Saturday, April 30, 2005

A note before going

Whew, it's been a whirlwind around here. Spent a few very busy days in Washington, DC in the middle of the week (but still made time for a trip to the zoo), then came home late Thursday. Yesterday I did a freelance editing job -- some day off, right? -- had a meeting and then collapsed for several hours on the couch. And in about an hour, I'm heading down to Connecticut for a fast getaway with S. and R. -- our first girls weekend ever. I'll be back tomorrow afternoon, at which point I'll probably collapse on the couch again, then get up Monday and ride back into the maelstrom.

Random notes from the week past:
~Our president does not appear to be any more intelligent and/or suave when you see him speak in person.
~Spending time with your parents on a business/pleasure trip takes a special set of skills, including an awful lot of patience.
~Cabbies in DC are much more polite drivers than their counterparts in New York.
~Congressmen fly coach just like everybody else (at least the ones in Maine do; both of our representatives were on our flight home, just a few rows ahead of us).
~The new Springsteen album kicks ass, as does his installment of VH1 Storytellers.
~It is not fair that W's press conference preempted The O.C., which we had set to tape. No fair at all, especially since his speech the day before, which we heard in person, covered all the same topics.
~The 20-minute drive home from the airport at 11 pm is not the best time to start a discussion about feeling trapped in Maine, especially when you blame it on your husband.

There's tons more to write, but I've got to shower, pack (again) and head down to the Land of Evil.

Friday, April 22, 2005

iPod iDiot

I've had my iPod for more than a year now. Actually got it for Christmas '03, but had computer compatibility issues too boring to mention that led me to wait to cash in the IOU until last spring. And then there were some more compatibility issues that led me to not really get a lot of use out of this bright, shiny thing until last fall.

Since then, though, I've been Podding away. And I've also begun complaining, loudly and often, about the fact that "shuffle" is great, but wouldn't it be better if you could shuffle within one genre? Because then you wouldn't be all hyped up on an old Jane's Addiction song, only to be twirled around and laid mellow by Pat Metheny. And, I've been known to say, what the heck is wrong with Steve Jobs and the rest of those geniuses over at Apple that they wouldn't get this? That they wouldn't intuitively understand why one might like to listen to only music that belongs in the (somewhat quirkily defined, but generally ok) folk category?

Yes, I have made this lament frequently, which is why I'm all the more embarassed that it took me more than a year to discover that this feature actually exists. Oops.

Still, the circumstances of its discovery didn't dampen the unadulterated joy I felt when I used the genre shuffle for the first time, yesterday afternoon, while editing some problematic stories. Then it was jazz - no words, just mellow tunes to block out some office noise.

But better still was the romp I took through the "alternative" category this morning at the gym. Most of my alternative album buying took place in the late 80s to mid 90s, which means it's music I love but haven't listened to regularly for a while. So this set of music was a lot of fun to listen to -- besides which it kept me occupied on the treadmill for 35 minutes, a feat that can not be underestimated. With apologies to Phantom Scribbler's Friday shuffle, here's the soundtrack to this morning's run:

1. "Been Caught Stealing," Jane's Addiction, Ritual de lo Habitual
2. "Trying to Get Through," Hothouse Flowers, Home
3. "Someplace Where Love Can't Find Me," Marshall Crenshaw, Good Evening
4."Watch Your Step," Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Best of
5. "99.9f," Suzanne Vega, 99.9F
6. "In Spite of Me," Morphine, Cure for Pain
7. "Love Field," Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Best of [I have to admit to skipping this one - not the right tune to run to, and a lousy effort from Elvis anyway]
8. "A Girl Like You," The Smithereens, Blown to Smithereens
9. "Buena," Morphine, Cure for Pain
10. "Mexican Wine," Fountains of Wayne, Welcome Interstate Managers
11. "Film," The Church, Priest = Aura [wouldn't have been good for running, but it was perfect for the cooldown, aka, the part where I limp, gasping, on the treadmill, trying to walk out a cramp]

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

How did I turn into such a New Age yuppie?

