Friday, December 31, 2010

good-bye 2010 (lyn)

I tend to get nostalgic at the end of each year, so here’s a little summary of my 2010.

On the personal side, the year will most notably be remembered for three things:  the college admissions process, my weight loss, and a continued lack of employment.  Alexander and I visited 17 schools, and laughed our way through the South with Zelia and Rodrigo and the North with Jean and Sally.   In the end, Alexander applied to 14 schools and has so far been accepted at two:  University of Michigan (Ann Arbor)  and University of Wisconsin (Madison).  The rest we’ll likely not hear from until late-March, early April.  I went from a hefty 160 pounds in September of 2009 to 120, by the end of May.  Being skinny is so much better.  At least in clothes, I think I look really good, for the first time in years.  I have still been unsuccessful in finding employment.  Getting so many rejections is hard, and makes my desire to continue to look increasingly difficult.  I was particularly disappointed by my inability to make any inroads at all with Weight Watchers.  I had to go into my small retirement fund, and that scares me more than my mother’s anger at my lack of employment.  As Alexander ponders his future, I do the same with mine.  My parents are well, but my dad’s life has been compromised by his knee problem and anemia.  He’s become much less mobile and hopes to get a knee replacement early next year. M and I continue to blog (she promises to write again soon), and we both hope that maybe, just maybe, our blog will one day be published.  Our followers are loyal and encouraging.  Thank you all.  This year, we’ve had 814 visitors from 22 countries, 5 continents, and 38 states.  Despite some difficulties, it’s easy to forget how much there is to be grateful for.  I’m rich in  the gifts of friendship and family.  Alexander’s keen sense of humor and spot-on accents make me, and everyone around him, laugh. He is my greatest gift.  


Happy New York everyone.  May 2011 bring you much laughter, good health, passion and happiness.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

impromptu coffee (lyn)

I get an email from one of my book club friends suggesting a coffee get-together at Starbucks.  She’s invited a group of MNS moms.  MNS is the public elementary school that Alexander attended.  I decide to go, as it will be nice to see everyone.

Seven of us show up around 11.  Except for one, all of us have kids who are now seniors, and who spent elementary school together.  It’s till hard to believe that our young children will soon be going to college.  Two of the six seniors have already been accepted into schools:  one is going to Wesleyan and the other to Haverford.  It’s an exciting time. 

I spend way too long in the coffee line deciding.  The calories are posted which is a huge deterrent.  I’m thinking of going for the 130 calorie mini-donut and coffee, but then decide to skip the donut. 

I let the conversation serve as nourishment and leave fully sated. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

a literary observation (lyn)

Brown-tinted snow in heaps along the edges of the roads.  Passable sidewalks.  Busses now in service.  Huge puddles of mush at every corner.  The city is back to normal.  I haven’t been to a Weight Watchers meeting in a couple of weeks, so this morning I decide to go.

When I was in college, I read The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.  I remember loving the book.  It’s about a young man who sells his soul in exchange for eternal beauty.  A portrait of him, however, does age, and reflects the young man’s sins.  Over time, as the young man engages in increasingly bad behavior, the picture of him becomes more and more disfigured, although he remains beautiful.

When I step on the scale this morning at Weight Watchers, I am 121.8, up only 1.4 pounds from where I was two weeks ago when I last weighed in.  In that time, I’ve eaten homemade blueberry muffins, real movie theater popcorn, chocolate mousse cake, lasagna, a half-pound burger and fries, penne, steak, chocolates, cookies, and a host of other equally unfriendly foods.

Somewhere there must be a portrait of me getting fatter and fatter.

Monday, December 27, 2010

the teenage mind (lyn)

Snow everywhere.  23 degrees and 20 inches in Central Park.  Alexander comes into my room (where I have been residing since Alexander has taken over the living room for reading David Copperfield (he says) and watching football play-off games.  He announces that he’s meeting some kids to go sledding in Central Park.  A few minutes later he’s in my room ready to go.  He’s wearing a hat, gloves, parka and sneakers.  I mean, c’mon, sneakers?

I tell him he can’t go wearing sneakers but unfortunately he has no boots.  He calls his friend who has extra boots, he says.

A few hours later he’s home.  Freezing.  His friend had graciosuly loaned Alexander his boots as he wanted to wear sneakers.  Alexander admits that Daniel’s feet were wet and freezing.

We have a thrown together dinner and ice cream for dessert.   My weight-watcher sensitivity is on hiatus until the end of break.

winter wonderland (lyn)

Like a little kid, I get up around 6:30 to see the snow, and like a teenaged kid, Alexander remains sleeping.  20 inches have fallen on Central Park.  Some newscaster describes the weather as a hurricane blizzard as last night's winds were fierce.  But this morning, all is calm and beautiful.

The sidewalks are impossible to negotiate, so the few people who have ventured out are walking in the middle of the street.  It’s not dangerous, though, since there are very few moving cars, and busses are not to be found.  The only one I see is stuck.




Yesterday Alexander finished the last of his 14 college applications.  All the errands I had planned to do today will have to wait until tomorrow. I have plenty of food and movies and books at home.  It’s a perfect day to cuddle in guilt-free.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

movie day (lyn)

For those of us who don’t celebrate Christmas, there is Chinese food and a good movie, or two.  For the past few years, I’ve celebrated the holiday by inviting some friends over to watch a couple of the season’s Oscar-contenders.  This year I’m showing The King’s Speech, followed by Sofia’s Copolla’s new movie, Somewhere.  Both opened this week in theaters.

