Thursday, December 31, 2009

We're Home

Well technically we got home Tuesday evening, but other than going to the post office yesterday to ship Christmas presents (yes, I do realize it's now after Christmas) the day was lost to jet lag. The cats were attention starved after 8 days alone, so a lot of the day was spent cuddling with them. They left surprising little in the way of messes to clean. Either that or I just haven't been looking in the right places. So now we know they can handle 8 days alone, but I really wouldn't want to leave them that long again without someone to look in on them.

We had a great time in North Carolina for the holiday and if it weren't for the cats, our jobs, and you know the house we already have in California, we probably would have stayed in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area for as long as our friends would have us. I think Scoob's favorite part was that he didn't have to do dishes for 8 solid days, well, that and we got to spend a lot of time with very dear friends. And our friends were approved for a home loan while we were there and they'll be moving in about a month, so one or both of us may make another trip out east to help with the move.

This was the view from our bedroom window for the trip.
Festive and gorgeous.

The lights are LEDs and the neighbors had been having a tough time
getting a good picture so I borrowed their tripod and took several.

One of my favorite pre–tri-pod detail shots.

I love all the red lights and the way the light falls on the stone walkway.

Table setting for Christmas Eve dinner.

Our friends make entertaining look so effortless.

Take home favors.

We know we want to move, but the question has always been where to move to, and now we have another location to consider. Before when Scoob talked about moving to North Carolina I told him sure he could move there, but he would be moving by himself. But now I'm totally charmed by the place. It's hard to put my finger on exactly what charmed me, but I felt comfortable and at ease there and I hadn't expected to.

Oh, and the food. We ate a couple different meals where if I closed my eyes I could imagine I was sitting in my great-grandma's kitchen. Sausage cornbread stuffing (mom, yours is still better). Vinegary barbecue. Creamed corn. Green beans. Sausage gravy and biscuits. Turns out that both great-grandma and -grandpa were born not far from where we were staying.

So anyhow, we've known we don't want to stay where we're at. And we've known this for a long time, but I think we're finally motivated to do something about it. Still no final decision on the where just yet, but we're ready to get moving on unloading some of the stuff we've got. Scoob is finally ready to sell his car. He's only been threatening to sell since before we moved in together. He doesn't drive it much. I think in the 7 years we've been together he's driven maybe 2,000 miles (whereas I'm closing in on 100,000 since I bough my car almost 5 years ago).

We figure after we unload his car, which we plan to do in January, we'll use the garage as a staging area to sort through some of the stuff we've already got in the garage and begin packing things in the house. Time line-wise, Scoob had been talking about being out of here this spring but that seems a tad ambitious seeing as how we've done nothing to prepare so far. Now we're looking at spring 2011 at the latest. It could be sooner. It just depends on how things play out.

As for me, one of the people we met while in NC was selling his old VHS tapes and books on Amazon and I said I would do the same. I had Scoob bring my 2 boxes of CDs and VHS tapes up from the garage. I have a butt load of Disney VHS tapes. It made me sad to look at them and think about getting rid of them but the fact is—we don't watch them. Dudes, The Little Mermaid is still in its original shrink wrap. With the exception of Toy Story and Hercules, all those tapes haven't seen the light of day since they were packed up in 2002. So they're going. I started copying all my CDs to iTunes yesterday thinking I'll unload those as well. They're just taking up space and once they're in iTunes I'll actually start listening to some of them again.

I had actually started copying my CDs a year or so ago but then the CD/DVD drive in my laptop gave out and the project sort of fell to the wayside. So yesterday, there I am copying away totally geeking out and looking forward to listening to some of these gems from my 20s that I'd totally forgotten about—KMFDM, Love and Rockets, Beck. I'm 50 CDs into it when on disc 51 I hear this huge pop from my computer followed by a plastic tinkling sound.

Disc 51 completely shattered inside the disc drive and that tinkling sound was the hundreds of tiny shards cascading in the intestines of my computer. It even broke pieces off the disc tray thingie. Thankfully, it seems the drive is a contained unit and all the pieces should be in there and not the rest of the computer.

Thank goodness it's a new computer and everything is still under warranty. After convincing the Dell support rep that the disc wasn't merely scratched but actually shattered to bits, I spent surprising little time on the phone. They'll be sending out a technician to completely swap out the optical drive and components. I should be getting a call in a few days to schedule a time. So until then, the CDs copying project is sidelined. Again. Oh, and I busted the vacuum cleaner yesterday as well, but Scoob took it apart and replaced the belts and it works again.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Spiced Nuts

I know I said I would get the recipe for the spiced nuts up yesterday but people, yesterday was a madhouse. The evening commute took over an hour last night and I had to stop at Target on the way home for kitty litter. WHAT was I thinking? I was seriously tempted to start swing that 25 lb. box of litter. And I (successfully, thank god) battled the urge to grab this one guy's keys and park his damn car for him. Gah!

Memo for next year—lay in a several month supply of kitty litter by mid-November.

When I finally got home I still needed to cook dinner and put some meat up in the freezer before it turned and wait for Scoob to go to bed so I could wrap his gifts. By then it was 2:00 am and I called it a day and went to bed.

Back up this morning bright and early for physical therapy and woke up with a cold sore and a seriously sore throat. I've still got too much to do to take time out for being sick, not to mention we're leaving for North Carolina in a few days. And I seriously don't want to be traveling while sickly—I'll be that awful person sitting behind you on the plane hacking, coughing, sneezing, and sniffing (did I miss a dwarf?) for 6 solid hours. Not to mention being a lousy house guest invading my hosts' home with my germs.

So anyhow, here are my nuts.

I know you can't really see my nuts here, but I was pretty darn pleased with the packaging.

Spiced Nuts

    2 cups nuts (I used almonds)

    Spice Mix:
    2 Tbsps sugar
    ¾ tsp kosher salt
    ½ tsp cinnamon
    ⅛ tsp allspice
    ⅜–½ tsp cayenne pepper (to taste)

    1 Tbsp water
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    1 tsp brown sugar
    1 Tbsp canola or corn oil

  1. Heat the oven (or toaster oven) to 350°. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and toast them for 6 minutes or until they are fragrant and their color deepens slightly.
  2. In a medium-size bowl, stir together the spice mix.
  3. In a saucepan, combine the glaze ingredients and bring them to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Stir in the toasted nuts and continue to stir until all the nuts are shiny and the liquid is gone, about 1 to 2 minutes. Move the glazed nuts to a mixing bowl, sprinkle on the spice mix, and toss them well to coat.
  4. Spread the coated nuts on a cookie sheet and return them to the oven for another 4 minutes; check regularly to make sure they don't burn. Remove and let cool. (If you try to taste test these before the nuts cool you'll experience chewy, soggy nuts and be tempted to throw them out.)

