Saturday, December 31, 2011

Spain 5: The wisdom of taxi drivers


After asking the cabbie in Toledo why he didn't get to jump the line to exit the train station:

Cabbie: Because one must to respect the line!

Me: Not everyone thinks that.

Cabbie: That is how it is in Spain. One must respect the line.*

Me: We were just in Paris and there, they do not seem to respect the line. People were cutting like crazy.

Cabbie: The French.

Me: Yes.

Just then, a van cut the cabbie off as he was exiting the traffic circle.

Cabbie: That guy? He is French.




* May I note that respecting the line does not seem to be a universal human value.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Spain 4: The French optimize inefficiency


Once you have made it through the nightmare that is security and that should cause a new French Revolution, go to the gate in F terminal. Wait in line. Wait for ten minutes with the line moving slowly, then wait ten more minutes with the line not moving at all. Wait for the new bus to arrive.

Yes, the bus. The bus is going to take you to your plane. Even though you are at a gate with a jetbridge, you are not going to get on the plane from that jetbridge. No, you are going to wait in line for the bus, then walk down the F terminal jetbridge to the very end, where you will descend two flights of stairs, walk past the young woman wearing her ground crew yellow vest who is busy smacking chewing gum and texting on her pink phone, and board the bus.

Stand near the back of the bus so nobody will have to push past you.

Move repeatedly as people shove past you. Move because you will actually make eye contact with people, unlike the man who is standing in the middle of the aisle and blocking passage with both his body and the huge red bag he has slung over his shoulder. Move as the guy makes eye contact with SH and uses the Latin America Lip Point to indicate his destination.

The secret is not to make eye contact. That's how the sidewalks work as well. The person who has acknowledged the presence of the oncoming person is the one who has to move, even if the oncoming person is way on the wrong side of the sidewalk. The secret is to look down and keep moving.

Wait and wait and wait for the very last person to board the bus, which will happen five minutes after the plane was supposed to have departed.

Drive for seven minutes to the E terminal, winding through other planes and jetbridges.

Get off the bus. Climb up two flights of stairs to the E terminal jetbridge. Walk down the jetbridge to the plane.

Converse with the flight attendant:

Me: Why is the plane at the E terminal? Why do we have to take the bus from F to E?

FA: Because the Spain flights leave from the F terminal.

Me: Then why isn’t the plane at the F terminal?

FA: Because this plane just came from London and the London flights arrive at the E terminal.

SH: And this way, there is a job for a bus driver.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Spain 3: Lack of solidarity


I am not a fan of strikes when they inconvenience me and I don’t understand when people who are inconvenienced by a strike just lift their shoulders, purse their lips and say, “La greve.”

I have been struck by strikes at least three times now coming to France.* The first time was in the late 80s, when a friend and I went to Paris and London over Christmas. We flew into London, then took the train and ferry to Paris. On our return to London, we discovered that the trains were on strike. The trains that were going to get us back to the coast and the ferry. There were no cars available to rent. Indeed, the Avis clerk was a little bit snotty to us, although in France’s defense, she was the only person in Paris who was rude to us and that might have been because she was a teenager and we were actually trying to get her to work. We finally found a bus to Calais, but it was a stressful day.

The next time I was struck was when I went to France for a cooking school vacation and the guys who deliver the cash to the ATMs were striking. I have gotten to the point where I travel with minimal cash and my debit card. It’s nice not to have to worry about carrying a couple hundred dollars they way you used to have to in the old days. Remember when we used travelers checks and there were horrible fees to change them, so we changed a bunch at once to minimize the transaction fee/franc ratio? And then you had to worry about having all that cash?

Well, if you can’t get cash because there is no cash in the ATM, then life becomes rather uncomfortable.

And now, we are struck again. SH and I had to change planes in Paris at CDG, which I have decided is the worst airport in the world and I have flown through the Cuzco Peru airport and through Atlanta.

After we made our way through the funnel of hall to passport control to baggage claim – the goal of the CDG designers, who also design the cattle runs into the abattoir, seems to be to see how many people can be put into smaller and smaller spaces before they scream and we heard no screaming, we had to go through security again. Real security, as if we had not already passed through security on our originating flight.

On our way to the premium security line, which SH has won with his many many miles of flying and nights and weekends away from home, we heard an announcement: Flights delayed because of security strike.

How odd, we thought. Why would a security strike delay a flight? It’s not the security folks who fly the planes.

NB In the best of times, CDG is the most inefficient airport I have ever used and that includes Caracas, where it took the entire three hours for me to get from checkin onto the plane – I was in line the entire time. One time, I stood in line for the CDG emigration passport check for a good while. There were four passport counters open. From there, we all funneled into one security line. There were four security machines, but only one was open. It was open with four people working and another seven standing there looking bored.

That was without a strike.

We passed the regular security line, which snaked back and forth for five folds. The line was three persons wide. Whew! we thought. Thank goodness we get to use the premium line!

We arrived at the premium line. The bored guy checked our tickets. Waved us in. The line was only 20 yards long, two persons wide. We were next to the business class checkin. I noticed a Dude checking in. He was wearing baggy jeans with a belt that was strictly decorative, as he had to hold the pants up with one hand. His head was shaved on the sides, but the remaining hair was long and pulled back into a bun that he had secured with bobby pins.

We were only halfway through the line – when the Dude passed us on the left.

The bored security guy was letting other passengers cut. “They have a flight in ten minutes,” he explained.

Our jaws dropped. If you don’t get into the security line until ten minutes before your flight, is that my problem?

