Saturday, December 31, 2011

last day of the year (lyn)

Alexander sleeps away the day, finally arising around 3.  While he sleeps, I do a grocery run, stop by the cleaners and wait while the owner sews up a T shirt, activate and sync my new iPhone 4-S (not without a few minor glitches), put on its new screen protector (a Moshi iVisor, fantastic), make thousands of little chocolate chip cookies, re-discover the joys of a silpat, and have a tiny lunch of a small-100-calorie bagel and white fish.  I have no doubt that however little I eat today will be made up for tonight.

Alexander arises and wants to know what we have to eat.  I have ¾ pound of prepared vodka pasta that I bought at Agata and never ate.  He has that and is still hungry.  He goes out and comes back with a big slice of pizza, and then decides that he’d like to make dinner.  I discourage him, as my kitchen is now clean, and a few friends are coming over to watch a movie.   He goes back to Agata and returns with sushi for both of us.

A few people stop by to watch HUGO.  We eat tons of junk: three varieties of candy, popcorn, homemade and store bought cookies, and brownies made by Robyn. The movie is sweet and everyone is gone before midnight. 

I was never a big party-er, always preferring small groups to large ones.  So ending the year by both going to, and hosting, tiny get togethers, is exactly my preference for entertainment. I am surrounded by good friends, and never take for granted how lucky I am to have so many people in my life that I genuinely adore.

I hope the new year is a happy one for everyone….with goals met, health maintained, passion found, and dreams realized.  Just before the ball drops, M and I speak and together, welcome in 2012.  

a squirrel to thank (m)

Woke up and the lemon bars from Whole Foods were calling me.  I thought I could just shave off a sliver and have it with my green tea for breakfast.  I put the extra dessert in boxes and placed them on our screened in porch.  When I got there, the box was ravaged.  I thought my husband had gotten into the box and left it half opened.

Then, while I was standing in my porch, dressed only in a nightgown and down vest (such a vision), I hear this scrambling sound. 

Yikes!  I'm trapped on my porch with a live squirrel.  I thought the thing would claw my eyes out.  He was running around like a chicken with its head cut off.  We both were panicked.

I ran in the house and slammed the door behind me.  Went into the laundry room to get a broom to shush him away.  Sam woke up and wanted to know what all the noise was about.  We decided the best way to get rid of the squirrel was to open the door and put some bread by the steps to lead him down the stairs to the lawn outside.

After about an hour, the squirrel figured it out.  They really are stupid.

I looked at the box of lemon squares and decided to chuck them.  Rather be safe than get rabies.

While I was disappointed I didn't get to eat the lemon square, that little guy saved me a lot of points.

If I could, I'd thank him.

a son's view (lyn)

I love having Alexander home.  The adjustment, I think, is bigger for him.  He thinks I nag him too much.  Today he tells me that almost all my sentences to him begin with the words:

-I want you to...
-Don't forget...
-Did you...
-Are you...
-How do I look...
-Can you take a picture...get my whole body...
-Do I look fat...
-Let me see [anything I told him to do that he's told me he's done already]...
-Can you...
-When are you going to...
-Don't forget...
-Turn down the music...
-Get up!  Do you know what time it is?

My list for him would be:

-Go in your room…
-Shut your door…
-What do we have to eat?
-Can I have some money for…
-In a sec (his answer to anything I ask him to do, which really means, maybe someday i'll   get to it)
-Wake me at…

But however we start our sentences, we always end the day and every phone conversation with the same three words.  That, I hope, never changes.

many happy returns (m)

Spent an entire day returning things to stores.  First stop: Nordstrom's where I returned a pair of white Ugg's slippers I bought myself when Lyn was in town before Thanksgiving.  I don't really need them and they cost $110 so I got a full credit.  Then, over to leather goods/handbags where I returned a Rebecca Minkoff wallet which I also didn't need ($135) and also bought in the presence of a friend when idly shopping.  This was when my friend Betsy stayed with me during the storm and we were trolling for things to do. Feeling flush, I went to cosmetics and exchanged a Giorgio Armani lipstick in red for a more flattering pink shade.  Easy.  This store is the best.  Just wished they had Bloomingdales' selections or that Bloomingdales had their customer service orientation.

On to Lululemon where I returned H's sweatshirt and got a full credit. Reimibursed $100. Next stop: City Sports for an exchange for workout wear for Harrison. Got a $4 credit net of the exchange.

And, finally, Staples.  Returned the second Kindle booklight, the second iPad cover and some other things.  Total reimbursement: $150.

Wouldn't it be nice, if, after a meal we could return the foods we ate and never gain weight?

dinner with "The Big E" (m)

"E" could be the most colorful person I've ever met.  I loved working with him.  He was in charge of External Relations and was extremely competent at his job and fun to be around.  Perfect combination.  Larger than life in physical stature (topped out over 300 pounds) and personality.

Once our company was taken over, we all went in different directions.  While I definitely miss the intellectual stimulation of the work itself, I miss the people more.  E would be at the top of the list.

Each year, I hosted a gathering at my home of my favorite people from work.  It was just a handful of people and we laughed and ate and gave each other presents for Christmas.  We all agreed that this was the highlight of our holiday season....the people, the food, even the gifts.

Last year, we were to have gotten together on December 17th, a Friday night.  I planned the menu carefully as E had gastric bypass surgery the year before.  I planned lots of little things, easy to digest.

