Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Hey, where did everyone go?

Apparently, a blog that doesn't get updated often tends to lose its readership. Oh noes! I must do something about that.

Here's a year-end, hit-and-miss update:

January: I don't remember a thing from January 2008.

February: At the end of February, I went to Brooklyn for the first time, for my fourth American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. It's always good to geek out among my fellow travelers for a few days. My goal is to spend almost no waking time in my hotel room—I have accompllished that goal the last two years, and expect to do so again in 2009. This time, I'm on the schedule—a blogging panel. Eek! Hundreds of people listening to me in a non-internet setting! In February 2008, I was on a radio show late one Friday night. That was terrific fun. There were people listening, sure, but I couldn't see them. And my Merv Griffin's Crosswords appearance aired on daytime TV. The entire time the show was being taped, my heart was pounding.

March: Spring break! We vacationed in Florida. We started out in Tampa with a trip to Busch Gardens, and managed to be bad parents who let our kid's face get sunburned on day one. Ben's cheeks were crispy the rest of the week, poor thing. But! In the Tampa hotel pool, suddenly, Ben could swim. Last summer, his ability to traverse the pool with his face in the water was nil. This spring, with zero practice in the intervening months? Like a fish. Or maybe an otter. Also in March, I started therapy for the very first time. It was a good move. Being driven insane by Ben's homework sessions drove me to therapy.

April: Ben turned 8. We partied at Chuck E. Cheese. I think this spring we'll bounce it out at Pump It Up, the place with giant inflatables. No 6-foot-tall rodents = a plus. I think April was the month that a friend and I constructed a Sunday crossword, submitted it to the New York Times, and got an acceptance in a few weeks. The puzzle hasn't been published yet. Any week or month now! We also

May: Winter was finally over, but spring was rather lackadaisical. Chicago got ripped off this year, since we didn't get decent weather until June, really. We don't expect much, but we expect better than we got in 2008.

June: Ben finished second grade and counted the days until day camp started. The Chicago Park District's summer day camp rocks. The place Ben goes has an outdoor pool, so he got to swim every day. They had one field trip a week (laser tag! the beach!). Thirty hours a week for six weeks, lunch included, for less than $250 total. Winner!

July: Summer. Day camp. Not too much air conditionining needed—cooler near the lake.

August: Is anything more blah than a 42nd birthday?

September: Ben began third grade. Somehow the homework proves less difficult than second-grade homework. My kid is maturing, and maybe those management strategies I learned in therapy are helping too. Some of you may be wondering how on earth a kid's homework could pose such woes for a parent—and some of you know exactly what I'm talking about.

October: Wow, that wasn't so long ago, and I can't think of much to say about the month. Status quo.

November: Co-hosted Thanksgiving at my cousin's place. Why anyone spends all day cooking turkey, I'll never understand. It's so much easier to buy a cooked turkey from Jewel and warm it up for two hours. I flirted with destroying my pot of mashed potatoes, but fortunately, it was only the bottom layer that got scorched. Oh, and I voted for that guy from my city for president. Yay, Obama! Didn't his face at the Grant Park acceptance speech transmit a strong vibe of "Oh, crap, what have I gotten myself into? I'm really in for it now."

December: We seem to be largely unscathed by this recession business, aside from losing a third of the value of our investments and having my dream job offer rescinded by a newspaper about to file for bankruptcy. We spent Christmas week on our first cruise vacation. You know what? It was a lovely trip—so warm! Winter-dry skin became baby-smooth! Hours of basking in the sun, manufacturing vitamin D! No sunburn! No serious seasickness aside from a little queasiness!—but I don't think cruises and I mix. I've been back on ground for four days, and I'm stilll feeling a little woozy from landsickness. My system is having trouble resetting from "rocking" to "still." I read up on mal de debarquement and learned that while usually landsickness only lasts a couple days, the unfortunate few see it last for weeks or months or years. I should have known I was asking for trouble. Back when I was a teenager, one night on board Amtrak left my head rocking for a couple days. I'm thinking a week on a boat might have more lasting effects than a night on a train.