Then the bored security guy let a flight crew in, which is fine, but the line still wasn’t moving.

We got close enough to see: although there were two x-ray machines, only one was open. The guy manning it was checking everything before it was put on the belt. The guy controlling the belt was looking at everything very slowly.

The bored security guy started letting more people cut.

SH and I and the other two Americans started to speak about how this was a little bit ridiculous – that we all had a flight to catch and perhaps the line-cutting should stop.

It did not stop.

We realized that the value of waiting one’s turn is perhaps not universal.

I should have remembered. I have had to fight little old ladies to the counter in Italy. They will cut you.

We kept moving forward, but the closer we got to the x-ray machine, the slower things got: there were more cutters and the people who had been waiting were letting them cut.

Our complaining grew louder as we glared at the cutters. One man rushed to the front of the line. SH said, “Hey! You need to wait your turn!”

The man politely explained that his flight left in ten minutes and it was a connection. “We, too, have a flight!” we said. “We, too, are connecting.”

“Whatever the strikers want, I vote to not give to them and to actually cut something back,” I said.

A revolution was brewing. It wasn’t just the Americans who were complaining, although the French revolution consisted of some Gallic shrugs.

That’s when they finally opened the second x-ray line. But by now, we were invested in the first line. We should have moved to Line 2 and cut on the cutters, but we thought it would be faster to stay in our line. What we failed to take into account were the people to our side who said to us, “We have been waiting longer than you so we are next.”

Of course it was safe to say that to us. They knew we actually valued line fairness. But I wanted to shout at them, “Where have you been for the past half hour when all the other people have been cutting? Why didn’t you say something then?” They were free riders, letting SH and me and the other Americans grumble and foment revolution.

It took us 45 minutes to get through 20 yards of security line.

Next time I see a picket line, I’m crossing it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Spain 2: The great overhead luggage bin altercation


You guys know the airplane rules about armrests and overhead bins, right? You know that they belong to everyone and that we must share because we are all suffering back in coach together.

Some people do not know the rules.

I boarded the plane. SH was in the business class seat that he got with miles and I was in the coach seat that we had paid for. I insisted he sit in the business class seat because 1. he is six inches taller than I am and that extra space is a lot more important to him than to me and 2. he travels so much that he should get to be comfortable and 3. he wouldn't even have the miles to get a ticket if he hadn't spent many hours away from home.

I sat in my seat and the young woman beside me plopped her arm on the armrest.

The armrest and the possession thereof is a situation that must be addressed at the very beginning. You don't want to set a bad precedent. I was once at the start of a 12-hour bus ride through Guatemala or Costa Rica and the guy next to me was sprawled out and hogging the arm rest. Very politely, I said, " Would you mind sharing the arm rest with me? It's going to be a long ride."

He was so shocked that he sat up, removed his leg from MY HALF OF THE SPACE, which is something men do that annoys me so much - if I pull my leg in so I do not have to be touching yours, it is not an invitation for you to spread your legs even wider into MY HALF OF THE SPACE, and shifted his arm over. It ended up being a nice ride. He was a forestry student at the university. We had to get off the bus in the middle of the night for the drug check and then for the Mediterranean fruit fly spraying, so we had plenty of time to talk.

The young woman was hogging the armrest and I was trying to gently nudge my arm in there so she would know there was another person sitting there, but she was busy texting.

Almost everyone had boarded. The seat in front of me was empty. The late passenger came back. He was a thin, tall, stooped man in his late 20s carrying a smallish gym bag. He opened the bin over his seat and it was full. He opened a few more around us and they were all full.

"If you rearrange my things," I suggested, "you can probably fit your bag in there."

He smiled at me and opened the bin over his seat again. As he pulled out the roll of Christmas wrapping paper that someone had put in there, a woman three seats behind us jumped up and strode forward. "No!" she shouted. "Do not move those things!"

She was in her late 60s, dyed red hair,* very heavy dark eyebrows. She wagged her finger at him and scolded. "You cannot move those things! There is room up there!" She waved in the general direction of the front of the plane.

The young man dropped his hand, bewildered.

"He has a right to that space," I told her. "He has a right to move things around so he can put his things up there."

She glared at me. I glared back. A few years ago, I boarded a plane only to find no room in the bins. I finally found one with space, but I was going to have to rearrange things. As I pulled out the top item, a woman told me, "You can't move that! It's fragile!"

Instead of telling her, "Then you can hold it in your lap or put it under your seat," I said, "Oh," and stuffed my bag under my seat and had no room whatsoever for my short, sturdy legs.

This was payback.

"Someone put things in mine," she said defiantly.

"Then help him find room for his. If you won't let him touch your things, then you need to help him."

She glared at me some more, but then did as I asked. As she turned behind us to look, other passengers offered help, telling him he could move their things.

After he finally sat, the young woman next to me said, "That was a nice thing to do." She smiled and removed her arm from the armrest. She finally saw me.

When we got off the plane nine hours later, the old lady jumped up to get her things out of the bin before I could even move. I saw her take out the rolling paper, a small bag, and her coat. There would have been plenty of room for the young man's things. She was just mean.



* I have got to come up with my going gray strategy. Home hair coloring once you're on social security is probably not a good idea. At least, it won't be for me.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Spain 1: We decide to go to Madrid for Christmas

Photobucket

I am only now posting the Spain 2011 series because I had a backlog of material and I am lazy.

But SH and I went to Spain for Christmas.

It was not my idea.* But it was fine once we got started.