For the 1pm movie, Andrea and her husband arrive with bagels and two kinds of cream cheese.  I’m serving non-alcoholic drinks, cookies that taste great but look bad (since I left the cookie tin on top of the toaster oven and all the cookies melted together), blah-tasting lo-cal popcorn, chocolate candy, and cut up fruit. Carol arrives next with a fruit tart (which we end up never eating).  Robyn brings a bottle of cosmetic brush cleaner (we were in Bergdorf’s last week in the cosmetic department when I mentioned I should really clean my brushes), a face serum (she noticed how dry my skin gets in the winter), and a great pair of cozy, fluffy scented socks.  All are useful and inedible. 

The movie is well done and Colin Fifth is excellent.  He will surely be nominated in the Best Actor category.  We watch the movie and eat.  I end up having a small piece of bagel as the lox-cream cheese looks too good to resist.  And while I do indulge in the tasteless popcorn and fruit, I end up eating a couple of chocolates as well.

Jill arrives around 4pm, in time for movie #2.  She brings all different kinds of Harry and David's cookies and brownies.  Miraculously I eat none of hers but about five of my melted ones.  We watch Somewhere and everyone is incredibly bored since the movie could just as well be named Nowhere.  Nothing at all really happens in the movie.  It’s about what life is like for a young Hollywood star.  All the glamour, all the wealth, all the things that get done for you, and all the emptiness behind it.  Jill really likes it, and the more we discuss it, the more we all appreciate it.

Everyone leaves by 8, and Alexander and I end up ordering in Chinese food-shrimp with vegetables, and a couple of cookies for dessert.

It’s a nice day spent with good friends, hanging out, and eating too much of the wrong thing.  My Paige jeans are beginning to feel a little tight.

Once the new year starts, I will be tracking again.  At least for a while.

Friday, December 24, 2010

agata's before xmas (lyn)

There’s a major public alert announcement for New York City and surrounding areas:

Impending storm expected:  all grocery and food stores will 
be closed for the next week.

At least that’s what it feels like when I go to Agata's this morning.  First, you need to pick up your basket outside the store as there is no room inside to get one.  The check out line snakes through the entire store-by the prepared foods, around the corner to the fresh fish, and then around another corner to pass the dairy and bakery sections.  Everyone's cart is getting bumped around and there is no room to even walk the narrow aisles.  But everyone seems to be in a forgiving holdiay spirit and the line moves quickly.  I join the crowd and pick up prepared vegetables, salad stuff, a shrimp platter, Agata’s freshly prepared salad dressing, cut up balsamic glazed ham and sliced swiss cheese from the deli counter, a gigantic fruit salad, ingredients for the squash soup I am making today, some total 0% fat-free Fage yogurt, baby brussel sprouts, a brioche loaf (I know I shouldn’t, but I did not buy any pastries).  I go in to buy a few vegetables and leave having spent $99.99.   At least I’m prepared in case we do get snowed in (the no snow forecast could be wrong;  hey, ya never know).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

visiting georgetown university (lyn)

It's about a 10-minute walk from our hotel to the university.  We stop along the way at a little coffee shop for breakfast. We both have blueberry muffins.  I figure that next week I'll only eat fruits and steamed vegetables.

Georgetown is impressive although our tour guide is not. It's a freezing grey day and the tour is all outside. When it's over, we don't know what the library looks like inside, what the new state of the art new business school is like, or even where the gym is. We do know that the school is not all wireless and that in the next five or ten years there will be a new student center to replace the quasi-one  that exists now.  We know that Georgetown is an incredible school, but our tour guide does not do a great job of conveying this.  The Banner T-shirt though, is among the best we’ve seen.  I go to buy it but Alexander doesn’t’ want it.  He thinks not having a t-shirt might bring him good luck (he doesn’t have one from the two schools he’s been admitted to:  U Michigan and U Wisconsin).

We grab lunch before boarding the Bolt bus home.  This time I chose wisely and get an amazing chopped salad of romaine lettuce, tomatoes, hearts of palm, shrimp, and avocado with balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

The ride home is fine. We both do what we did on the ride down:  Alexander sleeps while I read, write and play Scrabble on my iPhone.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

thunder burger and bar (lyn)

Alexander convinces me to go to a burger place that is highly recommended. I’d really rather go to a salad-friendly type of restaurant until Alexander says, “You were a lot more fun when you didn’t care how much you ate.”

Thunder Burger and Bar is dark and homey. There's a big TV in the bar area, replaying Sunday’s football game where the Giants lost to the Philadelphia Eagles,  despite being up, 31 to 10, with only 8:17 left in the game.  

The menu is large and most of the items are some variation of a burger. I was going to order the rare ahi tuna fillet but decide that I don’t need more mercury this week.  Next I consider the turkey burger until the waiter mentions that it’s made from the thighs of the turkey (as if that should mean something).  While my mind goes to the image of eating a turkey thigh all ground up, he adds, "And the thighs have a lot of veins in them and that's why the burger is so pale looking."  With that description, he may have permanently ruined my appetite for turkey burgers.  So now, all that is left to choose from are the meat burgers.  Both Alexander and I order the Love Me Tender: 8 ounces of Kobe beef, topped with grilled onions and gruyere cheese, on a toasted challah bun with remoulade sauce and some of the best fries I've ever eaten. And as if that isn't bad enough, Alexander and I split two desserts (a so-so chocolate mousse cake and an incredible warm cranberry apple tart with vanilla ice cream).