I've found I like this recipe more when I double the amount of nuts and triple the glaze and spice mix.

**I can't even work up the energy to feel even the slightest bit embarrassed about all the nut references—toasted nuts, shiny nuts, chewy nuts, soggy nuts. Go ahead, laugh at me while I'm down. I would except that laughing kicks off a chest rattling cough.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Peppermint Bark-y Patties

So we had the bake sale at work yesterday and we raised about $425 for the Alameda County Community Food Bank. Yay! Here's the thing that gets me about these bake sales—we're selling all this stuff to ourselves. Add to that all the treats being sent in by authors, agents, and even our website server host and I'm doomed. Like I seriously need any help padding my hips and arse.

And if the other people who brought things to sell are anything like me, they've got leftovers from what they made at home already and the last thing I need is to buy more sweets to bring home. I was seriously hoping we would be able to set up our table on the sidewalk outside our building. We're right on a high-end retail strip in Berkeley and I'm sure the sweets, not to mention the cause, would be well received. I'm not sure why we didn't though I'd wager money that permits and health codes factored into it.

Since I knew a bake sale would mean lots of breads/cakes/pies/cookies and the like, I tried to mix it up a bit and took spiced nuts and these Peppermint Bark-y Patties and I tried to package things so that they could be gifted. One co-worker told me she gave a package of nuts to her son's teacher and I thought that was awesome. I'll get the nuts recipes up tomorrow.

Instead of the irregular pieces that you usually get with peppermint bark, I decided to try making these little cups using a mini cupcake pan. I really like the way they turned out.

Peppermint Bark-y Patties

    12 oz. bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
    12 oz. bag of white chocolate chips
    6 full-sized candy canes, crushed
    Peppermint extract

  1. Melt the white chocolate over indirect heat with a few drops of peppermint extract and spoon into the cupcake pan. You'll need to let the white chocolate set up before moving to the next step—10–15 minutes in the refrigerator should do it. (I learned this the hard way. Though Scoob was happy because he snacked on the rejects.)
  2. While the white chocolate sets, unwrap the candy canes and place in a plastic zippy bag and crush. The smashing/crushing part was great for getting out some frustrations! Be sure to use the freezer-style zippy bags—the thicker the plastic the better, those candy cane shards are sharp and rip right through a regular zippy bag. (Another lesson learned the hard way. I had so much [sticky] candy cane dust on the counters I thought the Candy Cane Fairy had been here.)
  3. Melt the semi-sweet chocolate over indirect heat and spoon into the cupcake pan, completely covering the white chocolate and spreading to the sides of the cups.
  4. Before the semi-sweet chocolate sets, place the crushed candy canes in a sieve and shake the fine candy cane dust over the cupcake tray. Then place the larger pieces into the cups. You may need to press down a little so the chocolate gets a grip on the pieces.

I did 2 batches of these (24 patties per batch) and one thing I noticed while making them is that the semi-sweet chocolate melts to a thinner consistency than the white chocolate. So while a 12 oz. bag of white chocolate chips barely made it through 24 cups, I had extra semi-sweet chocolate. (What a crying shame, I tell you. Don't worry, no chocolate was wasted.) Oh, be sure to add the extract to the white chocolate and not the semi-sweet, otherwise the semi-sweet will seize and have a grainy texture. (Thankfully mom warned me about this before I started so I didn't have to learn that lesson the hard way.)

I turned the cupcake pan upside down on a sheet of waxed paper and a few taps on the back of the pan was enough to free the cups.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Broccoli Rabe Pasta

So I'm finally getting around to posting the recipe for the second side dish we had for Thanksgiving dinner. I've tried it a second time, and we still ended up throwing some out even after I cut the recipe down.

I first had something like this at a catered lunch in the office and went hunting for the recipe and found a good base to start with over at Rachel Ray. Anyhow, my home version wasn't as good as what we had for lunch. I liked it, but I don't know that I'll make this again—it's just way too much food and it didn't seem to reheat well.

Broccoli Rabe Pasta

Cooking time: 30 minutes
Prep time: 10 minutes

    ½ lb. pasta (I used campanelle)
    1 lb. broccoli rabe
    ⅓ cup olive oil
    6–8 cloves of garlic, minced
    1½ tsps. red pepper flakes
    ½ cup grated Parmesan
    ½ cup crumbled feta
    ½ cup shopped red bell pepper
    fresh ground pepper to taste

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  2. Trim the end and coarsely chop the broccoli rabe and add it to a deep skillet. Add 2–3 cups of water, cover, and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 7 minutes, or until no longer bitter. Drain and set aside.
  3. Return the skillet to the stove over medium heat. Add oil, garlic and pepper flakes and saute for 3 minutes.
  4. Return broccoli rabe to the skillet and turn to coat with the oil.
  5. Toss pasta and broccoli rabe in a bowl with cheese and ground pepper. Serve while warm.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Rollin', Rollin', Rollin'

Well December just keeps rollin' along and I feel like I've been incredibly busy. (That and I think it should still be April or something.) The office is doing the food drive thing again with the Alameda County Community Food Bank. We're currently doing the run-of-the-mill food drive with barrels and everything, a virtual money raising drive, having a bake sale on Tuesday to also raise money, and we'll be working at the food bank most likely in February.

I really enjoyed the work we did with them last year and am glad we're doing it again. And this year I've gotten a little more involved—somehow, in a fit of generosity and holiday spirit I suppose, I volunteered to coordinate an email campaign for the food barrel drive. It's really not much but once or twice a week I send out emails to the office about one of the preferred food items from the food bank donations list.

Sounds pretty basic huh? Except that I try to make these emails fun and entertaining—I still haven't figured out an email for canned vegetables, the peanut butter email was easy, but (so far) I think the one for tuna was the best, at least it got some laughs and had a few people talking in the hallways:

Subject: Food Bank—chicken of the sea

I don’t want to start any confusion; I’m talking about tuna here, not chicken—another item high on the Food Bank wish list. In addition to protein, tuna is also an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid. And with its mild flavor, it is easy to disguise tuna as chicken, just ask Jessica Simpson:

Simpson: Is this chicken what I have, or is this fish? I know it’s tuna, but it says Chicken ... by the sea. Is that stupid? [Long pause, with Nick Lachey giving Simpson a dirty look]

Simpson: What? Don’t make fun of me right now. I’m not in the mood.

Lachey: You act like you’ve never had tuna before.

Simpson: I’ve had tuna fish, like, sandwiches and stuff, like this.

Lachey: Baby, you and I have eaten tuna like this before.

Simpson: Why is it called "Chicken by the Sea" or "in the Sea"?

Lachey: "Chicken of the Sea" is the brand.

Simpson: Oh.

Lachey: You know, 'cause a lot of people eat tuna, it's like a lot of people eat chicken? So it's like the chicken of the sea.

Simpson: Okay. I understand now. I was ... I read it wrong.

