Saturday, February 26, 2005

A little diversion

Here's a fun doodad for a Saturday evening:

Bold the states you've been to, underline the states you've lived in and italicize the state you're in now...

Alabama / Alaska / Arizona / Arkansas / California / Colorado / Connecticut / Delaware / Florida / Georgia / Hawaii / Idaho / Illinois / Indiana / Iowa / Kansas / Kentucky / Louisiana / Maine / Maryland / Massachusetts / Michigan / Minnesota / Mississippi / Missouri / Montana / Nebraska / Nevada / New Hampshire / New Jersey / New Mexico / New York / North Carolina / North Dakota / Ohio / Oklahoma / Oregon / Pennsylvania / Rhode Island / South Carolina / South Dakota / Tennessee / Texas / Utah / Vermont / Virginia / Washington / West Virginia / Wisconsin / Wyoming / Washington D.C /

Go HERE to have a form generate the HTML for you.

I've got a few regions I obviously need to hit, mostly in the west and a few states in the south. I'm knocking Michigan off the list in June, when I have to go to lovely downtown Detroit for a conference. (This same conference previously sent me to Milwaukee. Guess they have a thing for aging industrial towns...). And, yes, I have lived in many places, in many houses. In fact, as of this September, which will be the fourth anniversary of buying this house, I will have lived here longer than I've lived in any other house. Crazy.

Starting the weekend off right

Ok, so technically we started the weekend off right last night. BUT what is even better is that I just re-did our taxes from scratch, and it turns out that we are getting a refund -- not the horrific several-thousand-dollar bill I came up with last weekend. Turns out I skipped a digit when entering the amount the feds withheld from one of our checks. Oops. Guess we're not moving to Canada after all.


A night in the big city

We interrupt the regularly scheduled cooking/babymaking/conspicuously NOT running programming to bring you this music review:

So Darren and I were wild (for us) last night and headed down to Boston (Somerville, to be exact) to see Gary Louris and Mark Olson, founding members of the Jayhawks, at the Somerville Theatre. It's a two-hour drive down, so a bit ambitious for a Friday night when you've got to drive home bleary-eyed and loopy afterwards. Which is exactly what I did.

We bailed out of work at three, and after assorted preparations and scurrying, we made it to the Alewife T station by 5:30, and were in Davis Square in a matter of minutes. I miss Boston a bit -- I lived there for a year while I was in grad school -- the city is so human-sized and easy to deal with. Heck, in Somerville they even make cars stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk -- and the cars actually do stop!

We were tempted by Indian food, but then wandered past one of the many Anna's Taqueria shops that dot the Boston area, and just couldn't pass it up. The burritos are cheap -- dinner for two came to $12! -- and the guacamole is fresh. You can't ask for more, especially when you live in southern Maine, which has a distinct paucity of passable Mexican food. We created a cultural mashup when we followed the burritos with a Guinness at the Burren, a big old Irish bar.

As for the show itself... it was a bit disappointing. There were high expectations all around on this one -- heck, we'd driven two hundred miles round-trip for it, which immediately establishes a certain expectation of quality, besides which seeing the reunion of the founding members of this seminal alt-country band was supposed to be a religious experience.

I've seen the Jayhawks twice post-Olson, and they've been great. But this show was supposed to Kick Ass. And it just didn't. Louris stood there like a mannequin, only his strumming hand and his lips moving, while Olson cavorted around the stage and made odd remarks about their boychild drummer and geezer fiddler. Olson also played not one, not two, but three kinda funny, kinda bizarre songs about George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld. Which, if you ask me, is more than enough for one night.

There were moments, though, that were excellent, when Olson and Louris' harmonies were soaring on old Jayhawks tunes --- songs that made me realize how naked Louris' voice sounds without Olson on the last several albums. And then they blew it with the most half-assed, crappy version of "Settled Down Like Rain" that I could imagine. What a bummer.

Still, I'm glad we made it down there -- it reminded us that, while draining (we just got up a half hour ago), Friday nights in Boston are totally doable. We realized that parking in Cambridge is much easier than our previous option at the end of the Blue Line (near the dog track, at a station called Wonderland - how can you resist it?). And we managed finally to catch up with a group of fellow Portlanders who were down for the show, too.