I leave dinner felling fat and disgusting. 

down to DC (lyn)

Our last college visit begins today.  Alexander decides he wants to see Georgetown, so by 8:30 this morning, we are on another Bolt bus heading for DC.

We arrive at Union Station just in time for lunch.  Union Station is nothing like most train stations. Picture an urban mall, complete with a full blown food court where trains and busses just happen to pass through.  I want something that if I were tracking would be low in points, I choose a teriyaki shrimp with vegetable dish from a Japanese vendor while Alexander opts for McDonald’s (which surprises me given all the choices).  My lunch is disappointing as the rice far outweighs anything else on the plate.  I eat too much of it plus some of Alexander’s french fries.

Next we head over to the American History Museum.  When I tell Alexander where we are going he asks, "How  did you hear of this museum?” I have to assume he doesn’t know that it’s part of the Smithsonian.  It's an amazing place and we stay till closing.

We take the subway to Foggy Bottom (about a 20 minute walk to Georgetown) but not without a major run in with a subway employee posing as the guardian of the exit turnstiles.  Apparently in DC, you need to hold on to the metro ticket you purchased upon entering the subway and use it again to exit .  Well we don’t know this (it works differently in NYC, no one tells us, and there are no signs indicating this) and so we toss our tickets in a big trashcan on arriving.  When we go to exit, we can’t.  A guard comes over to offer assistance.  He asks where we started from; we tell him; and his solution is this, “I’ll walk over with you to the ticket machines and you can buy another two tickets.”  If he didn’t look so serious I’d think he was kidding.  He’s not.  Alexander and I go back downstairs to check the trashcan, but we can’t find the tickets (it is a lame try, but we do make an attempt).  I come back and tell the guard I can’t find our tickets.    I refuse to spend another $5 and tell him I’m leaving, or if he’d like, he can call the police (which is probably an insult to him as I’m sure he views himself as part-police).  He finally relents but not before telling Alexander how well behaved he is and how ill behaved I am.

We make it to Georgetown and our hotel just in time for dinner.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

a moving farewell (lyn)

Today is Rose’s funeral.  The church is full.  It’s a beautiful sunny, cold winter’s day.  M and her older brother give eulogies that have everyone both laughing and in tears.  The choir, as V says, is transporting.  Rose, I’m sure, is listening from above and loving it.   As M’s brother says in his eulogy, she was the type of woman who lived by the motto, “If you do something poorly, say little.  If you do it well, say less.”  But today perhaps she'll allow an exception.

After the church ceremony and the gravesite burial, we are all invited to a well-known Italian restaurant (Spinelli’s) for lunch.  While V, who is extremely disciplined eats only lettuce "and a little bit of protein," I have salad, some lasagna, creamed pasta, and take home two mini pastries which I later eat for dinner at 11pm.   (I probably gained two pounds in two days).

It was a weekend more of celebration than mourning.  Rose lived a long life and she lived it well.  M’s brother ended his eulogy describing the scene he imagines when Rose arrives in heaven.  Her parents and husband Joe are already there.  They go to pick her up and Joe asks, “Rosie, what took you so long?  We’ve been waiting.”

Friday, December 17, 2010

the wake (lyn)

Tonight is Rose’s wake.  The funeral home is overflowing with people of all ages, from an infant to the elderly.  So many have come to pay their respects to an 85-year old woman who lived a strong life on her terms, and who, as many said, was a hard-worker, inspirational mother, and the best bargain shopper they knew.  I know only a few people (M’s good friends, her brothers and their families, and one cousin).  A stranger comes up to me and tentatively asks, “Are you Lyn?”  I have no idea who she is.  She says, “You don’t know me but I recognize you from the blog.  Congratulations.  You look great.”  It’s a sweet moment.  There’s a slide show of Rose over the years with her and her family.  M looks so different now than she does in the photos. M has many accomplishments (a full scholarship to Harvard, business school at Wharton, becoming the first female president at a Fortune 500 packaged goods company, her loving family and two amazing sons, to name only a few), and Rose was no less proud of M’s loss of over 70 pounds than she was of her other accomplishments .  She was a tough woman to please, but M and her two brothers did.  Over and over and over again.

After we leave the wake, V and I have dinner at a chic restaurant called Gargoyles that is in what used to be un-chic Somerville. I order and eat (as I have been all weekend) with no thought of Weight Watchers.

some good news (lyn)

I’m walking around Back Bay (V’s at home doing errands) and my phone rings; it’s Alexander.  “I got into Michigan (as in the University of Michigan, School of Arts and Sciences in Ann Arbor),”  he shouts. I am thrilled.  It’s a great way to start the winter break.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

up to boston (lyn)

I leave the house early for an uneventful Bolt bus ride to Boston.  $15, good fellow riders, and non-stop.  Maybe I can learn to like busses.  I arrive early and pick up three D'Angelo tuna subs at South Station.  Fattening and delicious.  V, a good friend of M’s and mine, picks me up.

We go to M’s to help her.  We’ve offered and she’s uncharacteristically accepted.  We arrive and M, under any circumstances, looks great.  I hug her and notice how much less there is of her to hug.  Our assignments are unrelated to anything funereal.  V is an expert wrapper and helps M with her Christmas wrapping.  It’s a skill I envy as any gift I wrap looks like it's from a 3-year old’s art class.  I’m assigned a photography project.

