Thursday, December 31, 2009

Other Things about Where I Am

I've only gotten lost twice. Three times if you count missing the same place a 2nd time. The first time I was in the wrong lane in Jerusalem and just couldn't get over in time to go straight. I had to turn left instead. You can't actually get too lost in Jerusalem, and I figured as long as I stayed on streets large enough for a bus, I'd be ok. And then, lo and behold, I found myself exactly where I needed to be. I'm still not quite sure how, but it usually works out.

The other time was finding this lovely hotel formerly known as ETAP. With only the word "Hotel" on the outside, I passed it once on the way north, and then again looking for it heading back south. Obviously I found it eventually.

Yesterday I drove north on the Bik'a. It's one of my favorite roads. Except that it was raining, which meant that I had to drive a bit slower than I generally like. And I don't have a working radio in the car. That's actually not true. The radio works but there is no antenna. Which generally doesn't matter anyway on the Bik'a, but it was just me, myself and I on the drive up.

The drive was made a bit more interesting by seeing a dead cow on the side of the road. You might ask why I think he (or she, I didn't actually get that close) was dead. I've just never seen a cow lie down with it's legs in the air, so I figured it was safe to assume that an uncomfortable position like that wasn't going to be used by a live cow. I also saw two (live) horses on the side of the road. There were no people nearby that I could tell and they weren't fenced in. I did not see any wild boar.

The Hotel formerly known as ETAP

Last night and tonight I'm staying at a hotel called "Savyonei HaGalil". If you've never heard of it, don't worry. Nobody has. It's a non-descript building on the side of the road with a big sign on the side that simply says "Hotel". Which is why I drove by it. Twice.

What it would have been helpful to know is that this is the former ETAP Hotel. I'd never been to ETAP, but it was a noted landmark on the drive up North. Plus, it's a weird name so we all knew it.

The hotel formerly known as ETAP is interesting. There's a decent lobby, but the restaurant is two doors down in the strip mall. The rooms have a bed and a small dresser, but no chair. And the dresser is actually two small drawers with a refrigerator underneath. So maybe calling it a dresser isn't quite accurate.... And there are two wardrobes, one with a mirror on the door that is stuck in a corner between the wall and the small dresser so that you can't actually use the mirror or open the wardrobe door, and another that is between the side of the bed and the wall but has doors so wide that you can't actually open them fully or they hit the side of the bed. Not that I need to hang anything up.

I'm pretty sure that the soap dispenser in the shower is filled with water and a few drops of detergent - like what you'd blow bubbles with if you had a small plastic bottle and a wand. I didn't bring a wand or a small plastic bottle. I did not forget soap.

The biggest problem isn't the lack of actual soap in the shower, so little counterspace around the sink that there's nowhere for even my toothbrush or even that there's no elevator. It's not even that the only coffee they put out this morning was instant and decaf. It's the bed.

There are two pillows on the bed. Both have been stuffed with fluff. Lumpy fluff. I'm sure the manager of the hotel formerly known as ETAP has never slept at the hotel. Or if he did, he did not use their pillows. It's like sleeping on a really big bag of (defrosted) frozen peas. And, there is no fitted sheet. Again, this wouldn't be a problem if the sheet was large enough to actually cover the mattress. But it's not. And the space they did not cover is at the head of the bed, not the foot where I might not have even noticed. (Let's be honest, I would have noticed.)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Nigerians are Back!

I checked into the Shalom Hotel yesterday afternoon and noticed that I had arrived in the middle of high-Nigerian season. There were people everywhere in matching clothes, although this time there appeared to be three different fabrics used (not all at once!). One was a red and white pattern, one is a blue and white pattern, and another seems to be a patternless light green. I'm not sure if they split the group on to their respective buses based on pattern or not, but it would certainly make knowing who is and is not in the group much easier in a crowded plaza.

This morning, I had a staff meeting at 7:45am. I was up early and figured I go to breakfast early and then be able to take notes at breakfast while everyone else ate. I was wrong. Why? Because I got there right as the Nigerians were also entering the dining hall. Needless to say, it was obvious that I wasn't with their group, and not just because I was wearing a non-patterned shirt and pants.

I should have known I would get there at a busy time. I stayed on the 15th floor. There are only 16 in the building. When I got on the elevator, there was a tall, older man in a light green robe and pants and matching hat (like a fez without the tassel). When we got to the third floor (dining room), he said, "Thank Gd!". I'm not sure how many days they were staying at the Shalom Hotel, but I think he still didn't believe that the doors would always open when they were supposed to or that he'd arrive on the floor he'd pressed the button for.

There is good news about the Shalom Hotel, and I really never expected to see this change in my lifetime. My bed had a fitted sheet on it. In all the years and nights I've stayed at this hotel, they have NEVER had a fitted sheet on the bed, much less a sheet that actually covered the whole mattress. It made sleeping there just that much scarier. I should add that I'm staying there for 8 nights next week and this was one particular thing I was already prepared to be annoyed by. There is a new manager, and maybe he tried sleeping there one night? I don't know, I don't care.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Holiday Food

I like holiday foods. I usually like them enough to think we should eat them year-round.

Like apples and honey. Why don't we eat that combination more often? It's tasty, relatively healthy, and easy. But we tend not to eat them until Rosh HaShanah begins and we don't really think about eating them after Sukkot ends. I just don't understand why.

Or latkes. Who doesn't love fried potatoes? I know it's not the healthiest thing in the world, but would it kill us to have latkes a few more times a year?

I think most people would agree that fried matza (or matza brie) is also something they enjoy and would eat more often. I think the problem there is that most people don't have matza in the house save for the seven or eight days of Passover.

Now I have to admit, as much as I love a good hamentasch, I don't need to eat them year-round. Sufganiyot (jelly donuts) fall into the same category. Having an excuse to eat them once a year is great, but they aren't a culinary necessity.

I also feel this way about Thanksgiving foods. Yes, in combination all on the fourth Thursday in November is traditional, but I'm not sure why we don't have stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes (with or without marshmallows) or green bean casserole (with fried onions) at other times also. They're good, so why not enjoy them more often?

Mainly, I think there's something programmed in our brains that just doesn't allow us to even consider these foods at other times. I have apples in the house now, in fact I bought them today. But it wouldn't occur to me to drizzle honey on them. Why would I? Rosh HaShanah is over!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Bad Read

Last night I finished The Cheater, by Nancy Taylor Rosenberg. Don't read it. Or, if you do, don't bother with the last chapter. It's like she had an got tired of writing and just decided to end the book. And it's not like she set it up for a sequel that anyone will care about, she just left a lot of loose ends.

I felt the same way about the end of The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Really, he thinks that is an appropriate way to end a book a reader has just invested hours in?! For the record, it's not.

I finished a James Patterson book earlier in the week. He writes chapters that are maybe 8 paragraphs long. Maybe. But at least he ends his books in a way that ties up loose ends and doesn't make it seem like he finished writing in order to get to a dentist's appointment. (And in case Rachel is reading, I know. I know.)

Friday, November 13, 2009

For Uncle Jake

I spoke with my uncle last weekend and he chastised me for not blogging more. No one else has wondered what happened, and if they had, maybe their name would be in the subject line here.

The problem, is that nothing happened. I mean, interesting things happen all the time, but if I'm not updating my Facebook status about them, I'm sure not going to blog about them. And, for those of you who are my friends on Facebook, you know I never update my status.

So what are the things I haven't written about?

I was at the General Assembly last week. No, not of the United Nations, but of the Jewish Federations of North America. That used to be called the United Jewish Communities, but sometime in the last weeks they changed their name. Again. A few years back they were the United Jewish Appeal. Evidently they didn't think that name was appealing enough.

The GA (pronounced 'ga', probably only by me) is an annual conference of 3000+ Federation professionals, lay leaders, other Jewish organizational representatives. All told, it's a lot of Jews in one place and fairly overwhelming. That said, you can see everyone you know all in once place over the course of three days. It saves a lot on your phone bill.

It's also a magnet for heads of State(s). Netanyahu spoke on Monday and Obama was supposed to speak on Tuesday. He cancelled, which was a relief to me, mainly because the 8:00am session I was part of was then moved to the much more civilized time of 9:30am. Had my session been at 8:00am, I would have had no notes and extemporaneous speaking is not my forte.

The organizational shuk is always a good place to see people I know from other organizations. It's also a great place to pick up new pens. This year, I think there were only three places giving out pens - a sure sign the economy has effected non-profits. There was one group giving out back-scratchers, which was just weird.