And then my mother died on December 12th. 

Instead of gathering with my friends on the 17th at an intimate dinner party at my home, I was standing in line at my mother's wake, greeting visitors. I looked up at one point and saw E, in the middle of the line.  He gave me a big bear hug and I cried and thanked him for coming.  "How could I not?" he said.  I understood then how much comfort a simple gesture like that can bring people at a moment when they need it most.

This year, I did not host the party.  Instead, my husband (who also is a big fan of E's) decided to take E and his wife out to dinner at a nice restaurant.  We went to Legal Harborside and ate a healthy, all-seafood dinner.  Mussels, oysters, clams, baked scrod, crab legs.   Steamed vegetables.  No dessert.

I know E is doing well at his new job and just built a large home on the ocean.  He drove up in his Mercedes and he has kept most of his weight off.

Still, he didn't look as happy to me as he used to be.

I asked him about this and he said, "I miss the people."

I do, too.

the other side of the family (m)

My husband's family is small...and quiet.  We see each other about twice per year.  It's usually in a restaurant and linked to some occasion.  Other than that, I think we've been to his older brother's house once in the past 5 years and his younger brother's house once in two years.

The family has a long lineage in New England.  A famous ancestor who was best friends with Daniel Webster and served in the United States Senate.  But all that is not visible to the eye.  What I see is a small family that needs to work harder at staying together. 

So, I invited them to dinner on Tuesday night.  There was to have been 9 people, including the four of us.  However, at the last minute, one sister-in-law cancelled because of the flu.  The oldest brother's step-daughter couldn't make it, either, because of work.  That left 7 of us. 

We served three appetizers and grilled tenderloin and chicken breasts along with green beans, baked potatoes and spinach and salad.  Everything in moderation, including the quantities.

I asked Harrison what he thought would be appropriate for dessert: "Apple pie and vanilla ice cream," he said.

I heated up the pie and went to get it with a potholder.  The pan was so hot, I dropped the entire pie upside down all over the floor.

My brothers-in-law rushed in to help and said, "That's fine...we'll just think of it as apple crumbler."

They ate it.

Could this group be any lower maintenance?

Friday, December 30, 2011

end of year blowout (lyn)

The stores are marking down everything.  It’s hard to leave the house and not buy something.  It must be at least 50% off to even be considered.  If it’s not, go home and find it online somewhere for less.  So in the spirit of trying not to buy, I’ve switched my year-end allegiance from buying to eating, consuming all edibles placed in front of me.  At least that’s how it feels.

Tonight, my friends Andrea and Veej host a small dinner party at their apartment.  Having come underdressed to last night's get-together, I wear a little black skirt, white top, and cashmere V-neck.  

I open the door to the party and everyone there is in jeans with nice tops.  

The evening starts with two big bowls of Andrea’s magnificent guacamole, chips, and some toasts with fig jam and cheese.  I take a glass of red wine (one of many I’ll have) and sit down.  Unfortunately, one of the bowls of guacamole is within easy reach, and I think I eat the entire bowl by myself.  That alone could be dinner, but it’s just the beginning.

Veej has made short ribs that are so tender, knives are not needed.  Andrea serves a green bean with tomatoes and almonds dish that is outstanding, and the mashed potatoes are more interesting and taste better than any mashed potatoes I’ve had before.  Everyone eats everything.  I’m relieved that dessert is strawberries and grapes.  But then two boxes of chocolates are placed in front of me, so to be polite (yeah, right!) I sample a couple of these too.  

As good as the food is, the company is even better.  Aside from one couple, I know everyone fairly well, but tonight get to know them better.  And the more I know them, the more I realize how lucky I am to have such smart, funny, and kind friends.  It’s a truly lovely night.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

partying with the neighbors (lyn)

Ronnie, my next door neighbor, has a little cocktail party tonight.  It takes me a while to pick out what to wear, eventually deciding on black pants, a white top, and a purple cashmere sweater.  But it’s my three-inch heeled clogs that give the outfit style, and make me feel tall and thin.  I go next door around 6:30 and the apartment is already bursting with people.  Outside I see everyone’s shoes all lined up.  Ronnie has white rugs.  So much for the tall slim look.  I deposit my shoes with the others and walk in.

Ronnie is much more formal than I am, and has catered the hors d’oeuvres.  Although she is Jewish, she has a sophisticated wreath on her door, and an exquisitely decorated tree.  She has plates of sushi, little potatoes with sour cream and caviar, prosciutto wrapped in cantaloupe, istara cheese (my favorite), crackers, dips, and champagne.  She is dressed in a red silk kimono top and another of her friends is in sequins.  I feel underdressed.

I know just about everyone, or at least by sight.  It’s easy to feel comfortable.  By the time I leave, I’ve tasted each hors d’oeuvres more than once, received a big compliment about my weight-loss and inspired a neighbor to come to a weight watchers meeting, become high from two glasses of champagne, and talked with people I see frequently but speak to rarely.  In fact, three of us have decided to see a screening of a movie at my house sometime soon. 

One woman temporarily breaks the holiday spirit.  She dramatically and loudly announces, “I need to leave, I don’t like the smell in here,” and pushes her way through the guests to the front door and leaves.   She apparently has been feuding with one of her neighbors (who is also at the party) over some apartment construction work that was done twenty years ago.

