I was looking for the one that called for the most banana. Some of them said one or two bananas, some said two or three, some of them said a half cup or one cup of mashed banana.

Then I found one that I thought said one and three-quarters cups, so I made that one, but then later when I looked at it more carefully, I realized it actually said one and a quarter cups. Oops. But it worked with one and three quarters, so I just stuck with three medium-to-large bananas as the baseline banana amount. (The original recipe says two large bananas or three small. Some of the bananas I had were GIANT, they were like mutant bananas. I think I used three pretty big bananas and it worked okay.)

I made the recipe three times:  the first time for me, and to test the recipe; the second to give to the friend who gave me the bananas; and the third to give to a friend who told me that he loved banana bread so much that sometimes he would drive to the Bob Evans restaurant just to buy their banana bread. I gave him the recipe along with the bread, maybe it will inspire him to learn how to make it. It’s never too late to learn how to make your own banana bread.

As I made it, I made some adjustments to the recipe. Here is the final version I came up with.

[NOTE: I was not able to put nuts in this because I didn’t have any, and was not motivated to go get any, but if you like nuts in your banana bread, feel free to add 1/2 cup nuts — walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts — to the final mix-in.]

HELP I NEED TO GET RID OF A CASE OF BANANAS BANANA BREAD

1/3 cup softened butter
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1-1/2 cup flour [NOTE: The original recipe calls for 1 cup wheat flour and 1/2 cup white flour, but I used white flour only because that’s what I had in my pantry and there was no flour to be had in my local grocery store the last three times I shopped. Once I can get my hands on some wheat flour, I’ll try it with that.]
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon [optional]
1/4 tsp nutmeg [optional]
1-1/4 to 1-3/4 cup mashed banana (from 3 ripe bananas)
1/4 cup buttermilk or yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract [optional]

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat until combined.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices, if using.

In another bowl, combine the banana, buttermilk or yogurt, and vanilla.

Alternate adding the wet and dry ingredients to the butter/sugar/egg mixture and stir until combined.

Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake at 350F degrees until the top is brown and the loaf is springy to the touch. (You can use a toothpick to test, but with so much banana in this, the toothpick may still come out looking wet even when the batter is cooked all the way.)

Do your best to not to eat all of it as soon as you take it out of the oven.

Who Know?

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

I have many friends who are very funny. One of the things that tends to happen with my very funny friends is that there will be a funny story that can be boiled down into a single phrase that can be thrown out to make people laugh, just hearing that one phrase. That’s all you need.

Like one night when I was living in the Washington, D. C. area and one of our very funny friends wanted to go to a place for dinner that she was trying to talk everyone into going to, so she kept saying the name of the place. She was from Kentucky and she was boisterous (okay, she was loud) and this was when I was in my mid-20s so the odds are good that alcohol was involved. Especially with these friends. The name of the place happened to be Chicken City, so that’s what she kept repeating, loudly, in a drunken Kentucky accent.

CHICK’N ci-daaaay!!!!!!

(I wish I could do justice to her phrasing with my writing, but alas my Kentucky accent transcription skills are not what they need to be to make this happen.)

So for weeks/months/years after that all you had to do was say “Chick’n ci-daaaay” in your own pale imitation of our Kentucky friend and everyone would start laughing. (I find this especially funny given that we did not even go to Chicken City that night; our re-creation of our friend’s Chicken City call to action became its own thing, independent of any actual activity involving a restaurant with the name  of Chicken City.)

My friend Sue, who I also was friends with during that period of my life and who I have written about previously, made me laugh more than anyone.

I wish podcasts had been around then, I think Sue and I could have hosted a great show. We used to talk on the phone almost every night, usually late, because my roommate would be on the phone every night, talking first to her boyfriend and then to her parents. (This was back in the day when phones went with dwelling units, not people.) So I would be in my room and Lisa would knock and say, “Sue called, she said you should call her back. Do you want the phone?” And I’d say “Yes,” so Lisa would walk in with the cordless phone and hand it to me. Half the time I was already in bed (I used to be a normal person who had to get up and go to a job in the morning so I went to bed at a normal-person time) so I would call Sue back from the comfort of my bed and we’d chat about whatever was going on. Sue had worked on the (Bill) Clinton campaign starting in New Hampshire when no one gave him much of a chance of winning then when it turned out that he actually did win, she took a job with the Administration, so there was always some crazy government thing to discuss in addition to whatever was going on in our personal lives. So we would talk about the day’s news, personal and political, and invariably she would start talking about something that would end up being just so funny, I remember so often just laughing and laughing. It seemed a waste for the two of us to be the only people hearing these hilarious conversations.

One of the stories that Sue told around this time, that turned into its own catchphrase, was about her going to get a haircut.

I don’t remember all of the details — she went to a place that was a new place, or maybe the place had been recommended by someone but she hadn’t been there, or maybe it was a place she’d been before but her regular stylist wasn’t there. I don’t remember. But whatever it was Sue found herself at a salon sitting in a chair in front of a stylist she didn’t know. The stylist was a very nice, very young Vietnamese woman with passable but not great English language skills.

