Monday, May 30, 2011

The Archives of Me

The last time I was home my mom informed me that she’s going to start The Great Purge soon – cleaning out my old room.  In my defense, it’s not just my old stuff in that room…there’s a lot of stuff that’s been dumped stored in there since I moved out six years ago.   In an effort to help (and protect my privacy!), I brought home two large containers and started to go through them.  In my biz, that’s called Records Management – determining what’s permanent or temporary, what can be “retained” or “pitched” into the garbage.  In real life, it’s called tossing out all the crap you probably should’ve gotten rid of when you moved out in the first place.  Now, since I’m a borderline hoarder, there’s a lot that I’ll be retaining permanently.  The jury’s still out on the Barbies and the Cabbage Patch Kids though.
Over the next few weeks, I thought I’d share a few of the more interesting “records” from my personal archives.  The first thing I’m going to share is my values essay from 5th Grade.  I was 11 years old, and in Middle School – a time of huge transition for me; it was a new school where I changed classes, rode a bus, had a locker instead of a cubby, and had classmates with names like Liza and Ellyn.  Fancy, right? 
I didn’t know it then, but looking back now, I can honestly say that 5th Grade was the last year that I was spunky, fearless Denise.  It was the last year that I didn’t care that I didn’t look exactly like everyone else…or it was the last year that I wasn’t fully aware that people thought of me as being “different”.  Those stories are for another day.  Right now, I present “Two Values and A NOT.” 
In light of my previous post, it is apparent that my proofreading skills were not yet developed!

I know what you’re thinking –
“Reading is similar to a library with pages” – wowsers, stop with the kickass symbolism!  
“If you didn’t have a family, you might feel abandoned” – does this girl have abandonment issues?!  Um, yeah, I do.  But it’s all my mom’s fault – note to parents, it’s always a good idea to have TWO emergency contacts for your child, just in case you decide to go out with your child’s (only) emergency contact and on that particular day, the school decides to lose electricity leaving your hearing-impaired second-grader unable to reach anyone to take her home.  Seriously, I’m fine.  That day no longer haunts me.  Honestly.  Please don’t leave me anywhere though, okay?  ‘Cause I will freak the hell out. 
“I try to draw but never succeed” – ho-hum, what a Debbie Downer!  Actually, that still holds true – I can’t draw to save my life!  Don’t ever ask me to play a game of Pictionary.  I suck at it.  My classmates’ NOT values were things like drugs, bullying, prejudice; my NOT value was art.  I had my priorities straight, didn’t I?  Of course, it’s not as bad as Jason M.’s NOT – he didn’t value when girls dumped him.  He hated it because it made him really mad and he got angry and started punching or kicking things.  Gosh, I sure hope he outgrew that.  (By the way, he was 11…who the heck was he dating at 11?!  Did people date when they were 11?!)   
Stay tuned!  There's more to come!
On a more serious note, you will notice that my essay is on Page 22.  The essay on Page 32 was written by Alex Fattal, the older brother of Josh Fattal, one of the hikers who remains in an Iranian prison with his friend Shane Bauer.  They have been detained for over 660 days.  To learn more please visit:

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Cutting Slices of Life

Some random slices of my life from the past week:

Skirting the Issue
On Thursday, I wore a skirt to work.  Why is this significant?  Well, I don’t generally wear skirts or dresses.  In my old position, wearing a skirt wasn’t very practical.  I did a lot of running about and climbing up ladders.  Quite frankly, when you’re up on a ladder, the last thing you want to be wearing is a skirt.  Just in case, if you know what I’m saying.   In my new position, there aren’t too many opportunities to climb up ladders so skirts and fun summery dresses are a definite fashion possibility now.  Thursday was very hot so I figured what the heck?  So, instead of my usual pants, I dug out my H&M khaki skirt that was rolled up in the back of my closet.  It had the potential to look cute yet professionally appropriate or I could’ve looked like I was wearing a potato sack.  I think I ended up somewhere in between…it was a couple inches too long to be really cute so I kinda looked like a nun, but not a habit-wearing nun – more like one of those progressive nuns who wears khaki skirts while she’s out serving the faithful.  Probably the most traumatic thing about wearing a skirt was exposing my freakishly pasty white legs to people; oh, and remembering to cross my legs like a lady.  Overall, I felt very professional in my khaki skirt and I think I’ll try it again in the near future.  To paraphrase Katy Perry, I wore a skirt and I liked it.    
The Proof(reading) is in the Puding
In my new position, I’m responsible for ensuring that every archival description submitted for inclusion in our catalog meets all the standards established by the Establishers of Standards for Those Sorts of Things.  I’m like a proofreader on steroids.  Unfortunately, my job is seeping into my personal life.  Now I’m proofing every single thing that I read!  At Tuesday’s HOA meeting, I took one glance at the agenda and shuttered in horror.  One of the most glaring errors – police officers were going to discuss “police presents in the community.”  Grrr.  Today, I was driving down my town’s Main Street and I spotted the banner that hangs proudly across the street advertising the Farmer’s Market on Thursday’s.  Arrrrgh.  Now, I’m not perfect, there are probably typos and errors in my blog (and if there are, my mom will let me know).  In fact, my last Facebook status was a question but I didn’t end it with the proper punctuation.  So, it happens but, boy oh boy, does it drive me crazy!  By the way, I deliberately spelled “pudding” wrong in the subtitle.  Just so you know that I proofread this before I posted it!
This week was marked by endings.  Oprah’s of course on Wednesday.  At work, the week began and ended with retirement parties for two extremely dedicated colleagues, both of whom are true class acts who are held in high regard by all who know them.  One of these gentlemen played a very significant role in my life because he hired me for my first job at the Archives. Who knows?  If it hadn’t been for him, I might be a children’s librarian somewhere!  Each served almost forty years at the Archives and both spoke of how much they enjoyed their work.  Oprah spoke of that too…the importance of finding something that sparks you, something that you love to do.  I’ve been pretty lucky…I found my spark.  If you haven’t yet, don’t worry, you will.  Oh, and I’m going on record right now to say that I want chocolate cake with chocolate icing at my retirement party in 35 years.    