I feel like I’m back in a college dorm, but with champagne instead of pot and much better food.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

some great news (lyn)

I go to Weight Watchers with Gail, but skip the official weigh-in, knowing that I’m higher than I like (123.2, according to my scale).  After class, I pick up some ingredients for chocolate chip cookies, using Alexander as my excuse (even though he’s told me he doesn’t want sweets in the house).

I get home and try to acclimate myself to the new Lion Operating system that I downloaded yesterday. I am still getting used to it.  I love the changes in Mail, but am disappointed by the tacky new faux leather trim on iCal; this clearly is missing Mr. Job's aesthetic touch.  I’m meeting Robyn this afternoon to see a Broadway matinee called Relatively Speaking.  I’m running late when the phone rings.  It’s my old-boss-now-friend Caroline (who is President of a web-based company).  She has a new product and she wants me to develop it…determine its market potential, assess the competition, and see if it can be a viable business.  I’d be excited about this prospect even if I weren’t desperate to work.  We still need to work out details, but it looks like I could start sometime in January.  I am nervous (what if I’m not successful?), thrilled (what if I am successful?), and very very happy.

I meet Robyn and tell her the good news; she seems as happy as I am.  We are sitting in the worst possible seats, last row of the upper mezzanine in the far right corner.  But for $4, it’s definitely worth it.  And besides, I’m sitting on such nice news, my actual seat could be anywhere.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

3 customer service stories, and 1 update (lyn)

First the update.  Gail sent me this article, from the front page of today’s New York Daily News.  Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who didn’t have a good time at Saks yesterday.

Now for my stories.

The Good One
I am making coffee and want to top it with some froth rather than my usual half and half.  I take out my Nespresso Aeroccino Plus, pour in the skim milk, and press the start button.  The milk doesn’t move and the button blinks red.  A bad sign.  I check the user manual, and though it’s in five languages, I can find nothing about a blinking light.  I do see though that the product is under warrantee for one year from date of purchase.  I bought mine in November of 2009.  Another bad sign.

I call the 800 number.  I speak to Charel; he’s originally from France but now works in Long Island City.  I explain the problem. 

Charel:  When did you buy it?

Me:  I don’t know exactly, but I’m sure it’s no longer under warrantee.

Charel:  Okay, I’ll send a new one out to you tomorrow.  I’m sure it’s close enough to the warrantee date.  What’s your address?

Really!  I think maybe I’ve reached the North Pole by mistake.  Charel doesn’t even ask for proof of purchase.  He doesn’t argue with me.  He doesn’t ask me to troubleshoot ten million ways.  Nope.  He just says he’ll send me a new one tomorrow.  I love Charel.

The Bad One
My new Lumix DMC-XS10 camera comes with only a basic start-up manual, and a pdf for a more detailed manual.  I don’t want to print 150 pages, so I call Panasonic and ask to be send the detailed user’s manual.  “That’ll be $16 plus shipping,” I’m told.  I hang up and decide maybe I won’t learn the more advanced features of the camera.

The Worst One
The day starts as usual.  I make a cup of coffee and sit down to read emails.  But today there is no internet.  I do the usual unplugging and re-plugging and still nothing.  I wait and try again.  Finally, I have no choice but to call Time Warner Cable (always my last resort).  I finally get to a live Customer Service Rep (CSR), after thousands of prompts and a long wait on hold. I tell her the problem and she confirms there is no outage in the area.  She then sends a signal to my house.  Still nothing.  She concludes there is a problem with my modem and she will have to schedule someone to come to my home.

Me:  I really need someone today.  I can’t have no internet.

CSR:  Let me check.  (After a few minutes)…I’m very sorry ma’am, but we have nothing for today.

I rant….what-do-you-mean-nothing-for -today?  I need my internet…I can’t wait until tomorrow….blah blah blah.  Finally, I regain my composure.

Me:  Okay, so when can you send someone out?

CSR:  Let’s see.  Well, because of the holidays we have been very busy, and we were closed yesterday, so……the next available appointment is on January 3rd.

I’m not kidding.  That’s seven days from now.  I’ll skip the rest of the conversation, but I end up with a supervisor who will try to see if they can squeeze me in tomorrow, promises to call-back later today, and a $50 credit.  I hang up 30 minutes from beginning my call.  My internet is suddenly working.

I wonder if I’ll still get the credit?

Monday, December 26, 2011

another bad movie (lyn)

I have a big chicken potpie that needs to get eaten.  Alexander will have none of it.  I suggest dinner and a movie to Robyn; she suggests we do it at her friend Mark’s house.  “He has a 60 inch TV and loves to entertain.”  Perfect. 

I haven’t seen Mark since Robyn brought him over about two years ago.  He is a gracious host, and lives in Robyn’s building, next door to mine.  I heat up the chicken potpie and bring it over.  As soon as I take my coat off, Mark comments, “Wow.  You’ve lost a lot of weight since I last saw you.”  Hearing that never gets old.

Robyn has made a cabbage soup, as good as the one my mom makes.  Mark has put out an eclectic spread of chips, something that looks like guacamole but is really mashed up broccoli (and tastes great), a sun-dried tomato dip, and some Chinese food (which I skip).

I bring over a screener for the movie, Resistance.  Interest is lukewarm at best.  About a half hour into the movie another friend of Mark’s comes over.  Good excuse to pop out the DVD as Robyn and Mark are not liking the movie at all.