The stylist asks Sue what she wants done with her hair today. Sue does not have a strong opinion on what she wants done with her hair today, she’s willing to entertain options. This is why she goes to a stylist, so the stylist can tell her what she should do with her hair.

So the stylist asks this question and Sue says, “Oh, you know. It needs to be cut, I don’t have strong feelings. I don’t really know.”

The stylist stops and looks quizzically at Sue in the mirror. Don’t know?

She points to Sue and says, “You no know,” she points to herself and says, “Me no know,” then she shrugs and raises her hands towards her shoulders, palms up, and puts forth a deep, heartfelt query: “Who know?”

Like it is the world’s greatest mystery, what should be done with Sue’s hair today.

And Sue is like Uhhh is it too late for me to get out of this chair and go find a different stylist?

But she stuck it out and got her hair cut. And I don’t remember what it looked like, so that means it couldn’t have been too bad. And we got a good story out of it.

After that, whenever Sue and I were in a situation where we were talking about something that seemed exceedingly complicated, that we weren’t sure of, that we didn’t know the answer to, one or the other of us would shrug and raise our palms and say, “Who know?” Which would make both of us laugh.

I sometimes find myself telling that story to other people, lo these many years later, because I sometimes find myself putting my hands up and saying, “Who know?” and I feel like the catchphrase works better with the full story behind it.

Especially lately I seem to have been telling that story a lot because I seem to find myself using the phrase when talking about things that are unknown, or unknowable. Of which there seem to be many at this point in time.

You no know. Me no know. Who know?

Who know, indeed.

Food Update, Week of March 30

Thursday, April 2, 2020

My main project so far has been trying to not waste food.

On Wednesday 3/11, I stopped at the Lakewood Food Lion (which I LOVE, by the way, I know there are a lot of FL haters out there but that store is good — really good prices, super clean, nice fresh produce). This was before the coronavirus dam burst, but after everyone was worrying that it might.  I had been on an eating-down-the-fridge project, trying to get rid of all of the detritus that had built up in my pantry and freezer over the past few weeks/months/years of erratic eating, and I’d gotten through a lot. This was good, that was the whole point, to give me a fresh start. But it also meant that my backstock was limited. Not so good when the apocalypse comes.

When I left work that night I decided that since I had my car and I wasn’t in a hurry or starving to death, I should do a big shop while I was right there. So I bought some food for dinner plus a restock — I bought eggs, pasta, canned salmon, canned tuna, frozen chicken patties, canned fruit, cans of seltzer.  It came out to over $50 in groceries, which is a lot for me. (Usually these days I spend around $20 per shopping trip, with one shopping trip every week to 10 days. Sometimes more, sometimes less. But in that range.)

The next day, Thursday 3/12, was when the wheels started to come off the bus. But things were still generally rolling. The weekend was pretty normal. It was the next week that things really started to fall apart.

On Tuesday morning 3/17, before I headed in to the meeting at work where I would find out that I was being furloughed, I made a trip to King’s, where I usually shop, and bought things I normally buy, but somewhat more than usual, just in case. I bought a stewing hen, ground beef, ham hock, russet potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbage, lettuce, carrots, cucumber, apples, eggs. Another $50. Then I went to the Food Lion on Roxboro Rd, which is more of a standard Food Lion, it is definitely not the Food Lion at Lakewood, and stocked up with more long-lasting items:  flour, oats, pasta, canned tomatoes, peanut butter, dried beans, canned tuna. And of course BROWNIE MIX. Because you never know.

Another $50.

So I had now spent $150 on groceries in less than a week. That is a lot of groceries for me to have at one time.

But you know. Pandemic.

I had previously planned on going down to the coast the weekend of 3/20 with my friend Ann, who has a house in Carteret County. We debated whether or not to go but in the end decided that we would. Neither one of us had a job, there aren’t any people to speak of where her house is, and I figured if we didn’t stop on the way down or on the way back, it didn’t seem significantly more or less dangerous than staying home.

So on Friday 3/20, we went away for the weekend.

We took a cooler with food with us so we wouldn’t have to stop for groceries and could just work with what we had. We were there for three days and we didn’t even scratch the surface of the food we had brought. So on Monday we packed up everything we hadn’t eaten and brought it back with us, including leftovers of the things we’d made.

We got back Monday evening 3/23, and I’ve spent the past week trying to work my way through the leftovers and everything I had bought in the pandemic rush before we left.

I ate the rest of the pasta dish I had made on Sunday that we didn’t finish (penne, tomato sauce, mushrooms, green pepper, onion). I also ate some of the rice pudding I had made in an effort to rescue a brown rice fail — I had put some rice on the stove to cook then completely forgot about it. It was over very low heat, so it didn’t burn, but it did cook down to mush. So I added sugar, milk, half and half, raisins. And that actually worked out pretty well. I ate some of it while we were down there, the night I made it, and the rest came back with me. I had some of the leftovers the first night I was back then I stuck the rest in the fridge. I thought I might have let it go too long, but I looked at it yesterday and it was still good. So I had that for desert Tuesday and Wednesday and can now cross that off the list of things I thought I might lose.