V and I leave around 7 and go to her 1813 gorgeous home (an actual house in the heart of Charlestown).  The streets are narrow and the history is wide; you can see Bunker Hill from her house and easily imagine Paul Revere riding through the streets.  Dinner is at Fig’s, a hip Todd English pizza restaurant near V’s home.  We split an order of pan-braised mussels with a roasted tomato-base sauce that is so good we must eat two more pieces of bread to sop it up.  The pizza we split (and don’t finish) is thin, half salad and half fig and prosciutto (which fortunately I don’t like).

It feels good to be back in a place that was once home, with friends of almost 30 years.  I just wish the circumstances for my being here were different.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

a disastrous new recipe (lyn)

I was breezing through People magazine and came across a recipe (tantalizing picture and all).  It was simple to make and fairly low on points (I assume). I tear out the page and keep it nearby to remind myself to make it one night. 

It takes two store visits and about $10 to purchase the ingredients:  broccoli, red onions, fresh mint, and blue cheese.  I decide to surprise Alexander with something different (despite his reservations about my ever preparing anything new.  Understandably, he does not have a lot of faith in my culinary skills).  But this recipe seems pretty straightforward.  And, Alexander separately loves all the ingredients. 

I steam the broccoli first, which then puts it way ahead of schedule for the cooked onions.  And so I leave it steaming longer.  The red onions never become crispy, but they taste okay.  When they are ready, I go back to look at the sad looking broccoli sitting in my steamer.  It’s almost melted.  When I pour it into a bowl with the other ingredients to stir, it falls apart and looks like green mashed potatoes.  Alexander wants no part of this.  I try it and say, “It’s good,” which is kind of a stretch.  I’ve made enough to easily feed 10-20 people.  I convince Alexander to try it by making him feel guilty, “C’mon, I worked hard on this recipe because I thought you’d like it.”  He takes one bite and shudders, and for the next few minutes he comments.


“That was nasty.”
“How dare you put that next to my pasta!”
“I’m making myself sandwiches for dinner for the rest of the year.”
“That was one of your worst dishes ever.”
“I got excited when I saw the cooked onions.  Whatever that was, don’t ever make it again.”
“I’m sorry, mom, but that was really disgusting.”

The whole bowl gets thrown away. I wish now I’d taken a picture.  It looked nothing like the one in People magazine. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

one-hour party (lyn)

I’ve never been much of a partier.  I do much better in small groups.  Even in college, I can’t remember a single party standout.  All are blurs.  If it’s a party where I know people, I’m fine.  But send me off to a party where I know few people, and send me off alone, well for me, these are the worst.

Every year, BAFTA hosts a lovely holiday party in the British Ambassador’s spectacular apartment.  Last year I didn’t go, and since I want to be more active in this organization, I decide that this year I’ll attend.  Throughout the day, I think often of not going.  But my name is on some RSVP list, and it would look bad not to show, and so in the end, I wash my hair and blow it out, select a slimming black skirt and cashmere sweater, say good-bye to Alexander and leave the house around 6:15.

It’s a bitter cold night.  I arrive at the bus stop and a bus is there.   It’s one of these new express busses where you pay at a kiosk and then board through any door.  It works on the honor system.  Tickets are only randomly checked.  I have a decision to make:  do I board the bus without buying a ticket and risk a $200 fine if caught, or do I buy a ticket (and therefore miss the bus and have to stand in the 20 degree weather waiting for the next bus)?  It is so cold (and this from a person who loves winter).  I decide it’s worth the risk and so I board.  The entire way to the party I’m formulating my excuse if caught.  Fortunately, I’m not.

Within a half hour of arriving at the party, I’ve spoken briefly with the two people I see and know, listened to a short welcoming and thank you speech, eaten some passed hors d’oeuvres: 2-3 little salmon sandwiches, a couple of fried shrimp with an orange sauce, 2-3 mini quiches, a tiny roll with roast beef, and a glass of warm mulled wine.  I’m done.

Exactly one hour after leaving, Alexander is surprised to see me home.

Monday, December 13, 2010

rose (lyn)

M’s mom was a lucky woman.  She got to watch her three children grow up to become happily married, successful, independent adults who all lived nearby. She had six great grandchildren.  She was healthy and robust until the end.  She was the family’s soul.

Rose never forgot her working class roots, and never let her children forget them either.  She kept them all humble.  True, M will probably not take the time to return sour milk (I mean really, how many people would?), but she never takes for granted her status in life. 

M’s wit is all her own, but some of it may have been crafted from her mom’s droll humor.  I hope M will continue to share with us her Rose stories.  They are funny.  They are unique.  And they characterize the strong mother-daughter bond that existed between the two.

M was an amazing daughter to a sometimes critical, sometimes demanding, but always proud mother.  M would drop everything to run and set her mom’s hair.  Or shovel snow off her sidewalk.  Or take her back to a store to return an item whose value was less than the gas it took to drive there.  M took her mom on her errands because she wanted to.  And Rose wanted to be taken by M.  Their love did not need to be spoken.

On weekends Rose came to M’s home, to help with laundry and other things.  Rose knew how capable M was, but it was something she could do to help out.  It was also another good reason to spend more time with M and her family.