I just got home from a 90-minute, hot stone massage, during which I realized that in a span of 24 hours I will have done the following:

~Gotten a 90-minute, hot stone massage
~Gone to my fancypants gym, where the shower has river rocks in the floor
~Gone to my therapist
~Gotten my hair cut by my very chic hairdresser

When did I become this person? And when did I get a job that allows me to afford all this in one day? (Answer to the latter: Not yet.)

Monday, April 18, 2005

Dull torpor

That was pretty much the mood around here this weekend. It was gorgeous out -- in fact, it still is -- and it should have inspired us to feats of athleticism or at the very least some yardwork. Instead, we did nothing. Darren's been sick for a few days with what we think is a sinus infection, though the doctor says he needs to feel this bad for another five days before they agree, so he's been pretty much out of commission. As for me, I've just been lazy.

Part of my problem has been that I don't know what to do with myself; I had no work to do over the weekend, and we'd cleaned the house last weekend. So, faced with nothing but uninterrupted leisure time, I crumbled and whined. I finally read for a while on Saturday, catching up on the last couple New Yorkers, then took a walk to the beach with Rocky, my sister, her dog, our friend K. and her 13-month-old daughter. It was quite the menagerie.

Saturday night we took my sister and her boyfriend out to Fore Street, the best restaurant in Portland, to celebrate their engagement. We ate incredibly well (I had venison - yum), drank some good wine and in general had a very nice time. All that niceness was followed by a night spent with a sniffling Darren and a vomiting Rocky. Way to cap off the evening.

As a result, yesterday was spent recuperating from that night of horrible sleep. We sat outside and read the entire New York Times, then came inside and napped. We may be in our early 30s, but sometimes we lead the lives of senior citizens...

In any case, today it's back to normal. I've got the day off, for that amazing New England holiday of Patriots Day (commemorating the start of fighting in Lexington and Concord, I believe...), so I'm using it to catch up on all the stuff I neglected over the weekend. I've already taken out the trash, done two loads of laundry and dropped the dogs off at the groomer, plus bought plane tickets for the conference I'm attending in lovely downtown Detroit in June.

Next up on the agenda is transcribing an interview I did last week (though it's a day off, I still need to accomplish a little bit of work), followed by an exciting trip to Marshalls/TJ Maxx to replace my beloved black shoulder bag, which is disintegrating in front of my very eyes. I have to go to Washington, D.C., next week for a conference/awards thing, at which I will meet lots of muckety mucks, so I'm thinking I need to at least pretend to be a grownup. Which means carrying a bag that isn't splitting at the seams, as well as chewing with my mouth closed and other niceties that I'll be studying up on...

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The problems of age

Yesterday was a tough one for the Jellybean. She was limping terribly - she's always a bit lame, but she clearly had a new problem with one of her paws that was making her very uncomfortable. When she made it clear she wanted to be let down from the couch for her nightly drink, she took about two halting steps, then turned to look at us with that pathetic doggy face as if to say, "help me." So Darren carried her over to her bowl, which was about the saddest thing I've seen.

We got her a vet appointment this morning, and they think it's probably arthritis acting up. (It doesn't help that since the weather's warmed up, she's obviously been feeling a lot better, so we've been taking her for slow walks, which means we've probably been overdoing it.) Anyway, the vet prescribed Rimadyl for a week. Darren brought her home, gave her the pill and left for work.

When he returned, several hours later, he was met by a manic, joyful dog, who was prancing through the house, making her funny grin in which she shows her bottom teeth and poking him repeatedly with her cold, black nose. Apparently the meds worked, because she gave me the same treatment when I get home (and this is a dog who can barely be bothered to wake up when you come in the door). Now we've got to continue to keep her quiet... not sure how that happens... but it looks like she'll be on some pain medication permanently.