Thursday, May 26, 2011

O, Say it Ain’t So!

Yesterday marked the end of The Oprah Winfrey Show after 25 years.  Turns out, I ended up missing it which was kind of a bummer.  I know, I know, I should have a DVR.  It’s okay because I saw that the final episode is going to be replayed, I’ve seen a bunch of clips, and I just watched a Farewell to Oprah tribute on my local news so I’m good.  But, wow, it’s over. 
Was there life before Oprah?  Yeah, yeah, Phil Donahue.  I seem to remember Merv Griffin and afternoon Wheel of Fortune too.  And after school specials.  Whatever happened to after school specials?  But it was so long ago…I mean, Oprah occupied the four o’clock slot on Channel 6 (the home of the very best news station in the world, Action News!) since I was seven years old! 
I was a latch-key kid so my afternoon routine went a little something like this – got home from school, called my mom at work, watched the last half-hour of General Hospital, and then watched The Oprah Winfrey Show.  I’ve always been a fan of Oprah but sometimes I found her a little annoying.  Actually, I didn’t watch the show too much from the late 90s to the mid 2000s.  So, I missed the Book Club and the Angel Network and the Car Give Away.  I started watching again a few years ago, mainly because I have a crush on Dr. Oz.
I had a secret dream to be on Oprah.  When you’ve got a facial abnormality and feel like a misfit, where do you want to go to share your story?  Oprah, of course!  You’d share your story and everyone would see it and hear it and then they would stop staring or teasing because it was on Oprah and if it was on Oprah, people just seemed to understand and accept.  And yeah, maybe I hoped I’d get a book deal out of it.  Then I grew up. 
I never got to be on Oprah and I never got to be in her studio audience.  But a few years ago, my friend Lidia and I went on a trip to visit friends in Chicago.  Lidia, like me, has TCS.  She was the first person I ever met who looked just like me.  For many years, she was the only person I knew of who looked like me.  When you know there’s one other person out in the world who’s like you, who understands, it feels a little less lonely some days.  I’m pretty sure she had Oprah dreams too (well, actually she got to be on The Tyra Banks Show and Tyra was going to be the next Oprah!)
There were two things I wanted to see when I was in Chicago – Oprah’s studio and the American Girl store.  Look, I’ve had an American Girl doll since I was nine years old – I was hitting up that place.  I don’t care that I was approaching 30.  After perusing that Mecca of Girlness and buying Samantha some new dresses - she’s worn the same dress since I was nine, it was time for a change of clothes; our hosts drove us to the other side of the city and we got to see Oprah’s studio!!
Lidia and I jumped out of the van and had our pictures taken by the sign – pictures that I would’ve posted but I can’t find L  Then Lidia, who is much more outgoing than me, talked to an older gentleman standing by the garage and she asked if he knew Oprah.  When he told us that he saw her everyday and helped her out of the car, or something like that, we were like, WOW!!  We met someone who KNOWS Oprah!  That’s like two degrees of separation between me and Oprah!
Oprah had a huge impact on our culture over the past 25 years.  People have learned so much  by watching her show and, I think, maybe the world is a little kinder because of her influence.
There was life before Oprah and there will be life after Oprah.

Just make sure that life is “your best life.”    

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Catchin’ a Little Tail in the Landing

