Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Out of the mouths of babes

The kid and I walked past Leather Sport's display windows en route to getting ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery (at the Boystown branch, where customers may fill the tip jar without fear of coercing the employees to burst into lame song) this afternoon. One of the mannequins was dressed in a leather mask, strappy leather vest, and a red bikini brief (with a book tucked in the front waistband, because after all, it's the holiday season, and books make lovely gifts).

The six-year-old exclaimed, "Look! A burglar wearing only red underpants!"

Really, a vest doesn't count as a shirt, so the kid's quite astute.

Monday, November 27, 2006

People I would make out with

1. Whoever invented online grocery shopping. I was just sitting here pondering the size of my grocery list and my extreme disinterest in getting out of pajamas and going shopping, and watching Mr. Tangerine fill a trash bag with crap toys nobody needs while simultaneously watching football on TV, and then I remembered Peapod. Just need to pick up some milk at the corner store, and Peapod will schlep everything else I need, first thing tomorrow morning. Love Peapod!

2. Whoever developed the concept of hospice care. Sign me up when I'm old and moribund, because this looks like the way to go. (Speaking of which, Grandma has often been likened to the Energizer Bunny, and is still hanging in there. Maybe a few more days?)

3. Whoever first concocted the Smoking Gun cocktail, with raspberry vodka, lemonade, and soda. Tastes like harmless raspberry ginger ale, but the waitress assured us that it wasn't a weak drink—just a delicious one.

4. Whoever honed the pecan pie concept.

5. Mr. Tangerine, though I'm kinda waiting for him to shave the beard. I miss his face.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Never mind

Eh, I'm not making pie this week. I'd have had to make the dough for the crust today, and have to find time to bake tomorrow, and know for sure if we were going up north for the holiday. My last remaining grandparent, my late dad's mother, is easing toward death.

A couple weeks ago, she'd ended up in the hospital yet again, and the medical specialists all agreed that there was really nothing more they could do to remedy matters, and they recommended that my grandma consider hospice care. So she returned to the nursing home that's been her home this year (and she likes it there—the staff adores her. The lunch lady pops in to visit every day, and a young maintenance guy checked on Gram this evening) a week and a half ago, agreeing to stay there and receive palliative care rather than returning to the hospital. We figured she had months to go, but she had a precipitous decline yesterday morning.

The hospice nurses and volunteers who visit Gram have indicated that she's been showing a number of textbook signs that she's near the end of her life now. The best guess seems to be that she has a few more days left. So I spent all day yesterday, this morning, and this evening visiting her, along with assorted cousins, cousins' kids, and uncles.

I think hospice care is a wonderful thing. It's not just for cancer patients—Gram's got end-stage congestive heart failure and she's 94. She seems pretty ready to die, and her body's slowing down—she's hardly eating or drinking, she sleeps most of the time, and she's not upset. She even seems slightly peeved that every time she peeps open an eyelid, somebody starts in on her with "Are you comfortable? Do you need anything? Do you want a sip of juice? Do you have any pain? Are you cold? Are you hot?" Invariably, she says she's fine. (She gets a little morphine to ease breathing difficulties.) The hospice approach seems orders of magnitude more humane than the average hospital death. No heart monitor beeping, no IV needle prickling in her vein, no being intubated, no hospital schedules, no pointless prolongation of life + suffering. The hospice volunteers and nurses are so incredibly helpful to family members, too, as the hospice approach is to ease the process of death for everyone involved. I truly believe my grandmother will have a good death, and she deserves no less after the long life she's led and the physical and psychic pain she's experienced.

It's exhausting, what with all the 30-mile drives and tapping into emotional reserves. Ideally, perhaps, Grandma would have died peacefully in her sleep after a really good day. Second best is dying when she's had time to prepare herself for it, when she's had all her family gathered around and saying their goodbyes, when the hospice protocol is focused on keeping her comfortable at all times. Hospice doesn't mean giving up hope—it means you stop expecting successful treatment of medical conditions and instead focus on giving someone the best and least stressful end of life possible. It really has been a moving experience so far, and I'm honored to be able to share some of that time with my grandmother.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Obligatory pre-Thanksgiving food post

Yes, I haven't been posting much lately. But I've been making progress on my book, so you can't make me feel guilty about substandard blogging.

I just reviewed the week's lunch menu with Ben, so he could choose which day he wanted to bring a lunch rather than buy hot lunch at the cafeteria. Wednesday, he's excited about hot lunch. Why? Salisbury steak. He exulted in Salisbury steak. He is jubilant at the prospect of eating Salisbury steak. Who can explain this?

Ben's little-man armpits occasionally stink a bit. I think it smells like...armpits. Ben? He has pronounced his armpit stank to be redolent of a burrito. Which begs the question: What the hell kind of burritos are they serving at the school cafeteria?