I had made cookies to take down with us — half went to a friend who was supposed to go with us but didn’t, because she has an elderly mother in the area and didn’t want to be 3 hours away, and the other half we ate some of while we were there and then I brought the rest back. They were oatmeal raisin cookies, made with a Marion Cunningham recipe that I tried for the first time, which had honey in it. The honey gave them a nice, complex flavor, they were very tasty, but it also made the texture a bit complicated. They got very soft after baking, so I put them in the freezer to see if that would help them keep, but then they kind of all fused together. But they were also quite crumbly, so it was hard to separate them. It was just kind of a big blob of cookie.

They made the trip in a freezer bag, then I stuck the remainder of the cookie blob in a cookie tin when I got back, and have been eating handfuls of crumbs, with the occasional whole cookie, since then. I ate the last cookie yesterday, so no waste there either.

And yay! All the deserts are gone! So now I get to make something else.

I made my standard cole slaw recipe before I went down, which is from the plaid Better Homes & Gardens cookbook — the dressing is mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, salt, celery seed — and I was worried I was going to lose some of that, because I had made quite a large batch, but I finished that up today and it was fine.

I still had half a cabbage in the fridge, so on Monday I made Marion Cunningham’s L. A. Slaw, which is good and keeps for a long time, and kept out about a cup and a half of chopped cabbage which I’ll need to do something with soon. I’m thinking maybe stir fry, or yakisoba.

I have to keep working on the iceberg lettuce, which I used to think of as being very ephemeral but is actually quite robust. It keeps surprisingly well.

I made a vinaigrette with olive oil and raspberry vinegar, and can probably have as many tossed salads as I want, with carrots, and cucumber, and red pepper while it lasts. I’m not sure what else to do with iceberg lettuce, other than put it on a hamburger (which is actually why I bought it, because I wanted to make a hamburger with a quarter pound of the ground beef I bought, and then freeze the rest of the ground beef). I was thinking about green smoothies, but I’m not sure if I have anything that would work for that. I’ve just been doing basic orange-banana smoothies, I don’t really have any other fruit or juices around, and I’m not sure how lettuce would go in that. I think I need to do some more research on that.

If anyone has iceberg lettuce suggestions, let me know.

I had cooked the hen before I left, I poached it with onion, celery, bay leaf, peppercorns, dried pepper, then took the meat off the bone and froze it in three ounce packets, so I can pull one out of the freezer and reheat while I cook the rest of my meal.

Last night I had some of the chicken with penne pasta and pesto that I have in the freezer, that my mom made for me, with basil from her garden, when I was at her house in the fall.

One of the things I had been eating a lot of before I flooded myself with food then went out of town was grits bowls. They serve them at Grub, and I had one, and it was good, but mostly it made me think, Hm. I could make this myself. So I did.

Here’s how I’ve been making them.

GRITS BOWL

For the grits
1/3 cup grits (not instant!)
1-1/3 cup water or chicken stock
1/4 to 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 to 1 Tbsp butter (optional)

approx 1/2 to 1 oz grated cheese of your choice (cheddar, pepper jack, swiss)
Worcestershire sauce
ground pepper
tabasco sauce (optional)

Mix-Ins (as many or as few as you’d like … just regular cheese grits are good on their own)
cooked chicken (or cooked bacon or cooked sausage, or some combination thereof)
frozen spinach
chopped tomato
fried egg

1. Make cheese grits.
Put the grits, salt, and water or stock in a saucepan. Stir with a whisk to combine and get rid of any lumps, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low, and cook covered, stirring occasionally, until all of the water has been absorbed and the grits are thick and creamy.

When the grits are cooked, turn off the heat and add the grated cheese, a few turns of ground pepper, one or two dashes of worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce, if desired. Cover the pot and let the cheese melt. Once melted, stir everything together so the cheese and sauces are evenly distributed throughout the grits.

2, Prepare the mix-ins.
In a separate pan, heat together the chicken, spinach and/or tomato, and whatever else you’d like to include. Season to taste. (I have been using Penzey’s jerk chicken & fish seasoning, along with ancho chili pepper, to great effect. Except that I just ran out of the ancho chili pepper so I’ll have to make some adjustments there.)

I use 2 or 3 ounces of cooked chicken, about a third of a cup of frozen spinach, and maybe a quarter cup or of chopped tomato, if I have it. Chicken is what I use the most, because I almost always have that in the freezer, but I’ve also made it with sausage or with bacon, which I cook up while I’m making the grits.

You can fry an egg separately, with a soft runny yolk or a hard center, as you prefer, and add that along with the other mix-ins. It depends on how hungry I am (and how many eggs I have available) if I include the egg or not.

You can mix it up in the pot you cooked the grits in, or you can put the grits in a bowl then add the mix-ins and mix it up in the bowl.

Good stuff — easy, cheap, and made with things you can keep on hand.