M is strong.  She knows that Rose has gone to a better place.  She left this world with absolute confidence of how loved she was. And now she is with her husband.  Once she gets settled in, she’ll find the local grocery-store equivalent, and will soon be visiting with her exchanges.

Good-bye Rose.  We will miss you.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

santacon (lyn)

Carol and I are meeting at Westville for dinner.  It’s a popular, very small (as in seats 20, if that) West Village eatery.  We are seeing the new Neil LaBute play, The Break of Noon and eating at Westville first.

I take the subway downtown and see, in the station, throngs of people dressed in Santa outfits.  I’m thinking, “Maybe this is where all the Santas start out before they disburse throughout the city.”  I exit the station and see more Santas.  Actually they are everywhere.  Not a lot of white beards but everyone is in a Santa outfit of some kind.  The Santas are mostly young.  Equally divided between men and women.  Some are wearing antlers.  Some have lights embedded in their costumes.  Their head coverings range from cowboy hats to an actual, rather large, lampshade.  Many of the women seem to be wearing red and white striped stockings…some are tights and some are attached by garters that are easily seen.  Thousands of Santas roam the streets.  They sit on stoops.  They hail cars.  They sing in the streets.  They talk on cell phones.  They dance in bars.  It is surreal.  I ask someone what’s going on and they tell me it’s Santacom, assuming I would know what this celebration is about.  I later go online and find nycsantacon.com.  It says,




Santacon is a non-denominational, non-commercial, non-political and non-sensical Santa Claus convention that occurs once a year for absolutely no reason.

I snap a few poor photos from my iPhone.

       










                
I make it though the sea of Santas and arrive at Westville early, but that’s okay, as there is a 45-minute wait, even at 6 o’clock.  I love this little place and eat as if I’ve never heard of Weight Watchers.  I order and eat every morsel of salmon teriyaki and a cranberry tart with vanilla ice cream for dessert. 

The play can best be rated as, “Eh.”  Not the biting dialogue or twisted ending I’m used to from one of my favorite playwrights.  

Friday, December 10, 2010

rough day (lyn)

8:15 am
Around 2am this morning, my stomach explodes.  By morning, I feel totally cleansed and ready for a colonoscopy.  I don’t know if it were the dinner I ate, the almost-two glasses of red wine, the reality that my neighbors are really gone, or the countdown until 3pm today-the time when Penn will post their Early Decision outcomes.  I can’t remember ever being so nervous.  A lot of kids heard on Thursday from Wash U, Cornell, and Columbia, and many were disappointed, even those with exemplary grades and board scores.

4:20pm
Alexander comes home from school. Together we sit in front of the computer.  He logs into the Penn website and begins reading, “The Admissions Selection Committee has chosen to defer our decision….” He walks out of my room.

Tomorrow will be a brighter day, and we are both okay.  I have no doubt that Alexander will end up in the school that's right for him.  It's just going to take a little longer to know what that school is.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

what's wrong with me?? (lyn)

I’m meeting Ivan (not his real name) at 5:30.  We’ve been in touch for the past month or so (through Jdate) and tonight we are finally getting together.

Ivan is a lover of classical music and has season seats to Carnegie Hall, which is just across the street from the restaurant he's chosen, Trattoria Dell’ Arte . A few weeks ago when Ivan invited me to dinner, he also proposed I go with him to Carnegie Hall.  Since I generally prefer first dates to be quick (maybe coffee somewhere), I declined the concert offer. 

Ivan calls this morning to confirm out date and tells me, “I’ll be the handsome one waiting outside.”  I like his confidence.  I meet him and he has gorgeous deep blue eyes, but is older than the 61 years he claims to be.  He is very complimentary.  “You look even better than your picture,” he tells me, which is very nice.

The waiters all know him, as he comes here often.  It is a very busy place, and Ivan comments that everyone is good looking.  He’s right.  It’s an attractive group.  We sit down and order drinks (I get a glass of red wine, and later another one).  Ivan appears to have already chosen our appetizer: a plate of mixed cold hors d’oeuvres, including eggplant, shrimp, scallops, roasted portobello mushrooms, baby vegetables, and a few other things I don’t recognize.  He’s chosen well.  Everything on the plate is fabulous.  I’m already thinking, “This will be impossible to count.  Maybe I won’t track again this week and just be very careful.” 

Ivan has good values.  He’s generous, kind, and adoring of his family (he spends half the week in Massachusetts taking care of two of his grandkids).  He doesn’t’ ask much about me, but I don’t really care.

The waiter comes over and without opening a menu Ivan orders the grilled veal chop (with a parma prosciutto sage sauce). I do the same, but he says, “Don’t do that.  Get something else.”  I don’t understand this concept.  It’s not like I’m going to eat his dinner.  I smile and say, “No, I really do like veal chops, so I am going to get one too.”  I’m glad I do, as it is the best veal chop I can ever remember eating.  It comes with a plate full of shoestring fries.  I eat all the fries but only half the veal chop (it’ll make a great dinner tomorrow).

Ivan is a direct person, which I like, but he may be a bit too direct.  Halfway through dinner, while he’s telling a story about his dentist son, he interrupts himself and asks, “ Will you go out with me again?” I am taken totally off guard.  Here I am,  a little drunk and eating a $47 veal chop (that he is generously paying for).  I mean really.  Suppose I had said, "I don't think so," how would the remainder of dinner conversation have gone?  So I say, “Of course.”  