For a more eloquent take on the tuna, check out Pablo Neruda’s Ode to a Large Tuna in the Market—but please, bring the Simpson version only (canned or vacuum sealed pouches, any brand) for the food barrels, not fresh!

Anyhow, it takes me some time to search for and find these little nuggets and craft them into coherent emails (time I could be using to blog).

In addition to the email thing, I've also done some baking for the bake sale this year—I've got some sweet and savory spiced nuts and some peppermint bark-y kind of stuff—or rather, I will have some peppermint bark-y kind of stuff if I get off my duff and get to the store for the white chocolate. They were totally out of white chocolate—all brands—on my last grocery shopping trip. I know, right.

Oh, but the real time suck this past week or so has been the decorating. I was tapped to decorate the office lobby for the holiday party, which is also on Tuesday—bake sale in the morning and party in the afternoon/evening. That's it, get us so hopped up on sugar in the morning that we can't sit still long enough to do any work then top it off with beer and wine as the sugar crash sets in. Oh, and the COO from the New York office will be in the office—sounds like the perfect recipe for making a good impression.

So anyhow, the decorating. I pulled out the office decorations from storage and they were dismal. Of the 10 regular strands of clear lights a total of zero still worked. I did find 1 strand of clear icicle lights on Friday that worked, so those went up. Other than that, we have a ton of decorative bows and ribbon, so basically I've had to shop for decorations last weekend and after work most nights this past week which has been an experience. Especially since the decorations shouldn't be overtly holiday specific. So that's been a fun, fine line to balance on. Oh, and I was told to make the decorations elegant and classy, not kitschy. I am so hoping to get reimbursed.

We have a wreath and a couple evergreen swags, in my mind these are seasonal and not holiday specific. I've hung some ornaments—snowflakes (I found some cool pressed tin snowflake ornaments in one of the office boxes and I bought some glittery snowflakes in red, green, and purple—bizarrely, they didn't have white or blue or silver) and icicles (which I also bought). I've wrapped the receptionist's desk in wrapping paper and hung a lighted garland across the front. And I'm basically done.

I wanted to wrap a bunch of empty cardboard boxes and scatter them in little piles (Dr. Seuss—style, teetery, wobbly piles) around the lobby but when I sat down to wrap, I realized I only have 2 kinds of holiday wrapping paper, and huge piece of one of those is already on the receptionist's desk. My family always gives me grief because I usually wrap all my presents in the same paper—all Miss Martha (there's Martha again!) matchy-macthy. So anyhow, rather than go out and buy a ton of wrapping paper I sent an email around the office asking people to wrap 1 or 2 smallish empty boxes with whatever holiday appropriate wrapping paper they may have at home. Hopefully that will work out otherwise I'll be wrapping boxes in baby shower and happy birthday paper.

Actually the whole decorating thing has been an experience because I don't decorate for the holidays at home. We're never home on Christmas, so I don't see the point. That and I don't really want to leave the cats alone with all the decorations while we're gone for the holiday. I tried decorating the first year Scoob and I lived together, and it was fun and festive. I had to be creative because we simply don't have room for a tree. But honestly, it would have been more fun if he had helped because it's a lot of work, as is putting away the decorations. If we had children, I would do it, but seeing as we don't I find it hard to see the point.

Anyhow, my Christmas shopping is done! Woo hoo! Except my sister called yesterday to tell me that my step-mom finally thought of something she wants. If I run across it I'll pick it up, but at this point I'm not hunting anything down. I'm still waiting for a few things to be delivered (love shopping online) so I'm debating if I should wrap what I've got now or just wait and do it all at once. I've bought Christmas cards this year, and the stamps to put on them, but I haven't sat down to address the cards yet.

Anyhow, I just feel like I've been doing a lot this holiday season and there's still way more to do, so I suppose I'd better get to it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cinnamon Roasted Sweet Potatoes

As promised, here is one of the side dish recipes from our Thanksgiving dinner. It's a super simple sweet treat. I even skipped the last step, partly because I forgot I'd even bought the limes and partly because I didn't have much olive oil to drain off.

Cinnamon Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Cooking time: 30 minutes
Prep time: 10 minutes

    ¼ cup olive oil
    2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into half moons
    2 Tbsps brown sugar
    1 tsp ground cinnamon
    ¾ tsp kosher salt
    1 pinch freshly ground pepper
    1 tsp fresh lime juice (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Pour the oil into a 9x13 inch baking dish, and place in the oven until hot, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add potatoes to the oiled dish, and bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, turning after 10 minutes. In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and pepper.
  3. After the 20 minutes is up, remove the potatoes from the oven, and sprinkle with the brown sugar mixture. Stir to coat. Return to the oven, and roast for another 10 minutes, or until potatoes are tender and golden brown. Stir potatoes as necessary to allow them to brown evenly.
  4. Remove potatoes to paper towels to drain, then transfer to a serving dish, and sprinkle with lime juice.

I made this mainly for Scoob since he loves candied yams. I liked that it was sweet without being over-the-top and that it uses real sweet potatoes instead of pureed yams from a can.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Techinically Difficult

Holy reindeer, it's December! Finally, all that holiday music I loaded on my iPod in July feels appropriate.

That's Harry Connick, Jr. in case you're wondering.

My physical therapy appointment was later in the day than usual yesterday, so I was able to work from home (yay!). I love working from home because I get to take care of little things around the house and run quick errands that I otherwise wouldn't be able to get to until after work hours or the weekend:

  • I managed to fold all the clothes that were in the dryer instead of dressing from the dryer like I usually do. Judging by the number of fabric softeners mixed in with the clothes, it's been roughly 3 or 4 weeks since it has been completely emptied last.

    And yes, I even had time to take a picture of the dryer
    sheets and share my shame.

  • I washed all the dishes that had been sitting in the kitchen sink since I didn't have to rush out the door for my commute.

  • I filled up the tank in my car. I would have done this anyhow, but the gas station on the way to my appointment and it just seemed easier than driving out of my way going to or from the office when I'm rushed and/or tired.

  • I dropped off the books I've finished reading at the library.

  • I made a quick detour by the post office to drop off Scoob's latest game trade at Goozex and the Netflix movies from the weekend.

  • I stopped at the Indian grocer near our house to pick up some flour (I went to make dumplings for turkey dumpling soup on Sunday and realized I didn't have more than a half cup of flour in the whole dang house, btw, we had the dumplings last night and they sucked. I totally did something wrong), some chickpea flour (called Besan at the Indian market) for a recipe I want to try, and a head of cabbage for the soup (which I completely forgot about by the time we actually sat down to eat the dumpling disaster last night, so the soup was cabbageless).

  • All that and I made it back to my desk faster than I would have if I'd had to commute to the office after my appointment. I was totally pumped and ready to get back to work only to find out our internet connection took a dirt nap just before I got home.