 

In pandemic updates, I read tonight that the songwriter Adam Schlesinger died from complications of COVID-19, which is tragic. (And not just because he was the same age as I am, though I do always find that disconcerting.)  I love Fountains of Wayne, Welcome Interstate Managers is one of my favorite albums, there are just so many great songs on that, and he did the songwriting for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which is a brilliant comedic satire that I have had extremely limited success convincing anyone I know to watch. But it is just so funny. Not designed for binging, though, the story moves slowly and it repeats itself. Which works fine for weekly appointment television but gets tiresome when you try to watch a bunch in a row. It works better if you stretch it out. And actually the songs are the best part, and I think you can watch most or all of those on YouTube, so you could skip the show and just do that. Though be warned that they are ear worms — I had the line “I have friends. I definitely / have friends” stuck in my head for days and days once. (And probably will again, now that I am writing about it.)

So sad.

RIP, Adam Schlesinger.

Stay safe, people.

Waffle House

Sunday, March 29, 2020

When my brother’s girls were little he would make waffles for them on weekend mornings. Every time I’d visit and we’d be having breakfast, he’d tell me how great it was to make waffles, how much the girls loved them, how great they were. He would go on and on about it. Every time. He’d tell me I needed to get  waffle maker. Homemade waffles are great. You should get a waffle maker.

I’d nod my head and agree. Yes, waffles are great.

(My mother’s mother, our Grandma Evelyn, used to make waffles for us for dinner when we’d stay over at her apartment when we were young. She died when we were still in elementary school, I was 9 and my brother was 10, so our memories of her are limited.  But that is a strong memory for both of us, having waffles for dinner with our Grandma Evelyn. Maybe that’s why he liked making waffles for his daughters so much.)

While I was nodding my head and agreeing about waffles being great, I was thinking about how the chances of me going out and getting a waffle maker were zero. I live by myself. Making waffles for myself was just not on the list of things I needed to do. And anyway, I live in North Carolina. If I want waffles, I can go to Waffle House.

Never once, in all those years he was telling me I should make waffles, did I find myself thinking, Gee I wish I had a waffle iron so I could make waffles right now.

Then at some point in the past year or two (the last two years of my life is just one  giant glob of time that can’t be separated into individual units … I have no idea when any of this happened or how much time elapsed between all of these steps), my friend Sara brought some stuff in to donate to The Scrap Exchange. Included in the donation pile was a waffle iron that she had intercepted from a mutual friend’s donation pile but then decided she didn’t want to keep. (I don’t remember the specifics but I think she had one, but she thought this one would be better, but it turned out it wasn’t better, so she brought it in to donate. Or something like that.)

She asked if I wanted it.

Now, a waffle iron wasn’t something I was about to go out and buy, but if someone was standing right in front of me with a nice vintage waffle iron, right there in my office, it seemed like I should take it. If it turned out I didn’t use it or it cluttered up my kitchen or whatever, I could always complete the donation cycle and finally get it to land at The Scrap Exchange. So I said I would take it.

The nice vintage waffle iron sat in my office for a bit then I moved it to my car and it stayed in my car for a bit then I finally got it into the house, where it probably sat in the living room for a few weeks/months, until eventually I found a permanent home for it in the kitchen cupboard.

And then, finally, one day, I made waffles for myself. (I don’t remember what inspired this but I think the first time I made them it was for dinner. Maybe I was channeling my Grandma Evelyn.)

They were good. But the recipe I used — the Everyday Waffle recipe from the plaid Better Homes & Gardens cookbook — made a lot, and also I put way too much batter in the waffle iron, it oozed all out the sides and made a big mess.

[SIDE NOTE: For anyone reading this who hasn’t made waffles before and is about to, you ladle a small amount of batter into the middle of the waffle iron and it flows out to the edges; when you put the top down it squeezes it all through the little channels. You don’t put a bunch of batter all over the waffle iron. After I did it, that seemed perfectly obvious, but it didn’t occur to me when I was putting the batter in for the first batch. Live and learn. And clean up the mess as you go!]

I made them again a few weeks/months later. The second round was better. I figured out how much to put on to the waffle iron without making a mess, I ate the ones I made fresh out of the waffle iron instead of making them all and then eating some (they are better hot because they are crisp; if you let them sit, they wilt from the steam), and I put the leftovers in the fridge and ate them later. They were pretty good left over. Not as good as they were hot off the iron, but good enough, with some strawberry jam on them.

So … they were definitely good, but because I haven’t made them much, they take a fair amount of mental energy; I have to think about the steps involved and make sure I’m doing them right, and also it takes a bit of time to mix up the batter then cook them all, and the recipe used kind of a lot of milk and it made way more waffles than I actually needed, so it felt wasteful. And you are supposed to separate the eggs and beat the whites separately but that just felt like SO MUCH WORK that I just mixed the egg in together. Lazy person’s waffles. So I wasn’t even doing it right and it still felt like too much work.

So, after actually getting a waffle iron and making waffles, it turned out that making waffles is something that I thought about fairly often but rarely did. Just about every Sunday when I wake up and think about what my day looks like, I think about making waffles. But then I don’t make them. It seems like a good idea when I’m lying in bed pondering my day, but once I’m up and doing things, it just seems like too much trouble. I end up making something else, something easier.

Until … pandemic!

Because what else do I have to do with myself but beat egg whites stiff and cook up the country ham slices that had been in the fridge for a month or two (exp. date July 2020 … still good!) and make some fresh hot crisp tasty waffles. And eat waffles and maple syrup and country ham. Sweet & salty & delicious.