We'll be traveling up north (but not too far north) for Thanksgiving, to Mr. Tangerine's folks'. I'm going to make pecan pie. Two pies, actually—my mother-in-law requested two rather than one, "so we can have pie for breakfast." I like the way she thinks. I'm planning to make the pie crust from scratch for my very first time, breaking out the virginal rolling pin that has so far served only as a toy. I don't eat lard, and it's so hard to find a frozen crust made with vegetable shortening, plus...shortening? Eww. I don't like the concept. (Yes, I know most store-bought cookies and crackers and so forth are made with shortening, essentially. But I don't like to think about it.) So it was with keen interest that I read an NYT article this week about testing different fats in pie crust. The winner was apparently a combo involving duck fat (!), but an all-butter crust was a definite contender. And I love butter. So I borrowed a recipe from anarchist and pastry chef Emma Goldman, and we'll see if I can actually make a good pie crust. I just bought one of those U-shaped dough cutter gizmos (for cutting the butter into the flour) and some pie pans, so there'll be a lot of virginal baking tools popping their cherry this week.

The pies themselves will be basically my dad's modification of the pecan pie recipe from the Karo corn syrup bottle—only with a skosh more butter and triple the pecans. Because who wants corn syrup pie with a few wan little nuts suspended on top? I know that's how most people think of pecan pie, but we like it when the sweet goop is invaded by crunchy pecans. Num, num, num.

Ooh! If you have a Trader Joe's store near you, try the house brand of chocolate bar. The 500-g bar (that's more than a pound!) of bittersweet chocolate (48% cocoa solids—I thought I liked dark, dark chocolate, but I think bittersweet is the cusp beyond which I don't want to eat chocolate. Semisweet, bittersweet, good good good. Something with 72% cocoa solids? Meh. Yeah, so on Wednesday, I bought a giant bar of bittersweet chocolate with almonds. There are only 2 or 3 oz. left—but I assure you, I haven't eaten it all myself. Probably a 45/45/10 split among me/Mr. Tangerine/Ben. I just might make a habit of buying these jumbo candy bars. There's all that scientific evidence of salutary health benefits from various compounds in chocolate, right?

Damn. Now I'm thinking that maybe I should make one plain pecan pie and one chocolate pecan pie. I could buy a bar of, say, semisweet chocolate, melt it down, stir it in. What do you think? Do you think that if I'm not driving to your house with this pie, you couldn't care less whether the triple-thick pecan pie is laced with chocolate goodness? Ah, but there's something so reassuring and classic about pecan pie without chocolate, and it's certainly rich enough without the chocolate. Maybe I'll just nibble on the chocolate while making pecan pie—is that a sensible solution?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

What I learned at the gym today

• If you (i.e., not me) wear a thong underneath your cotton stretch capri leggings when you work out, you may well end up with a stripe of sweat soak-through that traces your buttcrack. Just what everyone wants—even more of a reminder than the thong-facilitated wedgie itself that your sweaty asscrack is on the loose.

• If you (meaning me, in this case) work out with weights enough to add muscle tone, your metabolism slows magically, and you will find yourself losing weight the same week you bought a dozen Krispy Kremes. (Alas, I don't get into the gym between training appointments to do cardio, so that midsection flab remains problematic. Most of my pants are too baggy, dropping down at the waist and draping loosely around the butt and thighs. Except for those three pairs of pants I bought two years ago. Those fit great below the belly zone and in the rear, but there's still a little too much muffin-topping for my comfort. And the pants—too big and too tight—are all the same size!)

• A couple weeks ago, another health-club patron eavesdropped when my trainer and I discussed her performance in the marathon. The eavesdropper is one of those lunatic exercise fanatics who works out vigorously for three or four hours at a stretch, at least several times a week. She ain't right in the head, clearly. So the eavesdropper butts into the conversation and volunteers that she herself had finished the marathon in an enviable 3:21. Later, out of her earshot, my trainer says, "I know I passed her around mile 20. There's no way she finished in 3:21!" Today, the trainer reports that she found out the eavesdropper's name, looked her up in the standings, and learned that she's a damn liar who actually finished in 4:02. What would possess someone to boast of speed that she does not possess? The inevitable response to such boasting is, "Wow, that's impressive!" Does it not make her feel like a big ol' loser when she knows the truth is that she's much slower than that? Whatever. She's probably just nuts.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

"TiVo destroyed my marriage!"

You can picture the cover illustration on a retro pulp-fiction dime novel with that title, can't you?

TiVo has many charms, and the company frequently adds little service enhancements to fine-tune the interface. That's all well and good, but Mr. Tangerine was trying to figure out why last week's episode of Heroes (which you should all be watching) wasn't waiting for him in the Now Playing list. He navigated to the place that tells you what's happened to one of your scheduled shows, and got this little explanation:

"This program was deleted because someone in your household removed it from the Now Playing List on Mon 10/30 at 10:58 pm."

You like how TiVo sows the seeds of interpersonal conflict? Odds are, Mr. Tangerine himself inadvertently pressed the Delete button and zapped his show. But TiVo's all suspicious: "Someone in your household—I'm not naming names, but I think you can figure out who—is clearly out to get you." It just strikes me as a little pissy and passive-aggressive. But TiVo can get away with that sort of behavior, because nobody throws TiVo out of the house. TiVo's place is secure. TiVo needs to get knocked down a peg or two.