Best wishes to all of you for a happy, healthy, and not unprosperous 2009!

Monday, December 22, 2008

I am asea

I'm not really blogging today. I am asea, on a cruise in the Caribbean. Blogger lets you write posts in advance and schedule them to publish later on. "Asea" is one of those words that shows up in crosswords way more than in daily conversation. Now that I have a chance to use the word for realz, dammit, I can't pass it up.

So I'm writing this last Thursday night, and it'll go up on the blog on Monday.

1. Happy holidays! Whether that's Christmas, Hanukkah, Eid, Kwanzaa, or the winter solstice, have a good one.

2. Yay, solstice! Sunday, December 21 was the winter solstice. Yes, January and February promise to be miserably wintry in great swaths of the Northern Hemisphere, but at least the days are lengthening bit by bit.

3. Do you think I have mal de mer? I'm using Transderm Scop, the prescription patch for preventing seasickness. I've never been on a boat for more than a couple hours, and never on the open sea, so we'll see how well the family does. (Only OTC Dramamine for the fellas...I'm the Pharmaceutical Phyllis in the family.)

4. I don't really have anything to say. I mean, when it's actually Monday, I'll have plenty to say, but I'm not taking my laptop on the ship because wireless access is, like $42 an hour. I haven't got anything to say on Thursday. I just didn't want the blog to lie fallow for the whole week. And again, ASEA!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Peanut butter/chocolate squares

I'll be on a plane away from winter in 48 hours. Whoo-hoo! Chicago's weather is cooperating in making this cruise a much-appreciated, well-timed trip. Temps in the teens and 20s? You betcha. Snow and ice? Oh, yeah. We got 6" on Tuesday, and 6" to 9" is expected by midday tomorrow. I will feel like the luckiest bastard on earth to be heading to the Caribbean on Saturday. Sure, returning from a week's vacation and then having to pull out all the Christmas crap and play Santa on the 27th will be rough, but...I think I'm not allowed to complain here.

I was just about to share a recipe for peanut butter/chocolate bars over at Bitch Ph.D., where a more complicated recipe for homemade Reese's knockoffs is shared. Why not jot it down here and link to it there?

If you need to take treats to a holiday gathering and you're looking for something easy and no-bake—and if you like peanut butter and chocolate and sweet treats so rich you have a really difficult time pigging out on them, because you just can't swallow* that many of these—try this recipe:

Orange's Orangeless Peanut Butter/Chocolate Squares

3/4 cup butter
1 cup peanut butter
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup chocolate chips** (or about 6 oz. of the chocolate of your choosing, broken into pieces)

In a large, microwave-safe bowl, melt together the butter and peanut butter. Stir until well blended.

Add the graham cracker crumbs and powdered sugar. Stir until blended. (This takes muscle, as the mixture is stiff.

Press mixture into a 13"x9" pan.

In a smaller microwave-safe bowl, melt the chocolate chips gradually. (Microwave for maybe 1 minute, take out and stir. Nuke for another 30 seconds, take out and stir. Keep nuking in 30-second increments and stirring the hell out of the chocolate until it's a smooth, thick liquid.) Spread the melted chocolate on top of the peanut butter mixture. Chill well, and cut into squares.

*This post mentions 6" to 9", swallow, a stiff mixture, and a smooth, thick liquid. It can't be helped.

**My sister's version of this recipe calls for mixing butter or margarine in with the chocolate, but I don't think it's necessary. Maybe the chocolate cuts without cracking if it's mixed with an oil? I don't know.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Sexism and Patti Blagojevich

You know what sucks? In that 76-page federal indictment, I believe there was one bit of dialogue attributed to the governor's wife, Patti Blagojevich. She had two F-bombs and an SH-glob in two short sentences.

So why are so many people running around saying that she's worse than him*—more profane, more venal?