The evening ends pleasantly, but I wonder about me.  I have a date with a perfectly nice man and yet I’m not satisfied.  Nice should be good enough, but unfortunately, it never has been for me.

saying good-bye (lyn)

Tim, Karen and the kids move out of their apartment today.  Their flight to Ireland is tomorrow but tonight they are staying at a hotel.  , The movers have come (actually they have been here since Monday) and all their stuff is now packed and on a truck, eventually to make it to a boat, and then across the Atlantic over to Cork.

Karen empties her refrigerator and we benefit:  four sticks of butter, ice cream and sorbet, fat free popcorn, Pam cooking oil, low-fat cheese, and some weight watchers cream cheese

The kids hang out with me as Tim and Karen direct the last of their belongings out the door.  Becky and I cuddle on the sofa while Sam sits nearby and we all watch Despicable Me and Toy Story 3 (again) while eating bland fat-free popcorn that the kids don’t’ seem to mind.  At one point, the kids are in Alexander’s room creating a story that involves a few stuffed dogs.  Becky calls to me, “Lyn, come in and play with us.”  It’s a sweet offer.

I’m very sad.  I’ve grown attached to all of them.  And even with Skype and Facebook, Ireland is still so far away.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

first weigh-in with new program (lyn)

Wake up not sure I want to weigh-in today. I’ve eaten a ton in this past seven days (including about 22 ounces of steak and multiple fattening desserts) and I haven’t tracked since Saturday.  But I do, and am surprised with the result:  down 1.2 pounds from last week (121.6 to 120.4). 

Perhaps I can grow to love this new program.

assume I'm a writer for consumer reports (lyn)

It’s the holiday season and with companies all competing for consumer dollars, one would think that service (in addition to price) would be an important distinguisher.  So for anyone who cares about these things, here is my one-person experience with, and assessment of, six  different companies.

ZAPPOS
The Problem
In mid-October, I buy a pair of La Canadienne clogs with shearling lining and 21/2 inch heels. I feel tall and thin in them, and, they are fairly comfortable.  But after only a few times wearing them, I notice that the shearling on one of the shoes is becoming threadbare.  

The Solution
  • I call Zappos.  It takes only a couple of prompts to get to a real English-as-a-first-language person.
  • Zappos replaces the shoes with a new pair.
  • I receive them about 12 hours after making my call.
  • I’m not charged for the replacement shoes.
  • Zappos emails me a free shipping label to return the original shoes.
The Rating
Highest possible.  Can’t think of one thing they could do better.


APPLE
The Problem
I make a 60-page hardcover photo album for Tim and Karen who sadly are leaving the US after five years here to return to Ireland.  I take pictures of all four of our doorman and include their names underneath their photos.  Two names are missing.  I email Apple (there is no phone number to call) telling them of the problem.

The Solution
  • Apple acknowledges receipt of my email and promises to get back to me within 48 hours.
  • In less than 24 hours, Apple emails me and tells me they will credit my account for the entire cost of the photo book ($85).
The Rating
Outstanding and thoroughly surprising (I expected much less).


LE CREUSET
The Problem
Over the past few years, I’ve accumulated three enameled cast iron products from Le Creuset.  Although heavy, I love cooking with these items.  In fact, I believe the steaks I now make are made better by the cast iron skillet that can go (and does go) directly from stovetop to oven.  But I can’t get them really clean.  Black spots have accumulated on the sides and bottom and I cannot get them off, despite serious scrubbing and soaking.  I’ve tried everything, from Bar Keeper’s Friend to Le Creuset’s own cleaning product made specifically for enamel cast iron items.  I even boiled one-part-Tide-3-parts-water for 7 minutes, as the company recommends.  My kitchen smelled great but the skillets remained unchanged.  Le Creuset offers a lifetime guarantee on all their products and so I call.

The Solution
  • It takes three days to reach someone.  I call and can only get voice mail.  Someone calls me the next day.  I miss the call and call back.  They call me the next day.
  • I speak to a helpful CR rep with a nice South Carolina accent.  She tells me I can send my products in for evaluation but, “Unfortunately we cannot pay for that.”
  • I pack up my 3 products and ship them back.  It costs $38.40; they are very heavy.  I hope the box I found in our building’s basement is strong enough.
  • Le Creuset will inspect my products and decide the solution.
  • It will take 2-4 weeks.
The Rating
Verdict withheld, pending resolution, but so far the process has been painful and expensive.


AMAZON
The Problem
About three weeks ago I order a book for Alexander’s Stat class that he needs “tomorrow.”  The book never comes. 

The Solution
  • I call Amazon and in less than a minute I am speaking to a real person.
  • He apologizes and agrees to overnight a new book to me.
  • He doesn’t charge me for the replacement.
  • He tells me to call them if the original book ever arrives.  It does, about three weeks later. 
  • I call Amazon and reach someone in India who speaks heavily-accented English.
  • We get disconnected, but he surprisingly calls back.
  • Unsolicited, he tells me that he will issue me $10 off my next order.
The Rating
I expected the second book not to be charged, but I didn’t expect Amazon to overnight it to me.  I expected the free label, but still, it’s nice to receive it immediately on request.  But I didn’t expect the surprise $10 promotional discount on my next purchase, from the outsourced customer service rep with whom I kept shouting, “Can you hear me?  Hello, are you still there?”  Or,  “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand one word you just said.”  He showed more patience and understanding than I did. 