I actually wrote this post last week and was saving it but I figured my big Oprah extravaganza post can wait one more day.  Neighborhoods have been on my mind lately, especially with the devastating tornado that ripped through Joplin, Missouri and the flooding along the Mississippi River.  Tonight, I went to my first ever Homeowners Association meeting and this post seemed timely. 
Almost two years ago, I moved into a development that I’ve affectionately dubbed “the Landing.”  The house that I bought is on an extremely close-knit street; it’s watched over by a pair of dads who keep in line not just their kids but the other kids in our little section of the Landing.  It’s a place where everybody watches out for each other.  There’s even a signal in case something’s wrong.    
On any given day, on any given evening, Mike and John, the dads, are outside playing with a whole pack of kids.  Football, hockey, kickball, rollerblading.  Now, I jokingly ask Mike what the next season’s sport is so I can prepare myself.  And sure, when you’ve got a bunch of kids playing in the street, you have to be careful.  In fact, that’s one of the first things I was told - "We just ask people to slow down when they drive through here because of the kids."  So, I slow to a crawl when I come home and triple-check my mirrors every time I back out of my parking space.  That’s what neighbors – and safe drivers - do.
I never thought I’d really become part of the neighborhood fabric.  I don’t have kids and I’m not much of a joiner.  In fact, it’s very easy for me to be disconnected from larger groups - I am an introvert after all.  I come and go from the Landing just doing my thing.  A polite smile here, a friendly wave there, and then I go inside and shut my door to watch Judge Judy. 
Phoebe - out for her Sunday
morning constitutional
But then a skinny gray cat showed up at my door.  I fought it, I did.  Just ask my friends who kept telling me I should let it in.  You know what happens…one cat becomes two, two becomes four, four becomes eight, and eight becomes Crazy Cat Lady on the Corner.  I’ve seen the Cat Lady documentary…I know how it plays out.  To make a long story short, I let that skittish little stray cat in.  A few weeks later, my mom found out the cat’s back story.  She wasn’t a stray…she was the neighborhood cat and her name was Phoebe.  Phoebe was actually Mike’s wife Vicki’s cat but she’s gentle and docile and was heartlessly bullied by their other mean, nasty cats.  To protect her (although I’m not sure how this protected her), they let her out in the daytime and she made the rounds in the neighborhood.  Last summer, she found me and she’s kinda been mine ever since.  While she’s a wonderful little pal who cuddles up on my lap, she’s done something much more.  She’s connected me to the neighborhood in a way that I don’t think would’ve happened had she not become a part of my life. 
Because of Phoebe, people know that’s there’s a real person living in the corner house…not just a nameless neighbor passing through.  Last Sunday, when I got back from running errands, Mike called over to me – “Hey, Denise!  You want a burger?  We’re having a cook-out.”  I politely declined because I had just eaten lunch but I was touched by the invitation.  A little while later, as I sat on my front step potting some flowers, watching the boys play football in the street, Mike and Vicki’s daughter, Tory, came over to see if Phoebe was around to play.  I explained apologetically that Phoebe was up in her bed napping (now you know why she stayed…she gets a full-size bed all to herself!) but when she woke up, I’d bring her out. 
Duct-tape wallet - never
leave home without it.
On Thursday evening, there was a knock on my door, it was Tory and her friend Courtney.  Trying to hide my grimace because I was on my way to buy my very important umbrella, I told them Phoebe couldn’t play…I was just leaving.  So unneighborly, I know.  Tory said, “No!  We came to give you this!”  “This” was a duct-tape wallet.  “I made it for you because you take care of Phoebe!”  How can you not love that?  I thanked her profusely and then there were hugs all around because I guess ten year olds like to hug.
Phoebe, a now fat gray cat who never quite catches her tail, made me a part of the neighborhood.   
It’s no duct-tape wallet but it’s still a pretty good gift.  I think she deserves a treat.         

Monday, May 23, 2011

You Can Go Home Again. Just Remember to Pay the Tolls.

