Hello everyone, I hope you are all making it through. (And I hope everyone enjoyed the best day of the year today, when we all got an extra hour to sleep!)

I have retreated into my own little world for the past few months, and in recent weeks have gone into a more or less complete media blackout. No TV, limited internet, and almost no social media. (I am old-school, I get actual paper newspapers delivered to my front yard, the New York Times and the News & Observer, and I do look though them on some semi-regular basis, so I can try to keep up with things a little bit.) Really just working to shut things down as much as I can. My life feels manageable when all I have to think about is my own life, what I am eating and which part of whatever longstanding project that has been languishing for the past 5+ years I am going to try to tackle today. If I can feed myself and do my laundry, and maybe go for a walk, I feel like I am doing okay … but if I have to try to figure out all the problems in the world all at the same time it is too much.

I’ve been listening to a lot of Esther Perel, because she makes me feel like every problem can be solved, if you are thoughtful and empathetic, and if you are willing to work at it; and that the world is an endlessly fascinating drama. (It would be hard for me to overstate how much I love Esther Perel right now. I feel like she is my pandemic buddy.) Also I recently learned that she speaks nine (9!) languages, which I am hoping will inspire me to work on doubling the number of languages in which I can converse, from one to two.

The other thing I have been listening to on my media blackout is LibriVox audiobooks.

This is an open source project with public domain books read by volunteers, so you get mostly the classics, which I like, and they are free, which I also like. In addition, they have no advertising, which I especially like right now. Some of the volunteer readers are better than others — I downloaded one very long book a while back that was read in a deathly monotone and was extremely difficult to listen to. (Though I was having significant sleep problems at the time and it was pretty good for listening to when I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep … so that was something at least.)

I’m now listening to Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, which is a collaborative reading so that is nice, different people reading different chapters — if you don’t like someone’s voice you’re probably only going to have to make it through a few chapters before you get someone else. I’ve been listening to it mostly while cooking or doing the dishes, so sometimes there will be something I miss with the running of water or clattering of dishes or whatnot, and usually I just keep going but if I start to lose track of what’s happening in the story I’ll back up and listen again.

In a recent listening session there were a few lines that confused me, and I listened to them again and they still confused me. I thought it might be the way it was read so I went to see if I had a copy of the book on my bookshelf, which I did, and I was surprised to see how many passages were underlined. I clearly read it for a class, though I don’t remember which one. Possibly Victorian Literature. Man we read a lot of words in that class.

I did find the passage that was confusing, and I didn’t understand the written version either. So there. Sometimes things in old books are confusing.

But anyway, all of that is to say that I am very much enjoying listening to the book, and being able to escape into a past century, where certainly there were many problems, but none of them are my problems, and most of them only make it into Jane Austen in a very oblique way.

I don’t remember the book much at all from reading it, so it is familiar in a general Jane Austen-type way, but not in any way that detracts from my listening pleasure.

One of the things I’m sure I didn’t notice when I read it in college is how funny and biting Austen is when writing about mothers and children. (Based on my underlining of passages, we focused mainly on the courtship and marriage angle in class.) The primary object of her satire on this subject in Sense and Sensibility is Lady Middleton:

There was nothing in any of the party which could recommend them as companions to the Dashwoods: but the cold insipidity of Lady Middleton was so particularly repulsive, that in comparison of it the gravity of Colonel Brandon, and even the boisterous mirth of Sir John and his mother-in-law was interesting. Lady Middleton seemed to be roused to enjoyment only by the entrance of her four noisy children after dinner, who pulled her about, tore her clothes, and put an end to every kind of discourse except what related to themselves.

When, in chapter 21, the Miss Steeles are invited to visit Barton Park, Lady Middleton is initially opposed to their coming, despite being told that they are relatives of her mother, but her opinion is changed once they come on the scene:

The young ladies arrived, their appearance was by no means ungenteel or unfashionable. Their dress was very smart, their manners were very civil, they were delighted with the house, and in raptures with the furniture, and they happened to be so doatingly [sic] fond of children that Lady Middleton’s good opinion was engaged in their favour before they had been an hour at the Park. She declared them to be very agreeable girls indeed, which for her ladyship was enthusiastic admiration.