I come home thinking I’ll have dessert with Alexander and watch TV with him.  Instead, he’s watching football and has no interest in anything else.  I eat three mini-cupcakes and promise myself that tomorrow I will eat much less.

leftover hangover (m)

December 26th....the day after.  I awaken feeling hungover but consumed 4 oz. of alcohol all day on Christmas.  Could've been the chocolate cake from Abe & Louis' restaurant that I bought.  The sugar high made me feel like I was on acid.

I remember that I promised my cousin Patty that I would meet her at the aunties' house to deliver their gifts to them.  I arrive with two large bags filled with wrapped presents (courtesy of my friend, V, who wrapped them).  Patty arrived with two bags of leftovers.

I am a mess.  I'm tired from hosting a group of 14 yesterday.   I am tired of shopping for presents and wrapping and delivering and hunting down the UPS guy and grocery shopping.  I want more than anything to check into a spa somewhere. My aunt X is staring at my hair which is sticking up in all directions.  Patty says my eyes look swollen.  Aunt Y can't see that well so she says nothing.

The aunties got dressed up for our "little Christmas."  They are in nice sweaters and pants.  They reek of Jean Nate cologne (is it even cologne? toilet water, perhaps?).  I want to open a window to wake me up and breathe anything but Jean Nate.

Patty spreads the food out on the table.  It is 11 a.m. and she lays out brownies, banana bread and 7-layer bars.  She asks if I want anything.  NO! I say, too quickly.  I never want to see food again.

The aunts are talking but I can't hear because the television is on, set to QVC.  Every now and then, I lose someone's concentration to some item being featured at a hot price.  "'d look good in that!" Patty tells me.  I turn and look at the tv...they are showing a dropped shoulder kimono sweater.  Really?  I wouldn't wear that in my coffin.  Patty cuts me off mid-sentence and starts dialing QVC on her cell phone to order one of those cross-body bags with the ten zippered compartments for travel.  She's going on a big trip to South Carolina in January.

I pop a Sudafed and chase it down with green tea doused with some lemon juice from one of those plastic lemons.  After I put it in the tea, Aunt X tells me she's had the lemon for years...but it's been in the fridge.   Now I'm worried I'll get mold inside my nasal passages and end up like that guy I saw on Sally Jesse Raphael's show one time who lost part of his face to mold.  That episode still haunts me.

I stay an hour and bid everyone goodbye.

I'm so over Christmas.

mission unaccomplished (lyn)

A few days ago I get a flyer in the mail from Saks. 

8AM to Noon
Monday, December 26
65% to 70% OFF original prices

Perfect, I think.  I just got a pair of booties and a Rick Owens skirt at 40% off.  I bet I can take them back and get an even deeper discount.

Despite going to bed at 1:30 this morning, I drag myself out of bed, skip breakfast (which I can well afford to do after the past few days), and am out the door on my way to Saks by 8:30.  The streets are empty.  I can even cross Park against the light.

I get to Saks and the ground floor is empty.  This is great.  Maybe I’m the only one who got the flyer.  I go to the 3rd floor to see if I can get a better discount on the Rick Owens skirt.  I’m told I can’t.  I am not in an arguing mood.  I take the elevator to the eighth floor shoe department, famously known for having its own zip code.  The elevator is packed.  We all stand shoulder to shoulder.  The doors open on 8.  Two guards are standing there.  No one is allowed off the elevator.  Apparently there are too many people in the shoe department and no more are allowed.  I can see hordes of people.  It’s a madhouse and I’m happy to skip the frenzy.

I am dizzy from not eating, but happy to leave with my hands empty of new purchases.  I’m home by ten.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

christmas with friends (lyn)

I invite some friends over to watch movies, eat junk food, and hang around in comfortable clothes.  It’s a nice way to spend Christmas among people who don’t celebrate it.  It’s a small group—Ellen and her husband Peter along with Ellen’s 93-year old mother who looks and acts years younger, Robyn, Carol, and Jill.  We watch Meryl Streep in Iron Lady, and as usual, she totally captures the essence of the character she is playing, in this case, Margaret Thatcher.  We watch in silence, while mindlessly eating chocolate candy, cookies, peanuts, cupcakes and popcorn.

Around 7, we break for a dinner of salad and pizza.  Ellen’s mom and Jill go home, and the remaining five of us meet back around nine for round two:  Beginners. Halfway into the movie, Ellen sums it up this way, “I am so sick of Indy drek.”  Robyn and Carol sum it up another way.

The movies we watch are dull, the food is unhealthy, and my truffles go uneaten.  But still, it’s a lovely Christmas Day.

a magical christmas (m)

We awaken at 8 a.m.  Harrison is up and ready for action.  Sam cannot be roused.  I put the kids' gifts under the tree (usually do it the night before, but they stayed up later than we did last night).

 I make myself a cup of green tea and eat half a grapefruit.  All is calm. 

T turns the lights on the tree and the garland on the stairs.  He lights the fires in the fireplaces.  All is bright.

We are blessed.  I do not take this for granted.

At 10 a.m., my friend Mary calls.  "Go to your tree and look behind it."  I do.  It's a gift from her.  I open it up while she is on the phone and gasp: It's a Queen's Jubilee Cup and it's gorgeous!  I thank her profusely and immediately put it in my display cabinet, along with my William and Kate cup and Sam's Faberge egg.  I am addicted to British Royalty.  I was a huge Diana fan (I did not blog about the party I threw at 4 a.m. for William and Kate's wedding but I have lots of pictures I could show you.)  This is one of my top 3 gifts of all time.