Yum!

So if any of you out there are trying to figure out what to eat, and you have a waffle iron that you never use because it just feels like too much trouble, now is the time. Now is the time to make yourself some waffles.

Here is the recipe I used, which is half of the original Better Homes & Gardens cookbook recipe. (For today’s batch, I used self-rising flour, which already has the baking powder and salt mixed in with it, which I bought it by mistake and used it like it was regular flour in any number of recipes until I finally noticed the label and started using it properly.)

PANDEMIC EVERY DAY BUTTERMILK WAFFLES

  • 3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp white flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup sour milk or buttermilk [I used 1 Tbsp vinegar + sweet milk to make 1 cup]
  • 1 beaten egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup melted butter (or melted shortening or neutral tasting oil)
  • 1 stiffly beaten egg white

Sift together dry ingredients. Combine milk, egg yolk, and oil; stir to combine; then stir into dry ingredients. Fold in whites (“leaving a few fluffs,” as the cookbook tells us.)

The full recipe says it makes three 10-inch waffles. I made smaller ones, and think I made four waffles, three of which were immediately devoured and the last put in the fridge to be eaten later in the week, with strawberry jam.

 

I do hope that everyone is well and healthy during this time, and staying safe, and being creative in thinking about ways to spend your time and energy.

If anyone is wondering what’s going on in my life, I will tell you that a new Executive Director came on at The Scrap Exchange in May 2019 and my job switched from finance to operations while we tried to work through some major bottlenecks (most of which we were able to get through by the end of the year). In January, I asked to cut my hours down to 10-20 hours a week for three months to try to recover from the last two years of dramafest, and then we could revisit at the end of that time period to see where things were at. I was nearing the end of the three months when our two stores shut down and all of the staff, including me, were furloughed.

So now I’m in a weird in-between state, with no responsibilities, and not even really able to think about what I might do eventually, or when I might want to do it, because the whole world feels like it’s in a state of suspended animation. And I know people are suffering, and I don’t want to minimize that or be flippant about it, but I’ve really been enjoying myself. My normal state is one of social isolation, so this hardly feels any different — except of course that I don’t have a job. Which in some ways is worrisome, no job means no money, but in other ways is such a huge relief. Because I don’t have to think at all about this place that I spent the last ten years of my life spending so much time and energy worrying about and trying to make work. It is someone else’s problem now.

I’m sure I will start to go crazy at some point but I’m not even close to that yet, it just has been feeling really good to not have to think about anything and for once in my life to not have to think about what I should be doing. Because there’s nothing I can do, whatever I’m doing is what I should be doing.

I’ve stopped listening to the news and I don’t have a TV so that eliminates some major sources of anxiety. I’m still reading the paper but I can be selective about that. I’m strictly limiting my use of the internet. I’ve mostly been reading books (published a minimum of 10 years ago), and listening to previously downloaded podcasts, and watching DVDs on my computer. And trying to get through all the things in my house that I spent the last 2+ years ignoring. Just getting through that should keep me busy for months.

And then after that, who knows. There’s always waffles.

Lost & Found

Friday, January 10, 2020

I opened the safe at work last week Monday to get ready for closing and there was a phone and wallet in there, with a small post-it note attached that said that these had been left at the front counter on Sunday. My first thought was why would someone put that in the safe but not tell anyone else it was there, what good does that do. After that not particularly positive thought had moved on, I noticed that the phone was not dead, which meant there was still a good chance I could get it back to its owner.

For anyone who might ever find themselves in this situation, I will offer this public service announcement.

The trick to getting a wayward phone reunited with its person is to keep it with you, and when it rings, answer it and tell the caller that the phone they are calling has ended up in your possession, and ask if they can get in touch with the owner to tell them where it is.

That’s it. That’s all you have to do.

I learned this strategy when I worked at the front desk at Duke Gardens, where many a lost phone ends up. It doesn’t work if the phone is dead, in that case you just have to wait to see if someone comes in after it, but it’s a pretty foolproof method for a still-working phone, and it’s as simple as can be, all you have to do is babysit the phone until it rings. And then talk to the random person on the other end like you are some kind of hostage-taker. I HAVE THE PHONE. But you are not! So it’s okay.

So anyway, I pulled the phone out of the safe and sure enough within an hour someone called, and I answered and had a lovely chat with the phone owner’s sister-in-law in Texas, who said she had been to The Scrap Exchange when she visited Durham when her mother had been in the hospital, the place with all the stuff, what a great time they had visiting, if she lived here she’d ben in all the time, of course she would let SIL know where the phone was, that would make her so happy.

Probably a longer conversation than the two people who were helping me close the store wanted to sit through, they were like can we just finish counting this all up and move on, enough with the chit-chat. But whatever, part of this strategy involves being up for whatever conversation you might have with whoever calls.

Shortly after that call — and thankfully for my coworkers, after we had finished closing the store — the husband of the phone owner called and I told him he could come pick it up Tuesday morning or I would be there for a few hours if he wanted to pick it up that night. I told him we had their wallet too, and he said he was just a few minutes away, he’d be right over.