On a completely different note, I still have Mimi's straw in my Nalgene and haven't been struck down by lightening or the flu yet, so I guess it wasn't a horrible idea after all.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Lobsterman

I shared a cab this week with a couple. For the life of me, I could not figure out what their accent was. I figured Scandinavia. I was wrong. They were from from Pubnico, Nova Scotia, a small fishing village of 1800 people where the main industry (the only one maybe from the way it sounded) is fishing. This man and his wife (or maybe his girlfriend) owns one of the 120 boats allowed to bring in lobsters and in the off-season, he and Sheila (the wife or maybe girlfriend) are actors in the living historical village.

Pubnico is an Acadian village and evidently square one for any Acadian who wants to do genealogical research. The fisherman can trace his family back 11 generations - back to 1651 when the first of his ancestors came to Pubnico from France. I also learned that the French spoken by Acadians in Nova Scotia is more simliar to the French spoken by the Acadians in Lousiana than it is to the French spoken in Montreal or France. That was surprising, especially after all of this time since their expulsion from Acadia.

I asked if, given his profession, if he still enjoyed eating fish. From their enthusiastic answer, I'm pretty sure that's all they eat. He only fishes for lobster, but evidently some of the other crews also go out for the "fin fish" like haddock and herring. And, for anyone wondering, the lobster season opens the last Monday in November. And it's an expensive business to get into. There are only 120 boat licenses (similar to cab medallions), but when one becomes available, these days the cost is between six and seven hundred thousand dollars. And that's down from one point two million a few years ago.

The season is split into two halves, separated by the time when the water chills too much for the lobsters (maybe between January and March, but I can't exactly remember). And in the spring half of the season, they have to throw back 90% of their catch because they are either too small, females with eggs or other reasons that they probably told me but I didn't understand.

Their town has no four lane roads, they leave their keys in the car ignition, and they never lock their house because they're not sure what happened to the keys. DC is a relatively small city and they were still fairly overwhelmed. Which is understandable given that we were in rush hour traffic on the beltway.

One of the things this guy told me was that he'd been to Peoria, Illinois. I couldn't imagine how that might have come about, so I asked him. It turns out he'd purchased a $65,000 engine from Catepillar and either he'd won a trip to see the factory or that's part of what you get when you buy a big expensive engine. He thought the plant was interesting, and that the steak in Central Illinois tasted what steak should taste like, similar to what lobster tastes like straight off the boat. Given that I'm a kosher fish-eating vegetarian, I could only imagine that it's the same as eating tomatoes that you've grown in your garden. But probably not.

I think before this cab ride, the only thing I may have known about the lobster industry was a few minutes on Dirty Jobs. And then today, in the New York Times, an article about the Nova Scotia, haddock and the great expulsion.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

To Rip or Not to Rip. That is the Question.

Would you rip a page out of a phone book?

To the best of my ability, I will change irrelevant facts to present this situation as anonymously as possible. I will disclose that the other party in this story is female, as trying to write it in a gender-neutral manner is too difficult.

Recently, I was with someone who asked a receptionist for a phone book. This person took the book to a seating area to peruse the listings. Several minutes later, I approached wanting to use that same book.

I noticed that she hadn't written anything down and so I asked if she had found what she was looking for. The response was a nod in the affirmative. Puzzled, I thought for a moment and then asked if they had ripped the page out of the book. The answer, again, was a nod in the affirmative.

I asked where the page was, and then immediately noticed that there was a crumpled up tissue in her hand. I (perhaps strongly) expressed my disapproval and noted that even she knew it was not the correct thing to do since she also made an effort to not only fold the pages into a tiny square, but she also hid her handiwork in a tissue (presumably unused).

She defended her behavior. The book, she said, was from 2006. She added that most people use the internet to find information, anyway. I replied that if this site had a more recent phone book, they certainly would have let her use it and the fact that they only had an old one was even more reason not to rip out pages. And, there was no publicly accessible internet available at this location.

You can hopefully tell how I feel about this. Now it's your turn -
  • Do you condone this behavior?
  • Are there circumstances under which you could justify this act?
  • Does it matter what the subject matter was?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Belated Posting

I wrote this right after Rosh HaShanah and forgot to actually post it.....

I met an incredible two-year old this week. He’s a very blond, adventurous, fearless, ferociously smart, funny boy. He landed in DC three weeks ago and it must seem like some crazy combination of an alien planet and heaven to him. All sorts of new foods, a new language, new adults around him, cable television and lots of toys. He’s learning a lot and I’m sure teaching his mother a lot as well.

Actually, I’ve decided that she’s one of the bravest people I know. If you had asked me which of my friends were the among my bravest friends, I’m not sure who I would have put in the top five, but I’m honestly not sure I would have put Toby among them. Not that I’d have any good reason to exclude her, but I mean really, the woman doesn’t like bananas. That’s not very brave.

But after this weekend, she is absolutely number one on the list. And I’m not sure that there’s anyone between her and number 27. And I don’t know who 27 or 28 would be. (I think 29 would probably be someone I shouldn’t name publicly and who would kill me if they saw their name here – I am not that brave).

But back to Toby. First, she started the adoption process at all. The amount of paperwork, interviews, home studies and notarizations required is overwhelming. No sane person would do it. I think we may yet discover a correlation between bravery and insanity.

Then, on two different occasions, she had to travel to Russia, a country not known for being vegetarian-friendly, and at least once trip was on Aeroflot, you know the airline that use to have their smoking section on the left side of the plane and the non-smoking section on the right. Or maybe it was the other way around. In any case, on the first trip to Russia, she met a boy and had to make a decision. Yes, she knew she would have to make a decision, but knowing something is coming is nothing compared to actually having to do something about it.

And the second trip was three weeks long. And on that trip, her parents went with her. Three weeks with anyone in Russia under those stressful circumstances would have been a long time, but she also had to manage her parents during all of that. To give them a bit of credit (because I’ve met them and they are very nice people), they did offer to accompany Toby and Nate on the 18-hour train ride rather than take the two-hour flight to Moscow from their middle of no-where locale.

And then, all of the sudden and in Russian, she was decreed to be a mom. In my opinion, given the corruption in Russia, just trusting the judge was pretty brave. For all she knows, they could have also made her take home a few old statues of Lenin just to make more room in their storage facilities. If I were her, I would be wary of any large COD packages for at least the next few months.

Lastly, she let me babysit her new son. Of all the things, that’s probably the least brave, and since she chose to trust me, I did not teach him how to do “see-food”, or to say crazy things, or see how many crackers he could stuff in his mouth at one time. But Toby, for the record, next time, all bets are off.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mimi's Straw

I'm working in DC this week. I brought a Nalgene with me, but forgot to bring a straw, and since it's got a wide mouth, I generally find that despite being an experienced drinker, I tend to get water all over myself.

So I said outloud from my cubicle, "I need a straw". Always helpful, Mimi said, "I have a straw" and she passed a green Starbucks straw over the partition.

I looked at the straw and said, "is it used". She said it was but that it had been washed.

Three days later and I'm still using the straw. The question is: who gets it next?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Triple Venti Skim Caramel Latte

I've been spending more time than I'd like to in Starbuck's over the last few weeks. For some reason, nearly every person I've met with in the last week believes it's the best place to meet. For the record, I'm not convinced it is. They don't have enough outlets. They look askance if you order a "medium coffee", and there's a lot of loud bean grinding going on.

And yet, this morning I'm in yet another Starbuck's waiting for yet another meeting. And it's fascinating to hear the drink orders. I have no idea what a Triple Venti Skim Caramel Latte is, or how expensive it was, but I sure hope it tastes good. And there's a a guy who just ordered something in a double-cup, no sleeve. He said something about it being a waste of paper. Huh?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Operation Bi Bim Bop

I decided last week that I needed to make Bi Bim Bop. This decision was prompted by the desire to eat Bi Bim Bop. Plus, I just like saying it.

It's easy enough to google it and find out what I'm talking about, but if you're feeling lazy, basically it's a bowl of rice with vegetables, meat (not in my case) and a fried egg on top that's then served with Sriracha sauce. I'm sure there's a proper way to make the rice and probably a recommended group of vegetables, but I don't think it really matters. I do think it matters that the vegetables are all put on the rice separately - in otherwords, no mixing them all together to cook. And it all tastes much better if it's made in a heavy stone or cast-iron bowl so the rice can get crispy. We have ceramic and glass bowls which don't get the rice crispy, but they do make for a nice presentation.