The four of us exchange gifts. Everyone is pleased.  The boys know I only want cards from them.  Sam and Harrison each get me a sentimental card which brings me to tears.  I burst out crying and they indulge me.    I miss my own mother who normally would be here at this moment.  Maybe she is.

Sam gets me a Kindle light.  Harrison gets me a pearl drop necklace.  I am expecting the Louis Vuitton scarf with the leopard print from my husband.  I cut out the picture, called the store to make sure they had it and reserved one so that he would find it when he got there.  He was having none of that.

Instead, I get a trip to Foxwoods to see the Princess Diana gown exhibit.  I am thrilled.    This is a wonderful surprise.

The guests arrive at 2 p.m.  There are 14 of us.  I serve shrimp cocktail, carrots and hummus, hot bourbon meatballs, spinach dip and pita and a platter of cheese and crackers and grapes.  Not quite Patty's, but plentiful.

My sister-in-law's sister brings drink mixes and alcohol and mixes up cosmos and whiskey sours.  My face is flushed from one drink as I pull the buffet together. T roasts tenderloin on the grill outside.  I serve salad, squash, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy and some nice dinner rolls...and the traditional pasta course (gnocci this year).  More than enough.

The best part of the day had nothing to do with food.  We did a Yankee Swap this year which was very revealing.  The gift limit was $10.  It was interesting to see how people spent their $10.  As predicted, most of the people in this crowd knew how to stretch a buck.  Phillip bought silver-plated salad servers which retailed for $29 (sticker on the box).  Some others bought joke gifts (my mother would have had a fit, squandering money that way).  And then there's my husband.  He bought a $50 gift certificate to Kohl's while doing his Christmas shopping at Staples.  The room stopped when the person who got his gift opened it up.  Why $50???  He'd forgotten what we said was the limit and didn't feel like calling to ask.

The dessert buffet was obscene.  Homemade cookies and cupcakes and the world's biggest chocolate cake with ice cream.  Blueberry pie and a large fruit bowl with lemon sorbet. 

Everyone stayed until 9 p.m. and T and I cleaned up.

We looked at each other and said "Back to Weight Watchers....asap."

a christmas miracle (m)

After all the stress, this turned out to be the best Christmas in a long time.

It starts on Christmas Eve with two parties.  One at Cousin Patty's and one at my brother Phillip's.

Patty's house is packed with friends and relatives.  It's a small house and yet she seems to have enough seating and table space for all 30 of us.  Food is everywhere, all home-made by her.  The buffet is bursting with a hodge-podge of selections, all steaming above the sterno: chicken pot pie, macaroni and cheese, stuffed peppers, sausage and peppers, meatballs, eggplant, lasagna.  There are salads and a large tray of cut up cheese, crackers, grapes and pepperoni. 

I bring a square of eggplant (my once per year treat) to the dining room table.  Sam and Harrison bring their chicken pot pie.  T settles for a cup of her special barley soup.  I am seated across from her sister-in-law Kathy who used to scare me when we were kids.  Kathy (the sister-in-law) hung out at Swan Street Park in a leather jacket, smoking cigarettes and calling people names.  I had to cross the park to get to my friend Susan's house.  I believe her nickname for me was "egghead" because of my large bookbag.

I'm still afraid of Kathy and wonder if the dish of Poppycock between us is enough of a defense.  There is candy everywhere.  There's even a display of 1960's era candy.  Patty got it off the internet (You can get candy from the 60's, 70's, 80''s amazing! she tells me as if anyone else would use candy for their holiday decor).

Sam and Harrison look out of place with the crowd here.  It's good for them, I think.  This is where I come from.  They are real people.  After a few bites of the chicken pot pie, they start to relax and join in the conversation.  Patty's nieces come by and sit with the boys.  They start talking, united by food.  The oreo truffles are a huge hit.  These are the ones Lyn screwed up when she tried to make them.  Trust me...they are fabulous.

For dessert, Patty made 7-layer bars which are better than the ones I buyt at Whole Foods, a banana chocolate chip loaf, cookies and pies.  We don't get to sample everything as we are going to dinner at my brother Phil's.

We reluctantly leave Patty's.

Sam observes that Uncle Phillip's house is the polar opposite of Patty's.  It is elegantly decorated and quite formal.  Harrison is afraid to sit anywhere because the antiques are so precious.  We are greeted by the ever-demented Charlie and sit down for a buffet dinner of beef burgundy, ham and assorted vegetables.  I eat one bite of the squash.  The eggplant is sitting in my stomach like one of those grenades they find in Normandy Beach, 60+ years after the Battle of the Bulge. 

The candy dish is a silver 4-tiered tray and is draped with gold tinsel.  It's like separating a grass skirt to get to a piece of candy.  I lift the veil of tinsel and hunt for a little box of Torrone, a nougat candy, wrapped in tin foil inside the box.  It is my favorite and an Italian tradition, especially at Christmas.  As a kid, I remember searching for the orange-flavored ones and peeling off the wafer coating and putting it on my tongue, pretending it was the Communion host.  Now, I just pop the whole piece in my mouth. Still tastes good to me.