BLOOMINGDALES
The Problem
I lost my favorite bracelet this past spring (a Roberto Coin small chic and shine toggle bracelet in white gold).  It is insured so I re-buy it.  I wait 12 weeks for it to arrive from Italy.  It arrives in mid-November and instead of the small bracelet, Roberto Coin sends me the very small size.

The Solution
  • Bloomingdales takes back the bracelet and re-orders it.  They had correctly ordered the first one; the problem was with Roberto Coin. 
  • Vincent, my favorite salesperson (whom I’ve known awhile) offers me a 10% discount saying, “That’s all I’m allowed to do,” but suggests I talk to his manager if I think that 10% is not enough.
  •  I go to the store to see Lynn, the manager.  She could not have been nicer.  She says she’ll talk to Vincent and get back to me. 
  • The next day I got an email confirming the 20% discount and my account is credited.
The Rating
Solution is fair; everyone was very nice; but I shouldn’t have had to negotiate (although in truth, it was less a negotiation than a request).


AMERICAN EXPRESS
The Problem
I accumulate reward points if my bill is paid by the 4th of the month.  This past month I was one day late and my points were forfeited.

The Solution
  • I call Amex and it takes about 10 minutes to get to the right person. 
  • 30 minutes into the call and I’m offered “a one time lifetime waiver” where my points can be re-installed without paying the $29 fee. 
  • I unsuccessfully argue that since I had electronically sent my payment in on time, (I didn’t know that electronic payments take up to 48 hours to process) I should just be given the points back without having to use my one-time lifetime waiver. 
  • My customer service rep won’t budge.  I ask for a supervisor. 
  • Another 10 minute wait and finally I'm connected to a person, but the result is the same.  I ask for a manager.  I’m told, “One will contact you within 48 hours.”  I wait 4 days and hear from no one.
  • I call back.  After 4 minutes on hold, I’m disconnected and hear, “If you’d like to make a call….” 
  • I call back and get someone.  But I'm starting the whole process from scratch.  There's no record of my conversation from a few days ago.  And a manager was going to call me back?  Ya, right.
  • I explain the situation to the customer service rep and she transfers me.  8 minutes later I get a supervisor.  I need to reveal my mother’s birthday before she’ll even talk to me.  She then says she needs to investigate my problem before she can forward me to a manager.  “Do you mind if I put you on hold?”  I say, "Well, yes, actually I do."  She just repeats the question again as if she hadn't heard me.
  • She comes back and offers me the “one time waiver” I was offered last week.  I ask for a manager.  She sweetly says she’ll connect me then sends me to the Operator, where I started.
  • The Operator senses my frustration (which is not difficult) and connects met to the Executive Offices.
  • Finally, I get Jessica, who understands what good customer service is.  She reinstates the points as a courtesy (not as a one time lifetime waiver).  I am thankful, but really, this should not have been so difficult.
The Rating
The entire customer service team should be re-trained at Zappos.  Either that, or clone Jessica.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

leftovers (lyn)

Shari doesn’t like leftovers.  She’s an amazing cook and tosses everything she makes if it is not eaten.  It could be an elaborately prepared veal roast or a simple pasta dinner.  It doesn’t matter.  If it’s not eaten on day one, it’s not eaten ever again.  Not only do I not share this point of view,  I often find cooked food better on the second day. 

On Sunday night, I took home half of my strip steak.  As I was asking for a doggie bag, Jill (Abbey’s sister), who recently joined Weight Watchers and quickly dropped 15 pounds, offered up half of her steak as well.  “I didn’t touch it.  I cut the steak in half when it came, and no one is going to eat it tomorrow.”  I said sure.  Valerie looked at me and rolled her eyes.

Last night’s dinner was delicious leftover steak, none the worse for the extra day in the fridge. 

Today I get an email from Meredith.  She had dinner with a friend last night and they each ordered 3-pound lobsters.  Today she has broken out with a rash over her torso; it appears she’s allergic to shellfish.  So she asks if I want her three leftover lobster tails.  She has an appointment near my house and can drop them off.

I make a big lobster salad for dinner.  It's perfect.

I love leftovers.  Especially when it's steak and lobster.  


a big shout out for Kate and Abby (m)

This blog has been wonderful in terms of getting support from people, some of whom I know, many of whom I don't.  When I struggle (as I do many, many times) I feel a responsibility to you and that encourages me to press on.  I also hear words of encouragement on a regular basis.

One other major benefit is that both Lyn and I have heard from many of you that we have inspired you to shed a few unwanted pounds of your own.

This particular entry is dedicated to Kate and Abby who have joined Weight Watchers and are having success thus far.

Abby, you may recall, is my college roommate and great friend.  I think she looks perfect...the same as she did in college when every prep school guy on the East Coast was pining away for her.  One in particular used to camp out in our room (at the foot of my bed...it was like having a dog) every night just to be near her.  I won't tell you his name but he's a CFO of a major corporation and was featured prominently in Fortune Magazine years ago.  Still, Abby made a better choice with her husband, Henry.  Abby's lost 10 pounds in a few short weeks.  Congratulations, Ab!

Kate is the wife of D.J., someone Lyn and I used to work with in Boston.  DJ is really smart and really funny.  We were thrilled when we first met Kate as she is the perfect companion for him...sharp-witted and very cute.  I've not spoken with Kate in 20 years, but I have heard through the grapevine that she reads the blog and has been inspired to join WW herself and is doing well.  Great job, Kate!