Update! In a tizzy because he needed to see last week's episode, Mr. Tangerine downloaded it from iTunes. While watching it, he realized that oh, yeah, he watched it last Monday...and then deleted it from TiVo after watching it. And still TiVo casts blame broadly and sows dissension!

Sunday, November 05, 2006


Word geeks will want to read James Gleick's interesting article in today's NYT Sunday Magazine, "Cyber-Neologoliferation." Gleick writes about the updating and revamping of the Oxford English Dictionary and the rapid spread of neologisms via the Internet.

I don't know why an article on words would mangle three of them, though—in the online version, at least, two words near the end have lost their first letter—"emperature" and "annabes"—and what the hell is a "petrie dish"? I don't think Rob and Laura Petrie were bacteriologists.

Mm-hmm, that sounds about right

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Inland North

You may think you speak "Standard English straight out of the dictionary" but when you step away from the Great Lakes you get asked annoying questions like "Are you from Wisconsin?" or "Are you from Chicago?" Chances are you call carbonated drinks "pop."

The Midland
The Northeast
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The West
North Central
What American accent do you have?
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"I'm Peter Roskam, and I'm a loon"

In a suburban Congressional district (the 6th) outside of Chicago, two newcomers are vying for a seat being left vacant by the retirement of longtime GOP congressman Henry Hyde. The Democratic candidate, Tammy Duckworth, has a helluva bio: she lost both legs in Iraq, where she flew helicopters. Her tag line on her home page is "A lifetime of service, a voice for change." Okay, that makes sense. She's served in the military, and she's a Democratic looking to change how the country is being run.

Duckworth's Republican opponent is named Peter Roskam. He's campaigning from the hard right in a moderate Republican zone, and apparently many suburban Republicans are voting for the Dems this time around. (Hooray!)

Roskam is running TV commercials in which he blabbers, "Tammy Duckworth will raise taxes; I won't. Tammy Duckworth will [blah-blah-blah] Social Security; I won't. I'm Peter Roskam and I approved this message because it's time for a change."

What the...? How would voting for a Republican candidate to replace a Republican after six years of a Republican congressional majorities and presidency constitute change, exactly? I don't suppose a far-right congressman would buck the Bush administration and fight for real changes in how things are run?

My guess is that focus groups said the electorate wants change. But just saying the word change doesn't make Roskam the candidate for change, now, does it?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Emergent ethnic identity

My six-year-old doesn't know much about social constructs of race—he knows that there's a huge spectrum of skin colors, but his innocent mind has not yet been sullied with labels. Recently, however, he's begun thinking of his own ethnic identity and reaching certain conclusions:

Ben: "I'm [light brown ethnicity] like Daddy."

Me: "All [light brown ethnicity]? You're not white, too? Like Mommy?"

Ben: "No."

Me: "Not even half?"

Ben offers helpfully: "My butt is white..."

My entire genetic and cultural heritage can be boiled down to pasty buttocks...which do indeed run in my family.

Lies, damn lies, and statistics

I went to a relative's wedding a couple weekends ago. During the Catholic priest's comments to the couple and the folks in the pews, he cited some data that have got to be complete hogwash. He said that 1989 U.S. Census data showed that while half of all marriages end in divorce, the figure drops to 1 in 1,100 when the couple shares the same religious faith.

Oh, really? First off, I don't know that the Census tracks religious beliefs. I don't see any mention of religion in this list of Census topics. And they don't currently count each year's number of marriages and divorces. So the source the priest cites sounds like hooey.

Then there's the issue of the actual data. Just 1 in 1,100 couples who are the same religion get divorced? That's funny. The divorce rate is higher among Baptists than among other religious groups or atheists, per the Barna Research Group's national study. Other research has shown that the South has a higher divorce rate than the rest of the country. Given that many Southerners are Baptists, I suppose that priest would have us believe that all those Southern Baptists getting divorced are the ones married to Jews, Catholics, or Presbyterians—and I highly doubt that's what's going on here.

It's insulting to have a clergyman cite evidence that—while he'd like to believe it's true—sounds highly implausible. The only concession he made was that 1989 data is a little outdated—but he stood by the findings.

I suppose some people believed what he said. These may be the same people who'll tell you about the kids who died—died, I tell you!—because of McDonalds ball-pit horrors like heroin-filled needles ('cause we all know that junkies never empty their syringes, and that they like to leave their syringes and drugs in children's play areas rather than hanging onto them) and poisonous rattlesnakes. (Astonishingly, at Ben's first acting class, another mom encouraged me to sit next to her...and proceeded to tell me both of these urban legends, no matter how assiduously I tried to work on a crossword puzzle instead of listening to her. She even poked me in the arm to regain my attention. And then she concluded by asking, "Can you believe that?" "No," I replied. "No, I can't.")