    We spent the next hour or so digging through past bills trying to find the support number for AT&T, but all I could find were the cell phone bills not the internet bills (I have no idea how Scoob has been paying these bills since I'm clearly not getting any paper to file). Anyhow, I suggested Scoob login to his bank account because I know we have to provide a telephone number for each vendor we pay bills to online, which was followed by the "Are you a complete ditz, woman" look and a moment of silence before Scoob calmly explained to me that he would gladly look up the number online, except WE HAD NO INTERNET CONNECTION, after which I checked my head for blond roots. At least I can laugh at myself, ya' know.

    Anyhoodle, I finally called the support number for the cell phone and got transferred to the internet service department and Scoob took over from there. AT&T was supposed to call back, but by the end of the day yesterday we hadn't heard from them and I got next to nothing done for work. Kind of threw my whole I'm-an-oh-so-productive-whirlwind-when-I-work-from-home plan, not to mention I wasn't able to do any of the holiday shopping on Cyber Monday that I wanted to.

    The AT&T guy came by today, and of course the connection started working again about 10 minutes before he showed up. Doesn't it always work like that? Anyhow, the repair tech they sent out thinks that we may need to replace our DSL modem and/or router because they're seriously old.

    Scoob's laptop has a wireless modem and he's been able to piggyback on another connection to get his work done today, but my computer doesn't do wireless so I'm at the mercy of the DSL modem's whim. I keep begging Scoob's laptop away from him and unfortunately for him, I'm not as easily distracted from my goal by feathers and catnip as the cats are.

    Sunday, November 29, 2009

    A Little Not-So-Light Sunday Reading

    A few weeks ago I checked out several books at the library. I read the first two very quickly, Chris Grabenstein's Hell for the Holidays—an entertainingly fast-paced mystery thriller, though a little dark—and another Nora Roberts (Angel's Fall this time). Then I started on Stewart O'Nan's Songs for the Missing. That was nearly two weeks ago.

    The story takes place in a small Ohio town and revolves around the abduction of 18-year-old Kim Larsen. Kim is only present in the first few chapters, after that the story is all about how the other characters deal with the absence of their daughter/sister/best friend/girl friend.

    The story itself is compelling and it's easy to identify with each of the characters as they confront and examine their relationships with the missing Kim. And I think that is exactly why it took me so long to read—it's too compelling. Too easy to identify with the characters. There is no lens to look through to distance yourself from the characters—I felt the worry and hope and helplessness and isolation and frustration and resignation of each character and frankly, it was exhausting.

    Not exactly your curl-up-with-a-novel-and-a cup-of-cocoa warm fuzzy read. It definitely took an emotional toll, but it is a good book nonetheless. And still, I'm relieved to be moving on to a new book.

    Dozer kept me company this afternoon while I was reading.

    Next up, Natasha Mostert's Keeper of Light and Dust. Also in the bag waiting to be read, Salvation in Death and My Sister, My Love. Although, given the reaction I had to Songs for the Missing, I may need to skip that last one since it's based on the JonBenet Ramsey story. I'm thinking lighter themes may be the order of the day for me, at least for the time being.

    Saturday, November 28, 2009

    The Post-Turkey Weekend

    Well, we still have plenty of turkey left, so we're not technically post-turkey just yet, but since the carcass isn't taking up space in the fridge any more (it's simmering in the stock pot right now) it feels post-turkey.

    I'm pretty sure I over cooked the turkey and it was a bit dry. It's a good thing I actually like dry turkey and I certainly didn't hear any complaints from Scoob aka the One-Man Turkey Demolition Crew, but some gravy wouldn't have been entirely unwelcome, but of course I didn't make any because I wasn't making mashed potatoes. Oh well. I'll try to get the recipes up for the side dishes I tried out soon.

    Scoob's first plate.

    We did head up to San Francisco's Union Square on Friday for the big tree lighting as planned. Our neighbor offered to drive, which was awesome and way more comfortable and enjoyable than taking BART. The Embarcadero Shopping Center was still packed by the time we made it up there around 5:00 pm and Union Square completely filled up as the tree lighting was about to begin.

    Wreaths in the Macy's windows.

    The crowd at Union Square.

    The crowd at Union Square. You can't see it because of the bus,
    but the other side of the street and across the intersection is just as packed.

    The ceremony itself seemed something of a waste of time and effort on the part of Macy's, who sponsors the tree each year. Union Square is designed like a Maya pyramid with the center of the square elevated as the sacrificial platform. The stage was up on the platform area, and anyone standing on the tiers or at street level—probably about 85% of the crowd—couldn't see anything. Or hear anything for that matter because of the absolutely horrible sound system. There was one gospel choir that we could hear quite clearly, but unfortunately I've no idea who they were or where they were from because the emcee was unintelligible, even worse than being at an airport.

    I felt like such a Scrooge for even thinking "Just light the damn tree already," but I know I wasn't the only one. It was fun, though, watching all the little kids. And the tree was beautiful when they did finally flip the switch.

    Union Square Christmas tree.

    Afterward, we headed to Belden Place for dinner. We had intended to eat at B44, but as we waited for the cocktails to arrive and to place our orders we realized that the staff seemed to have forgotten us in the corner as we watched them take orders from the table that had been seated 10–15 minutes after us. So we left and instead went to Petrinos in the same little festive alleyway. The food was good but nothing special. Scoob was of the opinion that our local falafel place has a much better kebab/souvlaki and at a much more reasonable price. But it was fun to try something new.

    Belden place in San Francisco.

    Belden place in San Francisco.

    I found this fun infographic in the New York Times today that depicts the popularity of searches at for recipes leading up to Thanksgiving. I thought it was a little odd that they depict searches for sweet potato and sweet potatoes, and sweet potato casserole and sweet potatoe casserole separately since they're clearly the same thing. Same goes for cornbread stuffing and cornbread dressing, unless of course there's some intrinsic difference between stuffing and dressing that I'm unaware of. At any rate, it's entertaining to flip through and I suppose the infographics could be communicating one of two things—either these recipes are really popular Thanksgiving dishes in the shaded areas, or they could also be popular in the unshaded areas but those folks already know the recipes.

    A couple more fun things. This Muppets video totally brought back memories. Why did that show ever go off the air anyway? (And when did Disney purchase the Muppets??)

    And this very creative video from the New Zealand Book Council.

    Thursday, November 26, 2009

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    It's noon and the bird is in the oven, all the prep is done for the side dishes, and aside from the neighbor who insists in working his wet saw today (and every single blessed day for the last two weeks) everything is just about as perfect as it can be. Maybe not Hollywood perfect or June Cleaver perfect or Martha perfect—I almost included Stewart, but I guess she's a is a one-name celebrity because I know you know exactly who I'm referring to.