Around 11 p.m., we head home.  Sam got a white dinner jacket from Uncle Phillip's family as his Christmas gift.  This is to wear to our niece's wedding in Newport next summer.  Harrison got a blue cashmere sweater.  Even the gifts from my brother are elegant.  I got a large vase with sterling silver trim. Like a Minnie Pearl hat, he left the price tag on, $750....which he did not pay.  Phil knows how to shop.  I think he got it for 80% OFF.

The four of us head home and go to sleep, visions of Oreo truffles on our brains.

more complicated than it looks (lyn)

M calls after midnight last night.  She’s just come from a Christmas party where homemade Oreo truffles were served.  “You wouldn’t believe how amazing these things are,” she tells me.  I ask for the recipe and she sends it. 

I’m having people over today to watch a couple of movies, and I decide to make the recipe.  It looks easy.    Plus, prep time is only 30 minutes.

I miraculously find a grocery store that is open, and buy all three of the required ingredients:  cream cheese, package of Oreos, and Baker’s chocolate squares.

First, crumbling a 15.5-ounce package of Oreos is not as simple as it looks.  I first try a rolling pin, but that’s too much work.  I then get the brilliant idea of using my emulsifier—the one I’ve only used thus far for soup.  It does a pretty decent job, but Oreo dust flies everywhere and covers my kitchen counters, floor, and me.

Next, I heat up the chocolate.  It looks good.  I ask Alexander to taste it.  He does, and responds, “It tastes pasty.”  I don’t know what that means so I try it and it’s bitter and disgusting.  I check the recipe and see I’ve bought two boxes of unsweetened chocolate while the recipe calls for semi-sweetened.  I leave the house and go back to the grocery store where I’m successful in returning both the unopened and open/ empty box of unsweetened chocolate.  Must be because it’s Christmas and the manager doesn’t feel like arguing.

I come back home and reheat the new chocolate.  The recipe calls for dipping the cream cheese/cookie crumb batter into the melted chocolate. This turns out to be an even bigger mess than the oreo dust.  The batter is too soft and dissolves when it comes in contact with the warm melted chocolate.

By the time I’m done, it’s taken an hour of prep time, my kitchen is a disaster, my manicure is ruined, and my little truffle balls look nothing like the pretty picture.

I just hope they taste better than they look.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

no honeymoon phase (lyn)

I love having Alexander at home, but he would rather be at school.

He tells me, “I like my other roommate better.  Ben never nags me.  He never tells me to make my bed.  He doesn’t tell me when to go to sleep.”

I respond, “But he doesn’t make your meals either,” thinking I may have an edge here.

“No, but someone else does that.”

Now that Alexander is accustomed to freedom, he naturally prefers it.  And like most people, he's on better behavior with others than with me, his mother.

For example, I doubt that with Ben, Alexander would:

  • Enter his room and then fling his coat onto the nearest piece of furniture.
  • Go into their tiny fridge and finish all the little Babybels, pirouette cookies, or anything else that looks appealing.
  • Half drink many bottles of Poland Spring water, so the fridge is filled with multiple bottles of water with varying water lines.
  • Not say goodnight to Ben at two in the afternoon, as an implied signal to not speak to him again until the next day.
  • Stay up until three or later and then sleep through most of the next day.  (Well, maybe he does do this, though I doubt Ben would care).
  • Yell at Ben (or ignore him) when he reminds him to do something for the fiftieth time (like write thank-you notes to his grandparents who sent him something for his birthday in mid-November).
  • Say yes do a request he has no intention of fulfilling, like, “I want you to find some community service work to do on Christmas Day.”  
  • Let his room pile high with once-worn clothes, that don’t get put in the laundry basket or in a drawer.
  • Play music that Ben doesn’t like, loud and frequently.
  • Order Ben around, with demands like, “Get me some Coke.”  Or “Go in the other room.”  Or, “Where did you hide my phone? “  
  • Issue dog commands, such as, “Stay,” if he doesn’t want me to come out of my room, or “Good Girl,” when I don’t. 

Yes, I bet Ben is a more tolerant roommate.  But still, my home is better with my son in it.

stayin' alive (m)

I wake up on December 24th, Christmas Eve morning, and the house is lit like a tree.  Harrison decides not to wait until evening to put me in the mood for Christmas.  I've been a bitch on wheels this past week, obsessing over the small stuff (UPS, etc).  I decide to take a cue from my son and embrace the holiday spirit.

At 8 a.m., I head to the new, deluxe Whole Foods market to pick up the dessert I ordered and get the veggies for the salad.  There, in the cheese aisle, I run into my former VP of Finance and we give each other a big hug.  He looks great and says I do, too.  This, definitely makes me feel happy.

At check-out, I study the items being placed on the belt by the woman behind me in line.  Antipasto platter, mozzarella, tortellini, focaccia bread.  She is blonde and stylish and I blurt out, "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were Italian."  She is.  From Milan.  The real deal.  Five minutes later, she knows where my family is from (in Italy) and I know a little bit about her. She wishes me a Buon Natale e Felice Anno Nuovo and gives me a hug. 

Now I'm really in the mood for Christmas.  I'm even singing carols with the radio.

Get into the house and start to cook.  Bourbon meatballs, a sauce, mashed potatoes.  I'm feeling pretty good that I'm this well-prepared.  The table was set last night and is covered with a paper tablecloth to keep dust off.

My friend Susan comes over to pick up the items I got for her while shopping.  She works so it was easier for me to get her stuff at Costco and Whole Foods.  While here, Susan rearranges my dishware and glasses in the glass door cabinets to make them more visually appealing.    Could this day get any better?