So as not to make this an all-dog post, I'll add that my grandmother (my dad's mom) came home from the hospital yesterday. My mom says she doesn't sound or feel good, but that she's happy to be home. Also last night my mother started in again with the fatalism: "I wonder if this really is the end..." I unpolitely cut her off and asked her to stop talking about that, to which she replied, "Well, I find that it can be really helpful to talk about these things."

I know that on one level she's right, that we need to face up to the fact that my grandparents won't be around forever. But on another level I can't have that conversation with her, when she seems almost gleefully morbid. I certainly don't think my mom wishes my grandmother dead -- not for a minute -- but my mom's relationship with her in-laws is complicated, especially since my father is verrrry close to them, to the extent that he will not celebrate a major holiday apart from them. (This is made easier by the fact that my mom's parents died several years ago; for years, though, there was a lot of fighting about where we'd spend holidays.) And on top of it all, my mom doesn't shy away from melodrama. She's great in an actual crisis, but she does have some good, old-fashioned Irish fatalism that pulls her to imagine the worst.

In the end, she agreed not to talk about it. We'll see how long that lasts.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Assembly required

This morning, Darren and I had a first in our more-than-10-year relationship: We put together a piece of furniture without name calling, stomping, snipping or any other meanness. By which I mean, we put together a piece of furniture without me doing any of the above. And it's not because our new buffet/hutch-type thing was simple to assemble, or that the instructions hadn't been translated from English to Swahili and back. The damn thing was a pain to put together, but we were actually very nice to each other.

Of course, the circumstances were perfect: We'd just eaten breakfast, after the first outdoors run of the year, and I was both hydrated and caffeinated -- a tricky balance to achieve. And we weren't in any hurry. So now my great-great-grandmother's china has a new home, and the chintzy particleboard piece of ugliness that used to reside in our kitchen has been demoted to the basement holding area.

As it so happens, we found the kitchen last night, too. After a few gin and tonics with our friends, we came home and decided that we might actually still be capable of cooking. So I made the long-awaited falafel, the recipe for which I will post below at Scribbler's request. It's a Cooking Light recipe, which means you fry them in about an eyedropper of oil, but they turned out well nonetheless. I think the breadcrumbs and egg make them pretty nontraditional, but at least they hold together well. Oh, and as with all CL recipes, it claims to serve four people and actually fed just the two of us (without any side dishes or accompaniments).

So, without further ado, the recipe:
1/4 c. dry breadcrumbs
1/4 c. chopped cilantro
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground red pepper (I used cayenne - not sure what they intended)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 (15 oz) can chickpeas, drained
1 T olive oil

Combine first eight ingredients (breadcrumbs through chickpeas) in a food processor and process until smooth. Divide mixture into 16 equal portions (I ended up with 11 or 12) and shape each portion into a 1/4-inch thick patty. Heat the olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and cook the patties until they are browned, about 5 minutes on each side.

1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 T fresh lemon juice
2 T tahini
1 garlic clove, minced

Combine all four ingredients and stir until smooth.

Also, I'm not sure if it has anything to do with the falafel or not, but we were listening to my iPod while cooking, and within the first 11 songs, it played three Wilco tunes and two by Roy Hargrove. Now I've heard the news stories about how we mere mortals just don't understand how really random "random" is... but I have a hard time believing that five songs out of 11 from just two artists is really random. (I'm sure this has been a hot topic in the blogosphere, but I'm too lazy to look that up right now. Just thought I'd share.)

Friday, April 08, 2005

That room between the dining room and the door

Yep, that's the one they call the "kitchen." Supposedly, these "kitchens" are used for the preparation of meals such as "dinner." From what I understand, "dinner" is something one can actually eat at "home."

That's a concept with which I am unfamiliar this week. I have not done a thing, other than make coffee or pour a bowl of cereal, in my kitchen since Sunday. Oh wait, earlier tonight I used the kitchen island to sort some mail. (Mail that, to my ever-lovin' surprise, contained a bill from the gastroenterologist for what turns out to be my $250 copay for last month's endoscopy. What a nice surprise on the same day that I learned my insurance didn't cover $105 my eye exam last week or the $75 I was charged for the approximately 12 seconds it took my eye doc to pull an inverted eyelash out of my head. Why I pay for this "insurance" is anyone's guess.)