We had brown rice, so that's what I used. I steamed carrots, sauteed mushrooms, fake meat and cucumber (yes, cucumber) and of course, all separately, and then added sprouts. Spinach probably would have been good too, but I forgot I had any until after the fact. I fried up an egg (you have to leave the yolk runny) added a serious amount of hot sauce (Sriracha is mildly addictive).


Note to Self

Before buying an 18 pound watermelon - check to see if husband will eat any.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

What I Learned Last Week

I learned an unexpected lesson last week. I learned that it is possible to eat too much macaroni and cheese. If someone would have asked me two weeks ago if it was possible, I would have said that theoretically, it might be possible but that I couldn't realistically understand how it could be done.

And then we spent last week at camp - at a camp with good food. The dairy meals were excellent and the vegetarian options during the meat meals were pretty good too. And the best part was that they served mac 'n cheese twice during my five days there. The first time it was excellent. I've never thought of mac 'n cheese as being flawless, but this was. They clearly started with a roux, and while I have no idea what they did next, I'm pretty sure it included really good cheese. The second time it was very good, but not excellent. I think I ate too much in the pursuit of finding an excellent portion. I did not. But I did learn an unexpected lesson.

The Front of the Plane

When I fly internationally, I always sit in coach. It's never been an option to move into business class. I've been lucky the last few flights to even have a window seat.

And when I fly domestically, it's usually from the Midwest to somewhere on the East Coast. Nothing usually more than about 90 minutes or so. And then, really, you can sit anywhere in the plane. I hate sitting in the back because I don't have the patience to wait for everyone else to get off, but really, you can sit anywhere for less than two hours, even squished in a middle seat between two sumo wrestlers.

Lately though, I've been trying to work down my AirTran credits. I flew a lot last year, almost all on AirTran and my credits are starting to expire. It only takes four credits to upgrade to business class and I think I've done that for most of my last five or six flights. It's a little bit of a waste for a short flight, but it's use them or lose them, and I figure they were given to me to use.

So what I've learned is that while I can definitely sit in coach and have no issues doing so, it's still nicer to sit in business class. The biggest differences - a bigger tray table and enough space so that you can use a computer or do some writing without sticking your elbows into the person next to you. There's probably even more leg room, but I'm short and how much leg room can a short person use?! The other good part is that there is a bathroom up front that is theoretically reserved for the 12 people sitting in the front of the plane. I'm fairly certain it is no larger than the one in the back of the plane for the other 126 people, but the idea that it's more available is a nice one.

Alas, AirTran flies from Chicago but not directly to any of the places I generally need to go. I need two more round-trips before April to get another year's worth of Elite status, which is nice to have even if I can't use it, so I'm sure I'll take at least another two trips. The question will be whether I still have enough credits left to sit in the front of the plane....

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Psychological Testing at Midway Airport

I was put through an arduous experiment last week at Midway Airport that was designed to measure anxiety levels. Strangely, no one ever asked me to sign a human testing waiver.

First, at 9am on a Friday morning, the security lines were as long as I've ever seen them. And the distinctions between the Family, Casual Traveler, and Business lanes were non-existant. But the Business lane was on the right and I didn't see quite as many families in line, so I took my chances there. It didn't matter. It still took me 15 minutes for anyone to even look at my ID.

And then it's the great guessing game - which magnometer line to enter. There were too many families in most of the lines - and that always means it takes longer. Most of the lines seemed to have about 10 people waiting, which isn't horrible, just annoying. And I'm not sure why, but usually the lines on the right side of the security set up at Midway are actually faster. So I went to the right.

We were all the way against the wall and it was taking a very long time to even approach the main line of machines. Something seemed wrong. When we got to the corner of the wall, the experiment became clear. We were not being directed into the machines on the right side of the security set-up, we were being sent to the machines in the way far away right side. Seriously, there was an entire TSA conference room in between the machines that were not being used and where we were headed. There were a good 60 -75 people in line in front of me.

I remain fairly certain that the 20 minutes it took us to get to the magnometer was a sick psychological experiment designed to make us crazy. That, and the people who were in line so long they risked missing their flights and so thought it was okay to cut in front of the rest of us. It was okay, because they shouldn't have to miss their flights, but the line should not have been so long as to put any of us in that situation to begin with.

Needless to say, everyone's anxiety level was higher than the security threat levels. Way beyond orange, that's for sure.

And, by the time I got through the whole line, no one asked me to sign a waiver. I'm pretty sure there's a law against this!

Friday, July 31, 2009

I Want a Lake House

I'm in Michigan spending the weekend at a friend's lake house. It's small, furnished and decorated many, many years ago, and most importantly, just sitting on the shores of a small lake.

I want one of these. Not here, but somewhere closer to where I live, where I can drive far enough to feel far away and close enough that I won't be annoyed to get in the car to drive somewhere. (Even though to get here today took 75 minutes on the El, 2 hours waiting at Midway, 37 minutes in the air, 20 minutes waiting to be picked up and then another 75 minutes driving out here.)

There's nothing to do out here unless you like swimming or boating or sitting in the sun. Fortunately, I like reading, which technically can be done anywhere, but is particularly nice when sitting along a lake. I'm sure it will also be nice tomorrow perhaps sitting on the dock or in a boat. But it will probably be nicest sitting in the shade.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Button on my Box Won't Work

The title here is for a friend who, when I said this, told me that I could write lesbian porn with that line. For the record, what follows is not lesbian porn.

I finally stopped working around 6pm tonight and decided to finally read the morning's paper, eat dinner, and do it all in front of the television. Now, keep in mind that while we've had cable for a week, I've maybe watched all of 2 hours of television in the last six days. And I think it was mostly on the Food Network Tuesday night. (The LOST episode of Ace of Cakes and Chopped, if you were curious.)

So I sit down with the paper and my dinner and hit the "all on" power button on the remote control. The television goes on and I realize it's the Home Shopping Network. This in itself was strange because it certainly wasn't the last channel I watched, but I figured, maybe I hit some random button when I turned everything off the last time.

And then I realize that the actual cable box isn't on since the "power" light is still red, and not the blue it should be when it is on. (I almost wrote 'turned on', but I don't want to be accused of writing sordid tales.) So I press the cable button and then power. Nothing. I try this three more times. Nothing. I change the batteries in the remote control. Nothing.

All I have is the Home Shopping Network and they are selling non-down comforters made of Egyptian cotten and have a 440 thread count that really feels more like 5 or 600. And evidently they are soft enough to use without a duvet and they can be thrown in your home washer and dryer. I did find a second station that was broadcasting in Spanish. This may have been more interesting if I understood any of it.

So I got up to look at the cable box. It's actually not a cable box, it's a dvr. It's a big, shiny, silver box that has one small black panel in front with the word power that either lights up in red (off) or blue (on). The light is clearly red. I notice that there are no panels to open on the box, nor are there any buttons.

I feel like I've entered the robot-built space ship on I, Robot (a must-read if you haven't, or a re-read if you've haven't in a long time). There are no buttons on my box. It is, just a box.

So I call the cable company. After wading through voice-mail hell and then being on hold for 10 minutes, I finally reach a human being. But not a trained customer service representative. Ultimately, he tells me I can either exchange my remote control or have a technician come out. I opt for plan B. At which point I get disconnected.

Seriously?! Yes, it's true. So I call back, wade through voice-mail hell again, and am on hold for another 10 minutes and this time speak with a woman who at least hears how frustrated I am. We have a technician coming out tomorrow afternoon and she credited our account for the time we are without cable. And if I call back tomorrow, they'll credit me another day.

Post script: Ronnie got home and turned on the television. He also got the Home Shopping Network but by now they were on to selling make-up remover which I don't need (and neither does he). But he started playing with the television remote and realizes that if you punch in station numbers (as opposed to use the channel up and down buttons), we have access to cable stations. The only station number I've learned so far is Versus (75) because they are broadcasting the Tour de France. We found the channel just as Andy Schleck was beginning his time trial.

Monday, July 20, 2009


I'm really amazed at how much people spend on coffee drinks. For a variety of reasons, I'm working from Starbucks today. I brought in my own mug and got plain coffee.

It's a small shop, but consistantly busy this morning, and all sorts of people are walking in and ordering so many different kinds of drinks I can't figure out how they learned to order them.

They are also offering extra shots of espresso in drinks today, I'm not sure why, so listening to the staff call out the drinks has been a whole education as well.

And, they are raking in the cash. My drink was less than $2, and because I'm using my Starbucks card I get free refills (although I have yet to test that theory). But everyone else is spending a lot of money - the largest size macchiato (I have no idea what that is) is $4, and that's just the plain one. I've heard a lot of those coming through the line so far this morning.