Before Thanksgiving, SH was counting his frequent flyer miles and realized that he did not have enough miles to maintain his status for 2012. If you fly a lot for your job, you know what I am talking about.

"Let's go to Spain for Christmas," he said. "It would give me enough miles. Argentina is too expensive."

"Or we could stay home," I suggested.

"But - my status!"

I thought about how hard he works and how I get to stay at home, eating bonbons and watching Big Bang Theory, so grudgingly said yes.*

One suggestion was that Florida would be warmer and almost as festive as Madrid and we could rent the condo of someone's housekeeper.

That suggestion met with the appropriate response.

Then we started to plan and got all excited because Spain! At Christmas!

More importantly, churros! Serrano ham! Espanish shoes that will not violate our "not made in China" policy.

SH bought a ticket for himself, got one for me with miles, and secured all our hotels with hotel points.


You know me - the only thing that makes a trip better is if it is almost free.

We left the Monday before Christmas, taking the long way to Madrid via Detroit and Paris.

We got to Detroit, where we had a two hour layover.

Walking to our new gate, we passed a Christmas fundraiser: pay $5 to sing on stage there in concourse whatever it was.

I told SH he had to sing. Had to.

He was all, "Wooooo!" because he does not like surprises.

"But I have to go to the bathroom!" he protested.

I shook my head at him. "Not mutually exclusive activities," I said. "Hurry up."

He went to the bathroom and I paid the karaoke cares people so he couldn't back out, not that I thought he would.

I even picked a song for him, but he didn't want my song.

"It's Christmas," he said. "I'm singing a Christmas carol."

He got up on stage. Started to sing. And people stopped to listen. It was lovely. He sang "O Holy Night" and hit every note. My man, Engineer by day, crooner by night.

And then we went to the lounge, where we found these.


Tomorrow: The rude lady who tried to hog the overhead luggage bin on the plane to Paris.

* First world problem

Monday, December 26, 2011

Marriage 401, Lecture 697: Got a quarter? Call someone who cares


SH: Hey! What are you doing? Stop!

Me: I'm just opening the mail.

SH: The purpose of a letter opener is to open an envelope neatly.

Me: No it isn't. It is just to open an envelope.

SH: Neatly!

Me: Who cares? The envelope is going to be thrown away anyhow.

SH: You're not doing it right!


Photo from the archives of The Big Factotum

Friday, December 23, 2011

Wisconsin 101: Winter wardrobe

According to my mom's info on this photo, this is my grandfather hauling ice. I cannot believe I share genes with that man. Something happened in those two generations.

When I was out "running" (as I like to call it, although a casual observer might call it "shuffling along like a little old lady who forgot her walker at home but is still determined to get some fresh air," no disrespect to little old ladies intended - I am in awe of the older people I see at my gym who walk around the track with canes and walkers and casts. They make me feel pathetic and whiny for skipping out of body pump before we do shoulders. I hate shoulders, but if that old lady can walk a mile with a cane, I guess I can spend four minutes lifting weights that are only a pound heavier than a full milk jug.)

Where was I?

Oh right. I was out running and saw a couple of kids walking home from school in shorts.

This is December. In Wisconsin.

Granted, there is no snow on the ground (if this be global warming that I have not had to shovel yet this year, then bring it), but it was only 22 degrees with the wind chill. I was wearing long tights, two long-sleeved t-shirts, a fleece, and a down vest. And my new fluffy mittens that I got at Kohls for only $4 after the $10 gift card they sent me. I hit the store the day the fluffy mittens were on half price sale. I might not have paid $28 for mittens - although the longer I spend in Wisconsin, the less I value my money and the more I value my warmth - but I was very willing to spend $4 on them. I don't know if I have ever paid full price at Kohls. But what can they expect? They're the ones who send me that $10 cards all the time.

I will never be as tough as these kids. I wanted to yell at them to put on more clothes, but they were walking, not lying huddled on the sidewalk, waiting for death to take them in her warm embrace.

Here is what I have learned about winter after moving here in 2008:

There is no such thing as "a" winter coat.

I had a coat and a pair of shoes when I was a kid. Maybe a pair or two of shoes - school shoes, play shoes, and church shoes.

But only one coat.

Before I moved here, I had a winter coat. That's all I needed in Memphis. One coat. One coat to rule them all.

Then I arrived. And discovered that a Memphis winter coat is not adequate for a Wisconsin winter.

Which is why I have a down vest, a long nice wool coat, a short nice wool coat, two spring coats, two jeans jackets, one plain, one striped, a windbreaker, a raincoat, and a big red puffy down coat that I bought for ten dollars at the First Presbyterian thrift shop in Cedar Rapids 13 years ago, even though I had no need of a down coat but it was such a good deal that I couldn't pass it up.

The down coat is the one I wear most often, as it is the warmest, and it is the perfect coat to use when I am selecting from the suite of snow removal equipment, because just as one does not have "a" winter coat in Wisconsin, one also does not have "a" shovel.

I am very ready to move back south.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Marriage 401, Lecture 331: Don't call me, I'll call you


SH: Laverne is going to want to drink some of this egg-flavored water in this kettle.

Me: She likes flavored water.

SH: Wait. It's not even egg flavor. It's eggshell flavor. [Which it was - I had made a hardboiled egg to take to the gym for my between-class snack. Don't laugh. Hardboiled eggs are the perfect travel food and snack because they are easy to transport and eat and they are full of protein. I don't like eating sugar to sate hunger. I do like eating sugar, but as a hobby, not as a biological necessity.]

Me: As soon as you leave the sink and she thinks she can get away with it, she'll go for it.