Now, back to round two on the taxes. Yeehaw.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Existential angst

This is one of those two-pints-of-Hampshire posts, in which I write things I typically keep shuttered up in my head, away from public view. So consider yourself forewarned, and consider me overly dramatic and not in need of nearly so much therapy as the following words might indicate.

[Disclaimer over.]

So, this trying-to-get-pregnant thing is totally fucking with my head. I am an overachiever. A typical A student, almost effortlessly good at school. A veritable Girl Scout at work - hello, who claims a half-day on the timesheet when you go home sick at 3 pm? - and the Good Girl at home. I won't go into the details, but my parents -- who are fine and still together and actually quite wonderful -- had a tumultuous relationship for many, many, many years, and so much of my childhood was spent trying to make everything OK. And, in lots of ways, convincing myself that I'd succeeded.

When I've been bad at things, or not taken to them naturally, I tend to give them up. I'm a coward like that. If I can't master it instantly, then I don't want any part of it. I'd rather sit in the corner, read the New Yorker and feel intellectually superior to the cretins playing tennis or kayaking or whatever else than actually try to get better at something. (Needless to say, this attitude of mine causes quite a bit of frustration on the part of my jock husband, he who is effortlessly good at sports and games of all kinds.)

So do you see where this is going? Even though we've barely been trying at this pregnancy thing at all, even though this last month is the only one in which we know we timed everything correctly and failed nonetheless, I am pissed off and have decided that who wants a goddamn baby anyway? Wouldn't I just hate it, and resent it for spoiling my career? Or wouldn't I turn into one of those Judith Warner obsessive compulsive perfectionist mothers, and end up hating my husband and myself? Wouldn't I much rather hang out with the dogs, drink to excess and spend money on myself? Wouldn't I be a terrible mother?

This is not a healthy line of thinking. And yet I can see myself thinking it and know that it's stupid and premature and really, really negative and yet not stop. And I'm allowing this stupid negativity, this feeling that having a baby is something I must Achieve, to make me question the whole damn enterprise.

I spilled all this to Darren tonight. He didn't have much to say in response, other than that he knows how I feel, that he understands why I'm going in this direction but thinks I'd feel differently if we actually did have a kid. And then he swooped up Rocky and went to bed. I'm not sure what I wanted him to do -- maybe admit to a moment of doubt or uncertainty himself -- but he's riding high on his best friend's return from Iraq and feels certain that things will turn out OK for us. I wish I felt the same.

And, for anyone who has struggled with infertility who is reading this, I KNOW this is absurd and ridiculous and really nothing to worry about it. But that doesn't mean I can stop myself from doing so.

Long-awaited news

Our very good friend D. is back in the U.S. after a year in Iraq!! We heard from his wife late last night, and he is safely at Fort Drum in upstate New York with the rest of his National Guard unit. What a relief.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Wide open

I actually have the day off today - one of the few holidays we get from our munificent employer - and of course, being me, I scheduled an interview this afternoon for a freelance story I'm doing. The subject of this story lives about an hour and 45 minutes away, and she couldn't meet until 2 pm today, meaning that I'd leave here around noon and get home at 6 or s0. And there's nothing more depressing about a day off than arriving home at the same time you would if you were working.

BUT! The snow gods have come to my aid. There were a few inches on the ground when I woke up, and it's continued to come down. So the interview is cancelled and here I am with an entire day to myself. And you know what's scary? I don't really know what to do. I'm taking a break from the hideous taxes, which will give me hives if I think about them anymore, and the house is essentially already clean. There are some dishes to do, and I think I might reorganize the pantry.

Then I'm thinking I will go through my stack of old food magazines, a la Carter and Evelin, to rip out recipes and recycle the rest. And, lastly, I've got a yarn date with F. and S. later this afternoon - they'll knit and I'll crochet, either at one of our houses or at the hipster yarn cafe, depending on the snow and our general sense of adventure.

The rest of the plan involves listening to music and reading. Darren's off at work, which is probably good for both of us. I've been exceedingly cranky for the past week or so and am in dire need of some space for myself. So, thanks to the snow day, that's what I've got. And now that I've caught up on blog reading and answered a few work e-mails, I need to Step Away from the Computer. I'll report back later on my day of solitude...

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Reason #643a to move to Canada

Made more money than we did last year, and kept our withholding status the same, yet the feds actually took less money from our paychecks than they did in 03. End result? We owe them $2,200, according to my pal TurboTax.

Good thing we've got that fridge full of booze.