There’s a reason people on the East Coast don’t call their highways “freeways” like our pals on the West Coast do.  ‘Cause they’re not free.  You have to pay these annoying things called “tolls”. 
I live in Maryland.  My family lives in Pennsylvania.  The northbound trip up 95 (it is not “the 95”) is about 130 miles.  I can usually make the drive in about two hours.  Two hours and fifteen minutes if I get stuck behind a slow-poke.  Two hours and thirty minutes if I get stuck behind a slow-poke while we’re sitting in gridlock at the Delaware Toll Plaza.  The total cost of tolls (round-trip) is 19 bucks!  That’s the price of a dinner followed by a Baskin Robbins milkshake!
When I first moved to Maryland, almost six years ago, I made the trip up to Pennsylvania twice a month.  You figure it out - that’s every other weekend.  I would pack everything up on Friday night and be on the road no later than 4:30 in the morning on Saturday.  Before I knew it I was home. 
Pennsylvania is home.  It’s where I grew up; it’s where my family is; it’s where my history is.  I love being a Pennsylvanian.  We used to have license plates that proudly declared “You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania.”  Isn’t that nice?  You could be cruisin’ around town and you always knew that there was a friend in the car in front of you.  I know stuff about Pennsylvania.  I know there are 67 counties (Heinz 57 plus 10!  I learned that in 4th grade and never forgot it.  That’s awesome Pennsylvania teaching for you!)  I know that Pennsylvania means Penn’s Woods, named after William Penn’s dad. I know Pennsylvania is one of four Commonwealth states and okay, I don’t really know what a Commonwealth is but it’s my most favorite trivia question.  Do you know what the other three Commonwealths are?  (Don’t cheat.) 
I’m slightly partial to the Southeastern corner of the state which is so much better than the rest of it, except maybe the Poconoes where the Christmas trees grow.  I do have a confession to make - I’m not really from Philadelphia.  I just tell people that because it’s so much easier to say that rather than to say that I’m from Glenside, Cheltenham Township.  Because then people ask -  where’s that?  What direction is that from the city?  How the heck do I know?  Does it look like I carry around a compass?  I think it’s East.  Or it might be Northeast.  I don’t know.  Google Map it. 
I have to specifically say Glenside, Cheltenham Township to differentiate it from Glenside, Abington Township.  Cheltenham and Abington are huge rivals.  I guess Abington’s greatest claims to fame are Abington Township School District v. Schempp and Bob Saget.  That’s Bob Saget of Full House fame - you know, Michelle Tanner’s dad?  What’s Cheltenham known for?  Frank Lloyd Wright architecture - okay, it’s only one building but it is a National Historic Landmark!  And Cheltenham gave the world Mr. October.  So what if he played for the Yankees?  If you don’t like the Yankees, how’s this - the back-up mascot for the San Diego Padres grew up in Cheltenham!  Awesome, right?  And why does Benjamin Netanyahu speak with a bit of Philadelphia accent?  He graduated from Cheltenham High School just like me.  Yep.  CHS can claim a baseball great, a back-up mascot, an Israeli prime minister and a future Archivist of the United States among their notable alumni.  Yep, I’m going for the big time.  That mascot is so not getting on the CHS Wall of Fame before me.   
These days, I’m a Pennsylvania transplant in Maryland.  Maryland’s okay.  I don't know much about it.  It’s the Free State.  While I don’t really get the whole Baltimore Hon thing, Charm City is home to Michael Phelps and Ace of Cakes.  A guy with a bunch of Olympic medals and a guy who can bake a cake to celebrate.  That’s cool.  Plus, they filmed Homicide:  Life on the Street here and well, you can’t diss anything that a Baldwin brother was in.  There are other nice parts of the state too that I don’t go to often because it’s around the Beltway.  By the way, Inner and Outer Loops…not two circles inside of each other.  I know - I found it misleading too.      
So, I’m not a Marylander and I’ll never consider myself anything other than a Pennsylvanian.  The Great Commonwealth is and always will be my family home.  I always know that I can come home to Pennsylvania, but somewhere along the way, maybe when I started paying a mortgage or started building my life here, Maryland became the place that I go home to.   
It actually doesn’t really matter if I’m going or coming home, because either way, I’ll still have to pay all those damn tolls. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Giggly Girl

My brother is still friends with a bunch of guys whom he’s known since elementary and high school.  When you’re a little sister with a big brother who has cool, attractive friends, there’s a good chance that at some point in time, let’s say - high school, the little sister may or may not develop crushes on those same cool, attractive friends.  In fact, I think there were a few Sweet Valley High books based upon this very premise.
I loved Sweet Valley High books.
When I was 15, I may or may not have had a teensy, little crush on one of my brother’s friends.  He may or may not have been dubbed Hunka Hunka Burnin’ Love (HHBL) by either my dad or my uncle at some point during the crush-phase.  HHBL was two years older than me, in his senior year when I was a sophomore.  He was clean-cut, well-mannered, and played the oboe or sax or something in the Marching Band; which could very well explain my fondness, to this day, for pep rallies.  TEQUILA!
While the juniors and seniors had the Prom,* sophomores in my high school had the Soph Hop.  I guess it was a formal dance…it was certainly more formal than Homecoming.  Anyway, there I was with a huge crush on HHBL and my friend Emily Wilson, who was in Marching Band herself and equally crushing on a trombone or kazoo player, told me I had to take HHBL to the Soph Hop.  I’m pretty sure I giggled nervously and was like, not-unh!  Since my friends knew I certainly wasn’t going to ask him, they asked him for me.  Of course he said yes.  He’s one of the nicest guys on the planet and taking a friend’s little sister to her first formal dance is just something nice guys do.  I vividly remember being in Mr. Cooper’s Western Civ class when Emily Wilson came in and informed me that HHBL said yes, he’d take me to the Soph Hop.  I was like, Ohmigod, what?!  There’s no way I can talk to a boy!!!
On the night of the dance, I wore a black dress from the Limited (the most expensive item of clothing that I had ever worn at that point), there was awkward picture-taking, corsage-pinning, and everything else that happens at a dance.  (That would be dancing, by the way.)  There was, in fact, no dinner eating because there was no way in hell that I was sitting across a table where I would have to converse with a boy.  That would’ve been awkward and the occasion of much stupid giggling.  I was 15 people!  At the end of the night, he dropped me off and that was that. 
Cut to 17 years later.  On Saturday night, my mom had a surprise birthday party for my brother who turned 35 earlier this month.  Why she didn’t wait another five years until he turns 40 is beyond me but whatever.  Anyway, of course my brother’s friends came.  In addition to HHBL, there was Conshy and Very Obnoxious Friend.  I’ve seen them a couple of times over the years and I hear what’s going on in their lives through the grapevine…they’re all very responsible, very respectable, very married (except for Conshy**) Officers of the Law who keep the streets of various Pennsylvania towns safe.  We’ve all grown up and become adults.  Well, except for me, apparently.  Because I was like a stupid, giggly 15 year old girl around them.
I can talk to guys.  I talk to old guys, young guys, straight guys, gay guys, form-fitting shirt wearing guys.  I think, for the most part, I make sense when I talk to them; except for when I ramble a little…but then they just tell me to shut it and I’m fine.  I’m an International Traveler, I have a Very Expensive Masters Degree, I shop at the Gap, I can operate a lawn mower, and some days I think I’m half-way awesome.  I think I’m interesting and capable of saying interesting things. 