Two minutes later, after SH has gone upstairs. Laverne jumps onto the counter, walks the narrow strip of counter next to the dish drainer, putting her right feet in the drainer, and balances herself on the edge of the sink so she can drink the eggshell flavored water.

I pick up my phone and call SH.

Oh like you wouldn't call someone in the same house? I know I am not the only lazy person in the world. I know you wouldn't actually get up and walk upstairs just to tell someone something.

I heard a deep, impatient sigh from his office before he picked up the phone.

"What?"

"Hey! I heard that."

"Heard what?"

"That deep sigh."

"Well, I was just down there! What do you want?"

"Laverne is drinking the eggshell flavored water."

He laughed. "OK, that was worth it."


Photo credit: The Big Factotum

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Marriage 401, Lecture 468: Priorities

Who gives drumsticks to a kindergartner? I didn't think my parents had enemies.

Me: So. [Wxyz] tonight?

SH: OK.

An hour later.

Me: Well?

SH: But - but it's already 8:00 and I want to go out and sing!

Me: Are you saying you want to skip [wxyz]?

SH: I haven't been out to sing in a week!

Me: When you were 20, would you have turned down [wxyz]?

SH: No way!

Me: Then why now?

SH: Back then, I would have thought it might be my only chance ever.


Photo credit: The Big Factotum

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ho-made Nutella

Today is a day without sugar. Why? Because yesterday was the day of the Great Homemade Nutella Adventure.

You mean you've never had homemade Nutella?

It's time.

I thought storebought Nutella was good, but I used to think that a restaurant was the only place you could get mussels, fried calamari, bone marrow, or spring rolls. Now I know those secrets and I will never again pay retail for something that is 1. dirt cheap to make and 2. easy to make.

The moral: so far, I cannot think of anything that is not better when it is homemade, including Nutella.

But here's the catch: When you are making your homemade Nutella, do not sample too much. Or else you will feel sick to your stomach until you go to bed and you will vow never to eat sugar again. It's 12:38 p.m. and I have made it thus far without sugar, that's how strong my resolve is and how crummy I felt last night. Even though the homemade Nutella is in the fridge and even though I made three kinds of Christmas cookies on Sunday and have plenty of sugar opportunities.

Anyhow, one of my readers, Gaylin, posted this recipe on the Class Factotum facebook fan page. I tried it and it is yummy. She suggested substituting espresso for the water and I said well what about bacon fat for part of the butter? Is there anything that can't be made better with bacon? I don't think so.

Bon appetit.

Chocolate Hazelnut Butter

1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup hot water
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts (I grind them in a small food processor)

In a small heavy saucepan, whisk together sugar, cocoa and water; cook over medium-low heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil and boil while whisking for one minute. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
Let cool to room temperature.

In a bowl, beat butter until light. Gradually beat in chocolate mixture until fluffy and light in colour. Fold in nuts.

Spoon in to container(s), cover and keep refrigerated.
Makes 2 1/2 cups.


PS I made half a recipe but it was far less than one cup once I finally put it away. A lot less. The moral of the story is don't eat 1/4 cup of fresh homemade Nutella.


Photo credit: The Big Factotum

Monday, December 19, 2011

Wisconsin 101: This is Wisconsin people here get up early

It is rare that I get to complain about Wisconsinites acting badly. In my everyday life, I mean. I am staying out of politics on this blog. I mean it is rare that I encounter someone as I am going from the gym to the store to the library and back home who is rude or inconsiderate.

Which means I almost never have a chance to exercise valid righteous indignation.

Sometimes, though, we all want to rant indignantly. Don't we? Or is it just me? I did give up righteous indignation for Lent several years ago and noticed that nobody told me that they missed my rants. Maybe it's OK to want it. Not OK to do it so much.

But yesterday, I ran across clueless rudeness.

And I ranted about it. To the people who were being rude! That's rare - usually, I take my annoyance out on SH, which is not fair because it's not his fault. But he does the same thing to me - he cannot go through one story in the Sunday paper without sounding like a grumpy old man. The World is Going To Hell, he'll growl. Things Are Getting Worse. The Worst They've Ever Been - so we're even.

Yesterday, at 7:15 a.m., I noticed two men in our back yard. I went outside to see what was what.

The one with the baggy overalls and the ironic wool hat with the long ties took his cigarette out of his mouth* and said, "We're going to be working on the roof next door."

I shrugged. "OK."

"Would you move your car so we don't accidentally hit it?"

That seemed reasonable. I didn't want old roof shingles falling on SH's car. He is very protective of that car. We didn't want the Song of Something Bad Happened over a scratch.
I moved the car. An hour later, I left for the gym. I had to get one of the roofing guys off the truck from which they were unloading materials to direct me out of the driveway. The materials truck was blocking the driveway on one side and they had another truck on the other side. I did not want a repeat of last year's Light Bumping of the Fender.

When I returned home at noon, I discovered our driveway covered with tarp, which was OK because I did not want to find roof nails with my feet or the tires. I pulled into my neighbor's driveway, then went to her door to ask if I could park there while the workers were there.

I also discovered roofing supplies filling the back part of our driveway - the new part that we got last year instead of a vacation or an early retirement - and our yard.

I went inside. Found SH. "Did they ask if they could put their crap on our yard?" I asked him.

"No!" he fumed. "But I didn't know if they'd asked you!"

They had not.

We fumed together for a while, then I said, "I'm going to say something. Yes! I am!"