Notes to self: Party planning

~Don't make so much freakin' food! I tripled the recipe for each soup I made yesterday. In testament to the fact that my friends are very smart, the butternut squash and sausage soup was a huge hit -- which meant that exactly half of what I'd made got eaten. So doubling the recipe would have been perfect to feed the guests and have a little left over. Now we have dinner for a week. And that's just the one soup.

The potato chile soup, which I've always loved, didn't fare as well; people seemed to like it fine, but it paled in comparison to the sausage. We also had fewer vegetarians than we'd expected and some of them didn't even eat. So we have gallons of this stuff left over. I froze some of it last night and we'll eat that, too, for a week.

The thing I need to remember is that at a potluck, there are so many other food options that people are not going to fill up on the main course. People brought all kinds of good stuff, including a cheese plate (half of which is in my cheese drawer!), several hummus/veggie plates, an olive bread that was incredibly popular and several desserts.

What's more, people brought a slew of alcohol. We started out with three bottles of wine and a case of beer. Right now, if you look in my wine rack, there are three bottles of wine. And in the fridge? A little more than a case of beer. Granted, it's not exactly the same as what we started with... but it's a lot.

~The immersion blender is your friend. I've been wanting one of these for a while, but it took making two triple-batches of soup to justify the expense. I stopped at our local kitchen store, which is amazing, yesterday morning on my way back from the Italian grocer (olive oil, Italian sausage and pecorino romano) and picked up what the clerk called the "ch---, I mean, inexpensive" immersion blender for $30. (The exorbitant, I mean, expensive, cordless version was $60...) Loved it, loved it, loved it.

~To get people out of the kitchen, move the booze. A guest had that suggestion and it totally worked. Granted, the knot of people clustered around the kitchen island never dissipated, but at least I lured a few people into the living room, where we could actually sit down.

~Straightening up before bed is a good idea. We didn't wash pots and wine glasses, but we did gather up all the empties, put food away, ran the dishwasher and wiped down the counters, which made it much less angst-producing to get up this morning. Especially because I slept until 9:30 - can't remember the last time I did that, but neither can I recall the last time I went to bed after 1 - and when I got up Darren had finished off the last bit of cleaning. So now it's Sunday morning, the sun is streaming in, the house is clean and it's just a few hours until we can begin the assault on our alcohol supply. (Kidding! We will wait at least until late afternoon, after we go to a matinee... Bad Education, perhaps?)

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Soup-er Saturday

It's a little over an hour until designated Party Hour arrives. The house is clean, the dining room table has been swiveled around to act as a buffet, the wine glasses are out on the island and the bread is already on the cutting board. On the stove, the soups are 90% done, just awaiting the final touches before guests arrive.

This party was supposed to happen in August (and at that point, obviously, it didn't have a soup theme). We'd planned a cookout for a Saturday afternoon and invited all our friends. And then our wonderful pals D. and A., who used to live nearby but have abandoned us for Chapel Hill, invited us up to their camp for the weekend. ("Camp" is a good Maine vocabulary word for you -- I thought it literally meant a shanty or something very rustic when I moved here... But it turns out that camps are summer homes, usually on the ocean or a lake; it's just that Mainers don't like to boast about having a summer home in the first place, so they call it a camp.)

We jumped at the chance to spend a summer weekend kayaking, cooking out, running, playing tennis and eating and drinking. (My favorites are those last two.) And so we cancelled the party and snuck out of town with the kayaks. It was totally worth it.

Now, several months later, we rescheduled the party, although one of my coworkers insists that you can't replace a summer party with a winter party. We made two giant pots of soup -- one is potato chile, and the other is butternut squash and sausage -- I baked a loaf of rye bread and we're raring to go. I have no idea how many people will actually show up -- we made a list, and the fairly definite "Yes"s total more than 20; the "Maybe" list is nearly as long. I really don't know how we could fit 40 people in our house, but we'll see. I just hope enough people come that we are not eating these two soups three meals a day for the rest of our lives!

As for the neuroses I mentioned below, they're still there. Darren and I talked for a while, and there's really not much we can do. (We suspect that Rocky, our almost five-year-old spoiled little furball, is planting germs - or whatever - around the house in order to derail the baby plans... she LOVES being the center of attention.) I have so far resisted Googling "celiac" and "fertility," though I suspect that will happen before long. Until then, there's wine...