Last night, I couldn’t manage to string together a cohesive sentence to engage in conversation with my brother's friends.  I was back in Mr. Cooper’s Western Civ class all over again!  Ohmigod, I can’t talk to boys!!!  (Although, for the record, it didn’t help matters that my brother and Very Obnoxious Friend were embarrassing the heck out of me.)  
Later on in the night, as they discussed getting older, Conshy asked how old I was.  I admitted, haltingly, that I’m 32. 
Then I giggled like a nervous 15 year old.
*- Why do some people say “The Prom” and some people just say “Prom” 
**-I’m not sure but I think Conshy’s not married yet because he rides a scooter.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Woman with Lawn Mower

My 1st lawn mower.
It lasted about five minutes.

What I’m going to say next might tick off some of my more feminist-minded friends:  I think some tasks are better left for the men in our lives.  Stuff like car repairs, washing the car, cooking, and, most of all, mowing the lawn.
Now, I’m a pretty forward thinking female.  I believe women can do it all and conquer it all.  I know tons of women who are smart, savvy, and capable of handling whatever life throws at them.  Women rock.  I am woman.  Hear me roar.  And all that jazz.
But then that woman buys a house and while it’s a nice little end-unit townhouse, it comes with some issues.  The biggest one being grass.  There’s grass in the front yard, the side yard, and the backyard.  And it grows.  And you have to cut that grass before the HOA sends you a warning in the mail that your knee-high grass poses a danger to the aesthetic beauty of your neighborhood.  So, what do you do?  Hire someone?  Wait for your dad to visit so he can cut it?  Or do you yell:  I am woman.  Hear me roar.  Let’s mow this lawn!  
Generally, I go for the second option.  My dad is my LawnBoy.  Look, I’m not making him do anything he doesn’t want to do.  He genuinely enjoys it.  If he didn’t, he wouldn’t go two doors down and mow my neighbor’s lawn either.  But since my dad is a mailman and has to work on Saturdays (what do you really think about six day delivery?); he only comes to visit me every six weeks.  Grass can do a lot of growing in six weeks.  That means the homeowner of aforementioned townhouse (that’s me) has to get out the lawn mower and do it…herself. 
My lawn was mowed two weeks ago (thanks, Dad!) but I had to do it again.  So, bright and early this morning, I got up and mowed my lawn.  If the world’s gonna end in a few hours, I want my lawn to look good!  Oh, and also, it made me feel less guilty for not going to running club this morning (I had a steak and a margarita at dinner, there was NO way I was waking up at 6:30 to go running!)
When I moved in, my dad gave me a lawn mower.  When we reminded him that it wasn’t 1946 and I needed something with a little more juice, he gave me an electric lawn mower.  So, every once in a while, I plug the contraption in and start mowing.  I don’t have much of a process – there’s lots of going back and forth….there are no neat, straight mowing lines on my lawn!  Once I got my front lawn cut, I went down and did my neighbor’s, because she did it for me once and well, I don’t want to be known as the neighbor who doesn’t return lawn-mowing favors!
(By the way, the entire time I was mowing the lawn, I was sweaty and annoyed and considering the possibility of just hiring a guy to do it for me.)  
After my neighbor’s lawn was done, I went back to my house to mow my backyard.  That’s when I saw my backyard neighbor mowing her lawn.  She made mowing her lawn look really good…she’s an Indian lady and she was wearing a sari.  She looked very serene.  I just looked sweaty and annoyed.  I’m seeing a sari in my future. 
When I was finished, my grass was beautifully trimmed and at required HOA height.  I’m safe for the next two weeks.  (If any of us are still here in two weeks!)   
I am woman with lawn mower.  Hear us roar. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Food Friday Returns!