Saying something is Not My Way. My way, as you know, is to whine and complain to everyone but the person who is bugging me. What if I confronted the bugger and he got mad at me? Then what?

You see my dilemma.

But they had gone too far. I am a big believer in property rights. As in, if you want to use my property, you ask. No, I don't mean the neighbor boys running into our yard when they play baseball or frisbee, but grownups who should know better.

When we had our driveway done, I talked to my neighbor and apologized that there would be noise for a few days. "I know you're at home during the day," I said. "This is when we are scheduled to do it, but if those are bad days for you, then we'll try for the next week."

She waved me off. "Don't worry about it."

Which is what I would have done if someone had actually said, "Hey. They're going to be roofing and there might be noise and crap. I'm sorry about that."

I took a deep breath and walked outside. Cigarette Guy lumbered past. "Are you the one in charge?" I asked.

He shook his head and pointed to a man standing on top of the roof. He was too far to hear me.

I turned back to Cigarette Guy. "Tell him that you guys could have asked to put your junk in our yard," I directed.

He shrugged. "We can move it."

"That's not the point!" I said. "You should have asked!"

The boss moved to the edge of the roof. I shouted up at him, "You should have asked to put your stuff on our driveway and lawn!"

He shook his head. "I have to have room to work."

That made me mad. That's up there with "It's not my job" as an unacceptable answer from any working person.

"I know that! All you had to do was ask. IT'S ONLY POLITE!"

He turned away and returned to work. I was flabbergasted. Maybe he was from out of state.

I stomped inside and grabbed my phone. They had put a sign in the front yard with the company phone number. I called and explained the situation to the woman who answered.

"I can have them move it," she offered.

Lord have mercy had all these people lost their brains? Was there a brain-sucking ghoul traveling through the cold Wisconsin night?

I took a deep breathe. "Just tell them to ask first, OK?" I said through gritted teeth. "It's not that complicated."

I hope that is my annual encounter with clueless.


* If this were Hollywood, the cigarette would signify a Bad Guy. They are used now in lieu of black hats.


Photo credit: The Big Factotum

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Wisconsin 101: Menards I wish I could quit you


SH: It's getting more and more complicated. There are so many places I have to boycott.

Me: Good. We don't need any more stuff. You don't need to shop.

SH: I bought the tree at Menards.

Me: I thought you were boycotting Menards.

SH: I am.

Me: So?

SH: It was the only place with little trees.

Me: That's what it takes for you to violate your principles? A small Christmas tree?

SH: Well, the trees are grown in the US. It's a made in America product. I noticed that most of their items are, actually.

Me: What do you mean, you noticed? Did you go into the store?

SH: Yes. Just to look.

Me: And how was it?

SH [wistfully]: I miss Menards.


Photo credit: The Big Factotum

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Marriage 401, Lecture 307: It's so fluffeh! part 2


Me: I have to tell you a story!

SH: What?

Me: I was sitting in bed reading and all of a sudden, I started hearing this low rumbling. It would start and stop and start and stop.

SH: What was it?!

Me: I thought it might be the furnace - it had just kicked on.

SH: Oh no! What was it?!

Me: So I thought, I better go downstairs and make sure nothing's wrong with the furnace.

SH: TELL ME! Is something wrong?

Me: I got up and walked around the bed - and there was Laverne --

SH: OH NO! Was she OK?

Me: She was on the floor at the foot of the bed on top of the fluffy pants. They had fallen to the floor and she was standing on them, kneading them and purring the loudest I have ever heard her.

SH: Why did you put me through all this?

Me: You really don't like suspense, do you?

Photo credit: The Big Factotum

Friday, December 16, 2011

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Wisconsin 101: You no eat meat?


At the mechanic as I am dropping off the car to have the snow tires put on. The owner notices me glancing at an Aldi ad on the table.

Owner: Get the lamb.

Me: What?

Owner: The lamb. It's on sale. I got it and it was good.

Me: I'm not sure about lamb. I made lamb shanks a few weeks ago and realized after all the work that I really don't like mutton.

Owner: This lamb is not gamy. This is Wisconsin lamb. You might have had Australian lamb. That has a really strong flavor.

Owner's dad: Bah! Americans do not know how to eat lamb.

Owner: This lamb is good.

Owner's dad: You want good lamb? You come to festival. I make lamb. [He gets out his smartypants phone and shows me photos of roasting lamb.] See? I make you whole lamb. Here shish kebab. You want good lamb? You buy lamb, I make for you. One hundred forty dollars and you get 35 pounds of lamb.

Owner: That Aldi lamb is good and it's a good price.

Owner's dad: Bah! You no get good lamb cheap. When we have festival, we buy 1,000 pounds of lamb and get wholesale. Seven dollars.

Owner: The Aldi lamb is $6.50 a pound.

Owner's dad: Oh. That is good price.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Marriage 401, Lecture 615: Family affair

Wild and crazy topless sister.

Me: Oh. That's interesting. My sister has a new boyfriend.

SH: What?!

Me: Well, she says here [in her email] that he put her on his companion pass for Southwest.

SH: So she just casually mentioned she had a boyfriend and hadn't told you yet? Wait - it's worse! She mentioned something about her boyfriend. But she hadn't even told you he existed! That's like telling you she's going to walk her dog and you didn't even know she had a dag!

Me: I didn't know.

SH: Are you asking her about him? Where did she meet him? Who is he? What does he do? Why hasn't she told you anything?

Me: I don't know! Here's what she wrote:

I just spent a few days in NYC with my boyfriend and loving life.

SH: YOU NEED TO FIND OUT!