A new wrinkle

A while back, when I was sick, I went to the doctor for a physical that had been already scheduled. Naturally, we spent some time talking about the fact that I'm trying to get pregnant. My doc talked about allergies getting more pronounced in pregnancy, and asked me about the allergy history in my family. My parents both have a number of food allergies, and my mom suspects she has celiac disease, which is not an allergy at all but rather an autoimmune disease in which wheat gluten -- the crucial ingredient in bread, pasta, beer and any number of other essential foods -- does bad, bad things to your intestines. So, my doc said, what the heck, we're drawing blood anyway; why don't we test you for celiac?

I didn't think much of it. Then, at the end of the week, I got a message on my voicemail at work, saying my appointment with the gastroenterologist was all set up. I had no idea what the hell they were talking about; turns out they'd left the message about the test results -- above normal on the celiac antibody -- on my home machine, then called work about the referral. So I freaked out: Can you imagine life without pasta and beer? I can not. I checked out the celiac diet and panicked. Then I decided I'd just have to eat meat, cheese and wine for the rest of my life (though I think cheese is suspect). Then I put it out of my mind for a while.

Yesterday morning I finally went to the gastroenterologist. I have no symptoms -- celiac disease can cause all kinds of miserable GI issues that I will not describe -- but neither do 50% of people who have it. So in order to make a definitive diagnosis, in two weeks they are going to knock me out, shove a probe down my throat and take samples from my large intestine. And, the doc added, it's important to find out the answer, because people with celiac often have trouble conceiving and/or carrying a child.

The reason he even brought this up is that yesterday we thought there was a pretty good chance that I was pregnant. It was too soon to test, but it was looking good according to the temperatures, especially as compared to my typical temp post-ovulation. And we know that this is the first month we've really timed everything right.

Then, this morning, the temperature plummeted.

So you know what I'm thinking, right? Not only do I probably have this stupid disease in which I feel absolutely fine but I'm not allowed to eat pasta, AND it's probably causing me to not get pregnant.

I know this is absurd, since there's no real evidence of anything. But it's hard not to think about. The one bright spot is that we are having a party tonight. I am not supposed to change my diet before the endoscopy, which means I am clear for beer, bread, etc. And since I am most likely not pregnant, I can drink as ridiculously much of it as I like. So there.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

A post that should have a really great song reference as the title

Thanks to the lovely Bakerina, I hereby inaugurate Run Cook Write's first-ever meme. And it's a fun one...

What is the total amount of music files on your computer?
As of earlier today, 584 songs. If it weren't for the lovely iPod Darren bought me last year, I don't think I'd have ripped more than a few albums. But with several days' capacity left on the iPod, the ripping has only just begun...

The CD you last bought?
Last night, in a fit of attempted coolness, I bought Modest Mouse's Good News for People Who Love Bad News. Conclusion: I am not cool any more (if I ever was to begin with). Didn't like it much at all, and am currently in search of a 20-something hipster who will take it off my hands. BUT at the same time I picked up the Smiths' Hatful of Hollow, a beloved album from high school that I never bought on CD. And the days of cassettes, my friends, are long over. Listened to it this morning while reading the Times, and it was glorious.

What is the song you last listened to before reading this message?
"Blinded by the Light" by Manfred Mann, on the car radio on the way to go snowshoeing.

Write down 5 songs you often listen to or that mean a lot to you.
Oy, this is hard. I'm going with a combination of sentimental favorites and... sentimental favorites. Here goes:

"I've Got the World on a String," Frank Sinatra.

"Atlantic City," the Springsteen version of Tom Waits' classic.

"Live in the Now," Ellis Paul.

"Hallelujah," the Jeff Buckley version of Leonard Cohen's classic.

"Transit," Richard Shindell.

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?
I'm sending it along to Ginga, Anita and Meg... curious to know what my friends inside the computer (and one in real life!) listen to.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

I told you so

Remember back last month, when I had the horrible haircut and the sneaking suspicion that a coworker's wife was pregnant?

Well, I was right... and not just about the hair (which, thankfully, is growing out). Said coworker made the announcement tonight -- his wife is due at the end of July, and he is just happy as a clam. We toasted over beers in the midst of a howling snowstorm, and I was pleased to find myself genuinely happy for him, rather than stewing in envy as I'd been last month. He's not the world's most positive guy, but he was absolutely glowing with the news. A good sight to see.