After a few weeks on hiatus, Food Friday is making a return.  And it’s a day early!  Actually, it’s four days late because I had this particular dish on Sunday night. 
When I was grocery shopping this past Sunday morning, I ran into my friends/neighbors/future HOA insiders.  They invited me over for dinner - chicken and corn on the cob grilled on their fancy new grill.  When I got there, Scruffy put out a cucumber and tomato (and, oh yeah, onions) salad.  Have you ever been at somebody’s house and they’ve made something that you’re not really sure you’re gonna like but you don’t wanna hurt their feelings because they invited you over after all and it would be really impolite to not eat what they made?  That’s kinda what happened to me on Sunday night. 
This is pretty much the internal monologue that was going on in my head as we ate dinner: 
Oh great, a cucumber and tomato salad.   Cucumbers?  Ewww.  I can totally handle the tomatoes…it’s kinda like bruschetta.  I like bruschetta.  I’ll just pretend.  How come that cat doesn’t like me?  Maybe I can pick out the cucumbers.  What kind of dressing?  Huh?  I really can’t tell those two cats apart…Lucy and, wait, what’s the other one’s name?  Is it awful that I can’t remember the other cat’s name?  How big was that cucumber?  There are so many cucumber slices in my bowl.  I can’t believe it’s pouring out.  No more tomatoes?  Their counters really look nice…I gotta decide what to do with my kitchen counters.  Actually, this salad isn’t half bad.  It’s kinda tasty.  And the cucumbers in Italian dressing…hmm, pretty good.  Oh wow, this grilled corn on the cob is out of this world.  You know what?  This salad wasn’t bad at all!  Hopefully, they don’t notice how many cucumber slices are left in my bowl…there were a lot.  Gosh, I’m stuffed!  Huh?!  They have chocolate cake?! 
So, despite my initial misgivings, I ended up really liking the cucumber and tomato salad.  And it served as a good reminder of my original intent for Food Friday…being open to trying new things,  whether it’s something wild and crazy like kangaroo or something as simple as a summer salad made by a friend. 
Here’s where the story gets really crazy.  I liked that salad so much that tonight I went to the store, bought a cucumber and some tomatoes, and made it myself!  It was delicious!  But I changed it up a little and made it a tomato and cucumber salad...with no onions. 
I guess I'll have to add tomatoes and
cucumbers to the shopping list now!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Confessions of the New Kid on the Block

I got some advice when I transferred from Old Unit to New Unit at work.  Just be yourself and you’ll be fine.  That’s not exactly sage advice for a dorky goofball who likes to have a healthy freak out every few days and enjoys random acts of dancing just for the heck of it.  I’m trying to make a good impression here, not frighten people away! 
The fact of the matter is, I’m still the new kid on the block and I don't exactly want people to think I'm a complete Looney Toon in my first month on the job.  As much of a dorky goofball as I am, I do take work seriously and I'm working hard on getting my responsibilites down.  There’s a lot to learn and it’s very different from what I’m used to.  But I’m learning and I’m adjusting.  So, that's fine.  The bigger adjustment I've had to make is to the culture of the New Unit.  It is so different from Old Unit that some days I feel like I wandered to the wrong side, a side where dorky goofballs don't work.   
The most striking difference between Old Unit and New Unit is the quietness.  Even the hallways are quiet.  Sometimes, when I go to the ladies room, I feel like I’m out of class without a hall pass.  On the other side of the building, where Old Unit is, the hallways bustle with life.  There was always someone on their way to some place, usually a stack to pull or process records.  There was always someone to wave to and say, hey, nice Crocs!  Office suites were the scenes of lively discourse about archival theory (original order is for hacks), lack of supplies (no legal folders again?!), or actual New Kid on the Block Jonathan Knight’s homosexuality (okay, that was just me…I was clueless!)  I don’t know where the discoursing is happening in New Unit.  Do they discourse?  Do they disco?  I don’t know!  No one’s in the hallway to ask!
Another huge difference is that many colleagues in New Unit have children.  In Old Unit, you were the exception if you had kids (I can count the number of parents on one hand).  In New Unit, it seems like you’re the exception if you don’t have kids.  I was kinda half-worried that I’d transfer units and all of a sudden a kid would pop out.  So far, so good…but I’ll let you know in about nine months.  Now, my colleagues aren’t talking about their kids all the time but they do occasionally, and well, it’s hard to relate.  I guess I could share stories about my cat.  Because everyone wants to hear cat stories.  Actually, maybe it’s not that hard to relate.  Yesterday, someone was talking about their kid being cranky if she doesn’t take a nap.  I know EXACTLY how that little girl feels!  I need my naps too.  For the record, I’m not adverse to children, I’m just not comfortable around them - I’m always worried that I’ll drop one.  My aunt dropped me when I was a baby; well, that actually explains a lot.          
A difference that I really like is that New Unit has parties!  In the three weeks that I’ve been there, they’ve had two!  That never happened in my old unit!  At yesterday’s party (for two graduating coworkers), they had Georgetown Cupcakes.  How awesome is that?  And there’s gonna be another party later in the month for people with birthdays in May.  Fun, right?!
While I enjoyed the party yesterday, my feelings of new kid on the blockness made me sad.  Not because I was feeling left out or anything.  No, it was because something was said that made me want to dance.  "Krazy Kabob."  Doesn’t that just make you giggly and happy and dancey?  And it’s alliteration which just makes you need to dance more!  So, there I was, listening to a conversation about Krazy Kabob and all my nerve endings were tingling with the desire to jump up and do a little jig or at least to wave some Sassy Hands.  In Old Unit, if someone like TopChef said that within my earshot, I would’ve, for sure, done a little two-step, maybe a hip thrust, or even a little shimmy swivel if I was feeling daring.  People would’ve looked at me like I was a dorky goofball (or a goofy dork) and it would’ve been okay because well, that’s who I am.
Yesterday, I suppressed the urge to dance because I'm the new kid on the block and I didn't want people to think I was a dorky goofball.  And that's not who I really am.     
I can’t wait for the new kid on the block feeling to go away.  Because I really like to dance like a dorky goofball. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Shopping for One