Photo Credit: The Big Factotum

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Marriage 401, Lecture 307: It's so fluffeh!


SH: Wow. Those fluffy pants [that my mom gave me and that are shedding in solidarity with the cats] are really sexy.

Me: I know. They give me a fluffy butt.

SH: Hot!

SH: Hey! Stop! What are you doing?

Me: I was going to sit on your lap!

SH: No! You'll bump into things on the desk and then I'll have to straighten everything out again!

Me: I'm so glad to know where your priorities are.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Marriage 401, Lecture 496: The soaps


SH: What soap did you use while I was gone?

Me: The soap that's in the shower.

SH: It's hardly worn.

Me: I don't know. That's what I used.

SH: How many showers did you take?

Me: It's not like I was going out in public or anything.



Photo credit: My mom, the Big Factotum

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Of course The Big Factotum comes through

This is the photo I referred to in the previous post. Moi with the octopus my mom made me in the PJs my mom made me in my own room. I didn't have to share for the first time in my life.

UPDATE: My mom says she didn't make the PJs. She did, however, make the flannel nightgown for me in 8th grade that I took to college and was subjected to a great deal of teasing for, as if nobody else in college has ever worn a flannel nightie with blue kittens on it.

Wisconsin 101: Lutheran ladies craft and bake sale

Because I couldn't find the photo I wanted, I posted this one instead. From left to right, it's Curtis, one of my grandparents' seven foster children, my grandfather (on my mom's side), my sister, my brother, and me. My hair was so glossy and smooth back then. I miss my old hair. My old glossy, smooth, and naturally blonde hair.

There's a photo of me at age 7, sitting on my bed next to the octopus thingy my mom had made for me out of orange yarn and a Styrofoam ball. I can't find it - perhaps my mom will email it to me when she reads this? You know the one I mean - in the maid's room in Royal Oaks.

I thought of that little octopus thingy - you know what I mean! The yarn went over the Styrofoam and tied at the bottom of the ball. That was the octopus head. My mom sewed two buttons on the head and those were the octopus eyes. Then she divided the yarn into eight chunks and braided them into long octopus legs. She arranged the octopus on my bed with the legs artfully curved. I posed next to it in the flannel PJs she had made for me.

Martha Stewart? Has nothing on my mom. She probably made the clothes my sister and I are wearing in the photo above. She made almost all our clothes.

I thought of the octopus on Saturday night when SH and I went to his little Lutheran church for services and then for the arts and crafts and bake sale afterwards. The sale is the fundraiser that one of the women's groups organizes to support various charities in the area. We love the crafts sale because we always clean up. Lutheran ladies - and I hate to take advantage of them but hey they set the prices - charge way too little for their handmade hats and baby booties and scarves.

Maybe it's just a Wisconsin thing. When I was in Medford this summer, I stopped in at the shop run by the senior center. There is a retired woodworker who floods the store with beautiful, gorgeous handmade toys. I bought an 18 wheeler tractor-trailer with working wheels for our step-step grandson. I won't say how much it cost because I don't want Vanessa to read this and think I am cheap, which I am a little bit but I got the truck because it was beautiful and well made, not because it was inexpensive. I will tell you that I googled to find similar items and if you want to buy a handmade tractor-trailer online, you are going to pay over $100. Which is most definitely not what I paid.

Maybe handmade goods are underpriced here because everyone either knows how to make these things themselves or their grandparents or parents or aunts or uncles can make them. However, there are people outstate who are willing to pay a lot more for these things. Perhaps I should start buying everything and selling it online for a huge profit. Would that be morally wrong? To make a profit off charity sale goods? What if I gave some of the money back to the charity? Not all. Some.

At the same shop, I bought some Packers colors booties, only the lady who was volunteering at the cash box that day hadn't crocheted the little ties. She would have done it while I waited only she hadn't brought the right color of yarn. I asked if she would mail them to me if I left her money for postage and she said, Well sure you betcha.

And she did. I got them in time to take to California as a gift for Vanessa and Eric's baby, whom they always dress in Niners clothes. SH and I told them the Packers needed equal time. We gave them the booties and some Packers onesies from Kohls, one of the few stores SH is not boycotting.

At the church sale, they had little octopuses and Gary, it is octopuses, not octopii because it is a Greek word, not a Latin one. As soon as I saw them, I thought of my old orange octopus and how nice it is to have things that someone has made for you with love.

Not that I appreciated that sort of thing when I was a kid. No, our Christmas ritual was to start going through the pages of the Sears Christmas catalogue in the weeks before Christmas and circle everything we wanted. Then we wrote a letter to Santa explaining exactly what we wanted. What we wanted was store-bought things.

At school, in my Spanish class, we wrote to Los Tres Reyes, or the Three Kings, who delivered presents to Spanish children on the Feast of the Epiphany. One would assume that if Santa could refer to the Sears catalogue, so could Los Tres Reyes. I of course was hoping to double dip.

The other thing SH and I got from the Lutheran ladies was cookies. Those Lutheran ladies can bake. I had planned to make the coffee snaps from The Joy of Cooking (flour + sugar + butter 1/2 lb of butter + Kahlua and of course I throw in chocolate chips), but then we bought all these cookies and some little chocolate chocolate chip cakes, one of which is in the freezer waiting for dinner with Bonnie and Gary and if you guys decide there are too many carbs in it, that's fine that's just more for SH and me. I don't take offense.

Then this morning I woke up and thought, So what that I have all these Lutheran cookies. None of them are coffee snaps. So I got out half a pound of butter and the Patron XO Cafe because we are out of Kahlua and they didn't have it at Costco when I was there last week.