And, if I didn't have so much work to get done, I'd be able to focus more on the people-watching.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

And it's not even 7:30am!

I just set up our wireless network. It's actually fairly simple, but if you don't know how to do it, it doesn't matter whether it's simple or not. And, as a reward for setting it up, it works.

This means I can work from home and not jump from Panera to Starbucks, back to Panera and then to the laundromat (yes, the laundromat around the corner from us boasts wireless access).

Our cable television is also now working. To be fair, all I had to do was let Bernard into the house - I didn't actually have to set that up! I have probably not watched television in any kind of intentional way in almost two months. Maybe more. Without LOST, there's really no point, anyway.

But... the Tour de France is on, and that is my sport of choice. And save for about 45 minutes at a friends house the other day, I've seen none of the coverage. So if you call this week and we don't answer, we're watching le Tour.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

My Laptop

My work computer is a relatively new laptop. Two weeks ago, I found the blue screen of death, shut my computer down and it then refused to boot back up.

Thankfully, I was headed to DC the next week and the folks in IT worked their magic and now my computer works. Except when it doesn't.

It turns out that they fixed my hard drive but had been testing random batteries and left me with one that has no life. Literally. If I unplug my power cord, I have 5 minutes of life before everything shuts down. Before, I had 2+ hours. Needless to say, this makes access to outlets imperative at a coffeeshop.

We're having cable and internet installed in our new place tomorrow. Until now, we've been borrowing wireless access from our neighbor, Kevin. We've never met Kevin, and truth be told, we don't know if Kevin is his name, his dog's name, or the name of their favorite band. We're not picky though and as long as Kevin allows his network to be shared, we're happy. Until we're not.

Last night and today, Kevin's network is visible but not accessible. I'm not sure what we did to offend him, nor do I know how to find him were I want to apologize (which I am not, just for the record). But it has made working from home more difficult than anticipated.

So this morning I went to a coffee shop to get some work done. I plugged in (again, access to an outlet is still an imperative) and got nothing. Well, that's not exactly true. I got a message that said there was nothing available to boot up. It had been working just fine several hours before and I couldn't believe that the IT magic was already losing it's shine.

I rebooted. Nothing. I rebooted again. Nothing. Not even the blue screen of death. Nothing. Just a message that said I was SOL.

So I unplugged my computer, put the cord in my backpack and started to put the laptop in it's padded compartment. Where it hit something at the bottom. The only think I ever keep in that section is the laptop, so I couldn't figure out how I had that drastically misplaced my phone charger or sun glasses. But you never know, so I reached my hand into the padded section and pulled out... the hard drive.

Yes, the hard drive had fallen out of my laptop. Which meant that the message I'd received about having nothing to boot up, was actually correct. Who knew?!

And now things are working fine, in case you were wondering.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Obstructed View

Fireworks tonight began at 9:15 at the lake front. So at 8:30 or so, we set out for the beach. We were clearly not the only ones with that idea. There were hundreds of people streaming east. At least we knew we were going the right direction!

We got to the park and decided walk two more blocks up to the beach. There were people with blankets and chairs set up all the way to the water. And there were a good number of boats in the water. There's the tiniest of boardwalks that runs from the street to the water, and we decided to find a place to sit there rather than the sand. Again, we were clearly not the only ones with that idea.

By 9:25 the fireworks started and from the first blast, we knew we were in trouble. There was a tree line between us and the beach where the fireworks were being launched. The bursts went mostly over the trees, but not the huge, very tall tree that was in the middle. So mainly we saw funky colors behind the enormous tree, heard the booms, and occasionally saw the higher bursts or the ones that were just a little to the left or right of the biggest tree. Almost all of us had the same problem, so at least we didn't feel dumb individually...

Friday, July 03, 2009

Waiting for Kenny Y.

I put an ad on craigslist today to get rid of our wardrobe boxes and whatever other boxes we managed to empty. I've gotten 18 or so calls. The first one said he'd pick boxes up at 5:30pm. He said he's shipping off to Iraq for two years in an administrative position but he needs boxes for him and his younger "boys".

He just left with two wardrobe boxes, about 60 smaller boxes, and 6 large bags of packing material. His name is Kenny. He is tall and bald and when I asked what branch of the service he's in he said, "the marines... the only real branch."

When I met him at the front door he said he'd just been putting in a playground at a synagogue. I never would have pegged him as a member of the tribe, but as it turns out, he's got dual citizenship with Israel and is also a colonel in the Israeli army.

Ten minutes of chatting as we loaded boxes, part of a life story, and he drove off...

Packing (and unpacking) should be a four-letter word

If for no other reason, I will never move again. Forget that I have already made that promise to my husband - I will never move again.

IF.... you have a month to leisurely pack and go through things and make sure you don't actually bring things that you haven't used in the last 10 years but who knows, you might want tomorrow, then packing probably isn't so bad. And even if you do decide to bring things that are still in their original packaging from many, many years ago that you (or someone you live with) thought you absolutely needed and couldn't live without but clearly you could, unpacking them and figuring out where they go is a problem.

Enough said.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Summer in Milwaukee

We're known for our summers here in Milwaukee. Everyone is outside, all the time. Biking, walking, going to Summerfest, playing volleyball on the beach, going to festivals - it's just a really nice time to live in Milwaukee.

But today, not so much. It's raining, which does happen sometimes, but it's also in the low 60s, which is just not acceptable weather when it's also raining at the end of June. And since we are moving, we have packed every coat, jacket and long sleeve shirt because, hey - it's summer in Milwaukee, we won't need those things until Labor Day weekend.

Evidently I was wrong....

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Perils of Packing

There are oft unreported perils of packing. We all know about the strained muscles from lifting and bending. We know that the metal thing that tears the tape off the role is sharper than it needs to be. And we always remember just a little too late that boxes really shouldn't be stacked more than three boxes high.

No, I'm talking about the peril of discovering a previously unknown hoarding disorder. And the problem is I'm not sure if it's my disorder or Ronnie's, although I'm pretty confident I could make a good guess.

I've just packed three boxes of bathroom stuff. I thought I would fill one box and was surprised when I needed most of a second. Then I remembered we have a 2nd bathroom complete with it's own closet. (I didn't forget we had the second bathroom, I just don't generally pay attention to the closet.)

We have a lot of Q-tips. And a lot of tubes of toothpaste. And so much dental floss that we could probably make enough ropes to help dozens of prisoners escape their lot. Maybe even a score of prisoners. Yes, I found that much dental floss. We have half a dozen Ace bandages. We also have a lot of bandaids, but it doesn't look as overwhelming as it did because I stuffed a lot of them into just one box. We have enough Cold-eez to help a small town get over their colds.

There were also two blow dryers. I think the last time I blew my hair dry was 10 years ago. Seriously. There were three large sun screens (all different brands and SPFs), four large moisterizers (all different brands, all unscented), and a dozen bars of Lever soap (again, Costco).

We will have two bathrooms in the new place, but only a small linen closet. It's going to be interesting to see where we store things and what we forget about when we finish the current tube of toothpaste or the last inch of dental floss....

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

It's too hot.

It's too hot.

Last summer, Milwaukee never hit 90 degrees. Now we're in it two days in a row. It's hard to concentrate, and even my poor laptop is feeling the effects. The internal fan is running way too often. In fact, today I went to the public library to work. I got there about 1:30pm and was very clearly not the only person who had that idea.

Plus, the heat and constant sweating makes packing difficult. As if I wasn't sweating enough, now I've got to do physical labor?

Tomorrow might be a tiny bit better. They're predicting a high of 86. My hope is that 6 degrees will make a huge difference. Or at least I'll pretend that it does.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Man at My Table

The last few days, I've walked to the coffee shop and there's been a man sitting at my table. Which means I have to sit somewhere else. And I know better than to sit at someone else's table, so at least two of the past several days I've wound up at the tilted table. The legs are fine and it doesn't wobble, but the top is on crooked. It's too hard to read the paper. It just doesn't feel right. Plus, I'd rather sit at a square table than a round table....

But this morning, I got there at 5:40am, just 10 minutes after they open. One of the other regulars was already there. My table was empty. People slowly filed in over the next 20 minutes and then, he was there. The man who has routinely been taking over my regular space. He arrived at 6:00am and left at 6:30am. He started to sit at the tilted table, and then moved. See, even interlopers like him don't like that table.

I'm pretty sure he was wondering who was sitting at his table....

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Splitting 'em Up

We all know that the President and Vice President never travel on the same plane. And I've heard that some couples never fly together, lest something happen to one of them.