    At least she didn't go the J-Lo route 'cause Ma-Stew just doesn't have the same ring to it. Ma-Stew just makes me think of Ma Kettle from The Egg and I, one of my mom's all-time favorite books that I've strangely never read. Maybe I should. Anyhow, back to perfection…

    Okay, so everything is perfect in the sense that the sun is out and the sky is a clear, cold blue, Scoob is on the back patio reading and lounging in the sunshine, the kitties are happy and cuddly (though that may have more to do with the smoked salmon I ate than anything else), and I'm on my second cup of coffee feeling pretty darn content with the world. And I'm grateful for all of it. And I'm grateful that that's all it really takes to make me happy and that it's attainable almost everyday, not just on Thanksgiving.

    And I'm grateful that Scoob was so thoughtful as to hook up the speakers in the kitchen today so I could listen to my iPod and sing and dance as I putter. Bonus points for him, especially since he can't stand a lot of my music.

    Tuesday, November 24, 2009

    T Minus 2

    We’re staying home for Thanksgiving this year instead of making our usual trip to Mom’s house in Oregon. The upside—I won’t have to drive 14+ hours in holiday weekend traffic. The downside—I get to cook Thanksgiving dinner (and I don’t get to see mom, of course, though she’s perfectly welcome to come join us).

    So for the past few weeks I’ve been harassing asking Scoob what he would like on the Thanksgiving menu. When we go to mom’s there’s always turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, and one favorite side dish for each of us. Scoob goes for the candied yams, I put the smackdown on anyone who tries to touch my green beans, and mom gets more stuffing. Oh, and there’s usually a peanut butter pie for my birthday, which isn’t until late-December, but mom feeds me at Thanksgiving since she knows she won’t see me on my birthday.

    It’s a lot of food for 3 people, but we manage. Somehow.

    However, I am not mom. I have about 2 feet of usable counter space in the kitchen (I seriously want to smack an architect or two whenever I try to do anything more complicated than boiling water) and no dining room or dining room table to speak of, so I will not be putting on quite the same spread.

    So anyhow, I’ve been asking Scoob what he wants and he really doesn’t seem to care, which even though that should mean easy-breezy meal prep I am oddly disappointed. It’s a holiday for crying out loud, it can’t be just like any other day! So Scoob finally relented and said he wanted me to cook the Cornish game hens we’ve had in the freezer for who knows how long and I said, okay.

    Then it dawned on me… If I make Cornish game hens for dinner on Thursday, I’ll be cooking all weekend because there won’t be any leftovers! Oh, hell-to-the-no. So last night I changed the game plan and braved the grocery store to fight blue-haired bittys over frozen turkey carcasses and Stove Top stuffing. I know, it’s sacrilegious, but I’ve never made stuffing from scratch and I’m not about to experiment with it for the holiday meal. It would never be as good as mom’s anyhow, so I’ll just stick with what I know.

    I won’t be doing mashed potatoes but I did pick up some sweet potatoes for a recipe I want to try. And I found yet another recipe I want to try, similar to something that caterers brought in for sales conference lunch last week. So clearly, I’m not above experimenting at a holiday meal. I just won’t experiment with stuffing. It’s intimidating somehow. Probably because I know mom starts hers the day before and that right there just seems like way too much effort. One of these days I will have to figure out how to make it. Anyhow, I refuse to feel bad about it because it’s not as if we’re going to starve, ya’ know?

    And if we can manage to peel our bloated selves from the sofa, we’re planning to brave San Francisco’s Union Square on Black Friday. I know. What’s become of me? I keep telling myself it’ll be fun and the crowds won’t bother me because I don’t intend to actually shop at Union Square. I’ll just keep telling myself that. We’re going for the tree lighting in the evening, but if I end up as a stammering madwoman pulling out my hair, Scoob can ditch me at Haight–Ashbury and I’ll blend right in.

    Sunday, November 22, 2009

    A Little Random for Your Sunday

    We ran out to Target yesterday for kitty litter and a few other household staples and I was amazed at how packed it was—apparently the shopping crush has already started. It was just a little insane, and it's only going to get worse until January. So, for me that means I either need to get my rear in gear and get the holiday shopping done, pronto, or I need to do it all online. Me, I'm leaning toward the online option with wine glass in hand and music of my choice playing on the speakers at a comfortable volume.

    Took an office friend out shopping during the lunch hour last week (she doesn't drive) and the shopping center was a ghost town. Maybe I'll try that tactic again if I do need to buy something in person, but in general I've found I'm much more patient when I'm browsing as opposed to shopping.

    • If you're thinking of taking the kiddies to see Santa this year, you might want to check out his financial situation before you go. I hear he's had to make some drastic cuts because of the economy.

    • So my best friend's oldest daughter has been lobbying for a few weeks now to have bacon this Thanksgiving instead of turkey. Bacon is lovely anytime of year in my book, but how would you get quality Thanksgiving stuffing without a turkey to put it in? Maybe this will help bridge the gap—Skillet Bacon Jam. I haven't tried it myself but anyone I've talked to who has loves this stuff (and one even has a jar packed in his earthquake preparedness kit, seriously). I'm actually afraid to try it because I might just like it. A lot. And then where does that put me?

    • I ran across the Indexed website some time ago and I almost always find something that makes me laugh. Don't be intimidated by the graphs and equations, you won't need to be terribly geeky or left-brained to get it. A couple of my most recent favorites:

      Ah, looks as if a lot of people like this site—at least enough for a book deal. Awesome.

    • As long as we're graphing things, I ran across this infographic on the seven deadly sins. And while I'm not quite sure what to make of it as a whole, the correlation between greed, envy, wrath, and pride reminds me, and reinforces, why I want to move to a less populated area.

    • You know those environmentalists are always looking for ways to make the world a better place, but seriously do they need to monitor what type of tissue I use to conclude my business in the loo? Next thing you know they'll want to pass legislation that we all use cloth instead of toilet tissue. Although, I suppose I should be thankful if this truly is the most pressing environmental threat we face. But it does put the whole "square to spare" thing in a new context.

    • As I'm approaching my re-evaluation mark for physical therapy I've realized that a lot of the exercises they've given me to do are also yoga positions. I ran across this a few days ago and it had me laughing. I'm thinking a fifth of tequila is a lot less expensive than physical therapy.

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009

    Gifting Clutter

    So I began stressing about Christmas about this time last year, and I swore I would get a jump on Christmas for this year, but of course I didn't. I had wanted to do more DIY Christmas stuff for this year, but I didn't. We're not spending Christmas with my family this year, and I'm okay with that, but it does mean I need to get ahead of the game so I can mail gifts in time for Christmas.

    I know what I want to get for mom and I know what I want to get for dad, but I have no clue just yet what to get for my step-mom and my sister, and Scoob always wants something off his Amazon wishlist, which makes it easy if impersonal. I always try to think of something for him that is uniquely for him that he didn't even think about wanting, but it's not easy since he sticks just about everything under the sun on his wishlist.