When I brought out the phone and wallet for the handoff, he told me that they tried using Find My Phone but it had placed the phone about a mile from The Scrap Exchange in a small parcel of woods. He said they spent half the day on Sunday with a metal detector combing the lot looking for the phone. (One of my coworkers had noted that on Sunday, when the phone was still out on the counter, the Find My Phone noise was pinging so they expected the owner to be in to reclaim it, they didn’t understand why no one had shown up. Now we know why — Technology Fail.) He said it was his daughter’s last day in town, the whole time she’d been visiting they’d been talking about what they should do on her last day and then they ended up spending the day looking for a lost phone in the woods a mile from where the phone actually was.

There’s a lasting family memory for you. (Seriously, they’ll remember that one forever. Remember the time we spent the day looking for mom’s phone?)

He was very happy to get the phone and wallet back, and it was nice for me to have been able to solve this particular problem for someone. Losing either your phone or wallet is bad, losing them both is a nightmare.

I will note that this was not the first time I’ve reunited an item with its owner.

In October, we got a donation that included a lovely Kate Spade wallet, with everything in it, including cash and a check for $400 that the recipient had endorsed and was carrying around with her.

[SIDE NOTE: DO NOT DO THIS. Checks are negotiable instruments, endorsed checks (blank endorsement, just a signature) are like cash, they are bearer paper, they belong to whoever holds the paper. I learned this the hard way in college when my Auntie Fran sent me $50 and I endorsed the check and tried to deposit it in the ATM across from my mailbox in the student center but for some reason wasn’t able to make the deposit and then I lost the envelope with the endorsed check in it and someone found it and cashed the check. This was decades ago and I still feel a pain in my heart whenever I am reminded of it.

If you are depositing a check, use a restrictive endorsement — write “For Deposit Only” and the account number with your signature. If you are cashing a check, don’t endorse it until you get to the bank. Never ever endorse a check with just your signature and then carry it around with you.]

I looked up the person whose name was on the ID in the wallet and found her on LinkedIn and sent a message asking to connect (you can’t send a message on LinkedIn to someone you’re not connected to) and including the information that I was trying to connect because her wallet had just come in with a donation at The Scrap Exchange.

She picked up the wallet next day and couldn’t believe everything was still there. She had lost it in January, ten months earlier.

A slightly more complicated reunion happened a little over ten years ago when I was out for a bike ride and spotted a day planner on the side of the road near an entrance to one of the running trails in Duke Forest. It stood out from the usual roadside detritus, it was clean and fresh, like it had just fallen out of the sky and landed there. I rode past it at first, then stopped and turned around to pick it up and look at it.

I remember a bunch of years earlier when my brother and I were both living in DC, my brother had lost his day planner and it wreaked havoc on his life. He was in sales and this was the pre- computer/smartphone era, his day planner had everything in it, all his meetings and contacts and everything. Losing his day planner was like losing his brain. That’s what I thought of when I saw the day planner on the ground, what a nightmare that had been for my brother.

So I stopped and picked it up and I saw the name and phone number of one of my clients on a post-it note stuck to the inside front cover. Huh. I wondered if it belonged to a translator or someone connected to them.

I was trying to decide if I should bring it home with me, and how would I even do that since I was out for a ride with no bag or anything. While I was standing on the side of the road next to my bike trying to figure out what to do, a driver pulled up and asked if I was okay, did I need help? (This is one of the things I love about Durham — or loved, I should say, things have changed a lot around here so I’m not sure if this still holds true — if you ever look like you need help, someone will stop and ask if you need help. Back in the day, you couldn’t even walk in the rain around here without someone stopping to ask if you needed a ride.)

I said I was fine but I was trying to figure out what to do with this day planner I’d just found, I wasn’t sure if I should pick it up, and if I did, I wasn’t sure how I would be able to take it with me while riding.

Helpful driver person and I discussed the options and she offered to take it to my house for me and drop it off. I asked where she was going, which turned out to be not near my house, she was picking up her husband on campus, so I told her to drop it off at the Lost and Found at the information desk in the student center which was right near where she was picking up her husband. Then I could pick it up from there later.

Once I had the day planner back in my possession, I called my client to see if we could figure out who it belonged to, but we couldn’t.

So then I had this person’s day planner and I regretted having picked it up. I worried that they had come back to look for it but hadn’t been able to find it because I had taken it away. Like I had kidnapped it or something. I started to feel bad.

I needed to find the owner.

So, channeling my inner Sherlock Holmes, I sat down with the day planner to see what I could figure out about the person it belonged to.

It seemed like they were from Wilmington and they were training for a triathlon.

Interesting, but not necessarily helpful in getting the notebook back to them.

There were regular appointments with a professor at NC State.

Grad student?

I looked up the professor’s name online and landed on a web page with their office phone number. I figured what the heck, I might as well try it. I called the number and to my surprise, someone answered.

I said I had found a day planner that I thought might belong to one of their students. Before I even got to the part about Wilmington and the triathlon, the professor said, “Oh! I know whose it is! She was in this morning and she’s been going crazy without it.”