The Miss Dashwoods (who are the main characters of the story), are less taken with the Miss Steeles upon meeting them, but Elinor warms to them when she realizes that they can keep Lady Middleton occupied in such a way that will spare her and her sister Marianne from having to do much of anything with any of them:

“Fortunately for those who pay their court through such foibles, a fond mother, though, in pursuit of praise for her children, the most rapacious of human beings, is likewise the most credulous; her demands are exorbitant; but she will swallow any thing; and the excessive affection and endurance of the Miss Steeles towards her offspring, were viewed therefore by Lady Middleton without the smallest surprise or distrust. She saw with maternal complacency all the impertinent incroachments and mischievous tricks to which her cousins submitted. She saw their sashes untied, their hair pulled about their ears, their work-bags searched, and their knives and scissors stolen away, and felt no doubt of its being a reciprocal enjoyment. It suggested no other surprise than that Elinor and Marianne should sit so composedly by, without claiming a share in what was passing.

‘John is in such spirits today!’ said she, on his taking Miss Steele’s pocket handkerchief, and throwing it out the window – ‘He is full of monkey tricks.’

And soon afterwards, on the second boy’s violently pinching one of the same lady’s fingers, she fondly observed, ‘How playful William is !’

‘And here is my sweet little Annamaria,’ she added, tenderly caressing a little girl of three years old, who had not made a noise for the last two minutes: ‘And she is always so gentle and quiet — Never was there such a quiet little thing !’

But unfortunately in bestowing these embraces, a pin in her ladyship’s head dress slightly scratching the child’s neck, produced from this pattern of gentleness, such violent screams, as could hardly be outdone by any creature professedly noisy. The mother’s consternation was excessive; but it could not surpass the alarm of the Miss Steeles, and every thing was done by all three, in so critical an emergency, which affection could suggest as likely to assuage the agonies of the little sufferer. She was seated in her mother’s lap, covered with kisses, her wound bathed with lavender-water, by one of the Miss Steeles, who was on her knees to attend her, and her mouth stuffed with sugar plums by the other. With such a reward for her tears, the child was too wise to cease crying. She still screamed and sobbed lustily, kicked her two brothers for offering to touch her, and all their united soothings were ineffectual till Lady Middleton luckily remembering that in a scene of similar distress last week, some apricot marmalade had been successfully applied for a bruised temple, the same remedy was eagerly proposed for this unfortunate scratch, and a slight intermission of screams in the young lady on hearing it, gave them reason to hope that it would not be rejected. — She was carried out of the room therefore in her mother’s arms, in quest of this medicine, and as the two boys chose to follow, though earnestly entreated by their mother to stay behind, the four young ladies were left in a quietness which the room had not known for many hours.

Now there’s a description of a social visit involving small children if ever I read one!

I also like the very first introduction to Lady Middleton, when she appears at Barton Cottage with her husband and young son:

Conversation however was not wanted, for Sir John was very chatty, and Lady Middleton had taken the wise precaution of bringing with her their eldest child, a fine little boy about six years old, by which means there was one subject always to be recurred to by the ladies in case of extremity, for they had to inquire his name and age, admire his beauty, and ask him questions which his mother answered for him, while he hung about her and held down his head, to the great surprise of her ladyship, who wondered at his being so shy before company as he could make noise enough at home. On every formal visit a child ought to be of the party, by way of provision for discourse. In the present case it took up ten minutes to determine whether the boy were most like his father or his mother, and in what particular he resembled either, for of course every body differed, and every body was astonished at the opinion of the others.

So there you have it. Jane Austen on children.

And if anyone is looking for an escape from the current moment, I recommend LibriVox.

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.

Ten Years Ago

Monday, February 4, 2019

In February 2009, I did a project where I ate for a dollar a day.

I wrote about it on this very blog that I had created just for the project, and I didn’t expect anyone to take any notice of it, I did it for myself, because I was annoyed by someone else’s dollar-a-day project, which began with a $150 trip to Costco, and I wanted to do a straight-up dollar-a-day project, where you actually get a dollar a day, which seemed impossible.

But then lots of people paid attention to it and there was a full-page article about me in People magazine and I went on the Rachael Ray show and I had a brief moment of minor celebrityhood. Which is definitely not something I ever expected or wanted, or even particularly enjoyed.

And all of that went away almost as fast as it came in, but the blog is still here, and if my life ever gets better and I am able to think about anything other than surviving my current life I will start writing again.

In the meantime, you have 10 years of intermittent posts about food and frugality and a wide variety of other topics — some related but most not — to keep you occupied.

On doing things you cannot do.

Monday, September 17, 2018

My first job out of college was in book publishing, as a direct mail assistant in the marketing department of Princeton University Press. In fall 1989, I moved to Princeton, New Jersey, where I had never been prior to driving down for my job interview, and where I knew no one.