Last week, when Ronnie and I flew to St. Louis, one of us sat in business class and the other in coach. It's not quite the same thing, but I did think about it at the time. (That is, until the other one of us got upgraded and then we were just on opposite sides of the aisle, which we generally are anyway.)

But back to the point at hand. My cousin stayed with us this past Friday night and on Saturday morning, he tell me he's going downstairs to see if he can find his other shoe. Curious, I asked why they weren't together. He told me that he'd split the pairs and packed one of each in one suitcase, and the second of the pair in his other suitcase.

So of course my natural response was.... is that so you lose one suitcase you still have the other shoe?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Annoyance at the Grocery Store

I rarely go to the big grocery store two blocks from our house. When I need to run out for something, I'll go, but I don't shop there on a regular basis at all.

It's been really hot today and I've been drinking water non-stop. But tonight I really wanted something cold and carbonated. A fountain soda would be perfect, but there's nothing nearby for that (and the lines out the door of Baskin Robbins was way too long!). So I decide to walk to the store and buy whatever kind of diet soda was on sale (as long as it wasn't regular Diet Coke).

I'm in luck - they have Caffiene-free Diet Pepsi on sale at five 12-packs for 12 dollars. I picked up a 12-pack and headed to the registers. It rang up at $3.96. Now, math is not my strong suite, but I'm pretty sure that the price that rang up is not the sale price. When I ask the cashier about this, she says that I would have to buy five 12-packs in order to get the sale price.

Not only do we not need 60 cans of soda, I can't carry that much home even if we did need it.

I paid for the soda, registered my complaint that this was not a commuter-friendly sale and headed started to head out the door.

And then I decided to talk to customer-service. The woman behind the counter listened to me say how much I love living in Shorewood and the ability to walk everywhere but that their store was creating a serious disincentive for shopping there if I had to buy 60 cans of soda.... (Yes, I know there are far more important issues facing consumers and the overall food economy.)

She told me that it was a Pepsi policy for the sale and not store policy, and then she gave me money back so that my purchase equaled the sale price.

And now I'm home chilling a few cans, drinking one over lots of ice and trying to decide if I should walk back for another 12-pack (not).

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Gift Anxiety

I was at a birthday party today. Nice party, good people, tasty cake. There were two points of possible anxiety attacks during the course of the afternoon.

First, I clearly did not get the memo that black and white were the requested clothing colors for the day. I was wearing a khaki skirt and pink striped top. One person was wearing green, but I chalked that up to his possible color-blindness. To be sure, there were a few other people who also hadn't gotten the memo, but the vast majority of attendees were most definitely wearing black and white.

Second, at one point, the celebrant said she was going to begin opening presents. The gift I'd brought was nicely wrapped, and I thought it was fine - modest, nothing too extravagant. But then the first gift was opened. It was a heat/massage attachment for an office chair. It looked fancy. Then, there was a lot of jewely. It was passed around, and it all looked pretty nice. And there were gift certificates. And more jewelry.

Of course, at this point I'm thinking, "maybe by the time she gets to my bag, everyone will be up getting more cake." No such luck. Thankfully, it gift that was a bit humorous and everyone laughed. I'm not sure if they were thinking, "Damn, I could have been funny, too!" or "Wow, I can't believe she didn't bring something nicer."

Did I mention that there was really good cake?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Yellow Split PeaSoup and other things

I had half a jar of yellow split pea soup that I'd made a few weeks ago and taken out of the freezer a few days ago. But I didn't really feel like eating soup and I figured it didn't have too many more days of life in it. So I decided that Yellow Split Pea Soup Fritters would be worth a try.

What is that? No clue, but I dumped the soup into a bowl (it was pretty thick), added about 4 tablespoons of flour, a little oat bran because it never hurt anyone, mixed it up and put spoonfuls into the frying pan in a little olive oil. Basically like making latkes.

I gotta say - not bad. It would probably be good with a mango chutney since it tasted vaguely Indian, but it was also pretty good with a wasabi sauce and honey mustard (not at the same time).

I was at Einstein's this morning, about an hour later than I usually go. There are a few major differences between arriving at 6:30am and arriving at 7:30am. Usually when I go, it's rare that I see moving cars, even when I'm crossing the main street. It's just a quiet time. The regulars are always there, sitting in the same places, the only variables being whether they ordered a muffin instead of a cookie, or whether one decided to splurge and get regular cream cheese instead of low-fat.

But this morning, I arrived around 7:45am. First - I had to wait several seconds before I could cross the street. Who knew there are so many cars out at that hour! And once I got there, one man asked me if everything was okay since I was there so late. I should mention, that until two weeks ago, I barely got a nod hello. Now, at least this one guy says hello every morning. Most of the regulars were on their way out as I walked in. About 20 minutes later, I looked up from my paper and saw a totally different population. Young moms and kids with huge strollers, and senior citizens. It was as if they were released from their curfew at 8am and all decided to go to Einstein's.

It was a nice day and not raining for a change. So why all of the moms with kids and huge strollers had to actually bring the huge strollers into the shop I'm not really sure. They leave their dogs outside, I'm not sure why the strollers can't be left there as well.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Recycling Day

Every other Tuesday, it's our neighborhood's turn to recycle. You can tell a lot about people by what and how they recycle.

Almost everyone has small, blue open bins for their recycling, so you can see what they're putting out. Every so often there's an over-achiever with a huge, green, covered container. The only thing I know about those people is that they are consuming too much if they still have that much to recycle in just two weeks time. But for everyone else:
  • You can tell who reads the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, and who splurges on the Wall Street Journal.
  • You can tell who drinks a lot of beer, and whether they're drinking the cheap stuff from cans or the pricier European micro-brews from bottles. And you can definitely tell the wine drinkers.
  • You can tell who orders pizza, from where, and how often (per two weeks).
  • You can tell who shops where by the paper bags they've got the rest of their recyclables in. What's most interesting to me about this, is that the prevelance of paper bags from Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and the Outpost (our local co-op) in particular, mean that people aren't using their own cloth bags there.
  • You can tell who has kids and how old they are by the diaper boxes and baby food jars.
  • You can tell who has cats and what they like to eat. And lastly,
  • You can tell who ran to Costco over the weekend by the big boxes of stuff that no one really needs that much of (diced tomatoes, granola bars, copy paper....

Friday, April 17, 2009

Too Many Green Beans

I'm pretty sure that just about a year ago, I wrote about buying too many plums at the produce market. If I remember correctly (I could just go back and check the blog, but I'm too lazy), I bought a basket full for $3. I didn't need 30 plums, of course, but for $3, I certainly got my money's worth.

Today, I went back to Pete's and bought a big basket of green beans. I don't really like green beans that much, but the whole basket was only $1. Yes, you read that correctly. It filled an entire plastic grocery bag (the kind they bag your groceries into, not the kind you put your cucumbers in while you're shopping). I also bought a basket of bananas for $1 and 11 multi-colored peppers for $3 (four green, four orange, three yellow). The beans and bananas looked like they should be cooked sometime before Monday, and the peppers I think would last a week.

Yes, I could buy the same vegetables for more money that I wouldn't have to use this weekend, but why? We can eat whatever I cook with them for the week, right?

Last week, I bought baskets of peppers, eggplant and onions. Thankfully, a friend of mine could use the overflow. This week, I need to start thinking creatively about the green beans. I roasted some, marinated others, and I still have a gallon size baggie full left.

The only problem with Pete's is that you never know what they're going to have, in or out of baskets. Last week they had nice looking asparagus (not in a basket). This week, I didn't see a stalk. They have mushrooms, but they're expensive. And no matter the season, they always seem to have watermelon.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Dilemmas of Shopping

I decided that I wanted to make fish for dinner. The closest, nicer fish can be found at Whole Foods and since it's usually an interesting store to walk around, that's where I went.

The store was actually pretty empty (because really, who can afford to shop there!) and there was one guy doing double duty behind the meat and fish counters. So before he could help me on the fish side of the counter, he had to finish weighing and packaging something on the meat side.

I told him I wanted salmon, and as he reached for the fillet, I asked if he had changed gloves. He looked at me a little strangely. I told him (politely) that I'd like him to change gloves, and then mentioned that it was good that I wasn't from the health department.

Since he did change gloves, I continued with my purchase.

And then I had to decide if I should say something to anyone else about my experience. I decided that I wouldn't mention it to the guy behind the customer service counter. I'm sure he would pretend to care, and maybe even would for a minute, but I wasn't confident that my concerns would be passed to anyone who could make sure that the guy behind the counter got some "safe meat and fish handling re-education".