    All the cleaning the past couple of weekends got me wondering what I should do with the old magazines that have been piling up. I usually purge them every six months or so, and it's about time to do it again. It just seems like such a waste to throw them out.

    I found this cool magazine bowl DIY project tutorial a while back. I remember thinking this was a cool idea for old magazines the first time I saw one in a store (I've also seen photo/mirror frames, purses, boxes, and other things) and I've seen them all over the place now, like at Crate & Barrel, and every gift shop of every museum I've been to in the last year or so. The instructions seem simple enough and it would probably make a good kids' project, too.

    It's a personal preference, but I like this variation on the magazine bowl better:

    I couldn't find a tutorial for it, but it looks a lot more labor intensive that the regular coiled bowl. Considering the satisfaction of making it yourself and the visual punch payoff, I think it's totally worth the extra effort.

    If the bowls seem like too much for a kids' project, take a look at these stars. I'm betting that these would make great Christmas ornaments that everyone will enjoy. I think these could easily be adapted to hold a picture in the center as well

    I think I feel my crafting genes kicking in, so if you're on my Christmas list, forget you ever saw this post. Do you have any crafty DIY projects you're working on as gifts? I'd love to hear about them. (Always looking for inspiration.)

    Sunday, November 15, 2009

    Cleaning House

    Yesterday was a good day for cleaning house. Scoob, being the dear that he is, grabbed the vacuum cleaner and went at it. I know I've mentioned this before, but I hate to vacuum. So when Scoob started it (without being asked I might add, and he did the whole house. He's almost never done that before) I jumped up and started doing a bunch of other little cleaning chores—picking things up off the floor to make it easier for Scoob to vacuum, shaking out rugs, polishing the stainless (flashback to my days at McDonald's, yo), cleaning behind the refrigerator, rotating the cushions on the sofa, and cleaning the mirrors in Scoob's bathroom because he didn't quite get to it last weekend.

    This makes the second weekend in a row where we've tackled house cleaning chores together. Not together as in we're trying to clean the same space at the same time, but we're both contributing to a clean house in different areas. I think I've finally found the secret to wanting to clean house—when we're doing it together, I don't feel like it's such a daunting and unpleasant task, and I feel like it's important to both of us.

    Which isn't to say the tandem cleaning efforts haven't been without bumps. Last weekend Scoob asked me where we keep the bleach (bet you can guess who does the laundry) and later when Scoob set out to clean his bathroom I didn't make the connection, but when I smelled the fumes I started to worry. I walked into Scoob's small, windowless bathroom where I found him on his knees scrubbing the bottom of the shower (sexy, not traditional sexy, but still sexy).

    Thankfully he had the exhaust fan running, but it wasn't enough to control the fumes. Scoob had been using straight, undiluted chlorine bleach, some sort of imitation Tilex-type cleaner, one of those Mr. Clean Eraser sponges (god, I love these things), and who knows what else. I dug out the LCR for the hard water deposits on his shower door because he was trying to clean them with sheer willpower and it wasn't working. I warned him about using undiluted bleach and I warned him not to use anything containing ammonia since he was using bleach.

    Apparently my sweet, sweet Scoob thought I meant not to mix anything containing ammonia with the bleach and almost the moment he sprayed something containing ammonia the fumes became unbearable. Lesson learned: ammonia does not need to make direct contact with bleach to become toxic, the mixing of fumes is enough. So we vacated the bathroom and left the exhaust fan running for a good long while, but it wasn't enough to avoid stinking up the whole house and giving us both killer headaches. And that's why I cleaned the mirrors in his bathroom yesterday.

    Anyhow, two weekends in a row with cleaning parties has made a huge difference in the house. I'm hoping we keep it up, maybe once we're keeping the house cleaner it'll be easier to get rid of some of this clutter.

    Saturday, November 14, 2009

    Long Week

    It's been a frickin' long week here and last weekend's events have been weighing on me heavily for most of it. I apologized, and that's good, but it doesn't make it okay and I've been struggling most of this past week because I've been dwelling on it almost every idle moment. I don't want to ignore it, because something is clearly wrong or out of whack for me to behave like that, but I also don't want to dwell on it because dwelling just isn't productive. So for the past few days I've been really focusing on not being idle whether that means exercising more, reading, cooking, or whatever.

    A big part of not being idle has meant not staying up so late at night after Scoob and the kitties have drifted off to sleep and the more exercise bit has been helping me want to actually get in bed at a decent hour. That doesn't necessarily mean I get to sleep at a decent hour (see more reading above) but being in bed is halfway there.

    A month or so ago I had this vision of what was happening inside me, I felt like something black, sticky, and suffocating was bubbling up inside me and was the lens through which I looked at the world. Last weekend it was no longer bubbling up—it had spilled over, coating me from head to toe and there was no escaping it and no hiding it.


    The last couple of days I feel like I've been able to claw my way back from the edge of that blackness. It's still there, not as big and insurmountable as it was before, but it's still there. And I know it can still suck me under if I'm not careful; if I don't do something about it. So I've been kicking around the idea of getting some help, therapy, whatever. Of course kicking around the idea involves thinking about the blackness and that's what I've been trying to avoid this past week. I'm not ready to confront this thing head-on. I mean crickies, if you saw that thing, you'd run the other way too, right? Or at the very least prepare yourself to deal with it before you take it on, right?

    So I've been focused on keeping my thoughts in check. I can't even believe how black and viscous some of my thoughts have become, usually toward myself, but also toward others. I can't ever remember having thoughts like these on such a regular basis. The fact that I've become aware of it is huge. I mean now that I recognize these thoughts I can now objectively take a look back at how long I've been having them. And while I can't pinpoint a moment or event when I began having them on a regular basis, I can recognize that this has been going on for some time.

    Now when I have one of these thoughts I can pick it up, take a look at it, and set it aside and think about something else. I can do this with one or two black thoughts. But when they come in rapid fire, I'm still struggling. I've been trying to think about things to be thankful for or happy about. Right now, the biggest one is that I'm alive and living a life, such as it is. It may not be the life I pictured for myself, or the life that I think I want, but it is a life nonetheless.

    I started thinking about all the innumerable people over the course of history who did not live to be almost-39 and how grateful I should be that I have. (A little dark, I know, but it's what I've been thinking about.) I have a few close friends and people I love that love me back, so I'm really not as completely alone and disconnected as I feel sometimes.

    Eventually I'll get back to where I can feel that life doesn't have to be combative, where I don't feel like I have to wear a mask and steel myself every time I step outside the house. I can't really remember a time when I haven't felt the need to mask myself to the world, maybe in childhood, but I'd dearly like for that mask not to be so different from what's inside. I'd really like to be able to sit on the patio with the sun on my face, listening to the wind in the trees and the hawks flying overhead and be content again. Those are the goals I'm thinking of and I know I'm not going to get there overnight, but I'll get there—if I'm anything, I'm persistent. :)

    Monday, November 9, 2009

    I Did It—Now What?