Every time I hear good news about people losing weight, it makes me feel even better.

Way to go, people!

another reunion, another "no" (m)

Got invited to two farewell parties for people with whom I used to work.

Even though I weigh much less than I did when I left work there, I don't feel "smashing" yet.

So, I said no.

lexus is more fattening than toyota (m)

Dropped the Lexus off to be serviced.  Waited in the "lounge" for a bit and compared their food/beverage offerings versus Toyota (which is across the street).

Beverages-similar, but Lexus offers a wider variety of coffee flavors.
Food-Hands down, Lexus.  Croissants.  Full bagels with cream cheese (Toyota has half bagels).  Fruit is prominently displayed in a nice bowl (Toyota had some apples and bananas stashed by the recycling bins).
Also, they had some muffins.

Thankfully, my friend Susan was picking me up to go to lunch with her and one of her friends.

Otherwise, someone said the sandwiches were about to arrive.

side-splitting (m)

I get a call from T's best friend, Michael.  "We have two extra tickets to the Andrea Bocelli concert on Sunday.  We'd love for you to join us."

This is my busy season.  I have a house to decorate inside and out.  Gifts to buy, wrap and distribute.  Cards to write. Leaves to rake (at my mother's).  Elderly folks to get to doctors (the aunts).  Out of state games to watch (Sam's).  And two big projects to wrap up by the end of this week (one of which requires me to read a book about the person I'm interviewing on Thursday).  As my friend Mary says, "You go underground every time this year."  I suppose I do.

But I'm never too busy for Andrea Bocelli.

Michael decides we should "do it up" and have dinner first at a nice restaurant.  Ugh.  I'm not up the curve yet with this new point system (which I despise) and now I get thrown into the deep end...dinner out with people.

We arrive at the restaurant near the theater district and T drops me off while he parks the car.  I'm the first of our party so I have time to people watch.  The holiday revelers are there for dinner and a show, festooned in reds and sporting brooches with snowflakes, Santa Claus, etc.  I am under dressed but confident I have more taste.

Michael and his wife Betsy arrive shortly thereafter.  Betsy is thin.  Her weight goes up and down by 40 pounds and it's clearly down.  She has a wedding to attend in Chicago on New Year's Day (why do people do that?) and has been starving herself.  She's wearing a beautiful black skirt and heels.  I'm in black slacks and walking shoes (patent leather so I don't look like something from the Jerry Lewis Telethon).

The restaurant specializes in steaks.  I open the menu.  Page 1-alcohol.  Page 2-more alcohol.  Page 3-are you kidding me?  More alcohol.  I decide I got the beverage list.  I ask the waiter for the food menu.  He takes the thing I've been looking at and points to Pages 4-5.  "Here you go, Madam."  I don't know if I was more ticked off that the food was buried or that the punk called me Madam which sounded like Grandma Bitch to me.

Michael and Betsy order wine.  Again with the alcohol.  We are operating under tight timing--one hour to do this dinner before the theater and so far, we've spent all this time looking at and discussing alcohol--which I'm not having.  There's not even a bread basket on the table.  I'm doing a slow burn.  "Red or white?"  Michael asks.  "Neither.  I don't drink," I say.  He and Betsy decide on red.  T just has water.  The waiter helps them with a selection.  The wine arrives, 10 seconds to sniff and sip and then we order the food.

None of the fish items appeal to me.  I'm not a steak person.  I order the tuna.  The other three have steak.

Now, the hard part.  This is one of those places where the side dishes are enormous and meant to be shared.

For perspective, Betsy and Michael are two of the easiest-going people I know.  We've gone on vacations to Europe with them.  We've shared cabins in Maine with no electricity or running water.  We've spent almost every Caribbean vacation with them.  We've never had a problem agreeing on anything.

Until now.

Michael-How about asparagus?
Me-I don't like asparagus.
Betsy-I love it but it makes your urine smell and I have a doctor's appointment tomorrow.
Michael-Okay, how about carrots?
Betsy-Cooked carrots have alot of sugar.  I can't have that, Michael.
Michael-Brussel sprouts?
All-No! Gives us gas. We'll be up all night.
Me-What about mushrooms?
T-I don't eat mushrooms, but you guys can get them. 
Me-Don't they have broccoli?
Michael-Okay, look, we're never going to make this concert if we don't decide.  Let's get the mushrooms and the onion rings/fries.
T-(turning to me).  You eat the mushrooms, we'll have the fries and onion rings.

The waiter looks relieved.  The four of us start laughing.  When did we get so difficult?

Maybe it's age, we decided.  We know what works for us and what doesn't and we're not afraid to speak up.

I liked it better when we just went with the flow.

Monday, December 6, 2010

squash soup redux (lyn)

I try again and this time it’s slightly altered and perfect.  With a little borrowing from Zelia’s recipe this is how I will now be making my 4-point (from zero) squash soup:

  • Sautee about 20 oz. of cut up squash with half a medium yellow onion and one clove of garlic
  • Add 32 ounces of chicken broth
  • Add half a granny smith apple, cut up
  • Add a dash or two of nutmeg
  • Bring to boil and then simmer (I let it simmer for about an hour, but it can be shorter)
  • Use the emulsifier and serve

I bribe Alexander to try it.  “It tastes better than it looks but it still isn’t great.”  That's okay.  It'll be my lunch for the week.