I interviewed in August, and got the job, and then my mom and I drove down to find a place for me to live. It turned out that housing in Princeton was hard to come by, and very expensive. I had no idea how bad this situation was when I accepted the job offer. (Sometimes I wonder if I would have taken the job had known this.) But I got lucky and found a place I liked that I could afford, subletting for $400 a month ($800 in 2018 dollars) a very small room in a very old house from an interesting person who worked as a corporate chef and caterer. The house was so old it had a name — it was the Bernardus Van Zandt house, and when friends came to visit for the first time they thought they were at the wrong address.

I moved to Princeton over Labor Day weekend, which gave me plenty of time to get settled, because I didn’t start work until Tuesday. However it turned out that I didn’t need plenty of time, because I had not very much stuff, so it took me less than a day to move everything from my little car into my little room, and to get it all set up the way I wanted. To put up my bookshelves and put together my stereo and get my books and music organized the way I liked, and put my clothes away in the built-in wardrobe and dresser that were in the room.

My housemate was there for a bit after I got there, she welcomed me and told me where the nearest grocery store was, but then she went away (as it turned out she often did), leaving me in a place where I knew not a single person, and had not a single thing I needed to do before I went to work on Tuesday.

As noted, this was September 1989, pre-Internet, and I was never a huge television watcher, but at that point in my life watching television was still a standard default activity. I had noted a large television in the dining room when I made my initial visit, so I didn’t bring a TV with me. So after I’d finished setting up everything in my little room I went downstairs to kill some time by watch some television only to discover that the TV wasn’t actually a working TV, it didn’t get any reception. (Later I learned that it had been set up to watch videos, but I don’t think I ever got that part to work either.)

So there I was in this house, by myself, with no TV, and nothing to do. And I wasn’t going to be making hardly any money, so I was completely focused on not spending money. And I didn’t know where anything was anyway.

Hm.

I remember deciding to go out and get things for my room, I needed some more shelving, so I did that. That took a couple of hours. Okay, only two more days before I needed to go to work.

On Sunday or Monday I decided that I could go to the mall and just look at stuff. I remember being at Sears, in the TV section with the US Open tennis tournament on. That was so nice! To stand there and watch TV. I wondered how long I could hang out in the TV section of Sears watching tennis, I wanted to stay all day. But that didn’t seem like a good idea, and also it seemed sad and pathetic. Watching TV at Sears because you have no TV and no money and no friends and nowhere to go. Welcome to the rest of your life.

I clearly remember that moment at Sears as the point when I realized that I may not have thought this through quite as much as I should have, that I had no idea what I was actually getting myself into, moving to a place where I knew no one. I guess I had been thinking it would be like college. For college I went somewhere I’d never been before and where I didn’t know anyone and that turned out fine. But that was completely different. At college you are surrounded by people who also have not been there before and do not know anyone, and the whole environment is structured to get you all to meet each other. Regular life is not like that. At all.

I didn’t end up staying at Sears all day. I went back to the house and figured out how to occupy myself until Tuesday. I listened to music and read and wrote letters to my friends telling them about the Bernardus Van Zandt house, and how to get in touch with me. I bought groceries and fixed meals for myself. Then I went to work on Tuesday and met people there and things started to feel more normal.

All of which is background to this story. The background is that I was living in a big house where I was by myself most of the time, I had no friends near by, and I had limited resources.

Because my room was small, and because it wasn’t exactly a full-on house share, it was more like “and this is your room” situation, I had decided I should get a futon as a bed, which would give me both a bed for sleeping and a place to hang out and read or visit with friends (assuming I might someday have friends). I bought the futon mattress in Buffalo before leaving, packed it in my little car with the rest of my possessions and brought it down with me, and slept on that on the floor for the first few days. But it wasn’t completely comfortable, and I seem to recall there being fleas, which was not ideal to be sleeping on the floor (and which I recall my hybrid housemate/landlady being embarrassed about, figuring they must be from her dog, Daisy.)

In the center of town was a store that sold futon frames, and I think my mom had offered to pay for the frame for me. (It is possible I was buying that myself out of money I had saved, but I am reasonably certain that if I had to buy it myself I would have just slept on the floor, so I’m going to go with the parents-buying-me-a-bed theory.) So I went to the store and picked out what I wanted — a nice, substantial, solid wood frame that folded flat for a bed and up for a sofa — ordered it, and then went and picked it up when they told me it was ready.