    So I was wrong on Saturday when I said I wasn't terribly upset about being rude to my neighbor. I was extremely upset at the way I conducted myself. I went over to the neighbor's unit this evening after work and apologized for my behavior on Saturday. In person and with a card. The card was my back-up in case I didn't catch them at home. He apologized as well, which wasn't what I was going for because he was just reacting to some strange woman who had knocked on his door and began yelling at him. But he was gracious and I'm still very, very embarrassed. Not one of my shining moments, people.

    I had a lot of time to think about it and am still trying to figure out why I behaved the way I did. I asked myself if when he opened the door and I saw he was Indian/Pakistani/Afghan if I somehow thought that made it okay to disrespect him. I don't believe so because the behavior started when I pounded on his door before he opened it and before I knew his nationality.

    I asked myself what my motivations were for wanting apologize. Was it to make myself feel better or because I was truly remorseful? If the roles were reversed, and someone had come to my home out of the blue, pounded on my door and began yelling at me, would I want the other person to apologize?

    I'm asking myself if there is a larger issue that I may need help with, like anger management, stress management, or something else. I usually consider myself non-confrontational and passive, but at some point all the little things that bother me that I don't say something about at the time build up and I just snap. Mom thinks I may just need help standing up for myself earlier before I get to that point where I snap.

    And then there's the whole hormonal thing. I'm pretty sure I've entered that whole perio-menopause stage, even though I still try to deny it. But try as I might, let's face it, my body and everything about it has been changing.

    Anyhow, I'm glad that I went over and apologized in person. He seemed glad that I did and I'm just relieved he didn't slam the door in my face.

    Saturday, November 7, 2009

    Not So Nice

    I had a not-so-nice moment today, and I'm feeling terrible about it.

    One of the things I hate most about where we live is that the buildings are set so close together along the street that it actually amplifies sound and the insulation in the walls and the windows do nothing to dampen any noise coming from the street. We have a couple sets of neighbors who allow their children to play in the street between the condominium buildings and they never seem to worry about how loud their children are.

    One set of neighbors has a little boy, I would guess he is about 6, and he's a screamer. He screams every time one of the other kids does something he doesn't like. The little dude totally freaked me out a month or so ago because he screams like he's being hurt. His parents let the kids play down the street (by our unit) instead of by their own. I yelled at the kids once to quiet down, and now they tend to play down by their own unit. I didn't feel bad about that.

    But the other set of neighbors, they live closer to us (the unit directly across the street) and also have loud children. And they also let their children play in the street. My parents let me play in the street when I was their age, but then again, where we lived the neighbors weren't so packed in together and the neighbors' living room and bedroom windows weren't right next to the curb.

    I can handle the chatter and squeals of children playing—heck, I even like it—but holy frijoles one can only take so much banging and screaming, especially when the banging and screaming isn't being done by your own children.

    Today, it seems the father was playing with his boy in their garage and they were bouncing the ball off of the garage door and it makes this huge booming noise. It took me about an hour to get annoyed enough to try and figure out what it was. Apparently they were also wrestling with their garbage cans. I know they probably just knocked the cans over, but the NOISE!

    So, after an hour of this I decided enough is enough, and I went outside to figure out which unit it was coming from and ask them to stop.

    I'm not sure when I changed my mind from asking to telling. I meant to knock on the door, instead I pounded on it. I meant to ask, instead I yelled. When I complained about the noise from bouncing the ball on the garage door, he complained about me pounding on his front door. To which I responded that I could stand there and pound on his door for an hour if he would like, or he could ask his child to stop bouncing the ball on the garage door. Mature, I know.

    But that's not the part I feel badly about. As I was walking back to our unit it dawned on me that his son had been peeking around the front door behind him and I had, without intending to, yelled at this man, a complete stranger to me, in front of his child.

    I'm generally a non-confrontational person, so when I do decide to confront someone I tend to get worked up about it and that's likely why when I went over there with every intention of asking I ended up yelling. These neighbors have been rude and inconsiderate of others in the neighborhood since they moved in, so I'm not terribly upset that I was rude. I am upset that I was inconsiderate and that I yelled at him and most likely made him feel humiliated in front of his child. I want to apologize for that, but I'm not entirely sure how to approach it.

    It's dark now, so I really don't want to walk over there now. Maybe tomorrow. Or would leaving a note or card be better? I'm afraid that if I go over in person I'll get all defensive and end up making an ass of myself again. Maybe it's better to leave it alone. God I hope we move soon.

    Friday, October 30, 2009

    Chicago’s Local Color

    The trees in Chicago still had a lot of fall color even though our visit was a little late in the season for the peak color. I told Scoob I thought another nickname for the city could be the Golden City because so many of the trees had a golden color. Though we did find a handful of red maples in Millennium Park.

    The leaves on these trees in Grant Park look much more green-yellow
    than they were in person, but I still like the perspective of this shot.

    A tunnel of gold in Grant Park.

    Looking down E. 9th Street from the Logan Monument.
    I like the contrasts in this shot with the corridor between the buildings in shade and the bright gold leaves of the trees catching the sunshine.

    Sunlight, shade, and fall color.

    Next to the Chicago River. It was still drizzling and I like how the moisture makes the tree trunks and branches even darker against the golden leaves.

    The repetitive dark, heavy lines of the stacked chairs punctuated by bright splashes of gold where the leaves had settled caught my eye. There's just something about it that signals that limbo time between the change of seasons—There's still hope for warm weather patio days because the furniture hasn't been put away for winter storage yet.

    Fall berries.

    Red maple trees in Millennium Park.

    Sunlight through the branches in Dearborn Park.

    Colorful ground cover catching the afternoon sunlight in Dearborn Park.

    Thursday, October 29, 2009

    More Chicago Pictures

    I think I mentioned it was raining the first couple days we were in Chicago and the cloud cover made for some pretty and dramatic pictures.

    The Chicago Tribune Tower on a cloudy evening

    The Chicago Tribune Tower.

    Willis Tower (Sears Tower) lost in the clouds

    Willis Tower (Sears Tower) lost in the clouds.

    Tower on the Wrigley Building on a cloudy evening

    Tower on the Wrigley Building.

    The Chicago Riverfront at night

    The Chicago Riverfront at night.
    Totally bummed that this shot ended up being blurry,
    but it's the best one of the 8 I took.

    Chicago’s Columbus Avenue in the clouds

    Looking down Chicago’s Columbus Avenue in the clouds.

    Millennium Park Amphitheater on a cloudy day

    Millennium Park Amphitheater on a cloudy day.