Costco did, however, have seven pounds of brown sugar for $4.90, which I should have bought because the brown sugar at my store is over $1 a pound, but I thought I was so clever, googling "brown sugar" on my smartypants phone and seeing a few hits for $0.69 a pound. Google must have been talking about Costco. That's what I get for not clicking through.

Sometimes having a smartypants phone isn't so great, not if you don't think, You know, $0.69 a pound for brown sugar seems like a really good deal and yes, this bag is kind of big, but you have an entire basement to store things, for crying out loud. Sometimes, you just have to use your head.

Now we have coffee snap cookie dough in the freezer, just waiting to be baked. I have already resisted the temptation to open the bag and unroll the dough from the waxed paper and eat some of it.

Oh like you have never eaten raw cookie dough. Baker, please.

But I had the package in my hand, the other hand on the door handle, and I thought, No. I can put this away. I can wait. Besides, there are Lutheran cookies in the cupboard.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Marriage 401, Lecture 699: The more the merrier


SH: Maybe I should be a polygamist. Then I could have a different wife for everything I need.

Me: You already have a Nighttime Wife.

SH: But that doesn't seem fair. Women should be able to have more than one husband. Plus I've already had two wives. That's enough.

Me: Why would I want another husband? You're already enough for me.

SH: I thought you might want a husband who agrees with you sometimes.

Me: That would be nice.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Marriage 401, Lecture 516: Not lazy but really?

This guy is not lazy. He is waiting for the saw to start. Which it won't for a while, because he is not stupid - he would not lean on a piece of machinery about to start.

After SH goes from the kitchen to the bathroom for a drink of water.

Me: There's water in the kitchen, you know.

SH: Yes, but the glass is already out in the bathroom.

Note: the cupboard containing SH's Lakefront Brewery tour glasses is 40 inches from the kitchen tap. As in, a normal person can stand in front of the tap and open the cabinet without moving. OK, with only leaning over a little bit.

Me: You'd rather walk through the hall and to the bathroom than open the cupboard?

SH: There's stuff in the sink.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Marriage 401, Lecture 417: Better to light a single candle


At book club this week, my friend who shall go unnamed because I don't think she would want to be named was telling us about a woman she knows who is fairly straitlaced. As in when Straitlaced Woman visited My Friend in the hospital, the nurse thought she was a missionary.

"You mean dressed like 'Big Love?'" I asked. Those prairie dresses and Michelle Duggar hair blessherheart flatter no one.

"Nope, just - just - missionary," My Friend said. Then she found a photo on her smartypants phone and passed it around.

Yep. Missionary.

You guys know I am not that straitlaced. Oh sure I have my views on What's Right and What's Wrong and woe to anyone who crosses my path - lady, don't even THINK about getting into the express lane with 17 items or you will indeed feel the glare of my wrath as I stare pointedly, POINTEDLY, I say, at your overflowing basket - but you know that I talk about farts and [wxyz] here* and I want to tell you a story about the HBO show "Rome" and the naked slave who was adorned in a way I have never seen a man adorned if you know what I mean and about SH and the ideal proportions but I have to clear it with SH first.

But when my friend gave us an example of how straitlaced this woman was, I didn't think it was all that.

"She has three children. She knows what happens! But when she wants to initiate things with her husband, she lights a candle!"

"Oh," I said. "The [wxyz] candle! Doesn't everyone have one of those?"

Heads swiveled my way.

I shrugged.

Eyes rolled. Then the questions flew - to my friend, not to me.

"What happens if he doesn't feel like it?"

The consensus was that 1. men never don't feel like it.

Which is not true, but it is rare.

"How does he start it?"

We were stumped. Was she in complete control of the candle and the events? Or did he have any rights in this area at all. If the candle is lit, don't come knockin', but if the candle isn't lit, does that mean NO [WXYZ]! NONE! Or can he light the candle?

All we know is that candle has been lit three times.




* EVERYONE farts. And almost everyone has [wxyz]. I am seeking the universal human experiences here. This is deep literature.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

People Who Aren't Doing It Right #872

I know this guy would Do It Right.

Grrr. Every time I look at my microwave, I get so mad. The door is filthy and I cannot clean it. There is grease and tomato sauce on the inside of the window, inside the grill.

Why is there grease and tomato sauce on the inside of the window? Not because SH and I microwave food without covering it. Because we don't. We keep the microwave wax paper in there and use it until it is unusable.

But because

1. The man who renovated our house and installed the new appliances bought the appliances at the scratch and dent center, which is just fine, but he either did not think or did not bother to think that perhaps the full name of the scratch and dent center should really be the "Scratch, Dent, and Missing Pieces Center," for what is wrong with the microwave is that it is missing the piece of film that covers the honeycombed screen that keeps death rays from leaving the microwave and rendering my eyeballs infertile and also keeps grease and tomato sauce from penetrating the honeycomb screen and soldering themselves permanently to the glass. On the inside. Where one cannot clean even with a toothbrush. And no, I cannot remove the honeycomb screen. I have tried. If it won't pop out with the help of a screwdriver, it is not meant to pop out is my motto.

2. The man who sold us our house, a 27 year old bachelor who never once used the stove or so I surmise because it was sparkling clean and he was not a cleaner - can I say DISGUSTING BASEBOARDS?, but who sat shirtless every single night against the wall in his bedroom - not against the headboard but against the wall - and left back-shaped grease stains on the new green paint, which meant I had to re-paint that room before we moved in, cooked every single meal in the microwave and did not cover his food once. He had a diet rich in grease and tomato sauce.