Back to the subject at hand: It's been a hell of a week. I've been having trouble adjusting to the morning portion of daylight savings time, which requires me to get out of bed when the alarm goes off, rather than, say, an hour later. And we've been busy, which for some reason has meant multiple meals out in a row. To wit:
Monday: Grandmother in hospital. Long day at work. Too stressed to cook = eggplant parm from the House of Pizza, plus a couple glasses of a Spanish red.
Tuesday: Long day at work. Spaghetti, meatballs and sausage at sister and fiance's new house, plus a local brew (bottled) and two glasses of a California zinfandel.
Wednesday: Really long day at work, largely spent dealing with organizationally challenged journalism neophytes. Planned meal: Homemade felafel. Actual meal: Two pints of a local brew and a lousy chicken quesadilla at a sports bar. Yes, a sports bar. Not really sure how I can explain that one, other than that we were invited, and we went. And it was fun.
Thursday: Long day at work, followed by an evening at the theater with free tickets from godforsaken job. Dinner: One pint of local brew, plus crabcake salad at a non-sports bar. And a piece of giant chocolate chip cookie in the theater lobby.
Friday: Long day at work, with the knowledge that Saturday morning will be spent - you guessed it! - working. Dinner with friends at our fabulous neighborhood restaurant: Two glasses of a light French red, bites of several amazing appetizers, including green beans wrapped in prosciutto and rare seared tuna, an entree of homemade pasta, asparagus tips and ham in a light and tasty cream sauce, plus a too-rich dessert involving a homemade tart shell and lots of pastry cream.

Is it any wonder that my jeans are too tight? This is absurd. I haven't gotten to the gym since Monday, since I can't drag my sorry ass out of bed in the morning. Which, of course, results from the fact that I haven't gotten home before 9 most nights, which means I am up late winding down. And then it starts all over again.

Tomorrow I am returning to my marginally healthy ways. Going to the gym in the morning (after opening the joint checking account!), then doing the editing I need to finish before Monday. Then helping Darren clean up from a winter of two dogs using one yard as their personal toilet, and perhaps even cleaning out the Honda. And, after that, meeting up with D. and S. for a walk and, ummm, a beer. And, I'm sure, making a healthful, nutritious "dinner" in our "kitchen" after that.

PS: In case you're wondering, my grandmother is still in the hospital. She's definitely got pneumonia, and her blood sugar is still screwy, but she sounds feisty and irritated, which I think is a good thing. No sign yet when they'll let her go, but she seems ok.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Gloomy and morbid

How's that for an inviting title?

It's a little tough around Casa MC right now. My grandmother is in the hospital with pneumonia, and it has me freaked out. I know that being 32 years old and having two living grandparents - who not only live in their own house, unassisted, but also complete the New York Times crossword puzzle in ink and write outraged letters to the editor about various and sundry causes - is something of a luxury. But, still, they've been around - and healthy - all my life, and so the specter of that ending is hard to take.

The thing is, my grandmother has had health problems in the past - she's had open heart surgery and all kinds of other things, though she's generally healthy. But she's 84 or 85 (I should really know which), and this pneumonia is the first thing she's gotten that has really worried me. They've got her off oxygen, which is great, but her blood sugar is very high. I don't know what that means, and I'm trying to avoid Googling, but it doesn't sound great, especially since that was the symptom we heard before our neighbor's wife died last spring.

And, for the first time with one of my grandmother's illnesses, my dad and his brothers are taking turns staying overnight with my grandfather. He's 89, and generally in good health, too, though he's still getting over the same cold that turned into pneumonia for Gramma. He got disoriented and very fatigued when he and my dad took her to the hospital in the middle of the night, so that's worrisome, too.