    Golden tree in Chicago's Grant Park on a cloudy day

    And one of my favorite shots from the trip—This golden tree in Grant Park.

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009

    Home from the Windy City

    Even though we had a great time in Chicago, and aside from the pile of laundry staring at me from the suitcase, it feels good to be home. Chicago has had almost double it's annual average October rainfall this year (Sog-tober as the news casters were calling it), and we got to experience some of that first-hand. But the weather cleared up on Saturday, and Sunday was simply gorgeous.

    Here are a few shots of the city skyline from the Museum Campus taken within a couple hours of each other on Saturday. I was amazed at how quickly the weather changed.

    Chicago skyline from the Field Museum around 11:30 am.
    The top of the Willis Tower (Sears Tower) is lost in the clouds.

    Chicago skyline from the steps of the Shedd Aquarium around 2:00 pm.
    The clouds are beginning to lift.

    Chicago Skyline from Shedd Aquarium around 3:30 pm.
    Seriously, 90 minutes later the same day!

    I took a ton of pictures in Chicago, and a few of them are actually good, so I'll be sharing those over the next few days. Oh, and speaking of pictures, I had an email waiting when we got home that my photos were chosen for that online travel guide. But for now, laundry is demanding my attention and me, my unibrow, and I seriously need some quality time with a mirror, a stiff drink (for anesthesia), and the tweezers.

    Sunday, October 18, 2009

    Trip Planning

    The last few days have just seemed crazy. The muscles in my upper back (and now my right shoulder, too) seem to waffle between the extremes of being in full spasm or feeling better. There are days that are nearly pain-free; then there are days that I can hardly move without tears springing to my eyes—this past Wednesday was one of the latter. Friday was my last physical therapy appointment from the month of prescribed sessions and we've scheduled out another 3 weeks of appointments.

    So I've been having PT days twice a week, which means I'm going in late to work twice a week, so I've been falling behind on my schedule there, but there are other contributing factors to that, too. Our website developers think they have identified what is causing our database to lose the connection to the server several times a day and have set up a dedicated server just for our work in the database—things are still slow, but at least we're not crashing every hour. I've been working on Brazil content for the past week or so and even though Portuguese sounds similar to Spanish, the spelling is not even close and Portuguese uses a whole different set of diacritical marks. So that's been something of a challenge.

    And I've been pulled off my web work to do blueline proofs on several books waiting at the printer. We're partner publishers on this particular set of books, meaning we do not contract the authors or do the developmental editing, or even the copyediting or regular proofing. Once the book files are sent to the printer, the printer creates the printing templates and sends those (bluelines) back to us for one last check and approval.

    That's where our editorial department comes in. It rather expensive to make corrections at this stage in the printing process, so we always try to keep changes to a minimum, focusing only on factual inaccuracies and egregious errors (like misspelling the name of an author or public figure). Unfortunately, this set of books have had numerous errors, particularly with the maps. We've had 12 sets of bluelines arrive in the past week, so everyone has had to pitch in. It's has been nice to switch up my work a bit, but it has also put me behind schedule.

    So anyhow, I'm supposed to finish Brazil before we leave on a mini-vacation later this week and I haven't even finished the first chapter. What? Oh, I didn't tell you we're going on vacation? Well, yeah. We are. We've decided to go to Chicago for a long weekend and see what there is to see. We'll probably just still to the main attractions, Art Institute of Chicago, Shedd Aquarium, and the like, but we're hoping for some good weather—chilly and windy is fine, we're just hoping to miss the rain. But after looking at the extended forecast last night, that's seeming less and less likely.

    So yesterday we were out and about. We grabbed lunch, went to Best Buy, and as we were finishing up the grocery shopping, Scoob reminded me that we were leaving later this week and I thought he was crazy. I was positive we were leaving next week, not this week. Turns out I was totally wrong and I've been a bit stressed since then trying to put together an itinerary for the trip.

    This is the part of trip planning I do not like. Even though it's not, I always feel like it is left up to me to research flights and hotels and do the booking; read the guidebooks, do the research, figure out what attractions are open when, where they're located, and which ones are grouped together; and then to also figure out where we're eating each meal each day. Scoob's contribution to trip planning has been to look up every Chicago restaurant he's seen on the Travel Channel at the Travel Channel website and list the restaurant name, with the Travel Channel description, and a link to the restaurant website (if they have one) in a Word document.

    So yeah, I was already stressed (not to mention it was Day 2) and we fought last night. I hate fighting with him. It just makes me feel like I want to puke then curl up in a corner and never speak to anyone again until I die. It is so hard for me to find the energy to do anything after we fight. Every time we go on a trip I just pray we will finally have a good time and not fight. After last night I'm not very hopeful that this trip will be any different from others—but I will try to remain positive.

    In the almost 7 years that we've been together, it has become abundantly obvious that we have very different ways of approaching things and very different ideas of what is logical, not just with travel. Which isn't to say that being different is a bad thing, it just seems like we haven't been able to find the balance that makes our differences work together to strengthen the relationship instead of fighting.

    In more upbeat news, the trees in our neighborhood are beginning to change color (I'm hoping we'll be able to catch some fall color in Chicago too, our hotel is near Millennium and Grant Parks). I tried to get pictures of a couple of the more brilliant trees, but the sky was pretty overcast and it was difficult to really get the colors.

    And in video game news, Scoob knew I was excited about the new Uncharted 2: Among Thieves games and bought it for me. The first Uncharted game, Drake's Fortune, was one of the few Playstation games that I really, really liked (heck, I played it through at least twice). I liked the graphics, plot, dialogue, and seemless cinematic integration, and the animation of the cinematic cut outs was amazing. Uncharted 2 has been been even better than the original in those respects and the plot is a rollercoaster from the beginning. I'm only a few chapter into the play, but I'm loving it.

    So I had better sign off and get going on the rest of my day if I plan to get any game time squeezed in. Scoob's off at Best Buy (again) to get a carrying case for something to take on the trip (because the Best Buy we went to yesterday didn't have it) and we need to find him a jacket for Chicago, especially since it is looking like we'll have rain. He has a heavy ski jacket, but it's too bulky and he doesn't want to take that. I also want to grab some granola bars or something to keep in my purse while we're out and about so that in-between-meals hunger doesn't make either of us have cranky pants while we're supposed to be having fun in Chicago.

    Originally I had planned to do some clothes shopping for lightweight layering sweaters before the trip, but that was back when I thought I had another week. Though I did find this Universal Packing List Generator a week or so ago. You punch in the destination, dates, and anticipated temperatures of where you're heading, along with any special equipment or activites you plan to do, and the Generator kicks out a handy checklist for you. The list seemed too detailed when I tested it last week, but honestly, isn't it better to have something to remind you to pack your cell phone, charger, and blue tooth than to just remind you to take your cell phone and any accessories you think you may need?