I decided that I would write a comment on the comment card. Most of the comments that they post are of the "I love Whole Foods" variety. I was pretty sure that my comment wasn't going to be posted, so I didn't bother with the "I love Whole Foods" line. Plus, I enjoy looking around, but I don't actually love Whole Foods.

So I wrote up my experience, and then had two more decisions to make. Should I include the offender's name? And should I include my name and contact information. On the first question, I decided that since I was hopeful that this was an isolated incident, I would include the name of the counter guy and hope that someone would make him re-read the safety practices.

The second question took a little more thought (which is not a problem, since I have a lot of them). Their comment board asks you to leave their name and contact information if you want a reply to your comment. I certainly didn't need a reply, but I wasn't sure if it was okay to include his name and not mine. I decided that since two witnesses are required in Jewish law, and I had been alone at the counter, that it was not a question of being a witness. I wasn't sure that relaying an experience was actually accusing him of something, so it wasn't about him knowing his accuser. And I didn't require a personal call back. So I didn't leave my name.

Of course, I probably won't buy fish again at Whole Foods.... Next time I'll make the drive back out to Costco.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Clinic Visits

Like my role in Israel, here in New Orleans, I take people to the clinics. Yesterday, I took a boy to the St. Bernard Clinic located in the parking lot of the Wal-mart that has been closed since Katrina. From the outside, the clinic looks like it's made up of six or eight mobile homes. But when you walk in, it looks like a full clinic. I'm not sure how they did that with the space available in the mobile homes, but they did.

The boy I brought in had been hit in the eye with a basketball. He just wanted his eye checked out and it turned out that he has a small scratch. The doctor was great. He's also the parish coroner and told us just part of his Katrina story. He was in the St. Bernard Hospital when things started flooding. They had 50 patients who hadn't been evacuated and over the next few days, several of them died from the heat and consequences of having no electricity.

The one thing I noticed about the exam room, was that there were posters on the wall, cute little sayings, and other random but interesting things to look at. I mentioned it to the nurse and she said that it was the doctor's idea and that the walls in the other doctors' rooms were blank

And today I went to the New Orleans Health Clinic with a girl who injured her leg. She's fine but needed a few stitches. This clinic was the cleanest place we've been so far. They were doing a brisk business of tourists, so I guess business is good!

More Ranting on GPS

So it turns out, that if you go more than 10 miles above the speed limit, the GPS lady says, "CAUTION!" Can you imagine how annoying that is? It's like driving with your mother. I did find today that I was able to turn that function off. I'm not doing so much highway driving, but when I do, I don't need some anonymous voice telling me to slow down. She's not in danger, and I definitely don't need an imaginary back seat driver.

One other thing. I had to turn left on LA 3021. Now you might think that the voice would say, "Now turn on Louisiana three zero two one." But it doesn't. It says, "Now turn on Louisiana three oh twenty one." It's a freakish thing.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


I have a GPS device in my rental car. I hate it. I can't get it to stick on the dashboard, the voice is always too loud or too quiet and she has an accent that is difficult to understand.

I've heard that there are many different voices in most of these devices in different accents and a choice of male and female voices. Not on mine. I have a choice of English and Spanish. And the woman's voice sounds like English is not her first language. I guess I should try the Spanish voice and see if English is her first language. Except that I'm pretty sure that wouldn't help me.

I made a comment to someone that it sounds like she learned English phonetically. They replied that she did. I think that some words should be pre-programmed. Like most numbers. Or ordinary street names. Except that there aren't ordinary street names in New Orleans. Try and say Tchoupatoulous phonetically. Or La Manche. Corondolet sounded fine, sort of.

Also, she's sort of bossy. If you miss a turn, she says (like she's speaking English as a Second Language that she learned phonetically), "U-turn as soon as possible." Or she says, "In 500 feet, turn left on Dauphine St. " And then "Turn left on Dauphine St. in 200 feet." And then "Turn left on Dauphine St. now." If you don't turn, she says, "What the hell?! I've been telling you for 500 feet about this turn. Do you ignore your mother like this too?!"

I need to buy a map.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Lower Ninth Ward

If you drive around the lower ninth ward in New Orleans, you see some new houses, some that are old but clearly rebuilt with people living in them, and also a lot of empty lots and lots that have houses that look like they haven't been touched in more than three years. The empty lots are generally overgrown with weeds and the concrete slab the original house sat on has been broken up and overgrown. It's shocking that after so much time, so little has been done. Which is not to discredit the work that has been done - it's just not enough.

Today, we had our buses stop at the corner of Tennessee and N. Claiborne Street to find some space to do their group conversations. I got there a little early. Wow - there are some incredible houses going up. If you asked an architect to design a New Orleans-style house for the 22nd century, I'm pretty sure that this is what they'd look like. Bright colors, similar proportions to the traditional shotgun houses (but much, much bigger), interesting iron work balconies, and also really interesting angled roofs and many with solar panels. It turns out, this is part of Brad Pitt's Make it Right Foundation.

On a completely different note, while I was driving around, I saw four chickens on the side of the road. One of them started to cross in front of my car. There was no reason I could think of why this chicken would be crossing the road. Because I know you're wondering, I neither ran him over nor asked him why he was trying to cross the road.

New Orleans

I'm back in New Orleans this week for spring break. We have 140 students working in New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish on 11 different projects. It's easy to see that things have progressed a little bit in the last two years, but shocking that things are still so devastated.

There are houses all over the Lower Ninth Ward that are still uninhabited and uninhabitable. They are still marked with the Xs of the first responders. And many houses have been rebuilt. They look like new, modern houses and don't have the same unique architectural features that the old houses did, but they are ready for residents and their families.

This week, our groups are tiling, painting, scraping, and doing some deconstruction. This morning, I helped tear down sheet rock. And then I scraped paint off of molding. Very exciting work. And I should have brought my own safety goggles (yes, I have them). The ones I borrowed were too hard to see out of!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Vegan Mac 'n Cheese

Last night, months after having printed out the recipe, I finally tried Vegan Dad's Mac 'n Cheese. The other things I've tried off of his site have been great, and I figured it was time to try something completely different.

I realize that the first thing anyone reading is probably wondering is, "why, when you like cheese, would you try a vegan version?!" Well, because it's there. And because the only other kinds of macaroni and cheese I'm aware of either involve strange orange powders or the making of a roux, a skill that I have not yet really tried to master.

So now I hope you're wondering, "How was it?" Well, it wasn't bad. It wasn't good either. It was too bland. I think it needed a shot of soy sauce. Of course my first thought was that I should have added worcestershire sauce or anchovy paste, but both of those would have negated the vegan-ess of this whole endeavor. My other thought was that it needed some sharp cheddar cheese. My last thought was that it needed peas.

I'm not sure why, but I think with some peas, and maybe some sauteed mushrooms, and a shot of soy sauce, it would actually be good. And it could also have been bland because I didn't have onion powder. But really, if that's what made it bland, it needed more than the recipe called for.

Had I read the comments to the recipe before I'd tried it, I probably would have just started it all that way.... It seems I'm not alone in thinking it needed a little something. Maybe the folks at Velveeta have it right.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Business Class vs Coach

I've got a lot of credits on AirTran and while it's not impossible to use them for a free ticket, the several times I've tried, I would have had to get a business ticket (16 credits each way) rather than a regular coach ticket (8 credits each way). And my credits are about to expire - what's a girl to do?

Well, for 4 credits, I can upgrade my ticket to business class when I check in. That seems reasonable to me. The only downside is that it's only a 90 minute flight between Milwaukee and Baltimore. By the time you're allowed to turn your computer on, it's almost time to turn it back off.

As far as I can tell, the benefits of business class are:
  • More space. As I am short, the additional leg room doesn't really matter much to me. But what I like are the wide arm rests and the extra big tray table that has room for my big computer. Also, since the row in front is farther away, I can use the computer like a normal person and not be all contorted typing as coach seats necessitate.
  • Drinks as soon as you get on the plane. It doesn't matter whether you want alcohol or not - having something to drink early on in the flight is just nice.
  • Better snacks. Instead of four mini-pretzels, I got a whole bag of some sort of chips. Granted I'm not really a "chip" person, but I'm also not such a pretzel person, so it was better than the coach alternative.

I have enough credits to upgrade on my next 12 flights.... I could get used to this.

Saturday, February 28, 2009


Washington DC is really a particular kind of place. As much as everyone there is from somewhere else, a culture develops very quickly, and woe to the person who does not fit in.