I help Susan bring her stuff to the car.  There, on my back porch, is yet another misdelivered package from UPS.  Susan looks down and says, "I see what you mean about the UPS guy."

I go back in the house and Sam comes downstairs with three friends who slept over last night.  They are hungry.  I point to where everything is and tell them to help themselves.  Bagels, lox, strawberries, juice, coffee, cereal, yougurt.  The kitchen is getting cluttered again. My husband is AWOL and my godmother calls on the phone to wish me a Merry Christmas.  I think she's losing it a bit as yesterday she sent me a card that I sent her back in 1998 and signed her name under mine.  She kept me on the phone so long, my bourbon balls overcooked.

I look up at the clock.  2 p.m. and my day is starting to unravel.

Friday, December 23, 2011

guests for dinner and a movie (lyn)

I am not comfortable in the kitchen.  Both my sisters are excellent cooks.  They know what to throw in to make something taste better, to make a sauce thicker, or to enhance a particular flavor.  I have no idea.  I am pretty much a cook-by-numbers kinda girl.  So when I invite people for dinner, even people I know and love, I get nervous.

Tonight, Gail and her husband Greg (whom I’ve never met) are coming, and Robyn and her friend Richard will join us later for a movie.  I thought I had invited everyone for dinner, but somehow the dinner-part was missing from my invite to Robyn, so she’s having dinner with Richard before.

I start culling through recipes.  Pasta is easy, and I know I can make it, but it is fattening and Gail and I are both counting points (she actually, me figuratively).  I go to Agata and see a stuffed pork roast that looks good.  I’ve had it before; it’s stuffed with figs and apricots.  But Alexander hates it, and maybe it’s too unusual to be universally liked, so I decide not to take the risk.   Next I consider a veal roast but Agata's only has a two pound one and I’ll need more.  But then I pass the prepared-foods section and cave.  Everything there is all made, delicious, and of course easy to prepare, as all I need to do is warm it up.  I buy two pounds of cooked brussel sprouts, some potato latkes, two pounds of flank steak, and ingredients for a portabella-tomato-goat cheese salad. 

Dinner is pretty much done, even before I start preparing it.  Basically, I only need to make a salad and heat up the other dishes.

Gail and Greg and Robyn and Richard all arrive at 7:30.  I thought I’d told Robyn to come around 8:30, after we’d eaten, but then again, I thought I’d invited her for dinner and I hadn’t, so she’s probably right.  Now I have the embarrassing situation of having them come over, meet Greg and Gail, then leave and come back an hour later.  I feel ridiculous.

Greg is adorable, easygoing, and fun.  I’ve known him a year through Gail’s stories, so its nice to finally meet him in person.  He’s a brilliant heart surgeon, but also a regular guy, down to not being a big fan of salads, liking soft drinks, and adoring football.

I make the salad. Put the brussel sprouts and steak in the oven to heat up, and microwave the potato latkes. We sit down to eat, and because Greg and Gail are polite, they say everything is delicious.  The steak is cold and tough and the brussel sprouts are near-freezing.  I offer to re-heat everything but only Alexander says yes to the offer.  Surprisingly, everything gets eaten anyway.

Robyn and Richard arrive around nine.  We all sit down to watch Young Adult.  It’s boring and bleak.  To stay awake I eat about a pound of cashews, a cup of chocolate covered pomegranates, and about 10 cookies.  No one else seems to eat anything.  The movie ends and we talk a bit.  Turns out that Robyn’s mom lives in the same building as Greg and Gail, and Gail knows Robyn’s mom quite well.  Even in this big city, it can be such a small world.

Everyone leaves around 11:30 and I’ve left with memories of a good night, a bad movie, and bags of food….chocolate candies from Robyn and a year’s supply of water and soft drinks from Gail.  In addition to having Robyn’s mom in common, they share something else; neither is capable of arriving anywhere without bearing gifts, even with, “PLEASE DO NOT BRING ANYTHING” announced and emailed before.

I’m lucky to have such great friends, and I love sharing them.

why I hate the post office (lyn)

After reading M’s posts, I feel compelled to add one of my own. 

I am returning a monogrammed blanket (yes, I know, why would anyone take back a monogrammed blanket, but I hope this company will; I don’t ask them in advance…too risky.).  I go to the Post Office.  It’s Christmas time.  I wait in a long line and am finally called to a window.  (By a surly woman who keeps a sign in front of her that reads, “Don’t step up until you are called.”).  My package is all ready to go.  I am sending it Priority Mail and want delivery confirmation.  This requires completion of a form.  

Me:  Do I put my address or the address of the company I’m sending it to on the form?

Mean Post Office Person (MPOP):  You put down the address of the person it’s going to.  (I start to write in the address).  Ma’am, you’ll have to step out of line and complete the form over there ( she points to an area across the floor from where she is).  When you are finished, you can go to the front of the line.

Me:  By the time you weigh the package and tell me what I owe, I’ll be done writing in the address.

MPOP: (with voice slightly elevated):  Ma’am, PLEASE step away from the window to complete this form.

Exasperated, but not wanting to make a scene, I walk away from the window and write in the address.  (It takes about 15 seconds, if that).   I return to the same window and hand the MPOP my package and the delivery confirmation form.