I don’t go grocery shopping; at least, not like my mom used to when she went on her weekly shopping excursion to the local ACME.  My method’s a little different and fits my single lifestyle just fine.  Every evening, on the way home, I stop at the Safeway, bolt in, grab JELL-O pudding (for dessert), applesauce (for breakfast), and some sort of food for the main course which can range from tilapia on a good night to Sloppy Joes on a better night.  I’m in and out in twenty minutes top, and always go through the “15 Items or Fewer” line.  If there’s more than three people in line when I go in, I chuck it all and go out to dinner (hello, Jersey Mike’s!)  Shopping for one just isn’t all that fun.   
When people talk about having a “well-stocked pantry,” I fear that I give them a blank stare.  I don’t have (many) canned goods or boxes of prepared foods on hand.  I don’t have a spice rack.  Heck, I don’t even have ice cubes.  The cat has more food in the pantry than I do.  If there’s ever another blizzard that keeps me snowbound for a week, I guess I’ll just start eating her food.
Recently my mom gave me (another) cookbook and we decided to have a competition.  We’ll make the same thing on the same night and then discuss it.  After hearing that a few of my friends have Sunday morning grocery rituals, I decided what the heck?  This Sunday, I’d go to the grocery store and buy food for the week.  I rolled out of bed, didn’t take a shower, pulled my hair back in a messy ponytail, and changed into sweats and an old tee-shirt, because really, who’s at the grocery store on a Sunday morning at 10 AM? 
Turns out, my friends were.  That was only awkward for a second before they directed me to the soup aisle.  By the time I got to the condiment aisle, I figured, ah, what the heck, they’re my friends, they don’t care what I look like.  We bumped into each other again and they helped me look for Liquid Smoke (why the heck I wanted Liquid Smoke, I don’t know but it was on THE LIST).  Then my pals invited me to dinner - see, why’s a girl have to shop when she gets dinner invites?!
I didn’t exactly plan my route around the store so I ended up having to do a little backtracking.  Like, I got all my produce, chugged on over to the Deli Counter, remembered that I needed cauliflower, so I had to go all the way back to Produce but then I forgot my hamburger buns so then I had to go back to the other side of the store to the Bread Section.  Next time, I gotta plot it out better because I wasted valuable time.  Maybe I can catch some old episodes of Supermarket Sweep. 
When I got to the Meat Section, I saw these tiny Cornish hens!  How can you resist tiny Cornish hens?  You can’t.  I had to have them!
Two Cornish hens crossed the road...
And look at these cool premeasured packages of spices!  Who needs a spice rack when you can just buy a couple hundred of these things every once in a while! 
I picked up spices for fajitas?!  Fail on my part!
OMG!  Corn on the cob holders!  I need those! 
Corn skewers for my two ears...of corn!
I loaded up on meats and fresh vegetables…not a frozen veggie in sight!  My cart was filled up so much, I wasn’t eligible for the “15 Items or Fewer” line.  So, I had to get in regular line.  That’s where I met Luther, the world’s slowest cashier.  I used to do that job and was damn good at it.  Luther, well, I’m going to be nice.  Suffice it to say, I spent more time with Luther than I really wanted to. 
An hour and fifteen minutes after I went in, I emerged with a cart full of groceries and the satisfaction of knowing that my fridge was going to be filled with really good food for the week.   Then I remembered that I was gonna have to cook it.
And if there’s one thing that’s less fun that shopping for one, it’s cooking for one.  It’s a vicious, vicious circle, I tell ya!   

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Run Around

7 AM on Saturday:  Getting ready to run.
The feet weren't happy about it either.
I love to sleep.  I look forward to the weekends when I can sleep late, or wake up early just to go back to sleep, or take sleep breaks throughout the day (nap, anyone?)  My weekends are virtual rest-fests.  Work a lot during the week, rest a lot during the weekends.  That’s the way I like it. 
So, what the heck was I doing awake at 7 AM on a Saturday morning standing in the parking lot of the local community college?  Oh geez, I was getting ready to run.  Voluntarily.  Like, it was a choice…and I chose to be there.  Who slipped something in my Kool-aid?! 
My running club is offering “dry runs” on our graduation course for the next several Saturdays.  (Did I mention that they’re at 7 freaking AM in the morning?)  Since I know I need to run slightly more often than once a week to even have a shot at completing the 5K, I figured I should go out for the extra run.  So, at 6:25 this morning, I forced myself out of bed, donned my running gear, stopped at the local Weis for some bottled water, and headed off to our designated meeting spot.  The sky was gray and it was a little misty.  I prayed for thunder and lightening the whole way there.  Unfortunately, the weather gods ignored me.  Dumb weather gods.    
We split up into two groups.  The Runners (all pretty much from that mythical Run Group A) ran the entire course while the Runwalkers (that’s me!) ran a “modified course” – that’s code for a mile-long (??) straight, level street between two major roads.*  It was a quiet street that ran through a lovely residential neighborhood with nice houses.  Houses occupied by people who were probably doing what I wanted to be doing at that hour in the morning – sleeping. 
After our stretches, we started running.  Technically, our “homework” was to run six minutes, walk two; but many of us ran the entire way.  Which was great and all except for the teensy little fact that I forgot:  once you got to the end of the street, you had to run back.  About halfway back, I totally lost all my steam and this Runwalker became an out and out Walker (but I didn’t need a walker…so that’s a positive!)
I was totally fine with walking.  Until the Runners suddenly appeared out of nowhere and lapped us.  The Runners were like a finely tuned machine; a pack of Females in Training running in perfect harmony (I kid you not, they were running in unison…perfectly).  They even made drinking their water (in unison) look graceful.  I decided to suck it up and just go.  I was going to finish as a Runner.  So what if it felt like my lungs were being ripped to shreds, who needs lungs anyway?  I managed to cross the “finish line” without dying, which I think is a great accomplishment.
We’re meeting again next Saturday.  I’ll probably be there. 
But tomorrow?  Tomorrow is Sunday.  And Sunday is the day of rest. 
Guess what I’ll be doing. 
* - Just got an email from the coach, the modified course was 2.4 miles!  That explains a lot.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Schellhardts' Cafe