I had a Mazda 323, which is a small car, but it had a very deep trunk and the back seat folded down, and I am a small person so I can push the driver’s seat all the way to the front and you would be amazed at how much you could fit in that car when it was configured that way. That was a good car.

So I go pick up the futon frame and it is in a very large, rectangular box, with some of that plastic strapping on the outside so you could move it and carry it. They load it into my car for me, it fits and everything, and I drive up the Great Road to my house.

It is quite heavy, but I am able to get the box out of the car by myself without too much trouble, and I can heave it along the driveway, then slide it up the outside stairs to the porch landing, then over the door threshold and through the front door into the front hallway.

The house had a very wide entrance hallway, almost like a room; it was probably ten feet across and stretched completely from the front to the back of the house. It had two openings to the living room on the right and an opening to the dining room on the left. My housemate had an old Sigmund Freud style couch in the back, across from a telephone table. The stairs were at the back of the hallway, across from the Sigmund Freud couch, behind the telephone table and an old steam radiator, running up toward the front door.

The stairs went up along the wall then hit a landing and took a ninety-degree turn to the left (when you were going up the stairs). It was maybe six or seven steps to the landing then an equal number of steps after the landing. Both the hallway and the stairs were carpeted with a worn, low-pile carpet.

So I’m able to slide the box from the front door through the hallway to the stairs, and turn it onto the stairs and slide it up the stairs, but when I hit the landing I realize I need to get this very heavy, very wide box to make a ninety-degree turn in order to get it all the way to the top. My housemate is gone for the next few days so I am doing this by myself, because (a) I see no problem with doing this myself, (b) even if I did see a problem with doing it myself, I do not have anyone I can easily call to come help me, and (c) I am ready to stop sleeping on the floor.

So despite this slight complication with the landing, I decide to forge ahead with this plan of getting the very heavy futon frame into my upstairs bedroom by myself.

I try to maneuver the box and figure out how to get it to make a turn on the landing but the approach I take is obviously not the right approach because I get the box stuck on the landing. It is on its flat side, but there’s not enough room to flip it, and also it is too heavy. And I end up kind of stuck on top of it. Hm. But I keep working to try to figure it out and in the process of maneuvering to get myself underneath it or to somehow get some leverage so I can turn it and get it the rest of the way up the stairs, I manage to get myself not just kind of stuck but really actually stuck.

Like really stuck.

Like stuck like I am like holy shit I am by myself in this 200+ year-old house that sits on 100+ acres in the middle of central New Jersey on a stair landing trapped behind a box filled with a solid wood futon frame that I cannot move. I can’t move the box, and I can’t move myself out from behind the box. And I am by myself.

Did I mention that I was by myself?

This is nearly a decade before most normal people had cell phones, and even if cell phones had existed at that point, I probably would not have had one with me. (In fact if I were doing this today, I probably would not have a cell phone with me.)

So my housemate is gone for three days. I am trapped on a stair landing behind a really big, really heavy box. I have no access to a phone. I cannot get myself out from behind the box and I cannot move the box. (Turn push urrggh push urrggh. URRRGGHHH. Nope. I cannot move the box.)

Well sh*t.

What are my options?

Option 1: I can remain trapped behind the box and wait until my housemate returns to free me.

Option 2: I can remain trapped behind the box and wait until someone (work? my mom?) realizes I haven’t been heard from in quite some time and calls the authorities to figure out what has happened to me.

Options 3: I can somehow figure out how to move this box which is too heavy for me to move.

Option one feels tedious and extremely embarrassing. Option two feels significantly more embarrassing, and at least as tedious. Neither of these is an acceptable option.

I have to go with option three.

So I take a deep breath and dig down deep inside to summon my inner superwoman — like you hear about on the news when a child is trapped under a car and the kid’s mom or some average joe bystander lifts the car to free the child — and I manage to push the box up AARRGGHHH, get out from behind it, and turn it so it is going in the right direction.

FREE!!!

Pant, pant, pant.

Then I slide it the rest of the way up the stairs.

I get myself to the top of the stairs. I turn the box and slide it into my room. I take the futon frame out of the box and set up my bed.

All’s well that ends well.

And I suppose the lesson I should have learned from this episode was that I shouldn’t try to do everything by myself. But the lesson I actually learned was that you might end up in situation where you are sure you can’t do something but then it turns out you can.

So, as far as I am concerned, here is the point of this story:

Sometimes things are hard. Some day you might find yourself alone, trapped on a stair landing behind a really heavy box that you cannot move. Except you can. Because you have to.

You might choose to take something different from that story. But that’s what I’m going to go with.

Especially right now.