To top it all off, my mom went on a long tirade this morning about the dream she had last night, in which my grandmother died and the police came and blah blah blah. She is very melodramatic sometimes, and insists that she has premonitions about things... and that whole idea bugs me to begin with, let alone the implications it has in this particular case. But then I know exactly where she's coming from, because in the back of my head I'm calculating about what work I could do from New Jersey if I had to, and what we'd do with the dogs, etc.

And, to be totally self-centered about it all, this is happening at a time when our culture is totally obsessed with death. Between Terry Schiavo and the pope, I am tired of the media death watch, with the descriptions of physical symptoms and the mass obsession with funeral arrangements and embalming -- this morning on NPR, I actually heard a reporter compliment the embalmers who did the pope, though he noted that the pope's skin tone is a little funny.

This tirade isn't going anywhere logical, so I guess I'll stop now. And if y'all wouldn't mind, send some healthy thoughts to the Jersey Shore. And then send some boozey thoughts to Maine afterwards.

Updated to add: Ok, I'm feeling a little sheepish now. Just got off the phone with my parents, and my grandmother is doing much better. The high blood sugar was caused by one of her medications, which they're taking her off. And my dad reports that she is looking - and feeling - much better now. So I'm getting off the morbid train of thought, and onto something more positive.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Laying low

This rainy Saturday was perfectly timed. This week really took it out of me. There were numerous last-minute emergencies at work, and many very long days, plus several meetings and a workshop I had to lead... All in all, very taxing. So it was a relief to get out early yesterday, take the dogs for a stroll on the beach and catch up on some reading.

This morning, I headed off to the fancy gym, where I did my entire strength-training workout, plus 20 minutes on the elliptical machine. I've been having a really hard time with the treadmill lately -- even with a view of Mount Washington (about 50 miles away) out the windows and great tunes on the iPod, I am fighting to keep myself running. I quit after about 12 minutes the other day -- felt like crap and hated every minute of it. So I thought I'd subject myself to some different torture today. And while I feel like I can't quite catch the elliptical thing's rhythm, it was different enough to keep me on it at a reasonable pace for a while. I'm hoping that next time I run - Monday? - I'll have gotten my groove back.

As for the gym: swoon. I love it there. I love the shampoo and the Lothantique eau d' toilette and the perfectly temperate water in the fountain. I love the microfiber towels and the ergonomic equipment. And I love the fact that my two personal training sessions have left me with a whole-body workout that actually feels kinda fun... and not just because a lot of it involves those big exercise balls. If my free membership to this place (via work) ever ends, I am in trouble, because I think I am addicted. And it is verrrry expensive.

Speaking of money: Darren and I spent a few hours this afternoon doing a budget/cash flow analysis from a book I was given by someone I'd interviewed for work. I don't know how y'all set up your household finances, but Darren and I never really merged ours when we moved in together. We opened a joint savings account, for "special" things, and otherwise kept things pretty much the same. We split up the bills, so I pay phone and water, he pays cable and electric, etc.

It's worked for six years, but we realized today that we're not doing a very good job of planning for what our workbook calls "periodic expenses" -- things like car repairs, house maintenance, car insurance, etc. So we have made the Big Decision to open a joint checking account. We were able to figure out, with the help of these worksheets, how much we should put in per month to cover regular expenses (mortgage, bills, groceries, eating out) and incidental stuff (gifts, vacations, the aforementioned periodic expenses). Notice how eating out falls into the "regular expenses category...

So I'm going to contribute to that monthly pot based on what percentage of our total income my job, for example, represents. Money left over will go to my "personal" expenses -- my lovely student loan, clothes, my credit card bill, books, CDs, etc.

It'll be a big switch for us -- and it'll cause some pain in the first months as we get used to this new way of doing things, which also includes putting a higher priority on saving -- but I think in the long run it'll be very beneficial. And it was the perfect thing to do on a cold, rainy day when we were happy to be indoors.