At the airport in Milwaukee, I take the escalator from the lower level to my terminal. I stand wherever I want on the escalator. No one is rushing up unless they are seriously late for their flight, in which case it won't be the escalator that slows them up, it will surely be the folks at TSA.

And when I arrive at BWI and take the escalator down to catch my bus, I make sure to stand on the right side. Anyone loitering on the left should know better, despite the fact that there are no signs anywhere indicating this unspoken rule. But at BWI, people who want to walk on the left are polite, because they rightly figure that many of us are coming in from other places.

But on arriving in DC, there is absolutely no standing on the left side of the escalator. Anyone who does is looking for trouble. The words "excuse me" may be read politely on the page (or in the blog), but when someone says them to you on the Metro escalator - beware. They are about 2 seconds away from trampling you or shoving you to the right (and correct) side.

Metro has gone through various attempts to communicate the "walk on the left, stand on the right" culture, and inevitably they give up. There have been on the sides of the escalators, and for a while there were hideous big yellow circles on the floor with "walk left, stand right". My biggest gripe with those was with their grammar. I know what they were trying to say, but it sounded wrong. It would sound better if it said "walk left, stand correctly." Even though I know that's not what they were trying to say. Either way, the circles are gone....

Saturday, February 21, 2009

More on Seitan

What can I say? I'm a fan. Tonight I made "ribz". They tasted almost like the Gardenburger Riblets and I have no idea how those compare to the real thing. My guess would be that they aren't even close for a real meat eater. The recipe was the same basic one I've used for fake meat and veggie sausages, but baked with barbeque sauce instead of steamed in foil. The only other small problem I have is that I didn't actually love the barbeque sauce and now I've got most of a bottle left to use.

I've also discovered Trader Joe's Organic Tofu, which is not as firm as I'd like, but it's much cheaper. I can't figure that part out out at all. And for baked tofu (glazed with miso, if you have to know), it's probably better, so it's good all around.

I still haven't made the vegan macaroni and cheese. Mainly because it's not cheese and it requires (according to the recipe) five minutes in the blender. I'm not sure I can handle the noise for that long.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Blog-worthy San Francisco

Observations from my 48 hours in San Francisco:
There is something blog-worthy about having done a site visit at a university that boasts a Palestinian mural to Edward Said on the Malcolm X Plaza outside the Cesar Chavez student center.

It rained almost our entire trip, which was good for the California drought and not so good for walking around.

It may be a relatively small city, but it's very easy to get lost, even with GPS. And since when are GPS voices supposed to have attitude. I'm fairly certain that not following the exact directions being shouted at you at the last minute does not call for the otherwise friendly but increasingly annoying voice to say "If you don't want to follow my instructions you should just stop driving."

Whoever said that there is world-class dining at SFO has not had to wait for a Northwest Airlines flight. On the other hand, Northwest Airlines gets my vote for their decision to hold the last flight of the night 15 minutes to allow us to make the plane.

There can only be one explanation for the fact that Pier 2 and Pier 14 are only a few hundred feet apart. The competing reasons are: Piers 3 - 13 sank, OR, Pier 14 is really Pier 1.4 and the decimal point fell off a few years ago. Why anyone believes the latter is beyond me, but evidently I am just that good of a liar.

I had a terrible headache one morning and after realizing that copious amounts of caffeine were not helping, I asked the cashier at our diner where the closest convenience store was so I could go get some aspirin. She told me there was a small store across the street, but when we both looked over it started to rain again. So she reached into her purse and gave me two wax-paper wrapped packets of powder that she told me had Vitamin C and other good things in it that would clear up my headache. She gave me a glass of orange juice, told me to mix it in and I'd feel better. First, I hate orange juice. Second, she's asking me to take an unknown powder that looks like it was packaged at her dining room table. And she was generous enough to give me another one for later if I needed it. So I took it. I'm not sure whether that, or the Aleve that I took an hour later was the cure I needed, but it turns out that you can take drugs from strangers.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

New Technology

I'm not a technophile, nor am I a technophobe. I like gadgets, but in general I'm not convinced that most of them can really improve the quality of life. I could be wrong, and I'm pretty sure I'll think otherwise if I'm ever on a ventilator. In any case, I was thinking about the newer technologies that have made things better and/or easier.

The DVR is something that I love. I can pause a show mid-sentence to dump pasta in boiling water. I can rewind to hear an important line of dialogue that I missed when someone was talking. I can skip commercials. I can re-watch LOST.

I like my ipod, but it hasn't really changed my life. It's nice and I'm glad I have it and wouldn't want to lose or break it. But if I'd never gotten it, that would be okay too.

Someone in our office bought a Keurig coffee machine that takes "K-cups" and brews an individual cup of coffee. Or it can make hot chocolate. Or tea. Or whatever is in the little k-cup. I'm pretty sure it can't make a martini, but in time, I'm sure someone will figure out how. This is something that has changed my office life. I used to go out in the morning and get a large coffee. I would take my time drinking it and by late morning be done. But now, all I have to do is put a little k-cup in the magic machine and there's another cup of coffee. And all for the very low price of fifty cents. I'm not sure I would need one of these at home, but at the office, it's like having our own magician, just for us.

I wonder what's next....

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I think there are two kinds of people and things in the world: those that clump and those that do not.

For example - last week I was at Whole Foods. They usually have a fair number of samples scattered throughout the store. What I had never noticed is how close together they all are. You don't even have time to finish trying one thing before you're beset with another. I understand that there are good reasons for why they place their samples where they do (something about having them near the product they are actually trying to sell), but it's not convenient for us grazers.

Or today, when I was waiting for the bus. On my way to the bus stop I saw two buses go by (and I was too far away to catch them). Another bus didn't come for 15 minutes, and when it did, there was another bus immediately behind us. There are six bus lines that run down the street -and if they were to each go down the street every five minutes, no one would wait for a bus more than a few minutes. This way, they all seem to be on the same annoying schedule.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

More Cheese

It turns out that you can make fresh mozzarella with regular milk. I still bought the Organic Whole Milk, rather than the regular stuff. It's the first gallon of regular milk I think I've purchased in 16+ years. Even though we use other dairy products, for milk, it's only soy in our house. I may need to try the cheese with soymilk next....

I think the cheese is good. It's not as soft as store-bought fresh mozzarella - it's much firmer. I'm not sure if that's a temperature issue (too high?), a rennet issue (too much?), or a patience issue (not wanting to keep dipping and kneading). Or, it could be something else entirely.

Either way, I have more fresh cheese! And a huge (!) pot of soup that I made from the leftover whey. I'm calling it lasagna soup because that's what it smells like. The whey smells a little like ricotta, and once all the vegetables are added and some noodles, it's more or less the same ingredients. Except there's no parmesan. And lasagna doesn't usually have celery and carrots. Or peas or green beans. Or a little bouillion. Whatever.

We also have 1/2 a pot of chili left and if I don't make black bean soup tomorrow, I'll have to find room in the freezer for about 6 cups of black beans. And I also have to figure out where to put another 4-5 cups of navy beans. There's no room in the freezer!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Someone explain to me...

Why the Washington DC area practically shuts down when there's a threat of a little snow. I woke up this morning to about 1/2 inch of snow, and reports on television of every school in the area closed. At least the Federal Government didn't close. I think that's because Obama is from Chicago and knows that this tradition of closing when there's a little bit of the cold stuff on the ground.

Topics that come up just tonight at the house of the people I'm staying with this week:
Little people (dwarfs), House (the tv show), the virtues of cotton vs polyester socks, hacking into Apple tv, poop, Nigerians, Disney sun glasses that aren't made in adult sizes, the difference between black raspberries and blackberries and last, but definitely not least, octuplets.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Erev Lost!

Heads up - the next season of Lost starts tomorrow. I'm not sure if the internet was slow during the inauguration or if cell towers were overwhelmed, but they will all be fine tomorrow night. All eyes and ears should be watching Lost. No phone calls (maybe not even during commercials), no surfing the web. No Facebook. No reheating dinner. No doodling or creating grocery lists. No speculating during the show about what's going on during the show.

This should also serve as fair warning. Do not call me tomorrow night. Do not expect e-mail from me tomorrow night. Do not expect any Facebook updates.

Fresh Mozzarella!

Sunday, I made cheese. I figured 30-minute mozzarella might actually take a first-timer a bit longer, but it didn't. In 30 minutes we had great, fresh mozzarella cheese.