She weighs the package, puts the appropriate amount of stamps on it, and then tears the confirmation form in half…she sticks half the form on the package; the other half she hands back to me.   I get the half with the address I just completed on it.  

No wonder the Post Office is losing money.  The people there are mean.

I shall conquer this...I shall! (m)

The UPS bastard finally drops off a box at my porch door instead of somewhere else on the property.  Wrong name, wrong address.  It belongs to my neighbor and it's heavy.  Their phone number is unlisted.  I have to drag it into my car and deliver it to them myself.

My aunts call.  They got a "reverse 411 call" from the water department in their city informing them that they will have no water all day today.  Aunt X knows the Mayor and calls his office to tell them that she had a bowel movement and asks if she can flush the toilet.  She goes on to explain that she is irregular and never knows when she will be able to go and what are the odds it would have happened today of all days?!  The Mayor's receptionist tells her to "flush it for goodness sake".  My Aunt calls to ask if she did the right thing by calling.

T needs a prescription strength nasal spray.  I go to the pharmacy at our health plan and wait in line with sick people hacking all around me.  Get to the front of the line and they tell me the prescription was sent to the pharmacy in the town where T has an office.    I tell them to re-route the prescription online.  This takes an hour.

When I get stressed, I want to eat.

Instead of eating, however, I go to Dunkin' Donuts and buy a large green tea (green tea black with lemon is more difficult to order than you'd think given the green and black in the same sentence).

I take my tea to a park bench and sip it slowly, looking at the insanity all around me.

Once I restore my calm.  I get back in the car to finish my shopping.

As Mr. Darcy said in Pride and Prejudice, "I shall conquer this.  I shall!"

not a simple return (lyn)

Have no time for breakfast, as I just want to get one errand done.  Being busy is a great deterrent to eating.  Grab a multi-grain bar around 11 and leave the house.   I am returning my new Nikon point-and-shoot camera.  The one I researched and chose based on the rave reviews.  I’ve had it since October (the Coolpix 8200) and find the delay long, the pictures so-so, the flash annoying, and the location of the on/off button to be too near the zoom/focus button.  I have a copy of my receipt.  The camera.  And the memory card.  I wait 15 minutes for a bus.  Go north almost 40 blocks.  Wait in line.  Get to the counter, and then realize I’d forgotten to take Alexander’s pictures off the memory card.  That, and I’d forgotten the charger too.  Understandably, nice Emely (not a misspelling) cannot take it back. I grab lunch (a sample of bruschetta on a cracker) and buy a box of mini cupcakes for guests this weekend.  I leave Costco with the camera I came in to return, then  wait in line another 20 minutes for a bus home.    

I get back to my apartment, two hours after leaving it.  Transfer the pictures from the memory card to my computer.  Put the now empty card into my wallet with the receipt.  Find the charger.  Put that in a bag with the camera and even find the little case I thought I’d lost.  I go back to the bus stop.  Wait a few minutes.  Go back to Costco.  Wait in line.  Hand the sales clerk my camera and the charger.  I go to get my wallet with the receipt and the memory card in it, but it’s not there.  I am less concerned that my wallet’s been stolen than I am with the prospect of having to repeat going home-and coming back to Costco yet a third time for the same mission.

The manager comes over.  Maybe because it’s Christmas, or maybe because I’m about to cry, but she is understanding.  She talks to me like I am a lost child who can't find her mom,  “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of this.”  I almost expect a hug.  She accepts the return without my receipt (she can look that up), without my Costco card (she can look that up too), and without my memory card (just because).

I buy another point-and-shoot, the Lumix DMC-ZS10, and hope I’ll like it. I come home and see my wallet next to my computer.  Fours hours to return a camera.  I'm just grateful it wasn’t six!

why I hate Snapfish (m)

My nephew Michael is still in China.  He lives a very ascetic lifestyle.  He survives on a budget of $5 per day.  Weeks ago, we asked what was on his wish list for Christmas.  "Nothing.  Don't get me anything."  C'mon, we said.  There must be something you want.

His mother said  to get him something small and meaningful.  I went to the grocery store and got Andy Capp's Hot Fries (his favorite food) and I ordered a box of ginger cookies from Williams-Sonoma and also bought a package of The Dancing Deer molasses and clover cookies.  These things I know he likes. 

I wanted to get him something else, something more permanent, something meaningful.  I remembered we took some nice pictures of him when he and his girlfriend were here this summer for my brother and sister-in-law's 40th wedding anniversary party.

I ordered the pictures online and bought frames at Home Goods.    I timed everything to arrive at least 2-3 weeks before Christmas to allow for travel time to China.

Then, I get a note from Snapfish:  "Due to the high demand for our penny prints sale, our elves are behind and we will get to your order in 2 weeks."

Seriously.  This is unacceptable.  A two-week delay for pictures at this time of year?  And how about that cutesy phrasing regarding the elves.  I'd like to wring their little necks.

So, I call Customer Service at Snapfish and am routed to someplace in India where Shekar tells me that he is very sorry and will take away the "expedited delivery" fee which I paid when I ordered them.  I wanted to say, "No sh-t, Shekhar," but I felt I was representing all Americans at that point.

I mailed the package sans photos and frames. Joe at the Post Office gave me my annual lecture about spending more on shipping than the contents (the hot fries are cheap).

The worst part of the whole thing is that I am so pissed I come home and eat Hershey's Kisses for dinner.