People. I know none of you microwave food without covering it and I know none of you sit with your naked back on the wall. So I feel safe in stating that people who do this are Not Doing It Right and are Bad People. We can all agree on that, can't we?

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Marriage 401, Lecture 868: Full of it


SH: You lit the candle!

Me: Uh huh.

SH: Why?

Me: Ummm. Because.

SH: Hey! Did you fart?

Me: Maybe.

SH: That's the [wxyz] candle! You're not supposed to light it for farts!

Monday, December 05, 2011

Marriage 401, Lecture 715: Funny the penguin being there


It's that time of the year. The time when SH tethers the Traditional Inflatable Christmas Penguin to the porch in an attempt to make our house the Tackiest House on the Block. Bless his heart, he comes from People Who Have Brass, Ceramic, and Glass Frogs All Over Their House, so how is he supposed to know better?

He mentioned something on Friday about getting a tree this weekend, but it rained on Saturday plus I didn't even pick him up from the airport until after lunch, and he stayed out late last night with his Nighttime Wife and he didn't get out of bed until 11:55 a.m., at which point he said he was STARVING, which shouldn't be a surprise as beer just doesn't stick with a person the way it should.

By the time he finishes making our mushroom*/cheese/steak omelettes, it will be Too Late to go out.

Actually, it won't be Too Late because SH is nocturnal and hates the sun but he probably won't feel like it, as he has been traveling for the past month, including Thanksgiving at an undisclosed location but I assure you it was not a restful week for him. Me? I stayed home, watched season 2 of The Good Wife, and ate Fritos. I had a GREAT Thanksgiving, unlike SH. Although at least no blood was drawn on this trip.

I suspect SH will want to spend today doing nothing. Nothing except installing the penguin. Maybe an episode of Friday Night Lights.

I noted that the place where we bought the tree last year is charging $45 for the smallest trees. "The trees are cheaper at Menards," SH noted. "But I'm boycotting them."

Long pause as he did the math in his head. "I might have to break my boycott. There is a Wal-Mart exception for car batteries. Maybe there can be a Menards exception for Christmas tress."

My principled hunk.



* We discovered - much to our lack of surprise - that Laverne likes mushrooms. She was licking the unwashed mushrooms I had put in the colander. I threw her into the basement so I could read the news in peace without having to guard the produce, but then when I was ready to wash and cut them up, I let her back in and gave her a tiny little bit in her dish and she ate it right up then asked for more. SH saw her trying to eat the mushroom stems I had left in another bowl, so grabbed the camera to document, but she saw him with the camera and jumped off the counter because she knows she is Not Allowed to Eat Food Off The Counter and only does it when nobody is watching, like in those split seconds when I turn my back from the cutting board to the sink and BAM! she is on that fish or beef or whatever.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Marriage 401, Lecture 725: Joyful reunion


After SH has been gone for five days.

Me: Should I turn off the TV and the DVD player? [He gets all freaky when I leave them on, telling me that the DVD player gets hot.] [At my friend Lenore's recommendation, I am watching "Rome." Holy smoke. I don't think I've ever seen an HBO series before and let me tell you, the rules are completely different. I am getting quite an education.]

SH: I don't know.

Me: Well, will this [wxyz] take long?

SH: Probably not.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Marriage 401, Lecture 98: What the meaning of "a lot of money" is


Let's contrast these two scenarios, shall we?

1. The incandescent light bulbs in the bathroom issue - read the story here.

2. The FSA issue, which is this.

SH: You only want to put $100 into the FSA for 2012?

Me: Yes.

SH: But that's almost nothing.

Me: I am not anticipating many medical expenses, especially now that I figured out that it was caffeine causing my headaches.*

SH: It's hardly worth it.

Me: $100 means at least $25 back.

SH: That's only $25.

Me: That's five beer units.

And had I been quicker, I would have known to remind SH that he freaked out at the idea of spending an extra six dollars a year on electricity.

And then there was the email I got from SH ten minutes after I wrote this post:

Friday Night Lights is $12.99 today! I'm ordering it.

Every season is $12.99 right now, so we could have saved about half of a beer unit on season 4 as well.


* I.e., there will be no $400 visits (co-pay $20) to the neurologist and no more $140 copay drugs that don't stop my headaches but do make me gain weight and lose hair, which is the opposite of what I would like. Now the only headache drama in the house is trying to get the timing right for SH's caffeinated coffee vs my decaf. Who gets the coffee maker on which day?

Friday, December 02, 2011

Marriage 401, Lecture 998: Noodling around


SH: Hey! You put the leftovers in the container and they're still warm! [Of the chow fun noodles I made with the llama chops we got at Pinter's in Dorchester this summer. I am calculating how to have 40 lbs of them shipped to us in January. SO GOOD.]

Me: You be quiet.

SH: And it looks like the proportion of noodles is a lot higher in the container than in what's left in the pan.

Me: So rearrange. I don't care.

SH: There's a ton of this! Don't you think we should freeze some?

Me: I don't think it will freeze well.

SH: But I'm leaving on Sunday and that means I won't get my share.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Marriage 401, Lecture 829: Strategy

He is also a superior bacon chooser.

SH: Most husbands don't do the dishes. I am a good dish doer. I work all day and then I still do the dishes.

Me: Yes, you are a good dish doer. You are a good husband.

SH: Of course the main reason I do the dishes is because I don't like how you do them.

Me: That works for me.