The professor gave me her student’s number. I called and told her I had her day planner. She was extremely happy and relieved to hear from me. She asked when and where I’d found it and I told her. She said she had put it on top of the car and then forgot about it and drove off. She didn’t realize until she got home what she’d done, and at that point she had no idea where it might have fallen off the car. She did retrace her route but hadn’t seen it anywhere. (Happily, her search had been conducted before I’d picked up the day planner, so that was a weight off my mind. I hadn’t inadvertently caused her to not be able to find it.)

I told her I had brought it home because I thought it had some connection to my client. She said she’d written the number down because she was going to take a class with them, but then she never did. So really no connection at all.

I gave her my address and told her I’d leave it on the porch for her to pick up whenever she wanted, which she did. And everyone lived happily ever after.

My own life is filled with less happy endings — so many things have disappeared, never to be seen again. Where did you go, my red jacket that my mom made for me, my watch, my beloved iPod?

Where did you go?

Sigh.

I think that is why I try so hard when I find lost things to get them back where they belong. If I can’t get my own stuff back, at least I can get something back to someone else.

Small victories. Sometimes that is all you can hope for in life.

A Story for Mother’s Day

Sunday, May 12, 2019

My mother is one of my most loyal blog readers. She would like me to write more. A few months ago we were talking on the phone and she commented that I hadn’t written anything in a long time. I agreed that that was true. Things have been hard around here, especially the last 18 months.

She said, “Maybe if you wrote shorter posts you could do it more often.” But I am like Blaise Pascal who apologized for writing a long letter because he didn’t have time to make it shorter. Shorter is not easier. I can only write what I can write, and I can only write it when I can write it.

Sorry I don’t write more, Mom. Hopefully things will be getting better soon.

And for Mother’s Day 2019, here is a post for you, and about you.

My mother is mostly known for making things. For many years she made very beautiful baskets — she was a Roycroft Artisan and sold at shows across Western New York. She has always knitted, mostly sweaters but lately socks. She volunteers at church and knits hats and scarves that are given to street people and others in need. But even more than her baskets or her knitting, my mother is known far and wide for her cookies. This year at Christmas my brother’s wife played a trick on her nieces and nephews who came over for Christmas dinner (which my mom still makes every year, she says it’s easy), she put out a plate of cookies that someone else had given them. The kids came in the door and headed straight for the kitchen in search of Grandma Currie’s cookies. They found the plate of cookies that my sister-in-law had put out and each took one. They were not fooled. After one bite they looked at each other and said, “These are not Grandma Currie’s cookies. Where are the real cookies?”

When I was growing up, my mom was known less for making things and more for knowing things. She was like the all-seeing eye — she knew everything. She knew things about my friends that I didn’t know. She probably knew things about my friends that even they didn’t know.

I think of her as a kind of savant.

Here is a story I tell about my mother sometimes, because I think it is funny and because I think it epitomizes two important things: (1) college kids don’t know anything, and (2) my mother has all the answers.

My senior year in college I lived in a house with six other people. It wasn’t supposed to be that many but we kept adding people as we looked for a house, like the Canterbury Tales or the Wizard of Oz or something. People kept joining our merry little band. We ended up finding a great house that wasn’t quite big enough for the seven people we had ended up with, but we took it anyway because it was beautiful and not too expensive and we figured we could make it work. And we did, mostly. (And we are actually all still friends, lo these many years later.)

The house was in Durham, North Carolina, where you have a pretty good chunk of the year where you can get by without heat or air conditioning. Especially in the fall, you have a nice stretch where it’s not too hot anymore but it hasn’t started to get cold yet either.

Our lease started in June, and two of us spent the summer in Durham, along with one or two of the people who had lived in the house the previous year, and one or two random summer sublet people. Then the other five housemates came along when school started at the end of August.

By the middle of October it was starting to get cold, and eventually it got to the point where we actually needed to heat the house. We knew where the thermostat was, because we’d been using the air conditioning all summer, but when we put it on heat, nothing happened. No heat.

This was the first time any of us had lived on our own in a house, we had no experience with anything. We didn’t know what to do to make the heat work. So of course I called my mom.

I said, “Mom, we don’t have any heat. We put the thermostat on heat, nothing happened. What do we do?”

She said, “Well what kind of heat do you have?”

I said, “I don’t know. What does that mean?”

She said, “What kind of heat. Is it oil? Is it gas? Electric?”

I said, “I don’t know. How would I know that?”

She said, “Well it depends on what kind of furnace you have. Do you have a furnace? If it’s oil there’ll be a big tank somewhere that the oil goes in. Is there a tank anywhere?”

I said, “I don’t know.”

She told me it would be outside the house somewhere, I’d see a big metal tank, probably somewhere close to where the furnace was. I knew we had a furnace because the furnace was in front of a small addition that was the laundry room. Even a dumb college student could figure that one out.

I said, “Okay, let me go look. I’ll call you back.”

So I went outside and walked around the house, and on the north side, next to the wall of the room with the furnace was a big metal tank.

I went back inside and called my mom.

I said, “Yes, there’s a big tank outside.”

She said, “Well then you have an oil furnace. You need to get oil.”