This is sexist bullshit. Rod cussed on tape many more times than Patti did—and he was an elected official being paid a salary by taxpayers, violating laws for his own gain. Patti is not paid a salary by the State of Illinois, and it doesn't sound like she was calling the shots—just being supportive of her venal a-hole of a spouse and taking an interest in his work. Should she have had the morals to say, "Honey, you can't do this. It's crooked"? Sure. But there's no way that she merits the vituperation that is being sent her way. It's too easy to scorn a woman just because she used bad words—the double standard that ladies aren't supposed to swear. Fuck that shit, I say; cut Patti Blagojevich a little slack here.

*I don't have supporting links for this—my impression comes from hearing people talk smack about Patti in conversation.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Chicago: A happening town

First, our senator, South Sider Barack Obama, is elected president. The presidential transition headquarters are here in Chicago, and the next administration is taking shape nicely.

Next, Republic Windows closes a factory, the workers demand their due, and the story balloons into a national emblem of the financial, credit, and manufacturing crisis. (Workers of the world, unite!)

And then this morning, the Feds paid a visit to Governor Rod Blagojevich's North Side home to arrest him on federal corruption charges. They've been looking at him for years and indicting all sorts of people around Blago, but he finally went too far. I mean, who tries to sell a U.S. Senate seat? That's essentially what he's accused of doing. As if nobody would be watching! As if the Feds investigating him wouldn't notice! As if that weren't a huge violation of civic trust! Maybe Bush will pardon Blago's predecessor, George Ryan, and Blago can take over the same cell in the federal joint.

My kind of town, Chicago is.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Getting into the holiday spirit

I sure don't feel like getting the Christmas tree all set up, and I haven't begun addressing holiday cards yet. I'm probably way behind on my shopping for friend and family gifts, and I should be aiming to finish everything up by the 19th because then I'm leaving for a week's vacation.

But the holiday spirit whomped me when I read this heartwarming/heartbreaking article in the Trib. Each year, letters addressed to Santa end up at the post office, but not in the dead letter bin. Instead, the letters are put out so that people can choose a "Dear Santa" letter to fulfill. In the Trib article, one sad tale spurred an outpouring of generosity from readers—but post offices still have a slew of letters that nobody's picked up, that the media isn't showering attention on.

So I stopped by the post office this morning and was moved by a letter from a mom. She doesn't have much, but would like to give her kids a nice Christmas. She's hoping for a little help from Santa. She's got four kids in the house. Her daughters are 12 and 16, her son's 14, and her foster daughter is 16. All she asked for was pajamas or a coat, and some Bratz dolls for the youngest.

Coats? It's December, and the kids still need coats? Dang. I took that letter straight to Sears and bought four puffy coats with warm hoods. And also a set of warm jammies for each kid.

If you can swing it financially this year, I hope you'll stop by your local post office and play Santa, too.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


I just changed my relationship status on Facebook from "married" to "in a relationship."

Why? Because of A Marriage Manifesto by Tom Ackerman, a gay man. He says his beliefs no longer allow him to recognize marriage, so he's referring to straight people's legally recognized spouses as their "boyfriend" or "longtime companion." The result, Ackerman says, is "instant, eyebrow-raising recognition. Suddenly the majority gets to feel what the minority feels. In a moment they feel what it’s like to have their relationship downgraded, and to have a much taken-for-granted right called into question because of another’s beliefs."


Join the unrecognizing-marriage club, won't you?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A crush

Who among us hasn't always had a bit of a crush on Roger Ebert? Not because of the sweaters he used to wear on TV, not because of his "thumbs up"—because of his writing.

Ebert's latest blog post humorously yet rigorously eviscerates Ben Stein's "documentary," eXpelled, about "intelligent design." Did any of you see that? I'll bet you didn't. Why give any of our money to the people making a movie that links Darwinists to Nazi genocide? And now you need not even Netflix eXpelled because good old Rog tells you everything you need to know about this disingenuous movie.