And so in the midst of the sharing I sort of blurted out that (1) I had thought she might be preggers and (2) we are "heading that way" ourselves. Not sure how wise that was -- I supervise both these guys -- but my hope is that no one will worry, and we'll all figure out how to deal with the workload together. (After all, they would have figured it out when I, the frequent instigator of the post-work beer, suddenly started ordering water. Not that I am scheduled to do that anytime soon.) Anyway, all in all, not a bad night.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

A run-in with risotto

Ok, at Anita's request, some guidelines for portabella and rosemary risotto, which is my standard dinner-for-guests dish, along with garlicky chicken breasts, a salad and a heaping portion o' wine. This recipe comes from the back of a bag of arborio rice that my sister and I bought at the Fairway on the upper West Side back when she lived at Lincoln Center.

So, first you saute a bunch of garlic - two cloves, maybe? - in a mixture of butter and olive oil. Throw in several cups of chopped portabellas, and saute them until they give up their liquid and turn dark and tender. When they reach that point, add a half cup of hot chicken stock (which, since you're making risotto, you'll need a bunch of anyway) and take the pan off the heat.

Then, in a large pot, saute an onion, diced, in a mixture of butter and olive oil. After the onion is soft and tender, throw in a cup of arborio rice and stir it well, so that all the rice gets coated with the fat and onions. (Heat is fairly high at this point.) Then add 3/4 of a cup of a nice, hearty red wine, most likely a cabernet. Stir constantly until the wine is absorbed. Then add a cup of the hot stock and stir until it's absorbed. Repeat this process a few times -- it helps to have a glass of wine next to the stove, and an entertaining kitchen helper for this portion of the preparations -- adding stock and stirring until it's absorbed.

After about 15 minutes, season generously with salt, pepper and a few teaspoons of ground rosemary. (You can use rosemary leaves if you like, but you need so many of them to impart the rosemary flavor that I end up getting irritated by all the little sticks.)

Continue adding stock and stirring until the rice is al dente. When it's a little more firm than you would prefer, add the mushroom mixture and stir until the liquid is absorbed. Serve with some nice grated Parmiggiano on top. And don't forget the wine!

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Catching up

Sorry for the long gaps in bloggage; once I felt better earlier this week, I dove into catch-up mode at work and haven't had time for much else. Umm, except for staying out until 1:30 last night. Not sure exactly how that happened - we went out for sushi with H. and J., and were engrossed in conversation as the restaurant emptied out.

So we headed over to the wine bar, downed a bottle of pinot noir and promptly ordered another. When the wine bar started emptying out (notice a theme here?), we wandered back to the car, and Darren realized he wasn't in the best driving shape. So we drove the few short blocks to H. and J.'s place, then hung out there for an hour, drinking water and discussing our new collective obsession, The Wire. If you haven't seen it, I urge you to run to the video store and pick up the first season; it's Sopranos-quality television, with great, complex characters and a very suspenseful story line. Not to mention a very attractive tortured-Irish-cop lead actor in Dominic West.

This morning we're about to head to Portland, so I can spend an hour at work organizing the resumes that have been flooding my inbox since I posted our ad for a writer, then we're heading to an early matinee of Million Dollar Baby, which Darren saw last weekend while I was sick under the condition that he see it again with me.

So, to get back to a request that popped up while I was sick: AJR wanted to know how Jelly is doing, and the answer is "most excellently." She got a clean bill of health from the vet last weekend; her UTI has cleared up and so she's off all her meds except the cyclosporin eye drops, which she'll need forever. Since her ear infection went away, we've discovered that she can hear a bit more than we'd thought, though still not a heck of a lot. She's also a bit more spry than we first thought, and it seems that the warmer the weather is, the more likely she is to try coming up the stairs onto the deck.

Interestingly, the dog who stands at the bottom of the stairs inside and barks if we dare to visit the second floor without her has been found a few times snuggled up on her bed in our bedroom (on the second floor) when we've been gone for a few hours. So she is certainly capable of more climbing than she lets us know.

She's still pacing in the night, but she's getting much better at soothing herself back to sleep (just like a baby!). We're trying to avoid letting her on the bed with us, since she snores something fierce. I can sleep through it, but it keeps Darren awake for hours.

I still owe Anita the recipe for my portabella rosemary risotto, which I promise to post by the end of the weekend. Now, it's off to work and the movies.