I said, “How do we do that?”

She said, “You call the oil company and they bring it to you.”

Oh! Okay.

This was 1988 so I’m sure the next step involved looking in the phone book and figuring out how to order a tank of oil for our oil furnace. So we had that delivered and — ta da! — we had heat in our house.

(Mini side story: We had heat in our house until we ran out of oil just before it was about to get warm and had a pitched battle between me, who said SUCK IT UP PEOPLE, it’s going to be warm in like a week, we do NOT need to spend money filling an oil tank in a house that we are about to leave, and everyone else who said OMFG IT IS FREEZING IN THIS HOUSE. I lost that battle. Here is one famous line from that time period: “If we have to hear one more time about how you are from Buffalo and this not that cold we are going to have to kill you.”)

So thanks, Mom, for many things, including helping us get heat in our house in 1988.

I don’t know what other people do when they can’t figure something out but I call my mom.

She knows everything.

Haters!

Friday, April 5, 2019

So I took the day off from work on Tuesday, because I worked both weekend days two weeks in a row, in addition to my regular weekday work. There’s only so much a person can take.

I didn’t do much, tried to get caught up on some things around the house and pull together my tax info. At around 6:30, I checked my regular email, the one I’ve had forever, then I checked my gmail account, which I set up when I went back to school, because I needed an account that wasn’t my regular account. I don’t use the gmail account for much, but it is the account that WordPress comments in need of approval get sent to, comments from someone who hasn’t commented before. I don’t often get a new commenter but every now and then something shows up. I try to make sure I check that account at least once a week.

So I check the gmail messages and I have two comments from Nancy K. waiting to be approved.

With the exception of two comments I got in 2017 praising Donald Trump — I seriously think those were from a Russian troll farm, or maybe they were actual Americans inspired by Russian trolls, the whole thing was completely weird, how did these people find me, anyway? — all of the comments I get are nice. People I don’t know thank me for writing and share interesting thoughts. It’s really very uplifting.

UNTIL TUESDAY!!!!!

I look at the comments to be approved and they are filled with vitriol! Here is one:

10 years ago is 10 years ago…not sure why you felt like your 15 minutes meant that people continued to want to read about your boring ass life. You seem kind of stuck up and conceited overall, and I generally dont like you. The original teachers at least made it enjoyable to read and didn’t have a holier than thou attitude. Stop writing as if you’re better than everyone else. Stop writing period (you’re not a very good writer), get a real job, and give up this blog. No one reads or cares about it anymore. Stop grasping straws of minor fame from a decade ago please and get on with your life. The rest of us did, 9 years and 11 months ago lol

lol is right!

Like all I’ve been doing for the past 10 years is lollygagging around trying to make hay from my MOMENT OF FAME. I didn’t even make hay from my moment of fame when it was happening! Come on people!

(And for the record, I do have a job; whether or not it qualifies as a “real” job is open to debate.)

I went down the list of people who hate me right now. (This list is longer than you might think given what a NICE PERSON I am.)

All of them seemed possible — at this point, nothing is going to surprise me — but somewhat implausible. I could definitely see any of them trolling me on my blog, but it didn’t seem likely that they’d go after me about whether or not “anyone gives 2 shits about whether or not you use a packet of ketchup from a restaurant.” It just seemed like they might go after me for different things than Nancy K. did.

I looked at the whois record for Nancy K’s IP address to see if that gave me any clues. It was a New York Public Schools address, which seemed to eliminate most of my local enemies. Maybe it was just some random person who doesn’t like me? A wannabe high school bully doing some target practice?

While pondering these possibilities, I thought more about the content of the comments, and noted that the first comment was on a post where I clarified something that my friend (not random dude) Tom had needled me about, accusing me of “cheating.” It also referenced taking ketchup and sugar packets from restaurants, something the “original teachers” did and which I specifically said in my ground rules that I wouldn’t do.

The second comment (given above) directly mentioned the “original teachers” and how their project was better, at least it was “enjoyable to read.” Unlike my tedious slog. That this person is forcing themselves to get through. Ten years later.

Hmmm…

After putting in my monocle and considering the evidence, I decided that the comments are probably not from a local hater, or from a random hater, but from someone who is a fan of the “original teachers” and who was offended by my snarky attitude toward them. (It’s true. I could have been nicer to them. I apologize.)

While all of the possibilities seem weird, it is hard for me to imagine that someone who doesn’t know me at all and has no connection to anything on my blog would come to this blog — which is not advertised anywhere, I’m not selling anything, and I hardly ever post — and say mean things about me, without some motivating factor. I think my local haters have bigger fish to fry, I don’t think they would bother with trolling me on my blog.

So.

I will just say that I’m sorry for all of you out there, like Nancy K., who feel compelled to come here and read my bad writing, over and over again, year after year. I’m doing the best I can. I write this blog mostly for myself and everyone else is free to read it or not read it as they see fit.

I’m also sorry you think I’m stuck up and conceited and you don’t like me much. There’s really not much I can do about that, I am who I am.

And this seems like a good time to re-post my favorite sign from Cooperstown, New York.

And that is it for tonight.

Peace out.