Not included in the 30 minutes the time that was needed to buy a thermometer (or remember that one was needed) and find low-pasturized milk. And in case you are wondering, low-pasturized milk is expensive! Ideally, raw milk is used, but that's not exactly legal to purchase in the local grocery store.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Thoughts on the Winter

It's always a bit strange to me that winter weather is news. It happens every year, right?

You may be tempted to believe that 16 degrees above zero is a veritable heat wave after days at -6. I am here to say, "do not be tempted". It's no longer dangerous to be outside, but is also not yet warm. By any stretch of the imagination.

The lid of my coffee cup which has been sitting in the car for the last three weeks was frozen onto the base. It tooks several minutes of warm running water to open it.

I no longer believe that 1 inch of snow is worth shoveling.

I saw several cars running unattended this morning. Coincidentally, I read in the newspaper that doing so is a crime. And if your car is stolen while you're warming it up, you still get the fine for leaving the key in an unattended car. But evidently the city has decided not to give tickets if the temperature is less than 10 degrees. Maybe be cause even car thiefs aren't that stupid?

My favorite headline this week came from the Chicago Tribune: City Held Frostage. Below it was a timer marking how long the city temperatures were staying below zero.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

My Aliases

When I called home from Israel, for some reason the caller ID always registered a different name. Among them:
John Mort, John Sbonik, Maria Caldero, Paula Collins, Veronica Garza, Mary Dowling, Jeffrey Smith, Terry Nowak, Janell Robinson, Anthony Tomasze, Jim Legault, Nichole Phillips, Kristine Blackman, Domenique Gwin, Joann Berdelman and last but not least... Subway.

Back in the US

The only saving grace on a 14 hour flight is no one sitting in the middle seat.

I learned to order an Asian Vegetarian meal on Delta - it's much better than the regular vegetarian meals, except when dinner is an okra-based meal, and the same thing is served again for breakfast.

We landed in Atlanta, picked up bags, went through Customs, then dropped our bags back off at the "re-check" counter, and then go through security again before getting to the next terminal. Asking people to take off their shoes after a 14 hour flight is just mean.

Delta no longer serves tomato juice on their domestic flights. Instead, you can opt for Bloody Mary mix. Crazy, but at least it has more flavor.

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Nigerians are Here!

Well, not here, since I'm now back in Jerusalem, but they were here when I was in Tiberius.

I walked into the King Solomon Hotel and found myself in a sea of Nigerians. Fifty people (maybe more?) all wearing clothing made from the same bolt of fabric. Some with tunics and pants, some just tunics, some tops and skirts, some dresses. But all the same fabric. No different pattern, no different colors. Not knowing anything about Nigerian culture, I don't know if this is normal, or just special for traveling.

But here's the great part - what they were wearing was in perfect contrast to the carpeting in the hotel. I'm pretty sure it was not planned in advance.

In case you're wondering, I tried but was not successful at getting pictures of all the Nigerians together. Nor could I get a picture of a Nigerian walking across the carpet. Oh well.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Aroma in Kiryat Shemona

I can't decide if it's a compliment or just embarrassing when the woman behind the counter at the coffeeshop (Aroma) in Kiryat Shemona greets me like a long lost friend. I didn't think I'd spent that much time here!

Last night, walking from our hotel to downtown Tiberius (an oxymoron if there ever was one), we saw a green bean tree. I'm not sure they were actually green beans, and it was definitely not a vine that looked like a tree, but it most definitely looked like a green bean tree. Only in Israel.

Monday, January 05, 2009


For reasons unknown, I really love Tiberius. It's a lot like Milwaukee maybe - a little town on a lake. Ok, the lake here is more like a pond, and it's very hilly, but otherwise, maybe they are similar. What I don't love (which my faithful readers have read before), is that there is no internet access here. I have to drive out to the southern end of the Kinneret to the Aroma cafe in order to get any work done. I could also be working at the gas station next door (the Yellow), but the cafe is a bit nicer and the music isn't quite as loud.

Plus, if I stay long enough, I might order a haloumi sandwich for lunch, which would make me very happy.

On a different note, I am NOT on my fourth rental car, but I am on my third and while I thought I was going to get another one this morning, they just cleaned out the third. Somewhere along the Bika road yesterday, a light went on. Now, I basically grew up with the idea of just putting a piece of tape over the light and assuming it was no longer a problem. But... I was on a desert road with very few places to stop and while it wasn't the engine light, I also didn't want to get stuck with no where to go, no cell phone reception, a barbed wire fence on once side and a really, really big hill that tops out who knows where on the other.

So I stopped at a gas station where thankfully someone spoke English (I do not know car-related words in Hebrew). We checked the oil (fine), brake fluid (fine), wiper fluid (low, but I didn't care), radiator fluid (fine, I think), and finally they said I needed more distilled water in the battery. I asked if it was dangerous and was told that it wasn't. So I kept driving. I had about another hour before I could get to Tiberius and change the car.

When I walked into Hertz, the woman started laughing, since I had been there a week ago to change the first car to the second. The car guy there confirmed for me that while the light didn't indicate anything dangerous, it was very, very good that I'd brought it back. So I got another car, but it was filthy. I couldn't exactly understand when they told me to come back this morning if I was getting a new, clean car, or if they were just going to clean the third car. It turns out they cleaned it, sort of. Whatever....

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Other Random Things

Some of the hotels I've stayed at this trip have a German language station as part of the cable package. I was flipping through the channels late one nights and noticed an episode of Law and Order. Since there are probably thousands of different episodes at this point, the chances of seeing one I haven't seen is generally pretty good. Except that this episode was dubbed into German. And there were no subtitles - in Hebrew or English. And I'm sure the voices sound different to people who actually speak or understand German, but to me, they all sounded the same. Needless to say, I did not watch the show.

Last night was crowded on Ben Yehuda street. And right in the middle of the road (it's a pedestrian place, so not exactly a road) there was a Korean choir singing. I think they were Korean - I'm not actually positive. And I couldn't tell what language they were singing in. It may have been Hebrew. They had song books, and a choir director and seemed very earnest, whatever they were singing. And they had quite a crowd around them who I think were also wondering who they were and what they were singing. I learned this morning that they are there every night.

We talk in our staff training about remembering that the things we have always loved about Israel may not be the same for our participants. And we always use the example of someones favorite falafel place - that just because you've always gone there and had great falafel, doesn't mean that other people have to make it "their" places as well.

So last night, I was walking by the falafel stand that we went to several times a week on our first trip to Israel. I don't know - maybe I went there once a week, but in my memory, it was every night, which I know it wasn't. They have a new sign out front that says "established 1985". Well, that's a huge problem, because my first trip to Israel was in 1982! Is my favorite falafel stand not really my favorite falafel stand? Did they get the sign wrong? Was it a different falafel stand but in the same location? I haven't actually eaten a falafel there in years - but it's got the reputation of being the best place on the block. So even if it's not my falafel stand, it's someones....

Dakar 2009

It so happens that I'm usually in Israel for two of my favorite sporting events - the Tour de France in late June/July and the Dakar rally in January. Over Shabbat I was thinking that the rally should be starting sometime soon and sure enough, when I turned the tv on last night (obviously NOT charging my phone) I found coverage of the first day of the rally.

This year, they are racing round trip from Buenos Aires through Valparaiso, Chile. Now I realize you might be wondering why the traditioanlly Paris-Dakar rally is running on a completely different continent, and the answer is: I'm not sure yet. The coverage I've seen has all been in Hebrew and mainly dealt with the first day crowds in Buenos Aires and the length of the first day (longer than the route for previous first days of the rally).

The Hotel will Speak for Itself

I had a strange hotel room the last three nights. Not one outlet save the one that the television was plugged into. In fact, the cord on the desk lamp had been left hanging since there was no where to plug it in. I'm not sure why there even was a lamp in that case. The bed side lamps were attached to the wall (as opposed to sitting on the nightstand), which was fine, except that the switch to turn them on and off was on the wall in a place where even a person with very long arms would have to get up out of bed to turn them off. Having only one outlet meant I had to decide whether to charge my phone or watch tv. I don't like decisions like that.

Many of the rooms I've stayed in have a hot water kettle and tea bags, sugar etc. This room obviously couldn't because there would have been no where to plug in the kettle. Never the less, there was a card on the desk that read,

"Dear Guests,
Your room is equiped with a coffee/tea making set
For your conviniance we are happy to oper you a coffee packege which includes:
Black coffee, instant coffee, decafenated coffee, tea, non diary cream milk, sugare, artaficial sweather
For the price of 10 NIS
You mey purchuse the coffee/tea package at the lobby or dail the room service"

Seriously - all those spelling errors were theirs - not my poor typing!