“My parents owned a bar at the corner of 30th and Girard.”  This biographical factoid was oft-repeated by my mother, the youngest daughter of the aforementioned bar owners, while I was growing up.  To me, 30th and Girard was just an intersection in North Philadelphia’s Brewerytown neighborhood, a section of the city that is finally seeing better days after years of urban blight.  To my mom though, it was where she spent the first 11 years of her life, in a home above a bar at the corner of 30th and Girard.
I don’t know too much about the bar.  I like to imagine that it was a place where everybody knew your name or where you could keep a tab and pay up when you got the chance.  I know my grandfather, a carpenter, build the actual bar with his own hands, some of my uncles were bartenders, and my mom used to tap-dance on the bar (in a totally innocent five year old way).
It wasn’t until recently that I found out that the bar actually had a name – Schellhardts’ Café.  They didn’t serve food except on Fridays when my grandmother would make her homemade crab cakes.  Aside from a few things, my mom doesn’t have much from her childhood…but she does have her mother’s recipe for crab cakes.  She’s rather famous for making them, especially during Lent.  Every Good Friday, she would make a batch for our family so we could fulfill our Lenten obligation of fish-eating.  I always screwed up my nose and wouldn’t eat them except for one bite a long time ago. 
My mom loves to cook for people.   When she was working, she’d make up meals for her coworkers; for family parties, she loves making loads of food; and when she visits me she likes to make my favorite meals.  That makes her happy.  (That last one makes me pretty happy too!)  On Saturday night, to inaugurate my new patio set (that my dad kindly put together), some friends joined me and my parents for dinner.  My mom, of course, made enough food to feed an army.  The main course though was her crab cakes.  I’m counting the half of a crab cake that I ate as my Food Friday for the week.  Unlike my reaction when I was younger, I have to say that the crab cake was actually pretty delicious.  I guess there’s something to be said for a family recipe that’s been handed down through the years.    
I like to think that whenever my mom makes her crab cakes, she’s keeping the memory of Schellhardts’ Café…that bar on the corner of 30th and Girard...alive for yet another generation. 

*My new job has me increasingly concerned/obsessed/batty about correct punctuation so I have to admit, I don't know if it was Schellhardt's Cafe or Schellhardts' Cafe.  I chose the plural possessive because there are multiple Schellhardts but perhaps it should be a singular possessive because it could have referred to just my grandfather, the owner of the bar.  If I'm wrong, I'm fairly certain my mom will let me know!

Monday, May 2, 2011

When History Happens

When I was little I used to ask my mom when history would start happening.  She grew up during a time when lots of history was happening…the invention of television (or maybe that was just color television), Camelot, the race to space, assassinations, Woodstock, the Vietnam War, disco.    
I was born in 1979, the most boring year in history.  Oh, sure, there was the disaster at 3 Mile Island but other than that, nothing else exciting happened.  I was a baby when Ronald Reagan was shot; six when the Challenger exploded; in middle school when the first Gulf War began and ended; and in high school when the Branch Davidian compound in Waco was seized, OJ was acquitted, and the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City was bombed.  I wasn’t paying much attention to all that.  I had other things on my mind, like Barbies and Trapper Keepers and Friday night football games and Homecomings.  History was happening...I just didn't realize it.   
The first time I really felt like history was happening was when Princess Diana died.  I remember my mom saying to me, you’ll always remember where you were when you heard that she died.  And I do.  It was the night before I left for my first year of college and I was visiting the Whites’ house for one last visit.  It astounds me that 14 years ago, I watched Princess Diana’s funeral and three days ago, I watched her son’s wedding.  So much history has happened since that last day of August in 1997.
September 11, 2001.  When history happened that day, we all knew it, felt it, witnessed it.  Ten years passed and more history happened. 
Last night, another event that will go down in history happened.  It was a long time coming.  
Bravo to the brave men and women in our military and intel communities who continue to protect our freedom, protect our country, and protect us.  Even when history's "not" happening.